March 5, 2016

The Eight Step Garden Plan


     My yard is plenty big, unusual and a challenge to maintain. You enter the front door from one level and the basement in the back from another. In between there are lots of stairs. This has its advantages since it adds so much interest to the garden, but it also means dragging equipment up and down for maintenance and plenty more steps in any day of yard work.

The yard from the deck level last summer

     This early spring, as the bulbs begin to emerge, I'm feeling overwhelmed. Last year’s leaves and tufts of old grass are beginning to peek out from every corner and the whole yard looks a mess. Ordinarily I try to get a handle on it all as soon as the weather warms, but I end up stiff and exhausted and never seem to get to all of the details I would like. So this year I have devised a new plan with eight steps.
     Right now, in late February, a few buds are emerging and here and there we're seeing temperatures in the fifties. It’s not time yet for flowers and lawn chairs, but it is certainly warm enough for some raking and pruning before the weather turns hot. Since our springs and autumns are far too short here, I like to get a jump on the seasons. And so, now is the time to try out my plan.
     I started by walking around the yard with a new eye this year. I certainly can see all of the jobs I need to do, but right now I’m not focusing on the whole. Instead I am trying to see the yard in sections, or levels. Some parts of the yard are easily kept, such as the lawn in the back. It is fairly level and not very big. Mostly a good regular mowing keeps it neat once the winter leaves are gone. The garden sections however need more work and take up much more energy. They need weeding and the flowers need deadheading and that takes time. Even though the garden now requires much less stooping and kneeling in the dirt, due to the built in garden levels, it still is plenty of work.
     As I walked around the property I broke down the yard into what I figure will be eight, manageable areas and I made some notes. I also inspected some plants that I have in the yard that are unhappy. The biggest gardening rule I have learned over the years is “location, location, location”. If a plant is not in the right spot where it's getting the sun it needs, or the shade or enough air movement or space, I’m wasting my time trying to get it to grow well. I once put a weeping cherry in the yard and it did not fare well. When I replaced it with a river birch that likes wet feet and dry leaves, both I and the tree were happy. With this in mind I planned moving several plants.

My river birch from the deck level

      The plan calls for me to tackle one section at a time. Each should not take more than a day or two to get into good shape. I vowed that, as much as possible, I would stay focused until I was satisfied. Then I made a list:

     My first item is what I call the “kitchen level”. It is the uppermost area of the yard where most people enter the garden from the front. It is mostly a narrow path and not especially interesting, along the northeast side of the house, and opens to an area outside of the kitchen corner of the house. It’s there on that high level that I keep my trusty clothesline. Someone long ago planted a mess of ivy along the house and it always needs a good pruning. In the past I have not paid much attention to that level and it was the perfect place to start because of that. So I did.

The kitchen level (on the top right) last summer

    First I moved a large hydrangea from the top of the stone wall. It had stopped blooming three years ago and wilts all summer in the hot sun. I moved it closer to the steps where the soil is better and away from the dry, stone wall and then I brought up a climbing rose that was buried in deep shade down by the garage. I cut back ivy all along the house and ordered a huge trellis for the roses and made a little lattice section to fit under the stairs. I have threatened to do this for years, but never got around to it. I replaced the dead bulbs in the landscaping lights, pruned back the butterfly bush and raked well. It took most of the day and I learned a real lesson. Focus makes a huge difference.

Digging up the hydrangea

Hydrangea moved.

Trellis up

Ready for leaves and flowers to emerge

Lattice panel made from lumber scraps

    Instead of feeling overwhelmed because there was no way I could get to everything at once in my yard, I got one area done to my satisfaction and done with more detail than in previous years. Then I packed it in for that day. In the end I felt I had made a major accomplishment. Now, if the relocated plants are happier in their new digs, a part of my yard I didn’t mess with much should look much better. It's only one section but I'm good with that. So far I'm liking my plan!
     I'm ready to move on and tackle my yard with more focus and hopefully better results overall. Let’s see what happens!

    Thanks for visiting, please come again!

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