April 29, 2013

Soil-Hauling and Shrub-Planting Weekend

If you want a nice landscape, it helps to marry Superman.  Last weekend - in less than twenty hours - my husband hauled twenty cubic yards of soil from the pile in the driveway to the backyard.  The kids and I helped spread it out with rakes, but he did the rest.  He also dug fifty holes for shrubs.  And he had energy for a fifty mile bike ride on Saturday morning.  Plus some running and swimming and other triathlon workouts.  "See," he told me, "this whole time you thought I was training for races when I was actually training to landscape your backyard."  I'll feel a lot more cheerful about being a single mom during five hour workouts and race weekends after this.   It's nice to be able to support each other in our hobbies.  Above is a view of the yard halfway through the soil hauling process.

Here is a view of the west side of the yard after some shrubs were planted, including some peony and prickly rose transplants.  The six 'Katherine Havemeyer' lilacs and the trees all stayed in place, but pretty much everything else in the backyard will need to be divided and/or transplanted into the new beds.  There's still plenty of work to do, and I'm hoping to get most of it done in the next two weeks before we bring in ten yards of 'dark bark fines' to polish it up. 

Here is the view of the path on the south side of the yard, looking east.  A couple of 'Green Mountain' boxwoods are waiting to be planted on the right side of the photo (hopefully I can find another one at a nursery to complete the grouping), and you can see a group of three GM (that's Green Mountain, not genetically modified) boxwoods planted on the left.  I've used three types of boxwoods, thirty-five total, to create unity and evergreen structure around the yard.  Now they all just need to grow.

Here you can see more trios of GM boxwoods at the northeast corner of the yard and a 'Green Tower' boxwood on the right.  There are also a bunch of 'Green Velvet' boxwoods placed in the beds.  GM grows into an upright oval, GT has a columnar form, and GV is rounded.  All three hold their green color fairly well in winter instead of turning bronze.  You can also see a 'Scarlet Pearl' snowberry shrub on the right.  It has pink berries all winter - yummy eye candy for the eyes on grey winter days.

Here is a view of the mounded main garden bed across the lawn.  Planting designs for other areas of the yard are coming together nicely, but this area is giving me fits.  I like symmetry, so I'm doing some of that, but I'm trying to avoid making it too stiff.  It will no doubt need some editing over the next few years as I figure out what works.

I figured out the perfect place to sit for a direct view of the main garden bed and set a few plastic Adirondack chairs there for now.  I'd like a classy wrought iron bench eventually, but these chairs are more comfortable and were just sitting in a corner.  You can see the fence is still torn apart in the background, and hoses and pots are scattered about.  This is still very much a work in process.  More photos to come!

April 26, 2013

Backyard Landscaping Days 4-7: Encircling Flagstone Path, Etc.

After a second week of work by the landscaping company, progress has been made.  Much of it involved sprinklers and is hard to see, though I am very happy about the improved system.  The hugely expanded flagstone path lends itself to pictures more easily.  Here you can see the small section on the west side of our home that we put in three years ago.  The 'Elfin' creeping thyme groundcover has filled in, and the surrounding plantings are starting to show color.  A few dahlias are waiting in their pots to be planted.  You can see the new path past the gate.

Here is the view when standing right at the gate.  It's very bare but the path is pretty. 

And here is the view looking towards the east while standing at the northwest corner of the path.  Soon this view will include a large 'Black Lace' elderberry (Sambucus) on the left, a 'Shasta' doublefile viburnum in the corner, plus a bunch of 'Little Lime' hydrangeas and many smaller plants.  On the right you can see one of the five basalt boulders that were installed on Wednesday.  It looks lonely while waiting for more soil and surrounding plants to settle it in.

This is the view looking south while standing at the northeast corner of the path.  You can't see it well but the path makes a complete circle of the backyard with a section heading down the east side of the house to the garage and one down the west side to the front lawn.  Several of the neighborhood kids have come over to enjoy making endless loops around the path with my kids in tow.  Apparently it's fun to walk in circles if you're skipping from stone to stone. 

This is the path going down the east side of the house.  This area will be the true blue, lavender-mauve and lime color scheme garden.  Lots of big shrubs coming and lots of perennials, too.  The fence will be replaced next week, blocking the view out to the street.

Here is the view from my room's upper floor window of the northwest corner of the yard.  You can see why I'm excited for all the trees to grow and block the view of the other homes.

