Tag Archives: DIY landscaping

Flower Garden Update

This time last year, I didn’t even have a garden, just a whole mess of bare soil and a rock-strewn outline for my garden border . . .

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Even now, Im amazed at how far I’ve gotten . . .


Once that Magnolia matures, it will become a lovely focal point for that side of the house. I am so impatient for results, but I often forget that it’s only been a year since I started!


I checked in on my Cherry trees. (They are a bit hard to see-the base is surrounded by scalloped concrete forms). The Black Tartarian doesn’t seem to have broken dormancy yet, but I did see a few buds starting to swell on the branches of the Bing.


The Georgia Peach started showing green first, about four days after I planted her (she is in the middle of the curve in the first picture).


The Methley plum is probably going to take the longest-no buds, no sign of life whatsoever. So I notched her a bit with my nail-still green inside!


Only one of the free Forsythia plants has begun to bud. The other one is lagging behind. But on the bright side, it seems the Acidanthera has finally emerged from the ground! They look remarkably like Gladiolus when they first come out-sharp, pink blades, followed by a green blade in the middle that splits the pink blade . . . and thats as much as I know! I’ve never grown these babies before, so I’m not sure what to expect from them.


Forsythia Corner is still looking scruffy, but I like to check on her progress from my son’s third story bedroom. Its a comforting view, makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something even though my pregnancy is at a point where I really shouldn’t can’t do any more active gardening.


I also planted a few Sky Junipers with donated Azalea plants, and a few discount boxwood. They are progressing very slowly, and most of the Azalea have perished-I didn’t realize before that they needed to be in a sheltered area. I have placed them on the windiest spot in my entire yard Oops! At least one of the Delaware Valley White has survived. I will be moving him early next spring. He’s going next to the Belle of Georgia Peach, where he will eventually get a little more shelter.


Well, when you have eight free Azalea, you try not to complain when five of them appear to have died. After all, that’s still three free Azalea . . . for some reason I thought they’d be easier to care for.


Iris Hill is still around! She ain’t perty, but she is very effective in keeping my kids from sliding down that bare patch of eroded soil. My husband is frustrated at the small patches of overgrown grass here and there, and insists he will “mow the whole thing down” if it gets bad enough I think the look he gets from his hormonal, pregnant wife is keeping him at bay.

Remember that pot of free Hens & Chicks? I had more than 80% of the pot transplanted, and now look at it!


Its previous owner was totally right! These poultry are no paltry problem! I need to find someone in the KC area who wants some fowl . . .

DIY Landscape: Forsythia corner Part 2

Cont from Part 1.

I am so glad it rained last week! Had it not, I would have made a major error in my fruit tree placement. It turns out, the spot I had all set up for my Plum tree totally floods when it rains. Those tree roots would have rotted out in a matter of months!

I moved the designated spot up about 18”, and over by about 2 ft. This way the tree roots would be removed from the floodwaters, but still have access to constant moisture.

IMG_2507This is yet another prime example of why I have so much natural stone in my landscape design. Dug this baby up while bringing my curve around to accommodate my changed space.

To date, it is the largest one I have found. It was only 2 inches beneath the grass. My husband had to move it to our discard pile when he got home-I just couldn’t lift it. That sucker must have been a nice, solid, 50 lbs.


That little boulder came in handy! It allowed me to finish the third “terrace” on the sloped landscape I have created by the southern exposure of our house. It was just tall enough for a significant gap that kept eroding with the rain.
IMG_2532After finishing the sod removal and relocation of my designated Plum tree spot, I also transplanted this forsythia I got for free last year from the Arbor day Foundation. It had been in that “third terrace” location, heeling in. Since I never wanted that to be its original destination, I decided it was time to move it. Forsythia can handle a fair amount of water logging, so it was the perfect shrub for the flood zone, slightly behind and to the left of the plum tree.

IMG_2533My Plum tree is supposed to have pale pink-white flowers, which I think will be a great complement to the yellow flowers of the Forsythia. I just don’t know when the Plum goes into bloom. They may miss each other by a few weeks.


