Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A New Garden To Play In

I have a new garden to play in...unfortunately, it's thousands of miles away, back East. It's the garden (and I use that term very loosely) around my son Iain's new house. While I was there visiting I took photos. Not enough photos, but anyway, I thought I'd share them with you, and let you know some of their ideas for what they want to do with the space, and let you know some of my ideas.

And if you have any thoughts, please tell me.

The front of the house, which faces west, so we are looking toward the north here.

Those two shrubs are Rhodies, apparently lavender-flowered. They weren't flowering when we were there, but they've flowered since, and Diana emailed me to let me know what color they were. They want to keep them. There's a rose behind the Rhodies too, which they'll probably keep, although it might need to be moved, depending on how soon they take down some of those trees, because it will need more sun. If I remember correctly, that very short plant in front of the chimney is also a Rhodie, that looks like it was butchered by the previous owners for some unknown reason.  Of those three trees on the left-hand side, the middle one is coming out, because it's mostly dead.

Not directly garden-related, but plant-related -- see the front door in that above photo? That's actually the second front door. There's another one directly to our right as we're standing here. The kids want to take out that superfluous front door and put in a fourth window and turn that room into a light- and plant-filled atrium/sunroom. It has a drop ceiling right now, but they plan to take that out and put in skylights to bring as much light as possible into the room. They've even started a Pinterest board with ideas for it. See it here. Iain and Diana's Atrium Pinterest Board

Oh, to be young and ambitious and energetic!

Another shot of the front garden, facing the opposite direction, toward the south

Here you can see there is a double row of conifers very close together and also very close to the house.  They're planning to take out that middle row. I think they should thin the trees along the street as well. The strange piece of fence on the left hides the recycle/trash bins. I'm not sure what they plan to do with that concrete walkway that goes to the second front door. I'd love to see them break it up and use the pieces for a recycled concrete wall or perhaps for a path, like paving stones.

Still the front, all the way up at the southwest corner of the house, still looking south. There's an arborvitae and a rose, and an enormous conifer -- it's a corner lot, by the way

This enormous conifer stands right on the corner and they want to keep it

Do you know trees? I don't know enough to identify it.

On  to the back garden.

Looking out the back door, facing south -- there used to be an above-ground pool, now just a big patch of sand

There's a fence in sorry shape, and another row of conifers, planted very closely, some with multiple trunks. I recommended that they take some of them out, at least every other one. The yard and the fence continue around the corner of the house. They talked about putting a shed down there in the corner under the conifers and a greenhouse possibly around the corner, where the garden gets the most sun.

I have all kinds of ideas for what to do with this long narrow area. I think the first instinct of most people is to put beds all along the edges and grass in the middle. In fact, that's exactly what I have in my garden here in Washington state (I had less imagination ten years ago). But if I were redoing my son's garden, I'd put in a long, winding path with beds that come out into the middle of the space and large plants and shrubs that obscure the destination of the path and show little, or just hints, of what's ahead.

A closer look at the fence

You can see the rotten fence is being held up by metal poles. I would love to recycle those into supports for Danger Garden-style dish planters once they replace the fence.
Here's a closeup of one of the conifers -- any clues what it is? I really don't know anything about trees (I'm lucky I can tell the difference between an oak and a maple)

Closer to the  house -- Look what's growing in the lawn! Onoclea sensibilis(sensitive fern) I told them to rescue these

And another fern, Athyrium? Dryopteris?

I knew this looked familiar when I first saw it but couldn't place it, now I'm wondering if it's Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)

Here's what's growing around the corner, along the south wall of the house

An oak tree!

Pretty sure this is Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon), growing a little too close to the house

If they can move the Rose of Sharon without killing it, to put it somewhere it isn't interfering with the eaves of the house, that would be great, especially if it has a pretty flower. But the oak tree has to go. This is the area where they want to put a greenhouse.