This shot shows the north center of the backyard.  Our less-than-attractive aluminum patio cover blocks the view of the south part of the path circle.  I cropped it out of the photo.  In a few years I hope to crop it out of my life and replace it with a classic looking white pergola.

Here is the view of the northeast corner of the yard.  The plywood is covering large holes where the new swing set will be installed.  It took longer than expected to ship and won't arrive until the middle of next week.  At that point the landscapers will return to install it, lay out the rest of the drip system, install the metal edging to contain the lawn, and reinstall the section of fence and tree they moved to create access.  Meanwhile we are hauling dirt and planting shrubs like crazy.  More pictures are coming soon!

April 19, 2013

Backyard Landscaping Days 2 and 3: Bye Bye Lawn

On the second day of our big landscaping project much of the lawn disappeared.  Progress on the aspen root barrier halted while they waited for the Plexiglas to arrive.  I'm glad we are doing this project early in the spring while my trees are still dormant, since they should be less stressed by being buried by giant piles of dirt than they would be in midsummer. 

The landscapers did a nice job on the curves of the remaining lawn.  I set out rocks in the shape I wanted, and they spray painted the outline in the morning before starting to dig.  Laying out the rocks first worked well since I was able to easily make adjustments to the outline before getting it right.  I'd recommend rocks and paint over using a hose, which can be hard to adjust to the right shape if it's cold and the hose is stiff. 

On the third day of the project the Plexiglas arrived and was installed.  The trench was filled and my fears of kids falling into it and breaking bones were put to rest.  Tomorrow a friend is coming to take the old swing set away.  Hopefully the next one will arrive next week so it can be installed by the landscapers before they're off to the next project.

It's just as well that the landscapers work four long days a week and take Friday off, as it started raining last night and continues today (Friday).  Since my sprinkler system is now mostly torn up, I'm especially grateful for this perfect timing by Mother Nature.  Despite the rain, I set out a sprinkler to run on each of the trees by the back fence to help their roots get settled back into the deeply disturbed soil.  I'm hopeful that the updated sprinkler system will do a good job of providing the right amount of water to the lawn, perennials, shrubs and trees.  It will be a combination of drip system and spray heads. 

Here is the current view of the East side of the backyard near the house.  My children are all aching to roll around in the dirt, dig trenches in the dirt, build dams and flood the dirt, throw and eat the dirt (that's my toddler), and otherwise enjoy this haven of dirtiness.  I'm trying to keep them inside as much as possible. 
Coming up next week will be the sprinkler adjustments, placing five basalt boulders, building the encircling flagstone path, edging the lawn in steel and installing the new swing set.  Hopefully the landscapers will finish before Friday so my husband and I can start hauling and spreading many cubic yards of premium garden soil, planting the fifty shrubs that are sitting on the patio in pots, and covering all that weed-welcoming bare earth with a good layer of bark mulch.  I'm not sure if all that can be accomplished in one weekend, but we'll try.

April 16, 2013

Backyard Landscaping Day 1: Quaking Aspen Root Barrier

The landscaping crew started work on our backyard project today.  I've been excited about this project for months, but I began the day feeling seriously stressed after one of the workers dug out my dogwood tree to make room for their heavy equipment to access the backyard.  I expected he would take as much care with the roots as my husband did when he transplanted that tree two years ago.  I was wrong.  I'm not sure if my tree will survive with its newly tiny root ball, but I'm reminding myself that the tree is replaceable if the worst happens.  I also stressed over the damage done to the new growth on my plants when the temperature dropped to 23 degrees F last night.  Ouch.  Deep breaths. 

Speaking of deep, today was spent digging a big trench along the back fence.  Our neighbors across the fence planted a bunch of quaking aspen trees all along the property line, and I knew that the trees' famously aggressive roots would take over my backyard if we didn't create a barrier.  An older aspen tree near the corner was already producing dozens of baby aspens growing up from its roots in my strawberry patch. 

And here are some of those blasted aspen tree roots that have already grown many feet into my yard.  After the workers left, I climbed down into the trench and pulled or cut out as many roots as I could from my soil.  Even though I avoid using herbicides/pesticides in my garden, we'll have to use Roundup on the roots that get left in our ground after the project.  Tomorrow the workers are going to install a Plexiglas barrier that extends four feet deep and stretches across the entire back fence and part of the side fence.  There will be a six inch to one foot gap between the barrier and our fence, and we'll have to spray the baby trees that pop up in that area with Roundup each year.  That was the best idea the landscapers could come up with the prevent the aspens from taking over our yard.

