Posts Tagged ‘landscaping’

spring at brooklyn botanic

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

PVD-NYC-LAS. What a crazy week! Looking back on it I must say the absolute best part of it all was a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s a must whenever we’re in town. Last weekend was the height of the cherry blossoms. Springtime in New York never looked more incredible… (as always, click to biggify)

cherry blossom alley

Hanami is April 3 through May 2 and “celebrates the Japanese cultural tradition of enjoying each moment of the cherry blossom season.” It’s truly magical…

a ceiling of cherry blossoms

white cherries

Wish we were there this weekend for Sakura Matsuri, which closes out the month-long festival.  Instead, I’ll be getting dirt under my fingernails here at the homestead. Can’t exactly complain about that.

Also a riot of blossoms: the magnolias. Their perfume is intoxicating…

magnolias in bloom

And the lilacs. A huge field of them — and so many different varieties!

field of lilacs

heavenly scented lilacs

The French cultivars seemed to have the best smell. I think I sniffed my sniffer off…

lilac closeup

Closer to the ground, the grape hyacinths and euphorbias looked amazing. What a great combination of shades…

grape hyacinths and euphorbias

And these little minty looking guys with pink heads. Anybody know what these are? So cute. I need some of these…

looks like mint

The jonquils and epimediums look great together. My epimediums are just starting to pop in Providence…

epimidiums and jonquils

Between the foliage of the Japanese maples and the azaleas just starting and the cherry trees in full bloom, the Japanese garden was bursting with color…

japanese garden

Japanese torii gate

I’ve been researching Japanese maples so I geeked out over this linearlobum (also called threadleaf). Love the bright green against the red bark…

green japanese maple

Currently considering adding a Crimson Queen Japanese maple — it’s a dissectum. Here’s one at BBG viewed through a Weeping Katsura

japanese maple thru the weeping katsura tree

Can’t forget the wisteria. Some of the vines were still bare. Their gnarly structure looks so great all year. I might even love that more than the flowers…

wisteria vine

Some of them were already in bloom, though…

wisteria on display

In May, this place is insane with scent of wisteria. Heady stuff. If you haven’t been to Brooklyn Botanic, go around Mother’s Day. It’s fantastical.

drawing in the dirt

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Remember that spray chalk? I finally used it to mark out the bulk of our future hardscape, lawn, garden beds and paths. From the roof, you can see how the yard looks way less daunting mapped out. Plus it gives me a guide for where to plant my largest shrubs and trees.

Shall we walk? Cross the patio and take the steps over the small pool… (click to biggify)

view of the yard from roof | patio area

Then head down the stairs with Bix to the area below the retaining wall…

bix runs down stairs

Wander down a few paths through what I picture as a lush, green jungle that will layer in some privacy from the street…

view of yard from the roof | area below patio

Take the stepping stones through the far corner bed to smell the flowering currants

stepping stones in the far corner bed

It’s rough, but I think you begin to get the picture… Bix sure does.

bix running down path

Now that the lawn area up top is mapped out, we can seed it…

view of yard from the roof | top of yard

This part of the yard over by the water collection tank stays shady the entire day, so no grass here. Just shade lovers to hide the manhole covers and a gravel path to take you around to the side yard…

future gravel path

Once we get the grass seed down, I’ll start the garden beds over here…

view from the side yard

Still firming up exact dimensions in the veggie area but there will definitely be raised beds (to form a barrier that keeps kids from toppling off the retaining wall) to the left and low (4′ high) espaliered fruit trees down the property line on the right…

view of garden zone

While we’re at it, this side of the retaining wall faces south…

view of front retaining wall

… which makes it perfect for an espaliered asian pear. You know, like this…

espaliered asian pear |

espaliered asian pear |

This is the food zone, after all. And yes, I’m greedy. I plan to take advantage of every last inch of it.

Speaking of zones, remember my planting zones?

planting zones

Now that the beds are roughly out, I’ll be heavy into planning what plants go where according to zone. I love this part!

busta slope!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Can I just start with the incredible view from my backyard across my neighbors’ yards towards Providence College?

springtime view of neighboring yards

Spring is suddenly busting out of her halter top! It’s like a botanic garden back there, which makes our dirtscape look all the more desolate…


That changed somewhat on the front slope today. The truck from Sylvan Nursery pulled in at around 9 this morning and dropped off our plants

sylvan truck arrives

Shiva and Rich offloaded 199 in all…

plant lineup

The four flowering currants arrived from Forest Farm just a few days ago — flowering!

flowering currants — arrived in the box, flowering!

