Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Front Yard Renovation

You know how you can be living with something in your garden for years and years until, one day, you suddenly realize that that thing is downright enormous, completely out of control and no longer fits the space you've allotted to it?
The birds-nest spruce - before.
When I bought my house in 1995, it had the requisite yews in the front foundation - six of the darned things. Using a shovel and an axe my brother-in-law had gotten at a Handy Andy closeout, I dug them out but wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Then, in 1996 while I was between jobs, I did some foundation plantings - a 'Snow Fountains' white weeping cherry, some holly, azaleas, potentilla, a rhododendron, a Koren-spice viburnum and two birds-nest spruces. The potentilla, for whatever reason, were the first to bite the dust. I actually replaced the rhodie once after the first one died. The cherry bit the dust a couple years ago for a native Sambucus. Then, one day last month, shortly before my Annual Summer Garden Tour, I glanced at one of the birds-nest spruces and realized, "That thing is huge! It's gotta go - now!"

Luckily, I had already decided to do some changes nearby in the front - I had purchased a Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) while in Paw Paw from my friend Mary Ann Menck. I decided I would cut down the spruce, put in three Fragrant Sumac and some kind of grass, which, I wasn't sure. The Fragrant Sumac would provide excellent Fall color and I hoped to find a grass (or grassy thing) that would further enhance the Sumac's seasonal interest. I was going up to see my native plant grower friend Trish Hacker-Henig mid-week to pick up wetland pants, so I decided to get as much of the rest of the plants for this new project as I could from her.

Trish only had one Fragrant Sumac, which I snapped up right away. We spent a lot of time debating the grass species, considering a number of candidates, including Penn Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) - which I've decided to use in another part of the front yard for a later project. We finally agreed on Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), for its clumping habit, overall size (which would not overwhelm the other plants in the area) and its fantastic Fall display; I got five pots.

The final design, pending the third Sumac and the Hosta's deletion.
First thing when I got home, I cut down the spruce. This was a lot of work but, on the up side, spruces are pretty easy to kill - unlike yews, for example, if you cut them back to unproductive wood, they will not send out new growth (which is what makes them a challenge to renovate). I cut the shrub down as far as I could and left a bit of the stump, which I covered with mulch. Then I took a break.

I then placed the two Sumacs and five pots of Little Bluestem and planted them in. The design calls for a third Fragrant Sumac, which I purchased just over a week ago from yet another native plant grower and will put in... soon. There's still a lot of work to do - not only putting in the remaining shrub and keeping it all watered, but pruning all three Sumacs to be about the same size so they'll grow nicely together, as well as digging out a few more things, including a 'Blue Angel' hosta and some (get this) aggressive Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). There's still a gap to fill - but I'll figure that out - eventually!

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