Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

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!

the erosion zone: plant choices

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Did you catch Erosion Zone, part one? This is part two, Revenge of the Erosion Zone, in which the battle against a tyrannical slope continues. Now that you’ve seen the problems that need solving, here are the plants that are up to the job.

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi ‘Massachusetts’… also known as Bearberry or Kinnickinnick (Algonquin Indian name)

arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |
arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? excellent slope erosion control, loves crappy soil, recommended under oaks, native to the East Coast, it’s a spreader, white/pink flowers in spring and red berries in fall for birds, evergreen so it has year-round color, disease- and bug-resistant, long-lived, should do fine in morning sun/afternoon shade, rare and protected in some states

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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2. Comptonia peregrina … also known as Sweetfern

comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods
comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the East Coast, great for stabilizing slopes, thrives in dry spots on woodland edges, food for moths and butterflies, gorgeous blue-green foliage will look great peeking out above brighter greens, excellent spreader, it’s actually shrub that looks like a fern, should do great in morning sun/afternoon shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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3. Cornus canadensis… also known as Bunchberry or Creeping Dogwood

cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |
cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? nice bright green with white flowers just like a dogwood but only 8″ tall, as a northern native shade-loving woodland groundcover it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade (hey, I have that!), good spreader, likes medium moisture which may be helped once other plants are established, reputed to be dependable so I’m willing to see how it does on-site


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4. Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’… also known as white flowering Wild Currant

ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |
ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the dry open woods and ravines of the Northwest coast, absolutely gorgeous pendulous white flowers, fruits, food for hummingbirds, butterflies and birds, good in zones 4-9 (I’m 5-6ish), drought-tolerant, recommended under oaks, should do great with morning sun/afternoon shade


WHY NOT A NATIVE CURRANT CLOSER TO HOME? our regional variety, known as American black currant or wild black currant (Ribes americanum), has been banned since the early 1900s in an effort to prevent White Pine Blister Rust. Sounds painful. It’s a fungus that was bad for the logging industry at the time. Black currant is officially deemed “a public nuisance” in RI and MA. Heavy. The ban has been lifted in most states. btw, red-flowering currant and pink-flowering currant are two great alternatives to the white — we went with white to unite the color scheme on this slope.

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5. Rubus pentalobus ‘Emerald Carpet’… also known as Ornamental Raspberry

rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |
rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? loves climbing steep hillsides, used for erosion control (mostly on the West Coast), very drought-tolerant, from the thickets of Taiwan and has a slight Asian look about it that will tie nicely to the garden above, white flowers in spring, golden fruits for birds later in the season, bright green will really pop in the shade, leaves turn purple in fall and only fall off in extreme cold, insect- and disease-resistant, says hardy in zones 6-9 but in canvassing plant chats about this species (yeah, I’m a geek that way) I see that fanatics from Canada to Connecticut say they have no problems, local nursery endorses it… am willing to experiment

READ MORE ABOUT IT: herehere and here (Arnold Arboretum magazine feature on unique Asian plants grown in the Boston arboretum, including ornamental raspberry — another reason I’m sure it will do well here)

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6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii ‘Hancock’… also known as Chenault Coralberry or Snowberry

symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |
symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the West coastal range but disappearing on the East Coast, pinkish flowers attract hummingbirds, white berries in fall and winter for birds, good spreader, used to restore embankments, drought-tolerant, not picky about soil, hardy in zones 4-7, likes some sun to full shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima…  also known as Yellowroot

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native East Coast woodland shrub accustomed to stream banks, thrives in bright shade to full shade, bright green with small purple flowers in summer, fruit for birds, turns an amazingly deep purple in fall, average soil, great spreader, appears to like some moisture so protection of other plants may help

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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So Shiva talked me into bearberry. I talked her into flowering currant and creeping raspberry. I’m sure her bearberry will do well — great idea, Shiva! I think the fruit-bearers will thrive but I’ll probably give them special attention until established. Garden experiments. Ya never know.

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How much will it take to fill 95′ x 8′?

