Sunday, October 23, 2011

Project: Screening and Slope Beautification

The biggest of our overwhelming number of potential fall gardening/landscaping projects, and the one we've actually taken steps toward, is doing something about what we've always called The Way Back.  Our property is a long rectangle (slightly skewed and vague about its boundaries) and the part in back of our parking area was, when we moved in twenty-three years ago, a mess of weed trees and weedy underbrush and just weeds.  There have been improvements over the years; the vegetable garden is back there, and we've taken down undesirable trees and planted possibly more desirable ones (including one that conveniently shades the vegetable garden) but our attention tends to be on the parts of the half-acre closer to our house, especially after the unpleasant man known to threaten neighbors who stepped on his property, sometimes with a gun, bought the lot in back of us and built a house.  That house has changed owners twice since Mr. Unpleasant upped and moved to West Virginia.

The current inhabitants own a driving school, and park many and sometimes large vehicles on an excess of blacktop.  Last winter when we had snow, one of the little locust trees that had resurrected itself (as they tend to do) on the back slope fell over and landed on one of their small trucks.  No damage done, but it did lead to some thinking and some tree removal, and we decided to Do Something about the back slope, which was covered with locust and multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle and poison ivy and every goddamn thing we didn't want there, and now (after two Roundup treatments, a lot of mulch, and some initial planting), looks like this:

I did start out in early summer with five creeping junipers, as a trial.  First mistake: not planting until after the rainy spring was over (of course, it is hard to get around to spraying Roundup during a rainy spring).  Second mistake: not running a hose back there.  I did try to water, but it was a horrible summer, and three of the junipers died; I've transplanted the other two to a location where they may survive.

So, starting over, after the fall Roundupping to kill all the stuff that had grown back after the spring dose (by the way, I am not a crazy sprayer, but there are times that herbicide is the only solution, and this was one of them - that whole slope was covered with stuff that had to go), and after some digging out of pokeweed and such that resulted in a nasty swipe of poison ivy down my neck, I started planting again, this time with the strategy of 1) Free Or Very Cheap; and 2) Aggressively Self-Seeding.  I did buy 25 daylilies and 100 daffodils from Gilbert H. Wild, very cheap, and I'm also going to transplant a bunch of other daylilies from around the yard.  Also self-sown buddleias, eupatoriums, baptisias and orange butterfly weed.  Some of those are already in (I still have to get to the daffodils) and I'm also thinking lemon balm, fennel, that sort of thing, anything that spreads and takes over.  Ground that is not covered... will be.  And what's lurking in that green area to the left is not grass, mostly, or where it is it's often Japanese stilt grass.

The branches you see to the upper left are of our dawn redwood, which is magnificent:

but deciduous.  As is the ginkgo nearby, of which more another time.  In the winter we basically have no screening back there to relieve us from the sight of trucks and buses and whatever is parked on any given day, so we determined to plant some evergreens, and (surprisingly enough) actually did so.  (We also bought a new dining room table yesterday, twenty-five years after purchasing the sturdy but cheap Ikea pine one we could afford then and have lived with ever since because we couldn't settle on a new one, oh dear, such a big purchase, the last one we'll ever buy, etc.  I doubt this is a complete End To Dithering, but it's a good sign.)

So I went shopping for trees last week, and got a reasonable bargain on a Cryptomeria japonica 'Radicans' and then paid a bit more for a red holly 'Robin' - here they are upslope a bit from the dawn redwood.  The holly should get about 15 feet tall, the cryptomeria about 30-40; neither is very wide.

Then - ta da! - I got a deodar cedar for $12.50, yes, that's twelve dollars and 50 cents, or 48 cents to be precise.  Found in the 75% off area at Johnson's, and in fact I do know that if it survives (those roots were bundled pretty tight in that too-small pot, but not as badly as I'd been afraid of) it will grow fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide.  There is room for it.  More or less.  Right now it's about four and a half feet tall and rather narrow, and we will run a hose back there and water it lots, as well as the other two.

So - Someday Screening.  It will take a little while.  If only we'd done it years ago, etc. etc.  I am now suffering guilt over not buying natives, but hope to make that up with some understory shrubs in the spring.


  1. Hi Erica,
    Love this blog. Just wonder how you and Bob have time to be such prolific gardeners AND writers. I must say that of all the plants you're thinking of planting, I am sorry I ever planted lemon balm. I have been trying for years to rid my small border garden of it. Think "mint". I also planted Ajuga in a bed along my garage. It escaped and has shown up in several places in my yard but is especially noticeable in my lawn where it displaces the turf. I actually think this is a good thing. It takes a lot less maintenance than turf and you can walk on it without damaging it. I particularly like that it took up residence around my newly planted redbud and service berry. No need to mulch and the threat of lawnmower damage is gone.

  2. Hi Ria - I am blessed/cursed with lots of lemon balm too, and still need to rip it all out of my vegetable garden - but I think this slope may be the place where I can let it run wild. I'd rather have that than the weeds I will have instead.