Now we're at the back door again, looking in the other direction, toward the north

The yard slopes untidily upward in the Northeast corner. Of course, those tidy terraced walls belong to the neighbor. There are, I think, three oak trees, and two swings hanging from the largest. Iain and Diana would like to put a water feature here, a waterfall and disappearing stream. I asked Iain, 'Not a pond?" But he was adamant. I think he remembers digging an enormous hole in the backyard for my pond one hot summer when we lived in Massachusetts and he came home from his first year of college. I'm not sure he realizes that a disappearing stream is going to also need an enormous hole as a water reservoir.

There's a beautiful old rock covered in moss

What's growing in that untidy corner? I spy iris foliage, weeds, lily of the valley, weeds, vinca, weeds...

And looks like poison ivy to me

There's a very old, weedy patio made of slate set in concrete, and a fire ring

They'd like to take up that old patio and reuse the flagstones for a path. Iain envisions a new patio here, with a fireplace, and a BBQ/outdoor kitchen and even a pizza oven.

Well, this review of Iain and Diana's new garden may have been interesting only to me, but I hope it was to you too. It's fun to imagine what you'd do with a new space. Of course this is Zone 6 Massachusetts, so I don't think they'll be planting anything exotic like Agaves in the ground, but there are Opuntias that are hardy there.

Got any brainstorms for me to pass on?


  1. I see a lot of potential and a lot of work in their future - and more frequent trips east in yours. I'd recommend a phased plan in the interest of time, expense, and sanity. And all I could think of when it came to the plan to remove trees was that they should get a good chainsaw and slice some of those trunks into pieces that can be used to create paths or even sitting areas. I still wish I'd retained large pieces of the tree trunks cut from my own property (in the name of a neighbor's "view" requirements) to use that way. There are some neat photos on Pinterest featuring the use of tree slices and, as I recall, one of the gardens on the DC Fling tour also featured these. I retain a few chunks of tree trunks to use as seating and plant stands and I wish I had more.

  2. The conifer in the close up looks to be a juniper/cedar of some eastern variety.
    Sounds like they are willing to do a lot of gardening. If not, leave grass in the side yard. Lawn is the easiest thing to take care of. Are kids in the future that need a place to play?
    Certainly thin out those perimeter trees. Once they identify them, they can find out how big they will eventually get.

  3. Oh what fun, I just came back from a visit to my daughter - they bought a house a couple of years ago, with an acre of land, and every time I go back we have so many projects. this time it was to fix and paint the back porch, and add a playground for the kids. We also planted out an orchard with wildflowers in between. she has plans down the road for a treehouse, and zipline! It is lovely to start with a (semi) blank canvas, and it is good that they are laying out all their ideas, even those down the track. sometimes it is also good just to live with things the way they are for a season as sometimes things grow on you.

  4. Oh those Onoclea sensibilis! I’m jealous.

  5. How exciting for them to be planning the future of this space.

  6. I love posts like this Alison. All those too-close-together trees would sure be a first target for me if this was my garden.I don't think they can do much until they deal with that . I wonder how vast the roots might be ? Berms and raised planting areas might be needed if those roots are shallow.I think therer are some good bones, that need an edit.You mention Mass, but didn't you say their new home was in RI ? Maybe they know about Farmers Daughter Nursery in Kingstown RI-my east coast peeps swear by it and I have been there as well..wonderful display gardens and a beautifully maintained nursery.Shouldn't be a long trip for them since RI is about the size of my back yard, lol.

  7. Pokeweed was my first thought and the other thought was "yes, that's poison ivy!" What fun to have a new space to dream about. Bringing it into reality will be a lot of work but taking time can improve the process.

  8. Its exciting to have a blank slate property and put a vision of a new garden together. The first thing is to determine how the young couple want to use their outdoor space: entertainment, cooking, pet or child friendly area. The garden usually grows around those needs.

  9. So many possibilities! Great rock!

  10. Hmm, yes - I'd start with fixing the fence and removing trees. The roots would stay so maybe some raised beds? And I like your idea of paths in the side yard - with maybe some mounds (like Gerhard's front garden!)? And thinking about the future re: space for kids, pets, parties?

  11. I miss the Washington and Oregon area...and I'd just start with a list and grade them in order of importance and start at top and work your way downl.


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