I also found time to divide some of my creeping jenny and place it around the paver path that goes around the Forsythia in the corner. I am learning I need to be proactive about erosion control. Mud-valanches are a headache. This area had previously been protected from erosion by hundreds of out of control daylillies, so I replaced the invasive daylilly with the equally invasive (but much lovelier) creeping jenny. I am hoping they will fill in fast enough to mitigate any muddy disasters.


Don’t you love it when free plants find their way into your garden? This Grape Hyacinthe is my first official volunteer! I found her hiding amongst my onions. She has since been relocated as a ground cover beneath the corner forsythia. Attached to the mother bulb were four baby offsets. I separated and replanted those, as well. If they grow as quickly as the mother bulb (which can’t be more than a few months old), maybe by next year I will have four times the amount I have now? I guess I will find out. In addition to the bulbs, this subtle pop of purple will also spread seeds (I’m sure that’s how it wound up in my garden to begin with-one of my neighbors has a broad patch of this in a corner near my yard).

IMG_2363I also seeded wildflowers and giardia, planted some Liatris corms, Acidanthera bulbs, 4 Rudbeckia, two Peony roots, two pink hollyhocks, and some phlox. With the exception of the Liatris and Acidanthera, all of these were purchased from Wal-Mart.


The phlox are already coming up. I don’t expect my hollyhocks to present for some time. The peonies, though, are also coming up, much to my surprise. They are in better shape than last years crop, and I suspect that may be because I planted them in March instead of April. Peonies need a period of cold in order to really take off, and this years new Peony roots got nearly 4 weeks of cold weather before warmer temps set in.


I am curious why the first peony, the pinkish one, is a different color than the second one. They are both supposed to be the same type, “Bowl of Beauty”. Maybe its location? Soil type? I placed the same amount of decomposing organic materials (tree bark, leaves, etc) into the planting hole. I guess, in a few years, when they bloom, I will find out if the color difference in the leaves is indicative of a different variety! But at least I know, by now, that they are actually peonies. Last year I hadn’t a clue.

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Based on the placement, I think this grassy emergence must be the Liatris. They have been coming up at regular intervals, so I’m fairly certain they are the Liatris Corms. No sign, yet, of their companion, the Acidanthera. Unless these are the Acidanthera? I don’t think so. Based on the online description, this is more than likely the Liatris.


I am now waiting on the Arbor Day order, and after those trees arrive, everything will be in its place. I can’t wait to see how it all works out!


DIY Landscape Part 4: The Arbor Day Foundation

Continued from Part 3.

Now that I had designed the part of the yard immediately next to the house, I needed to find a design for the yard portion in the front of the yard, leading up to the street. It was all dirt, and erosion was becoming an issue.


Unfortunately, I am intimidated by designing around emptiness. Its one thing to have an existing structure. It provides limitations, which help create inspiration through problem-solving (something I am good at). But what if there is no obvious problem to solve? How can I create something out of nothing? That has never been a strength of mine.

I googled “free landscape plan”, expecting to find a bunch of books or designs available by purchase. Fortunately, I found something better: a free landscape plan (“knot garden”) on the Arbor Day Foundation website. It consisted of an oval with a yoshino cherry on either end, a hydrangea in the middle, and Korean boxwood surrounded the lot in a snug little island. Just needed to replace the cherry trees with something small enough to fit my space, and I would be done!

IMG_2397Having never been to the arbor day foundation website before, I did some exploring. I discovered Arbor day sold smaller, less mature trees for pennies compared to their larger, big box counterparts. Did you know that you can buy trees from them for as little as $10???? And they are a not for profit, so what they receive is given right back to the community to “help keep America green” not that this is a big priority of mine, but Im not against it. I plan on making the Arbor Day Foundation a yearly go-to as I slowly build my landscape.

However, there is a bit of a catch to the trees you receive from arbor day: they are sent “bare-root“. Meaning you don’t get them in a pot of dirt. They don’t even look like trees. You receive them, trunks only, main roots only, bare and leafless. Or, as Tiger boy put it “Mommy, they’re naked!!” They look like dry, “naked”, lifeless sticks. My neighbor across the street thought I was nuts. “You won’t be able to enjoy them until you move out!”  I wonder when he thinks Im moving out?


