Category Archives: Landscaping

Creating Some Curb Appeal

Christmas has come early this year, and Santa delivered the goods on a flatbed.

Our local garden center is close to giving away inventory as it switches to a new computer system, so last week we picked out four Centennial Girl hollies and three Green Velvet boxwoods. Hours before the truck came, we upped the order to a fifth holly.

Our plan for the front yard continues to evolve to some degree, but we’ve been set on a few basic elements. In the spring we’ll be demoing the concrete walk and installing pavers of some type in a wide curve that broadens at the end as it flows to the driveway. The front yard is massive and has next to no design element, so we’re focusing on creating a massive semi-circle bed against the front of the house. Although those plantings are largely dependent on the walk coming up, cutting down the holly this spring freed up a small area for planting now, and fall is my favorite time to plan since it gives roots a season to get established without need for frequent watering. Well, with boxwoods being sold for a song, even Chris couldn’t resist the urge to get his hands dirty.

We finally settled on the Green Velvet – which the tag assured us would keep a mounding shape at a top height of about 3 feet someday – because I liked the softer feel of its leaves compared to other boxwoods and Chris liked the smell. He assures me this is a crucial factor in his love of boxwoods (the great debate over whether boxwoods do in fact have a fragrance is an entirely different post).  My vision is to have a background of tidy boxwoods against the house foundation, with a front border of low-trimmed dwarf boxwoods, leaving an inner explosion of more naturally shaped color. I’m leaving a Drift Rose on either side of the walkway, but am researching my options for inserting additional color into this boxwood frame.

My first consideration was a burgundy barberry, but I’ve found the only non-invasive options in my state will reach closer to 5 feet and up, and I’m really shooting for low maintenance in the pruning department. I’m now looking at Midnight Wine weigela, which is a low grower with some brilliant purple foliage.

Then of course there are the five hollies. We selected Centennial Girl because it should reach around 8 feet high and 3-4 feet wide, retaining a compact pyramidal shape. Chris has been scared off by the massive Nellie Stevens and gangly American Hollies growing all over the property, so I’ve been researching comparatively low growers that would still screen the backyard.

The goal for me was to create a screen between the street and backyard, and these hollies certainly achieve that. But a new element snuck into our design plans after Halloween. That’s our annual “drag the fire pit out to the front” and “why don’t we do this more often” event. We’ve been trying to agree on a location for an in-ground fire pit for years, but when Chris suggested a small patio and fire pit in the front, everything clicked. We shared a vision of the neighbors joining us for hot chocolate, or watching the kids on their bikes in the cul-de-sac as we snuggle by the fire. Not to mention it expands the hardscaping, thereby lowering plant maintenance and further integrating the walkway paver elements into the entire yard. Today’s challenge then is positioning the hollies for a patio we can’t yet afford but are determined to install someday.


Checking Items Off the List

I’m one of those people who likes to put at the top of my lists “make list” so I have something immediately to check off. I love lists, and certainly there have been plenty on this site. But it’s not enough to simply make a list – you have to put it to use.

As a result, after turning up my 2015 to-do list from this past March I realized there are a few items yet untouched. I thought recapping it here might help motivate me to check off one more project before my most critical growing – that of baby number 2 due this fall – saps all of my remaining energy.

So without further ado, how did we do?

  1. Plant all six veggie beds – Success!
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally) – Well….. not so much
  3. Cut down the front holly – Alas, yes
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed – If you count the pokeberries it’s sort of planted. I guess that’s a no.
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone – Stone has been purchased, so step one is down
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing – Nope
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail) – Oh I’ll check this off before fall is officially here or die trying (which is possible since Chris keeps saying I shouldn’t lean inside the thing to inhale the fumes when I silicone the gaps in my assembly)!
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many) – Yes!

3.5 out of 8’s not bad?

Ode to a Holly Tree

This is the sight that has welcomed my family home for the last several years.

Few days have passed without Chris snarling about  my beloved holly tree.


I love that holly. In the summertime, I can sit out on the porch in complete privacy, sheltered from the rest of the cul-de-sac, lost in my own cool oasis. In the winter time, the holly has been one of the few colorful things in the entire yard, and it’s a very welcome sight at Christmastime. All year long a family of cardinals, and their feathered friends, dance among the branches while I watch from my living room window.

But even I’ll admit that a tree shouldn’t grow that close to anyone’s foundation.


And now she’s gone. My beautiful berried holly is gone, leaving behind nothing but a hole in the ground where the pokeberries have begun to thrive.

For months, I thought if one more person were to tell me how beautifully open the house looked now I would lose it. Then one day, while I was sitting across the yard next to my would-be pumpkins, I thought to myself, “Wow, the house really looks nice and open now.”

I bit my tongue, then realized that it wasn’t the house I really wanted to shelter, it was the yard. And so the plan for the front yard has evolved further, and I have been hunting online and locally for the perfect medium-growing holly trees to create a semi-circle just beyond the house to help shield the yard and provide a new home to my cardinals. I’m looking for a balance between the fast-growing 40-foot heights of the Nellie Stevens or American Hollies and the slow-growing yet more appropriately sized Blue Prince/Princess. The Castle Spire/Wall combination (this variety needs a pollinator) looks promising but the search will continue through September.

Cure for the Common Cold

It’s spring as far as I’m concerned and nothing, not even a head-cold and the occasional bout of axis-tipping dizziness, is going to keep me from enjoying it.

