Spring? Seriously?

March 23, 2013

Gardening, Landscaping

I heard Spring won’t really get here until mid April.  And Monday we are supposed to get snow.  When I mentioned to Mike it was Spring now even if it did NOT feel like it and he remarked it wasn’t Spring.  It couldn’t be Spring.  We didn’t have Winter yet!  Well, yeah, he’s right.  Our winter was pretty mild by normal standards…but it’s lasting a long time.  I suppose we will get a split second of Spring at this point and then blitz straight into a sultry summer.  For my money, summer’s heat beats winter’s cold hands down every day.  I just know I want to get outside and enjoy the garden.  Errrr….the garden to be!

I have some photos finally.  Never did charge the camera battery, I just used the cell phone.  But you’ll get the drift!  I’m still waiting for the design inspiration, but this is what I’m working with.  Not much.  When dry a dust bowl, when wet a muddy slip n slide.  And tiny.  So tiny.  Let’s start with the tour.  If you have ideas feel free to post them in comments!

On the landscape block this year is the back and side yards. As you look at the photos I am sure you will think it’s about time!   Our house has a walkout basement and the dining room above it opens onto a second level (from the back) deck through a sliding door which overlooks the back yard.  All photos are taken from the deck which faces somewhere midway between due south and due west.

Note the brand new fence.  It isn’t wood…it’s vinyl…CertainTeed Bufftech.  Nice fence. Provides a lot of privacy and security for Mike (and the dogs).  Looks like wood if you are not right on top of it and really well made.  I used the Brazilian Blend color, and though you can’t see it, the shutters on the front of the house are a burgundy color so it really pulls to the color of the shutters and draws the warm tones out of the brick which looks flat, cool, dark brown otherwise. It’s a really lovely cherry color when the sun is not directly on it.  A little red then. The yard was not as bare before the fence.  The perimeter was planted with shrubs that had to be sacrificed to install the fence.  There were shrub roses on the side and against the shed that I took down to come up with a new, beautiful plan.  A magnolia that had been just off the deck between it and the shed was sacrificed.  So now there is a clean landscape slate.  Brad and his team at Creative Fence were responsible for the fence…and if you are in the Lehigh Valley and in the fence market, I highly recommend them.

Back Yard

Back Yard

     This photo looks directly off the deck to the back yard.  The huge patio in the center was to facilitate a hot tub.  Notice the area where it had been?  I sold it after Mike’s illness.  It was only a liability at that point.  Since our yard slopes (in multiple directions) and we had built retaining walls around the patio in the rear, the left side above the driveway, and stairs down to the driveway in the back left corner, the patio is not going anywhere.   Not this summer, but in the future, this will be the entertaining patio.  An outdoor kitchen island will go on it.  The surface will be faced with something more attractive than plain concrete.  This year I am concentrating on a pretty place and mud management. We do have 4 dogs.  Dogs wreak havoc on landscaping.  While I would love beds of perennials, it’s not happening.   I’m thinking a tree…and when I mentioned that to Joanne at  Joanne Kostecky Garden Design , she said I need two trees.  One in the back right corner and one on the side somewhere.  I want an oak back there.  Shrubs that the dogs cannot destroy readily and that will soften the fence line.  A little light in anticipation of the outdoor entertaining of the future.  Maybe some ornamental grasses.  My favorite landscapes are not controlled and formal.  They are natural and lush…very full.  They give back to the planet and nurture birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels and chipmunks.  Joanne does natural landscapes that I just love, so I am delighted to be working with her to give me a design that the dogs can live with and I can love.   I want it to be a place Mike and I can retreat to and get away from the world and see a bit  of nature in our own space.  He loves to sit outside so I want it not to be bleak…to tickle his senses.  There is a patio directly beneath the deck which opens off our lower level…which is where Mike and I will age in place.  Everything we need is there, so if at some point he cannot do stairs, we can comfortably live there and simply open the door to our own little paradise.

Right side of back yard.

Right side of back yard.