They look like sticks because they are sent in a dormant stage twice a year, once in the spring, once in the fall, to reduce shock. They must be young to reduce the length of the shock and the cost of shipping. Older stock means longer shock and longer recovery times. The roots are shipped in a hydrating gel so the trees don’t dry and die in transit. Once received, they must be rehydrated in water for a few hours, then immediately placed in the ground. This should give you enough time to dig holes (if you haven’t already done so) for a handful of trees, but if you order more than 6, you may find yourself, as I did, seriously pressed for time.

I had done a lot of reading and research about the benefits of bareroot (see right sidebar in link, past the planting instructions), so I decided that, for less than $40 for 4 trees and 3 bushes, I could handle less than mature merchandise. After all, I was on a budget. I couldn’t afford $90 a tree, $60 a bush. That would have given me 8 ft trees and much larger bushes for about $550. Instant curb appeal, but at a cost I couldn’t afford. Plus, that wouldn’t even cover the cost of additional plants, and busted my $300 yearly landscaping budget.

I ordered 2 prairie fire crab apples, one Ann magnolia tree, and a blue hydrangea. After joining (for a $5 yearly membership), I received discounts along with a free red maple and two free forsythia (I did actually want the additional forsythia). The red maple I didn’t need (I have a small yard), so that was going to go to the neighbor down the street to whom I had given a box of Iris.

I knew the shipping dates for my zone, but was not given a warning about when they would be shipped (that is one of my complaints). So one day, a long, thin, cardboard box just showed up on my doorstep. Knowing I had no time to lose, I planted immediately (I wasn’t ready yet, so this required prep time with the measuring tape, which took me about 30 minutes). Then I waited.

IMG_1034And I waited. And waited. Two weeks later, the “Crabs” finally started to bud. And then tiny pink blooms burst forth. Followed eventually by very slow growth. They were very hard to see, so I grabbed this tacky garden border that came with the property, then filled it with dark mulch to keep in moisture. Eventually I bought enough mulch to create my oval shape, and sodded in the remaining bare spots with grass I was still digging up from my stone path.

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Last fall, I noticed the crabs were about twice their size. This morning I was happy to note they had leafed out beautifully. Im excited to note their progression this year, since I have read they can double in height for several years until they reach their final, mature height, which may well be 2 years from now if they continue at this rate. The trunk width will take a little longer.


The Hydrangea . . . well, its lagging. I’ve read in several places it may or may not do well planted bare root. It’s a fickle plant. But I haven’t given up on it yet. It sent up a six inch leafy stem last year, but did nothing else. This year, so far, I have seen some green, but I think I removed the mulch too soon, because we had another frost come in last week, and the green has turned yellow. I haven’t given up hope, though. There’s still plenty of time for this little baby to catch up.


The Magnolia, on the other hand, didn’t make it.  It took me a month to decide that it was, in fact, dead. The broken twig test confirmed it-no green at the break. The Arbor day Foundation does have a return policy but I didn’t want to pay half the price of shipping + the plant (even though shipping was free with my original order), and wasn’t sure that a young sapling was a good idea with such poor soil (Missouri is notorious for a lot of hard clay soil).


Instead, I decided to go on ahead and order another Magnolia (different kind) through fastgrowingtrees.com. I had a strong feeling the clay soil was the problem, and hoped a more mature tree would be able to tough it out better than a young bare-root. I simply didn’t have the budget to buy new top soil for my entire yard.

Through Arbor day, I had ordered an Ann Magnolia. Through fast-growing-trees, I chose the Jane (I don’t think they had Ann). Jane had purplish flowers, which would contrast well with our house once we painted it a buttery yellow (my husbands choice, not mine). It was my most expensive plant so far-$80. And it ate up a lot of my budget.

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But Jane is making it. She did shed more than half her leaves in the initial transplant shock period, but snapped out of it with regular watering within about a month (older specimen, longer recovery). This spring she had a few purple blooms, and is sending out some nice leaf buds as we speak. I wish I had paid more attention to her growth, because a few of the reviews had mentioned that she didn’t grow very quickly, and I think that may be true. There seems to be little, if any, discernible growth-something I want to track this year.