Shiva suggests the following, although we’ll likely need to add after it’s had a year to get established…

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi/bearberry:

6″h x 1-3’w at maturity … need 15 plants

2. Comptonia peregrina/sweetfern:

2-4’h x 4-8’w at maturity … need 75 plants

3. Cornus canadensis/bunchberry or creeping dogwood:

6-9″h x 2’w at maturity … need 50 plants

4. Ribes sanguineum Hannaman’s White/white flowering wild currant:

roughly 6’h x 6’w at maturity … need 4 plants

5. Rubus pentalobus Emerald Carpet/ornamental raspberry:

6″h x 3’w at maturity … need 9 plants

6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii Hancock/snowberry:

2’h x 6’w at maturity … need 8 plants

7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima/yellowroot:

2-3’h x 2-3’w at maturity … need 42 plants

Oof, that’s a lot of plants. Now you can see why I need help! Thanks, Shiva, for doing the figuring.

erosion zone

More to come on our erosion zone project as springtime unpacks its bags and the real work begins.

how green is my brain?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Downhill. That pretty much describes the property when we moved in, cuz it’s all slope. Plenty is going to happen indoors — and soon. But right now, my concentration is on the outdoors. Welcome to How Green is My Brain Week at modremod!

I think I mentioned before how the outside was going to see the biggest change. That’s already underway… but I should catch you up before I show you where we are. Shall I point out a few things in this photo from last October?

(as usual, click to biggify and take in the full glory)

property view

To the right: unfinished wall. To the left: massive pile of stone left by previous owner. We call it the rocky menace. We also call it outta here.

rocky menace

Feel free to compare the above shot to what it looked like here in ’72 when the house was built. (first image after the jump)

As for short run of unfinished wall along the street… it was abandoned when the previous owner ran out of money (I assume, as we bought this house from the bank). Street frontage on that side runs about 95 feet. We priced getting someone to finish that wall. Ka-ching!… and multiple stone people said do not use that crappy stone.

hasta la vista wall

Therefore, c’ya wall.

And then there’s the slope. From the top of our yard, we have a clear view well above the roofline of the houses at the bottom of the slope, just across the street  — that’s over two stories’ worth of elevation change. The slope presents a number of problems, the first being how to hold back the dirt. The timbers that formed the retaining wall along the driveway…

subsiding driveway slope 1

have rotted, of course. With every rain and snowstorm, more dirt slides into the driveway.

subsiding driveway slope 2

Like our attempt to redirect the water out into the street by channeling it through the hose? Lovely.

subsiding driveway slope 3

Pretty sure our next door neighbor looks away in horror every time he drives past the spot where his brick wall touches our disaster. Hard to believe it ever looked like this. (after the jump, scroll down to the last two images)

Out back, the timber retaining wall that supports  an anemic patio area has also rotted away….

rotting backwall

Not sure which is better with a 5-year-old on the premises: the five-foot drop off the edge or the rusty 12″ nails protruding here and there from the wood. Mmmmmm, tetanus.

So now that you have the lay of the land, here’s what we hope to accomplish outside:

  1. Tame that slope. We can’t make it go away and actually like the potential of the landscape — slope creates challenges, yes, but it also creates interest. We’d like to end up with a spot or two of level (or at least almost-level) area for safe play and entertaining. Terracing will help eliminate the erosion.
  2. Give it life. I’ve had about 130 trees, shrubs and perennials trapped in pots since the move. There were more than that. Every hard freeze I lose a couple more, it seems. I hear plants screaming in my sleep. It’s time to set the garden free.
  3. Think carefully about what we plant. More on this in upcoming posts. For now, I’ll leave it at this: minimal grass, no invasive plants allowed, native plants well-represented, plenty of habitat for birds, bees and butterflies, drought-tolerate plants in hard to reach areas, all-season interest, no big-box store plants, and a chemical-free discovery zone that no kid can resist.
  4. Create an everyday escape. Because our yard has been a hard, rocky, slope-y place, we’ve pretty much left home for outdoor fun for the last two years. We’ve never had kids over to play in the yard, because it hasn’t been safe. We go to friends’ cookouts but just don’t have a place for our own. I envision our yard as a daily destination… where we can finally relax, play and entertain like we used to, get our hands in the dirt and harvest veggies and fruit for as much of the year as we can.
  5. Give a lot of thought to aesthetics. Because this yard is basically a blank slate, we have the opportunity to create something that complements the style of the house as well as our lifestyle. The end result doesn’t have to be Dwell magazine material, it just has to make sense.

fern at roger williams botanical gardens, providence ri