Here is the right side of the back yard.  In the front right corner of the photo you’ll see the stairs that come down off the deck.  They end on the surface of the hot tub patio.  Shrubs will be planted along the fence to soften it and to come up higher than the fence.  Joanne is keen to provide us with soft privacy wherever possible and since it is not possible from the deck above, she is focusing her efforts below,  She is convinced we will never want to sit on the deck after the landscape is done.  I do like to go out on the deck for breakfast and morning coffee, but due to the exposure, it’s way too hot and sunny in the afternoon and early evening when the sun is setting…even with the retractable awning we have.  Joanne thinks that we will use the patio beneath the deck almost exclusively.  Jurgita, the new landscape architect at Joanne’s, was along and feels it is the perfect intimate spot for us to relax…shady, cozy and protected.  I’d consider installing a permanent awning over the deck, but if it’s true that we end up using the downstairs patio primarily, I expect there’s not too much point in the investment.    She had a great idea that I think will clinch the deal relative to where I’ll like to sit.  On the face board of my deck she suggests a trellis with wisteria growing on it.  Yes, yes, I know wisteria is the plant of the devil for taking over structural elements and has the ability to do damage.  That assumes you never prune it.  Face it, the Chinese variety has the potential to grow a bunch of feet every year…and needs pruning!  But there are a couple native to the USA varieties that are better behaved and equally beautiful.  I’m thinking about sitting on that patio downstairs, sipping lemonade, racemes of wisteria drooping below the face of the deck, hummingbirds drawn to the blossoms and hovering there to have their picture taken.  My kind of scenario!

Looking to the front yard from the side of the deck

Looking to the front yard from the side of the deck

 And now we move on to the side yard.  This is primarily where the dogs like to go…and, since it’s not really visible from the deck, I think of it almost as a dog run.  We lost a fair amount of yard when we installed the fence.   The old setbacks called for 6 feet from the inside curb line.  The new setbacks call for 10 feet.  And, because we were replacing 3 ft. fencing with 6 ft., the grandfather rule did not apply.  So we lost 4 more feet on an already narrow yard.  SIGH.   This view is from the side of the deck at the back right corner of the house as you look toward the front yard.  Note that we are on a corner lot.  Do you see the “wall” of stacked stones against the front fence?  The whole wall started out as a timber wall years ago.  When Mike and Mikey got to that point, they encountered a shoulder of slate not too far beneath the surface.  A foundational timber could not go beneath the ground, hence stacked stones.  There had been perennials planted in that walled area across the front and the side just past the behemoth heath pump.  In front of the heat pump were gigantic, antique, shrub roses.  They took up 4 ft. and had to go due to the loss of 4 ft. for the setback requirement.  The lower, flat area below the white heat pump had peppers and tomatoes, some horseradish and herbs.  The dogs used to like to eat the tomatoes and peppers straight off the vine as they ripened.  The current plan is to eliminate that area, put landscape block walls around the heat pumps, pulled out a bit with shrubs in front of the pumps to mask them.  Eliminate the front wall altogether and grade it into a soft slope with shrubs.  Because the house is 2 story plus the better part of the basement wall is exposed on that side, the side wall soars above the yard.  It’s not pretty.  Jurgita is thinking maybe white pine up there beyond the grey heat pump and against the house, snuggled in the corner.  Then, I will be interested to see what is planned for along the fence…maybe nothing, since Joanne knows (and loves) dogs and know they love to patrol the fence line.  The big question is what to use in the main part of the side yard.  I thought K-9 artificial turf.  Big bucks baby.  BIG.  And who knows how it holds up or what it really smells like in the final analysis!  Then I thought gravel…which Joanne thinks will move around too much.  They are currently evaluating two possibilities.  There is a resin bound gravel that is permeable…and a similar product with granite dust.  Wonder which will be the recommendation?  Anybody have good ideas????