As for the Forsythia? One of them is being “heeled in” (placed in a random spot until I can move it to its final home), and the other one I accidentally stepped on while mowing the yard. It broke deep in the ground, and never recovered. I called it a loss, but Im getting two more for free with this years order, so with three forsythias to heel in, I think Im good in the forsythia department. If I get two more next year, they may be gifted out.

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These pictures are from last year, and this little guy is already more than twice that tall. However, he only has the two branches and is truly in the awkward teenager stage of forsythia growth. I really hope he branches out more this year. Puberty does not look well on him.

See part 5 for more.

DIY Landscape Part 3: Design

Continued from part 2.

Now that the boxwoods were in, I realized it was time for a landscaping plan. Since it had been raining all week I had no excuse not to fetch some graph paper and get measuring. Luckily for me, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted and my first draft was my final copy. I already knew I wanted to implement nature’s strategy-the use of curved lines.


Have you noticed that there are no straight lines in nature? I wanted a natural looking cottage garden, well tended, well thought out, and full of winding paths. What I didn’t want was a fussy, manicured, high maintenance fiasco.

A stone path was a must. Especially since I had dug up so many stones, already and they were decidedly large enough to serve as borders and pavers. The poorly thought out boxwood placement left me with a large gap between the garage door and the boxwood. I decided a small magnolia would be just perfect that gap. It would create the necessary vertical interest without outgrowing the design. Something no higher or wider than 15 ft.


Unfortunately, the necessary distance between the magnolia and the structure cut significantly into my 9 ft width (measured from the distance between the house and where the fence stopped, and confirmed by a brief talk with my neighbor so I wouldn’t upset him by digging up his yard). To give it the space necessary, my path (at least at the base of the tree), would have to be at the end of my 9 ft allowance. This inspired what became a grand curve that started at the garage door, went around the magnolia, and bent back up, ending in front of the boxwood. Some landscapes design themselves.
I laid out my future intentions with the bricks and stones I had dug up, and a few I had hauled from behind the Forsythia bush (they were under a bunch of rotten firewood, and a lot of other rubbish). A few of the larger pavers were gifted to me since I had quite a few boxy stones, but very few flat ones of the necessary size.

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Here, you can see my children helping me lay out a brick path indicating the border between my yard and my neighbors yard. I tied the string to the fence on one end, and to a stick in the middle of the yard on the other. They enjoyed digging “just inside the guide line.” Naturally I cleaned up their efforts later after they had abandoned their efforts for other forms of play.

I began to notice that my neighbor would “check up” on me at regular intervals. For that matter, so was everyone else. Here I was, digging up my yard by hand, no less, and neighbors would walk by, pause, stare, and move on. A few would slow down in their cars to have a look. And I can imagine what they were thinking, “She’s digging up her yard . . . why not just rent bulldozer? What is she going to do with all that exposed dirt? She’s letting her children have shovels!? They’ll kill each other! What a nutcase!”

All this imaginary thinking did make me realize I had a bit of a problem on my hand-the exposed dirt. Spring rains were causing the soil to erode into my neighbors yard. He never said anything about it, but I got the impression he wasn’t too happy with an extra two inches of mud piling up right at the mutually determined border.

Also, my sons were reveling in the vast and spacious muddy grounds that presented themselves after a downpour. I needed a solution, and I needed one now.

Click here for Part 4.


DIY Landscape Part 2: Lobster plants and Garden carts

Continued from Part 1.

IMG_0910When we bought the house, I was of the opinion it had no flowers or plants, with the exception of overgrown brush, a rotten cherry tree, and a fence line riddled with spearmint that had taken over. But when I raked all the fall leaves from the side yard by the garage, I came upon a happy surprise. A 12 inch by 18 foot bricked in Iris garden was awaiting me. And boy was it in need of maintenance! Some of the Iris had even started to grow outside the brick border. You can barely see it, but the darker patch of green in the back is actually about 5 feet of daffodils.


IMG_0917These poor babies were so tightly woven together it took me about two full days of work to free them all. And at the end of those two days, I over 400 Iris spread over 3 boxes. I found out from my elderly neighbor (the one who laughed at me) that the original owners had moved out 15 years ago and the place had basically been a hotel ever since (meaning no one stayed for long). So its a pretty safe bet no one has tended these babies in at least that long.