Here is the current view from an upper window.  My kids think the big equipment and giant piles of dirt are very cool.  I think they're pretty cool as well, though I wish this part of the project wasn't costing thousands of dollars.  Looking on the bright side, at least the neighbor's aspens will provide a nice screen of leaves from our yard as well as theirs while my slower growing trees are still maturing.  

I worried plenty about my trees as the worker maneuvered the bobcat around while digging the trench.  It was a tight squeeze, but thankfully only one small branch was broken.  I'm praying for similar results tomorrow when the trench gets filled in.  Then the landscapers will remove the lawn from around the edges of the yard and install the encircling flagstone path.  More pictures to come!

April 9, 2013

Heuchera 'Peach Flambe' and Dividing 'Lime Rickey'

I brought home a 'Peach Flambe' heuchera from the nursery this week and took some photos of the fiery leaves in the evening light.  Their shades of red and orange are lovely all day but are especially striking when back lit while the sun is low.

I've also ordered a couple of 'Southern Comfort' heucheras that are similar in color but supposedly a bit lighter orange.  SC also grows larger than PF.  I'll try both of them out in my burgundy/crimson/pink/rosy-orange flowerbed.  Above you can see one of the flower stalks that will be covered with small white blooms soon.

This plant is no doubt larger than the ones that will come in the mail, but it still isn't large enough to divide.  By next spring I should be able to start several new plants from this one, though.  Perhaps I've posted about this before, but did you know that heucheras are crazy-easy to divide?

Heucheras have an annoying tendency to become woody at the base after several years, like the 'June Bride' plants above.  But it's easy to rejuvenate them or to divide younger plants that have several shoots growing from the crown.  You just dig them up in the cool of early spring, break or cut apart the shoots, pull off all but the top few leaves, and stick them back in the dirt in the shade.  They'll grow roots from the bottom of the woody shoots even if there aren't any roots there when you divide.  Just keep them watered (but not soggy) and you'll have bunches of new plants. 

I needed to move my 'Lime Rickey' heucheras out of the way so they won't get smashed by heavy equipment next week when the landscaping company starts our backyard project.  So I took the opportunity to divide them.  From three plants, I was able to get fourteen new starts that are admittedly tiny but will grow quickly provided I feed them and don't let them dry out.

Pretty soon they'll be as big and pretty as the original plants, shown here in a photo from 2010.  This photo showing a blown over delphinium was the only one I could find of my 'Lime Rickey' plants.  I'm planning to use LR in my new true blue/lavender/mauve/lime flower bed along with other lime plants like 'Ogon' spirea and 'Sum and Substance' hosta. 

April 2, 2013

Tete A Tete and Landscaping Project Reality Check

Drifts of 'Tete a Tete' mini daffodils are blooming right now in my front yard along with some blue Chionodoxa forbesii.  The red stems of 'Coral Charm' peonies are getting taller.  It's spring break this week and yesterday afternoon was warm enough to let the kids run through the sprinkler out back.  Highs in the 70's are very rare for spring break in Spokane, so we're all enjoying it this year.

We have a start date from the landscaping company for our big backyard project:  April 15.  If all goes well they think they will be done in a week, but we all know that things never go quite as planned with construction projects.  Take the budget, for instance.  I thought I had set aside a generous amount that would be more than enough to cover all the items on my wish list.  When the estimate came in at double the budget, we had to scale back. 

Goodbye stone retaining walls, hello berms (thankfully that has worked well for us in the front yard).  Goodbye soil hauling, shrub planting and bark spreading by the landscaping company, hello to my husband of the year for volunteering to do those parts.  Thankfully, we'll still be able to have the flagstone path made, get most of the lawn removed and the remaining grass contained with metal edging, have the new swing set cemented in and have the sprinkler system adjusted. 

The company will also be digging a 4 feet deep trench and installing a Plexiglas barrier to keep the neighbor's aspen tree roots from taking over our yard (as they're starting to do already).  That part of the project is taking a third of the budget, ugh.  But I've seen the havoc that unconfined aspens can do to a yard, so I'm glad to get this done now.  Anyway, it's exciting to look forward to this project and I'll be posting more about it along the way.