The signs have been everywhere that spring is here:

  • This week warmed up to the 60s!
  • The thick, sludgy snow by the mailbox has finally melted!
  • The first yellow crocus was joined within minutes by four of its siblings!
  • My seeds have arrived!

Did I forget to mention the seeds? Funny, I’ve started the blog about the exotic allure of online seed-buying at least three times over the years, and then always talk myself out of hitting the buy button. Not this year! I picked out exactly the cucumbers and peas I wanted, threw in a fun packet of Burpee’s hybrid corn and decided to try my hand at sweet potatoes (why not?) as well.

At any rate, given this clear cut case for spring, yesterday Chris and I finished the last two raised veggie beds: he added the wire and landscape fabric to keep all variety of pests at bay and I slapped on a coat of stain to slow the effects of the weather. By the end of painting, I’d more or less forgotten I was sick.

It’s been cheering to be accomplishing so much so early in the season, so I think I’m ready to put out another to-do list, a little challenge to myself to keep moving. So without further ado, the 2015 To-Dos:

  1. Plant all six veggie beds
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally)
  3. Cut down the front holly (sob – much more on that later)
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail)
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many)

That’s not so bad, right? I didn’t say one word about building the baby a hobbit house for her birthday or putting in an entire dry creek bed! See, I know my limits!

Arbor Brightening Project

I’m so thrilled that my arbor garden is finally turning into, well, a garden! Earlier this summer I had been gifted a few small Acuba from my mom’s garden. I thought the yellow lines running through the broad green leaves would brighten up that otherwise rather dark corner.


I’ve decided to use that color combination as the basis for the rest of my planting. In the back behind the arbor we finally decided on a Janed Gold Arborvitae – I wanted an evergreen to keep that area soft all year long, and to hide the fence. I liked not only the yellow coloring in the edges of this one, but the fact that it averages out around 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide – perfect for that tucked away space.


In front of the Acuba I’ve added Golden Mop False Cypress, two on each side. I wanted to repeat the texture found in the Arborvitae with a low shrub that hopefully will spread out along that area. Now, these have the potential to get big, but I figure their slow growing habits will keep them easy to control with pruning. And I’m so glad already that I opted for these additions – already these shaggy gold bushes brighten up that entire corner of the yard.


The pictures really don’t do the new plants justice. This corner of the yard has been so dreary for so long and now I can hardly look away. We recently had a party and I had an excuse to light all of the lanterns with battery-operated tealights so that my little nook glowed all day and night long. I’m truly excited for spring to make a few more additions to this future retreat – including an outdoor rug and some flowy curtains.

Singing the Bulbs to Sleep

It has been a perfect fall so far, full of crisp apples and cider, pumpkin muffins, and of course lots to do in the garden.

For vegetables, I planted Romaine and Bibb lettuce in early September, along with radish and spinach seeds. All but the spinach are thriving and the tomatoes are still going strong. My peppers have also finally hit their stride in the cool days and chilly nights; there are four big Bells at last count and three Anaheims getting started: chili weather is here!

I’ve also been working on bulbs. I did a row of Allium along the back of the pond garden; I thought my little helpers would enjoy (picking the petals off) the big purple balls in the summertime. I added a semi-circle of red-and-yellow tulips, planted with rodent-resistant daffodils, around my little white bench. My little Rose has been helping me tuck the remaining daffodil bulbs around all of our decorative trees.


Rose has been a bit confused by the process. She likes the bulbs and their papery skins, and she likes the game of hiding them in the dirt, but she then once they’re covered she’s ready to dig them out like any good game of peekaboo. I’ve had to explain to her that the bulbs are sleeping now, all through the winter, and they won’t wake up until spring when they’ll turn into beautiful flowers. She wasn’t crazy about that explanation until we sang them all lullabies, patting the dirt where the bulbs sleep. I’m hoping that extra effort will guarantee a full garden come spring.

Meanwhile, the daisies, now interspersed with a flaming red seedum, have just begun to open their white petals for one of my favorite sights of fall.


Boxwood Bounty

My mother-in-law is in the process of downsizing and her first priority has been, naturally, to leave no beloved plant behind.

Because she’s downsizing, that means many of those plants are finding a new home in our backyard. The vast majority of these plants are mature boxwoods. Nearly 20 of them to be exact.

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head when Chris began wrestling some of these massive plants out of the back of our car. Currently we have a small fortune in plants sitting on the side of my driveway as we frantically figure out what to do with this new prize.

Biggest Boxwoods Ever

I’m aiming to spread them in a couple of different areas, figuring they will become a unifying feature across the yard. The problem is that several of the areas where we plant to them aren’t exactly ready.

Fortunately, I had a brainstorm about how (I hope) to keep these gorgeous shrubs happy until next spring when we tackle our next major outdoor project. The little pit out front where we’ve been shoving leaves in the fall – the source of all of my fantastic veggie garden soil – is going to host the shrubs for a few months before we dig them back up again.

SONY DSCWhen I shared this idea with my mom, she commented, “Oh yeah, you’re heeling them in.”

Apparently I wasn’t the first person with this brainstorm. This article from explains a bit better the process of temporarily storing bareroot plants in the ground, a process that we’re adapting for our purposes.

I wish I’d thought of this ages ago. There are two long-dead fig trees I owe an apology.