As I pulled the Iris out, I realized many of them were diseased, and some of them appeared to have rotten roots (I later found that Iris don’t have true roots, they have rhizomes). Others had ant colonies throughout the root. I found myself browsing website after website trying to figure out whether the Iris I had were usable or not.



I also found I knew absolutely nothing about dividing Iris, and I didn’t know anyone who had any real knowledge of plant care. So I did some independent research on my own. Then I decided, since I had 400 Iris to play with, why not just give it a go? I had nothing to lose in trying.

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Here is an example of my first attempt. Note the original speciman-it has two sets of “fans” a larger offshoot to the left, and a smaller offshoot to the right. Im referring to them both as offshoots because neither of them is a part of the main stem (the portion in my hand), which did, at one point, have its own iris, but Im guessing that died off to support the offshoots, and maybe also because it was woven in with a bunch of other iris.


I started out by breaking off the larger fan from the stem. You can also see right away that it has few roots, and that the rhizome is running in the same direction to the fan instead of in right angles to it. Thats because of the other iris that were woven in with it. The only way the rhizome could grow was straight down-typically they run parallel to the ground, just below the surface.


Next, I broke off the smaller offshoot, and threw away the diseased stem. This little guy has only two roots. That is ok. My garden has several very living examples of Iris I planted (after all of this) that had no really developed Rhizome (as this one does), and one root sticking out from the crown of the fan. I wanted to know if they would grow or not from one root and a small hub of a rhizome. And yes, they do.

But they need that rhizome to flower. The larger the rhizome, the greater number of flowers it will yield. It all has to do with the ability to store energy. So, while the one root wonders will grow, it will be several years before they flower, and even longer before they send out multiple flowers. They simply don’t have enough storage for energy.

NOTE: You can actually break of a diseased portion of Iris to save the main plant. Just keep breaking until you come to healthy tissue, and break or cut off a smidgen more to make sure you have it all. I am also told the soil will be contaminated as well, so the advice is to plant elsewhere or remove and replace the old dirt. So far, I have returned the plant to “bad soil”, not knowing this ahead of time. I’ll let you know what happens. Additionally, they advise that you give the diseased iris a diluted bleach bath-something else I haven’t done. 

IMG_0913My kids and I had fun playing with the dug up Iris. They have a remarkable organic resemblance to lobsters, apparently. While I dug, they played “lobster plant” with the bad iris.

The “kissing lobsters”, and the “lonely lobster” were the stars of the show, but several other Iris became a part of the outdoor stage, as well. Just goes to show there are ways to keep your kids occupied without toys or media, you just have to give them free reign of the natural environment and stop meddling with their creativity!


A friend of mine knew I was trying to landscape on my own on the cheap, and offered me three 2 ft boxwoods. Free bushes! And nice ones, too!! Due to extenuating circumstances, I wasn’t able to plant them for 3 days after we dug them out of the ground, so I was in a hurry to plant them and may have placed them a little close to the house. Also, my husband had no interest in helping me (he doesn’t care for gardening), so I had to haul them, arrange them, and plant them on my own. Thanks, honey!

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Up to this point I had been using my children’s red wagon and some large buckets to transport the dirt from one side of the house to the other. Not only was this time consuming, but it also strained my back a little and may have given credence to the general assumption that I was a crazy person. So my lovely husband decided to surprise me with what I consider to be my best birthday gift to date: a garden cart!!


O of the M of the G! This thing is supposed to handle 600 lbs (though I don’t think I would trust it with more than 300), and is surprisingly sturdy for something with a plastic bin. We have used it for dirt, “rubble”, rocks, mulch, plant transportation, and occasional totally absconded without mommy’s permission kiddy rides.

A year later it is still in great condition. Pneumatic wheels don’t need air, the bolts are sturdy (they have a small amount of rust from being left outdoors accidentally), and it has no cracks in it. There is a small handle on the front that, when pulled out, can be used to lift the cart up and over like a dump truck. BEST GIFT EVER!!! Thank you hubby! It made up for the lack of interest in helping out with landscaping.

Part 3 continues here.