Tag: shade garden

Wordless Wednesday: Before and After part 2: My first shade garden

Mother Nature’s Garden

If I consider my knowledge of shade plants to be lacking, my knowledge of wildflowers and natives is even worse. My last two gardens have been around new construction. New construction in both cases on land that had been farm fields. No trees means no shade. And years of row crop cultivation means no native plants (and in the case of the last garden, thanks to the developer, no topsoil, but that’s an entirely different story).

Now I own an acre of land in a suburb of Milwaukee. An acre of which nearly half is in a wooded, “natural” state (read bit of an overgrown mess). The first week we were here one of the neighbors stopped by to introduce himself. In the course of conversation he pointed out that there were trillium in some of the wooded areas. I’m thrilled to discover there’s several more patches dotted all around the woods. Some fairly close to the “cultivated” areas. I’m wise enough to leave them where they naturally choose to grow. But still smile knowing that *I* am growing trillium. I’m guessing these are Trillium flexipes.

I found a couple of patches of another little darling. But have no clue to it’s identity.

And of course, the May Apples (Podophyllum peltatum ). Lots and lots of May Apples.

I’ve always been fond of May Apples. Even from afar they reminded me of little umbrellas for fairies. This is the first year I’ve been able to view them up close. They first emerge as a tight little mass, and then slowly unfurl.

The flags through the May Apples mark the boundaries of the pet “fence” which keeps my cat and dog in the yard. This of course, does not prevent other animals from entering the yard. We have an opossum which frequents under our deck. Last week as I left for a pre-dawn plane flight, the cat snuck out.  My husband and son were awoken by a growling scream to discover a large red fox had cornered the cat (who has lost her out side in the dark priviledges). But the best was the deer last summer that seemed to love tormenting the dog by calming eating foliage just outside of invisible fence line. Excuse the picture clarity – all I had was my phone, and couldn’t get close because I didn’t want to scare the deer. As if that is possible, here in the wild, wild woods of suburbia!

Making the Bed(lines)

My serious garden project of the season is re-doing the beds along the front of the house. When we first bought the house two summers ago, this area was solid yews. To say that I am not a fan of yews, would be a gross understatement. I detest them.

This was the view in July of 2008.

Last summer we cut down all the yews. But got no further. I wanted time to live with the space, observe the amount of sunlight, get to know the soil. This year I’m ready to tackle the space. First step determining the bedlines. Which meant pulling out one of my favorite garden “tools”. Inverted marking paint. I know books and magazines tell you to use a line of lime or other chalky powder, or to lay out a garden hose. I prefer spray paint – downward spraying marking paint to be exact. Easily found at the large box home improvement stores. Usually in a variety of colors.

The large tree to the left of the front path makes it impossible to make this a symmetrical design. I knew I wanted to take the bed in front of the tree out to the driveway and slightly widen the border along the front of the garage.

Notice how as I play with the bed lines, the garden part gets larger, not smaller?

On the right side of the front walk, I wanted to bring a bed to the driveway along the walk. I originally thought a 6′ wide bed, but after eyeballing and measuring realized 4 feet made more sense.

From there I’m trying to create a flowing line that is mower friendly. 

At the far end, there is an area that gets 4-6 hours of mid day sun. I curved back out to allow me to expand my plant palette into more sun friendly specimens. And where I’ve marked an “X”, I am going to plant the ‘Princess Diana’ Amelanchier I purchased at the Missouri Botanic Garden plant sale in May of 2007, and have been torturing in a succession of pots ever since.

Next steps, wash the orange off my thumb, and begin to plan the plants. Fun times……….

Where to begin……

There’s plenty of evidence around my yard that someone at sometime had some professional landscaping done. In fact it appears that maybe multiple someones at multiple times – some professionally done, some not so. I found this plat drawing in the folder of appliance manuals and other household info the previous owners left behind.

Problem is it is also apparent that no effort was made to making these “improvements” over time cohesive. Nor was any effort made to maintain the plantings. Which leaves me struggling in the unknown territory of a shady yard, and unlike the other gardens I’ve created – the lack of a blank slate to create as my own. Instead, I must build upon what I have – make decisions about what to keep, what to lose, and most importantly, where to start. It will be 2 years in July since we moved in, and I’ve let the garden and yard plans fall into a bit of inertia.

My sister in-law and brother tried to jump start me last Memorial Day with an impromptu decision to cut down what I referred to as the “damn yews” along the front of the house. While that did lead to a little plant buying spree (yes, I am a bit of a hortaholic by nature), other than several container plantings, nothing new happened in the yard.

This year I am ready. For a variety of reasons. And frankly it’s time.

I know I will keep this original edging along most of the borders of the yard.

Problem is, most of this area has also been allowed to go wild. Lots of junk trees, rampant suckers. Not a lot to keep. But probably also not a first priority.

Instead I’ve got my eye on (read want to remove) two areas which seem to be later additions. The edging doesn’t match, the island one is out of scale, and the plants inside, just bad. Lots of common (and invasive) honeysuckle.

On the side of the house, yet another type of hardscape, probably the most recent addition based on the retaining wall material. Actually not a bad area, even if I’m not overly fond of this manufactured stacked concrete material. Most of the bed is hostas, want to do some sort of low shrub at the top, and that front lower bed is empty except for a couple of wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Figure this is where I’ll start playing with shade perennials.

But the area where I really need to focus. Where I can make the most impact. Where I have the closest to a blank slate is the front of the house. The place we cut down the damn yews. This is where I need to get out my design pencil and put on my thinking cap. Yes, astute reader, that’s yet another form of edging. Want to expand the beds, change the lines. Have ideas. Time to put those to practice.

Meanwhile, we did make a smidgen of progress on the side. Bed full of overgrown, gangly sumac (Rhus aromatica). Cut them back hard. Just going to mulch this bed this year. Hoping to get them shaped up, at least presentable for this year. Know they will be replaced. But not this year. Because I think I’m beginning to see the starting point. Should be an interesting journey. Come with me, ok?

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