On June 1, my landscape superintendent Dan and I walked through a project we had been working on since mid April, and decided we were done. A whole lot of work got done in those 6 weeks. To follow are pictures of how that project looked this morning, 6 weeks later. And following this, the story of that renovation.
Last August I had the opportunity to consult on a landscape renovation for a lovely house and property dating back to the 1920’s. The current owners added a sizable addition to the back of the house, solved many of the problems that old houses are heir to, and had redone the interior to suit them. They were ready to tackle the landscape. A mixed planting of privet, viburnum and Annabelle hydrangea on the sidewalk was healthy, but disorderly. The bark path was not centered on the front door of the house.
The landscape at the front door looked congested. A pair of kousa dogwoods were placed in front of the windows. The boxwood had been planted right next to the walk to the front door. This placement all but obscured the front porch. Planted behind the boxwood, a run of All Summer Beauty hydrangea, and a longer run of privet. There was a lot going on here, none of it especially friendly to the architecture of the house. Shrubs and trees growing up and over the windows of a house-not a good look. A landscape that overpowers a house speaks to neglect.
A large block of Annabelle hydrangeas facing down the sun porch were planted in a little bit too much shade. The bloom was spotty, and green. Carpet roses that had been planted in front of them were in altogether too much shade. In the left background of this picture, an old concolor fir that was just about gone.
An old blue stone terrace in the back was becoming overwhelmed by the plantings. All of the plants were robust and healthy. The relationship of the plants to the terrace-uneasy. My clients wanted a terrace large enough to be comfortable both visually, and physically.
As in the front yard, there were a number of big old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan. Some had been severely damaged by lightening, and disease. Others had suffered considerable storm damage. Some were just at the end of their lifespan.
An informal perennial garden with a rock border had too many dirt spaces created from plants that had been lost. The garden did not have enough presence to be seen from the terrace. The weeds were beginning to run wild. This is a very large property-where to begin?
We began with a plan. The landscape plan for the back was simple. The original terrace would be taken up, and relaid level. A border of old reclaimed brick would add a good deal of space to the terrace, and repeat the brick on the walls of the original house. the ground adjacent to the terrace would be regraded to slope away from the house, and would culminate in long low brick seat wall, punctuated by wide steps that would lead to an upper level lawn. The terrace garden would be planted with Nova yews, and boxwood. The trees that could not be saved would be taken down, and that upper level spot regraded to produce a large flat area suitable for touch football and the like. Flanking the lawn, a pair of triangular shaped meadow-like beds with multi trunked Himalayan white barked birch. If my clients liked the look of those shapes of long grass, we might at a later date formally plant it as such. The shape of these beds had everything to do with the unusual shape of the lot. At the back of the property, the boulder wall would be redone in a curved shape. Soil would be added above the wall to create 2 levels of plantings. Above the wall, a mass of Annabelle hydrangeas that would cascade over the wall, backed up by a hedge of limelight hydrangeas. Hydrangeas would be in bloom from June through September. On the lower level, an improved perennial garden. Anchoring that garden at either end, a pair of the same birch. Last fall’s project-tree removal.
In April, we moved every shrub from the terrace garden out of harms way, and heeled them in. Given the cool rainy conditions, we also moved all of the Annabelle hydrangeas, privet and viburnum from the garden at the street, and behind the boxwood in front. The viburnums and privets would be relocated along the driveway to provide more privacy from the neighboring house. The Annabelles would go to the new garden in the back. By this time, the installation of the new terrace was underway. We were fortunate that the weather was perfect for transplanting. We got everything moved before it leafed out. We moved well over 100 shrubs, and did not loose a single one.
We only had to add one pallet of rock to complete the new wall. Better than 20 yards of soil were added behind that wall, and feathered into the existing grade going up to the rear lot line. Loads of soil were used to level the lawn area.
A pair of Palabin lilacs on standard that had been on the terrace were relocated out away from the house, where they would have all the room they needed to grow to a substantial size. Old Palabin lilacs on standard are impressive. Once the irrigation was installed, we were able to work on the finish grade.
The final step was to have the upper rear yard hydroseeded. The grass seed is mixed into a slurry of recycled paper. This acts as a mulch for the seed, and helps to make sure that the seed has the access to moisture that it needs.
We protected the trunks of the birch, and some newly planted spruce from any over spray of hydroseed with landscape fabric, although this turned out to be unnecessary. The seed was very precisely applied to the ground.
The lawn in front was spot hydro seeded in those areas where the grass was thin. The boxwood from the rear terrace was replanted across the front of the house, for a simple and continuous look. Only four new boxwood were needed to complete the hedge.
The sun porch garden was planted with shade tolerant hostas, brunnera, and forget me nots, set in pachysandra. There is nothing here that is unduly tricky or fussy to maintain. Both of my clients are busy professional people.
The shrub bed at the street was redone in lawn. The kousa dogwoods had long since been moved to the back yard, where they would get a little afternoon shade, and have the room to grow large. The architecture of the house can be seen from top to bottom, and side to side. I like to think the austerity of it is in keeping with the period and style of the house. The boxwood were backed off of the front walk, so the entire porch is visible. In celebration of that porch, a pair of vintage wood champagne crates were placed there, and planted with pansies. We managed to finish June first. They have a whole summer and fall ahead of them, to enjoy the change. I like leaving a landscape renovation at this point. Once my clients live with it, they may decide what they have now is enough. Or they may decide to take the landscape a step further. But for now, there are some good bones in place.
Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is also known as an artichoke thistle. It is a member of the sunflower family, and is native to Mediterranean climes. The giant coarse toothed leaves are architectural in form, and incredibly dramatic. A lot of that drama comes from the fact that those leaves are a very bright silvery gray. These silver leaves, in the right light, have a decidedly metallic cast. This amazing photograph of a cardoon is from www.greatplantpicks.org. Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden which debuted in 2001 with the first recommendations for a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest. No wonder this cardoon has such a fascinating and an exotic look to me. I do not garden in the Mediterranean, or in the Pacific northwest.
Silver leaved plants are not coated with some natural form of metallic silver. Many of them have leaves which are covered with very fine hairs that reflect light. That reflective quality makes the leaves appear silvery. According to the Plant Delights website, “The silver color is not a pigment, but rather some type of mechanism that scatters and reflects light. Some plants with silver foliage have a thick coat of foliar wax. Others are covered with fine hairs. A few silver perennials get their luster from blisters that separate the outer and inner cell layers of the leaf.” Silver leaved plants by and large hail from regions that are very hot and dry. That silvery surface is an adaptation – a means by which the plants can survive high heat and drought. Though I garden in a zone which gets regular rain, and infrequently has temperatures over 90 degrees, I love the look of silver leaved plants. This year’s window boxes at the shop-a celebration of silver leaves.
In the window boxes this year, I have planted artemesia “Valerie Finnis”, a blue/silver eucalyptus whose name I do not know, Cirrus dusty miller, a lavender with silver leaves, kalanchoe “Flapjacks”, the trailing artemesia “Silver Brocade”, an unknown silvery white succulent, and artemesia absinthium-or wormwood. I think I have identified these accurately, but maybe not. My knowledge of the names of exotic plants is sketchy. I was not shopping names for these window boxes. I was shopping color.
Some of these plants might be hardy in my garden, provided they were planted in poor, gravelly, and fast draining soil. Others are strictly seasonal for me, as they would only survive the winter in a very mild climate. Some would thrive and return the following year, only given the absence of a winter.
I am not generally drawn to succulent plants, only because they seem so out of place in a Michigan garden. But my container plantings can be comprised of any collection of plants that interest me. The best part of a seasonal/summer container planting is that I am not restricted by what would survive my winter. Most of the annual plants I use in containers come from tropical regions. I do use perennials hardy in Michigan in containers, provided their habit, texture, form and mass is such that they will look interesting all summer long. A columbine, or lupine in a pot has a very short season of interest. The coming of the hot weather – especially the hot nights – takes a toll on them. The tropical plants can handle the heat, should it come.
As long as I have been gardening, much has been said about the hardiness of lavender. Early on, I planted no end of so called hardy lavender, without much success. My longest relationship with a lavender plant-4 years, and 3 winters. Hardiness is not exclusively dependent on winter temperatures. My area is known for its heavy clay soil. Lavender likes perfect drainage – light soil. Drainage is a surprisingly big part of winter hardiness. A new lavender from Peace Tree Farm shows a great deal of promise. From their website: “One of the hardiest lavenders seen throughout Europe and the United States, ‘Phenomenal’ has exceptional winter survival, as it does not have the winter die back that other varieties like Munstead and Hidcote commonly demonstrate. Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ has also shown tolerance to extreme heat and humidity, and is resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Most commonly popular for its silvery foliage and consistent growth with uniform, mounding habit, ‘Phenomenal’ has an elegant flower presentation and fragrance, perfect for fresh and dried arrangements and oil uses.” Hmm. I will have to buy some plants. What summer garden seems like a summer garden without lavender?
For the moment, I plant lavender in containers, never expecting I could plant them in the ground in the fall, and winter them over. This silver leaved plant is just as Mediterranean in its roots as the cardoons. I am happy to have them, one season. Lavender seems very happy, planted with other plants of like persuasion. The range of silvery colors from bright silvery gray to silvery blue gray in this iron cistern all seem visually compatible. I suspect all the plants enjoy the heat absorbed by the cistern.
Proper watering will be key to their success. At Detroit Garden Works, we group all of the silvery leaved and succulent plants together on a table that is a do not water zone. Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” will deteriorate quickly from too much water. The leaves of helicrysum-licorice-will pucker and decline from too much water. Water the silver leaved plants as infrequently as possible, and then some. Your restraint will reward you.
Some of our echeverias only get water from the sky, when it comes. Otherwise, nothing, and certainly nothing from the hose. It may not have been the best year to decide to plant a collection of silver leaved plants. We have has lots of rain, dating back to early spring. Today, it rained all day, and it looks like it will continue to rain all night. My magnolias and parrotias have that lush green tropical look about them. The high temperature today-59 degrees. Not exactly Mediterranean.
Silver, blue, and gray leaved plants are beautiful in containers. The teucrium fructicans, or silver bush germander, in the center of this container, was lovely all summer long. I wintered it over indoors successfully for 3 years.
Plectranthus “Silver Shield” makes a beautiful seasonal groundcover. This small bed on a pool terrace is hot and dry in the extreme. I have never been able to get a perennial groundcover to winter over in this spot. The silvery gray is so beautiful with the pale pink roses, and white washed wall.
Some silver leaved plants do well in the shade. This silvery green begonia with silver blotches is underplanted with Shadow King gray begonia, and Pilea “Silver Tree”. Pilea “Silver Cloud” is equally as lovely. Silver leaved plants-I am happy to have access to them.