Today’s arrivals are also showing signs of spring. The cute little bearberries are blooming…

bearberry in bloom

And the yellowroot plants are fully in flower already…

yellowroot in flower

And the heavenly scented sweetferns will soon unfurl…

signs of sweetfern fronds

Shiva and Rich started getting things in the ground right away, first cutting holes through the Curlex matting so they could dig holes for the plants…

digging thru curlex

They made their way through most of the plants today…

slope progress

By the end of the day, I’d say they probably made it about two-thirds of the way across the 100-foot stretch…

the slope at the end of day

They literally stopped traffic all day. So many rubber-neckers curious to see the transformation, I guess. Or Rich and Shiva busting out of their halter tops.

Tomorrow, Shiva and our friend Ellen will finish up and determine how many more plants we’ll need to fill out the space nicely. I can’t wait to watch this happy hillside transform as things grow over the next year. Thanks to everyone who helped to make this happen!

day 4: savage, savage love

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Well, now they’ve gone and done it, those Savages. They left us with the most pristine dirtscape I’ve ever seen. If we f**k this up, it’s completely our fault.

soil closeup

92 yards of loamy, composty goodness. Raked out and ready to receive grass seed and plantage. Which needs to happen immediately.

So a quick rundown of what happened today:

Adam dug out the 8′ or so of icky street frontage ground in front of our new retaining wall…

digging in front of the retaining wall

[I’m sure he’d like me to note that he wasn’t operating the mini excavator while on his cell phone.] Now that some nice loam is put down, we’ll be seeding this with grass to connect with our neighbor’s bit of turf…

new grass area

Rich secured a few more strips of Curlex on the front slope just in time for the arrival of the plants tomorrow morning…

more curlex

And Mr. Savage not only got rid of the dirt ramp put in to move equipment up the hill…

hill patching

He also improved on what was originally there by getting out the last of the rocks and smoothing out the irregularities with loam…

slope view in front of entry

We’ll use that pile of crushed stone somewhere else, I’m sure. The last of the rhododendrons got sent merrily on its way to its new home at Rich and Story’s house…

another rhodo goes bye bye

I started marking out where the raised beds will go in the veggie garden…

veggie zone view

But mostly I just stood around looking dumbfounded at our new, virgin yard…

view out back

view uphill

view from street

view straight on

I’m gonna miss me some Savages. They packed up all their toys and took them away…

packing up

Think I can get them to come back and do the inside of the house?

day 3: a whole new yard

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

What a difference a day makes! It really does look like we have a whole new yard.

Yesterday morning began with the arrival of a tri-axel filled with Smithfield Peat’s finest screened loam/compost mix. Impressive. The Savages broke out the big guns…

tri-axel truck arrives full of loam

7:30 am, Adam starts with a little more grading out back with the mini excavator…

7:30 am grading begins

You can hardly even tell the water collection tank is there. Well, except for the giant manhole covers and the filter, of course. We’ll remove one of those covers and screen it all with plants soon enough…

water collection manholes

For future reference, David marked down where the overflow piping and other underground bits of the system are hiding. Probably a good idea…

rain collection diagram

The veggie zone got raked out…

ready to spread compost in veggie zone

… then the loam was brought in and spread with the bobcat. So rich, it looks like brownie mix…

loaming veggie zone

Our plants are going to be soooo spoiled…

finished veggie zone

Rich and Mr. Savage perfected the grade out back so that water would flow away from the house and down the slope…

getting the grade right so water will drain

Then it was ready for loam…

back ready for loam

Which  Adam had spread in no time…

backyard with loam

Ever since we moved in, I’ve been looking forward to finding a new home for five fairly young rhododendrons. The last owner must have put them in hoping to add privacy to the downstairs patio area… which is ridiculous for several reasons. One: those suckers take forever to grow, so there wouldn’t be privacy screening for at least another decade. And Two: they planted them practically on top of each other and way too close to the pathway — hard to believe looking at them now, but these will be monsters when they finally reach 12′ tall and 12′ across…

row of rhodos

So Mr. Savage dug them up for Rich to take home with him. Plant them and love them, Story!

bye rhodos

Mr. Savage added a little soil and smoothed out the eroded slope along the road…

adding to slope

… the entire 100′ foot length of it. Wow, that looks incredible!

