April 27, 2013

Behind the scenes - the awful truth

Most of our 2.5 acres is an old garden, planted by my parents in the 1920's -1960's. Today, 70 years later, the garden has
become more of a restoration project, and a maintenance project than a design project. Little by little, I am introducing better trees and shrubs, and not quite sure about design yet. Add in four dogs, and a whole lot of free range poultry, and quickly, I am discovering that the garden is getting destroyed. No vegetable garden, as the dogs will eat it, and if I move it to the other side of the fence, the turkeys and chickens will destroy it. I'm not really sure what I am going to do. Still, I try to garden, and you all know, I cannot stop!

OK. It's time I fessed up. My garden is not perfect. My friends know this, people who visit here know this, and now, you will know this. The truth is, most of the images on this blog happen in a small part of our garden - in fact, in about 20% of it, near the greenhouse, in a fenced in area on one side of the house - it's about the only part of the garden I can focus on given my job, and time. The rest of our 2.5 acres is, well....unkempt. Messy. Even worthy of, well being shut down by the city for pure nastyness. There are times in the summer when we can only get to cut the lawn, if you can call it that, about once a month. Weeds thrive. Garden design is out of control, since many of the trees are over 100 years old ( all planted by either my parents or my grandparents), and sadly, many now need to be removed - a task that is just too massive and costly so we try to remove one every other year.

Here are some of the photos of areas that we have been able to begin restoring, bit-by-bit, and then, some of the problem areas which I still need to confront. Then, some of the new problems that have arrived - puppy problems. We are discovering that four Irish Terriers can destroy a garden overnight. Yesterday, they ate 3 large Crambe cordifolia plants right to the ground, today, they ran races around the greenhouse, and tore out more than 25 large Gladiator alliums, and destroyed the alpine garden. This week, they have eaten saxifrages in the troughs, bitten off most of the Pulsatilla blossoms, and broken most of the tulips. Lawn? there is no longer any lawn.

This was a problem area that I was able to overcome five years ago. In an effort to reduce lawn, I converted our front entrance into a woodland alpine garden, complete with a river rock dry creek bed ( just an illusion of a brook), and many small shrubs, alpines and woodland plants. This, was a good idea, and it is easy to take care of. I like the mountain look.

When I was a kid, this, our second driveway, was lined with huge weeping willows that towered over 100 feet tall.
After many Thunderstorms, a tornado and old age, they are gone, leaving me with 5 foot diameter trunks, and a long,
dirt driveway that is just crazy to keep weed free, even after 10 tons of gravel. The Dumpster is a necessity, but there is no hiding it. The house that you can barely see behind it is the one I am selling, along with that corner of my property.
This should help provide more money ( one less mortgage for me!), so that maybe I can build a garage.

Looking from the same position, back toward the back yard, and the house, you can see how much dry shade we have.

Another problem area, this needs to be opened up, which means these large white pines need to be removed, as well as about 4 tall Norway Spruces. Right now, it's just crappy vinca, pine needles and weeds. Bare dirt is everywhere, and very little lawn. 

Our Martin House has been over-run with English Sparrows, an invasive species which are noisy, and difficult to eradicate. We finally needed to paint the house, and clean out the nests ( two giant black garbage bags full!), plus a whole lot of eggs. We are going to install black screen inside to keep the birds out, as the only species that will nest in this community house would be these English House Sparrows, as Purple Martins don't migrate this far north into New England ( I just fell in love with the design of this Martin house, as it looked like an old English Dove Cote). It's an important design statement in the garden, so it remains, and without the English Sparrows, the house wrens and other song birds can nest peacefully in our many smaller bird houses.

The English Sparrow eggs are pretty, but I dont' feel sad removing this invasive species, or at least, slowing it down.