From the side of the deck again, here is another bit of the side yard…looking straight to the side and toward the gate.  Can you see the slope toward the edge of the shed?  There is also slope from just before the fence line to the street.  As a result, right now the

Side yard with gate

Side yard with gate

gate will not open fully until some hardscaping is done to manage the slope and create steps and a landing of sorts.  I had hoped for a ramp affair in case a wheelchair is necessary in the future but there is just not enough runway to achieve that.  Jurgita suggests what my hardscape guy calls lazy steps.  Right up my alley.  The steps will go into a path that runs to the side of the patio beneath the deck.  Jurgita asked me how I feel about lilacs as a possible shrub for the side.  I confess, I love all those very fragrant, romantic old flowers and shrubs.  So she batted a thousand between the mention of wisteria and lilac.  One of the shrubs that had to be removed for the fence was a lilac…it was right at the corner of the shed where that small section of fence is now.  I expect there will be shrubs against the shed.  I had a huge old Therese Bugnet shrub rose there.  She was happy there too.  Maybe I’ll get a shrub rose or two back.  The dogs like to eat the rose hips from the shrubs in the fall but otherwise don’t bother the roses much…it’s those thorns…and the bees!  There is a 5 ft. strip on the sidewalk side of the fence.  I have nepeta (Walker’s Low) planted there now…and it’s a wonderful perennial.  I suspect Joanne plans a mixed border of some kind with heavy focus on grasses and perennials.  There’s a tiny planting box on the edge of the shed next to the door as well.  I don’t know what will go in there but think I’d like to see something that spills over the edge of the retaining wall.  Somewhere on the side, and I am thinking maybe right where the tomatoes and peppers used to go, Jurgita and Joanne want to put a tree.  I would vote for Dogwood or Magnolia but Jurgita had mentioned River Birch for the type of shade it produces.  I’d be ok with that.

The other possible location for a tree in the side yard might be just off the corner of the deck, between the shed and the

Ahhh.  The propane tank eyesore.

Ahhh. The propane tank eyesore.

entertainment patio.  I will be interested to see how they design that space but I will be happy as long as the propane tank is masked. When I had originally considered the back and side yards as nothing more than one contiguous dog run, I had thought about putting a table and chairs down there in that space.  Now I think that I want as much plant material as possible while still allowing the dogs room to roam.  So a River Birch there, underplanted with low growing, flowering shrubs might be a very nice thing.  It would provide some filtered shade to that side of the patio and to the deck.  Here’s a story for those local to the Allentown area.  Remember the Brass Rail at 12th and Hamilton?  Well a number of years ago the sidewalks were redone up there when something was torn down.  Under the concrete was the original curbing and such from earlier days…and it was all slate (since we are in the slatebelt it is to be expected right??).  See the slate stepping stones in the photo to the right?   Right there…next to the trash can lid Heidi persists in dragging around the yard.  Those are pieces of slate harvested from that work site.  I have several from out front as well.  I feel pretty attached to those stepping stones so I think I will hang onto them and use them somewhere.  I spent so much time as a teenager walking around in Allentown that really think they deserve to be preserved in my garden…somewhere!

Driveway ViewFinally there is the driveway area, outside the fence.  There’s a retaining wall on two sides with the fence at the inner edge of the wall planting space.  In other words, room between the wall and fence to plant something.  I suspect shrubs of some kind again to provide curb appeal.  Do you see the two cedar trees?  The birds love them so I’ve asked for at least one to remain, but that small area parallel to the driveway where you enter the steps to the backyard will also be landscaped.  Can’t wait to see what Joanne and Jurgita come up with…as I have no ideas.  One hope only…that somehow my trash cans will be removed from view.  But that’s it!

So now you have a feel for what I’m working with.  It’s a tiny space…and it has challenges, but it’s home.  And it’s going to be the secret, pretty place where Mike and I get away from the world and enjoy the day. Joanne and company have been designing for a couple weeks now so I expect I’ll have something to look at soon and frankly, the anticipation is killing me!  I’ll keep you posted as we go…and post pics as progress is made.

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