slope prepped and ready for curlex

Then Rich and Shiva dug a shallow trench along the top of the slope where the biodegradable Curlex erosion control matting will be secured…

digging the trench up top

That was a lot of digging…

top of slope trench

Then the two of them rolled the Curlex down the slope…

first roll of curlex

… and secured it with our natural, biodegradable staples at the top and bottom.

second roll of curlex

Up the hill, down the hill, up the hill… and so on. Thanks, Rich!

two more rolls

sixth roll of curlex

closeup curlex

twelfth roll of curlex

By late afternoon, the slope was completely transformed. The Curlex won’t break down for three years, which is plenty of time for plants to get established. Speaking of which, the plants arrive this Tuesday…

end of rolls

Meanwhile, David made a trip to Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA, to pick up our focal point tree for the backyard…

tree in truck

Doesn’t look like much in the truck…

tree arrives

After months of deliberation, I finally settled on a Betula nigra Cully Heritage River Birch. Yes, I considered many other gorgeous options — Perrotia Persica (Persian Ironwood),  Stewartia Pseudocamillia (Japanese Stewartia), Fagus Sylvatica Tortuosa (Tortuous European Beech) and Cercidiphyllum Japonicium (Katsura or Caramel Tree), were top contenders. But the size and multi-trunked habit of the Heritage Birch was just right. I’ve been stalking just such a tree in a neighborhood where I run. This is what it looked last last summer…

heritage cullen birch

The peeling bark is really something…

birch bark closeup

So with the help of Adam in the bobcat, Shiva, David and Rich got the tree up the slope…

tree wrangling

… and hoisted it into the hole..

putting tree in hole

And, voila! Landscaping has officially begun. Thanks to Shiva and Ellen for making the tree-sleuthing trip to Sylvan last week to find the perfect specimen for us. It’s gawgeous!

tree planted

Birches grow quickly, so this should fill out nicely in no time. Will look lovely from the living area…

goodnight yard

Thank you so much Savages. You rawk!

savage trucking

day 2: major progress

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Who needs Good Friday when you can have Amazingly Awesome Friday, like we had today?

First things first. David finished plumbing the rainwater collection system, connecting the anti-backflow valve and laying the overflow pipe into a bed of gravel in the trench that was dug yesterday. Looks crazy, doesn’t it?

water collection overflow piping for runoff

Then the overflow piping got covered in crushed stone and the trench was backfilled with dirt…

gravel atop overflow

The piping trench alongside the house got brought back up to grade with dirt…

side yard and veggie garden soil spread

Then the gravel bed for that 2′ buffer around the house got spread. Eventually, we’ll add galvanized steel edging to hold and define it, then this buffer will get topped off with smooth, black beach pebbles (3rd house down at link for example)…

gravel buffer added on side yard

At the back of the house, the patio area was readied for a bed of crushed stone…


Crushed stone was spread to about 6″ deep today. This will form the bed for the concrete strips to be poured some day in the not too distant future…

gravel gets spread for patio bed

The world’s most awesome worker bees raking out all that gravel…

patio and backyard buffer gravel get spread

Have I mentioned lately how much I love you guys?

full buffer view

With the upper level done, the boys moved down to the storage area under the patio and dug that out a few inches in preparation for tomorrow’s loam arrival…

storage zone gets prepped

And with that, the day was done.

Tomorrow, a tad more grading, loam spreading and erosion control matting will get secured to the front slope. See you then!

day 1: dirt slinging

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Busy day in the yard. I’ll keep it brief.

Dug the ramp to get the equipment up the slope and into the yard…

digging the ramp

First stop: the future veggie/herb/fruit area, which until now has only been ripe with the tripping-hazard roots of straggling juniper and the unsympathetic thorns of flowering quince…

juniper removal

Adam scraped up the undesirables…

digging veggie garden

Rich spread the dirt around in preparation for the good loam to come in soon…

veggie garden dirt spreading

Digging of the trench alongside the house began. Water will be collected from the roof and channeled to piping that will run to the giant water collection tank…

digging trench along house

Where there weren’t boulders in the way, there were cantankerous roots to subdue…

digging up a cantankerous root

The trench was brought around the corner to the tank…

more trench digging

Then the water collection piping got sorted out…

water collection piping gets sorted out

… and hooked up.

piping gets laid in and hooked up to tank

The overflow piping starts to go in…

overflow piping

While David sorts out the tank piping, the boys dug out the patio area so that it will be ready for the arrival of a few inches of crushed stone tomorrow…

patio area prepped for crushed stone

And Adam made quick work of removing the lead soil along the neighbor’s property line…

lead remova1 along the property line

The nasty soil got carted over to the dump truck and hauled away…

lead soil gets moved to dump truck

A good sized stump made the trip as well…

tree stump gets dug up

We accidentally displaced some newborn snakes while digging today. These are harmless Northern Brown Snakes. They like to eat slugs, which is fine by me…

found baby snakes!