Some dog crazyness - and I mean crazyness. we've had to add turkey wire fences, and now, we need to install a chain link fence - 200 feet of it! I am freaking out, but  I am afraid there is no turning back. I fear I have lost this nicer side of the garden, where I keep the Hellebores and most of my ephemerals. I will just have to relocate them, and I think the dogs will keep most plants broken or dug up.

The dogs, raising Hell. All I need now is a house trailer. Ugh. Good thing that  pot is plastic, as they broke a large terra rosa  pot this week that had a beautiful rosemary in it.

They chase each other around, jumping over hedges looking like liquid -1,2,3,4 as if they were running in a steeple chase, and they were the horses.

Weasley leaping onto the alpine wall, where there are many rare and unusual bulbs planted.

I usually don't like wood bark mulch, but this year we were able to get some two year old mulch. It is more composted, and looks more natural. It's about the only thing I can do to try and make the garden look more presentable for next weekend. It's still a mess, but with the poultry walking around, and all of the dogs, there isn't much more I can do.

If you remember a post last October, I planted a few hundred blue small bulbs under these Hornbeams. They are blooming, but they won't look awesome until next year, when they begin to spread more.

OK, back to the nicer side of things. I promise I won't complain more about the ugly parts, but I will admit one thing - when visiting many gardeners homes, I feel better when I see that they are 'normal' too! I think if I only had this side of the garden to take care of, I could focus more, and perhaps keep up with it, and I dream someday of living
in a home where only a natural planting in a woodland exists. No lawn, no mulch, no weeds.


  1. This helps cement the idea in my head that the thought of buying a property with several acres is probably a bad idea for me. I looked at a farm house on 3 acres recently and seeing it in person made me rethink everything. Too much for one person. Too overwhelming.

    As much as I love the idea of having room to plant long borders and lots of shrubs and trees I know it will probably just end up a mess.

    Back to looking for houses in my town near the ocean where the larget lot I am likely to be able to afford is a quarter of an acre like the one I am renting now.

  2. Too Much Information. ;) Sometimes it is better not to show the lowlier parts of the garden. My Mother-in-Law spent much energy in 'hiding' the cow lot and such. I just plant something in the line of sight between me and the tractor shed.

    I'm glad your dogs are able to run and play despite the aggravation of having favorite plants run over. Working around the pets is a labour of love.

    I can appreciate working in a garden that evolved over so many years. Nature has taken out 3 big trees for us; fortunately they fell in auspicious directions.

  3. you have your hands full!!!!! and i thought two cats on my furniture and an attic full of bees was too much already.

  4. Anonymous3:59 PM

    We went from a very well tended hillside specimen garden here in San Francisco, presided over by a very well-behaved 15 year-old Tibetan terrier, to three wild Tibetan terrier puppies and a garden overwhelmed by weeds and destruction. First order of business: two of the puppies had pulled up and demolished most of our carefully placed plant tags within a couple of weeks: now we no longer know most of the plants' names. I got so bogged down supervising and coping with dogs that I neglected the garden for a year and a half--only now am I beginning to bring it back from oblivion. Now I no longer allow dogs in the garden except one at a time, under strict supervision. I can really sympathize with your situation. Luckily we have a garage (converted into a dog playpen) and an upper deck (dog restroom). I'm even thinking about adopting rare plants again, but it took nearly two years! Actually your photos look pretty good.

  5. Nordicmountain, hey, at least I don't feel alone now! Today they finished eating the Crambe cordifolia ( a perennial fav - maybe because they are from the UK,and they think it is Crambe maritima (which I have seedings of outdoors, but they have not found yet!). Oh - and 6 new holes in the lawn.

  6. Kaveh, 3 acres might be too much, if it is all planted, but it all depends on the design, I guess. I do know people who have 3 acres with shrubs and borders of interesting plants. When it comes to the sort of plantings we like, however, it does get a little crazy. Now that that would stop us, of course.

  7. I totally know how you feel! I have had my fair share of garden problems in the last few weeks but the "perfect" parts keep me going.


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