Also unearthed a relic from the days when this was the back forty for a former sizable estate at the top of the hill…

unearthed bottle

Back to the water collection tank. A massive trench was dug for the overflow piping…

overflow trench gets dug

When I say massive, I mean over my head…

trench canyon

We can now visit the Grand Canyon — without leaving home!

boys with big equipment

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

They dropped it off today — the big equipment. Round Two of the yard makeover starts tomorrow at 7 a.m. This means digging the trench for the water collection piping, final grading, topping off with good loam and much-needed erosion control for the front slope.

Here’s the lineup…

heavy equip 1

heavy equipment 2

heavy equipment 3

Can’t wait to get this moving so we can finally get some plants in the ground. We did some necessary property line defining today in preparation for the soil that’s coming.

garden digging

Which reminds me that I need to order some heavy-duty steel edging, asap. I’ll get right on that. In the meantime…



Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

You want a washout? Yeah, we got that…

slope washout

That slope used to be slopier. Days of constant rain have made it slumpier. What a mess. Good thing the cavalry is coming later this week. To the rescue: some supercool, environmentally friendly erosion control.

curlex closeup

American Excelsior Company makes this awesome biodegradable erosion control blanket called Curlex, available in 150′ rolls. It offers some benefits over straw or coconut fiber, a few other green options out there. We definitely did not want to go with polypropylene. We’ll be using the Curlex CL. Here’s what makes it better for us…

curlex in action

They’re made of barbed, interlocking aspen fibers, of all things. It allows rainwater to slowly percolate into the soil, clings to the ground to stop erosion and creates a warm, damp place for new plants to take hold. Which is exactly what we need. There’s really nothing else like it out there. I’ll let you know how it works out.

e-staple |

To secure them, we’ll be using 6″, water-resistant biodegradable stakes made from plant sugars and oils, also by Excelsior. Not petroleum based. And rather than leaving hundreds and hundreds of metal stakes in the ground forever, these E-Staples will naturally degrade slowly  — by the time they’re gone, our plants will be established.

Shiva, who’s going to be tackling that bear of a slope (with some help) bless her heart, will be able to cut right through the blanket once it’s been rolled out and dig planting holes for the new plants. The plants are ordered and on their way. Woo hoo!! Thanks for making it all happen, girlfrennn.

Before Shiva can do her magic, it now looks like we’re going to have to add soil to that rain-ravaged slope. It never recovered from the retaining wall guys turning it into a ramp…

a ramp in my slope

Once they loosened the dirt, it was bound to erode even quicker. The concrete guys still owe us 40 yards of top soil — this looks like a good place for some of it.

We have a crew we love coming as soon as the mud dries up to make it all happen. Not just on the street slope but around the entire yard where we need final grading. More heavy equipment, yay! Our neighbors are gonna love us.

rain rain... you know the rest

quick, get the flamethrower!

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I’m only kidding a little. We’re being invaded. Fuh reals. I recently wrote about my intent to keep invasive plants out of my garden. Perhaps I should clarify — when I say “invasive,”  I don’t mean plants that are a little rambunctious. I’m talking about something much more menacing.

Here’s The Nature Conservancy’s definition:

On their home turf, plant and animal populations are kept in check by natural controls, like predators and food supply. However, when a species is introduced — accidentally or intentionally — into a new landscape that is not used to its presence, the consequences can be devastating. Most of these “non-native” species do not misbehave. But some non-native species spread unchecked by the lack of natural competitors and predators.  They push out native species and cause ecological chaos. These are known as “invasive” species.

Here’s an excellent example I know you’re familiar with: Kudzu.

kudzu monsters

from Kudzu Covered Houses |

Originally from Japan, it was brought to America in 1876 as part of an international exposition. The plant was pretty, easy to grow and became increasingly popular with gardeners.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The planting of well over a million acres of the stuff was fully subsidized by the U.S. government. The South’s balmy climate is perfect for Kudzu, so of course it thrived. And then it kicked ass. Literally. It smothers native trees and plants to death. Researchers have tried torching it, spraying it with deadly (to everyone) chemicals, and sic-ing kudzu-eating bugs and sheep on it. Now there’s talk of it being used for biofuel — I hope that catches on. Want to see awesome photos of houses being devoured by it?

purple loosestrife |

purple loosestrife |

If you live in New England, you’ve no doubt seen Purple Loosestrife choking our wetlands, marshes and meadows. Pretty in bloom, yes. But it’s a dense, aggressive grower that’s difficult to eradicate. It was brought here by settlers from Europe in the 1800s and is now displacing native grasses and other plants our local wildlife relies on for food and habitat. Purple Loosestrife has spread to every province of Canada and every contiguous state except Florida. The Department of Agriculture sees it as a threat and has been bringing in European beetles as an experiment in control. Dunno if it’s working.

Like Kudzu and Purple Loosestrife,  there are plenty of other plants listed as “noxious weeds”  by the fed and state governments. “Noxious” indicates an invasive plant considered to be such a threat that it requires an organized effort to eradicate it and is in some cases illegal to plant, propagate or sell. That said, I bought Purple Loosestrife a decade ago at a very reputable nursery and only found out afterwards it was wanted by the long arm of the law. Lesson learned: be aware so that you don’t contribute to the problem.

Pretty sure you don’t have invasive plants lurking in your garden? You might want to check. Here are just a few that look pretty innocent but are far from it where I live. These are plants I pass every day on my run through the city…

japanese barberry |

japanese barberry |

oriental bittersweet |

oriental bittersweet |

“burning bush” euonymus |

“burning bush” euonymus |

“vinca” common periwinkle |

“vinca” common periwinkle |

japanese honeysuckle |

japanese honeysuckle |

I’ll stop there. There are links below for a much longer list no matter where you live, if you’re interested. Maybe you’ll luck out and find you’re not harboring an invasive or two in your garden — unlike me.

So what can we do about it, really?

When I read things like this from the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners site…

The two greatest threats to biological diversity around the world are habitat loss/destruction and the presence of invasive species. Nearly half of the plants and animals on the U.S. Endangered Species List are at risk because of invasive species.

and things like this from a 2010 State of the Birds report…

… nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline… [due to pesticides, invasive species and general loss of habitat]

… it only reinforces my feeling that I don’t need to add to the problem. Bees are suffering. Butterflies are suffering. Hybridizing has been hard on both, as well as the same things killing off our birds.

By eliminating invasive species from my own yard, I’m doing something. Not much, I know, but every little bit. And many sources say if you want to help pollinators make the best of an increasingly bad situation, provide at least some native perennials, shrubs and trees for food and habitat — “native” means original to North America as opposed to a plant brought here from another continent.

I confess now that not all of my plants will be native — my ginkgos and Japanese maples are obviously Asian, for instance. I do have a large number of natives, though, and will continue to add them as the garden goes in. When I post garden plans, I’ll try to identify what is and isn’t native.

In the meantime, look out, invasives. If I see you, I’m reaching for the blowtorch. Yeah, I’m talkin’ bout you, vinca.

*     *     *     *     *

Bookmarks for this post Excellent resource for info on invasives, including news updates… their Invasive Plant Atlas of the U.S. is broken out by plant types Lists by state of invasives considered to be noxious weeds Group from Cornell University that researches how non-indigenous plants affect native ecosystems and the species living in them

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England Species considered to be invasive at some level, also a list of illegal noxious weeds

Wildlife Habitat Council Lots of great resources for creating pollinator (bee and butterfly) habitats in your backyard

National Wildlife Federation How to help improve your local ecosystem by creating habitat in your yard for all kinds of wildlife — sustainability starts at home!

North American Native Plant Society An excellent plant database for restoring and conserving native plants

Your native plant society (nationwide links) is an excellent source for native plants to supplement your garden. Being in Providence, I like Garden in the Woods — the garden and shop of the New England Wildflower Society outside Boston and the RI Wild Plant Society annual sale, and there are scads of nurseries that either specialize in or offer native plants. Lists of native plants by region as well as nurseries

I’m sure there are other good books on natives, but I can highly recommend these because I own them: Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines published by the New England Wild Flower Society