Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Front yard overhaul, three years later

Against my better judgment, I'm posting long shots of the garden in front of my house. I've had several requests to do so, and I've been putting it off. It's actually looking pretty darn good right now, and that's the problem -- in three long, hard, hot, dry years, this is the absolute very best it's looked. Dear readers, I share with you now the good, the bad and the ugly, and throw myself upon the mercy of the gardener's court.

Exhibit One: photos of my yard before and during the overhaul.

Exhibits Two through Eleven: the garden as it exists today. Doesn't look half bad from a distance. But don't look too closely at the home's 'boxwood mustache' -- it got an extra-close shave in January and hasn't fully recovered. (In fact, don't look too closely at anything.) We've done nothing with the hell strip. (Good thing, too: the city dug up our neighborhood's easements in 2010 and 2011 before resurfacing the streets with fresh asphalt.) The large tree in this photo is a Texas Red Oak and the smaller tree is a Bur Oak. (Yeah, I know Bur Oaks get huge. That'll be someone else's problem, long after I'm gone.) Our neighbor's Arizona Ash is hanging over the driveway.
Front of the house

A little closer look from a slightly different angle. Everything in front is blooming except the large mound of Lantana montevidensis 'Pot O'Gold' on the corner. (It's got buds, though.) The 'Whale's Tongue' (Agave ovatifolia) on the right is barely visible from this vantage point.
Front garden

Northwest side of the garden. Bermuda grass is growing all throughout the perennials, and nutsedge surrounds the bur oak, Big Noisy Sigh. (Your Honor, please refer to Exhibit One to see how thoroughly we removed the weeds before planting and installing the flagstone path...)
Front garden beds

After seeing this photo, I dug out all the Bermuda from around this grouping in a disgusted, sweaty fit. Mark my words, it'll be back in three weeks. Digging it up doesn't kill it, covering it with corrugated cardboard and burying it in three inches of mulch doesn't kill it, covering it with a giant boulder for a year doesn't kill it, and (please don't ask me how I know this) scalping it and painting it with glyphosate doesn't kill it. I'm considering tilling it up and annihilating the roots with an acetylene torch next (not really joking). Front to back: purple trailing lantana, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', California poppies.
Perennials and Bermuda grass

I love this grouping from this angle. Front to back: Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), Englemann's daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), a lone 'Wedding Blush' sweet pea, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', purple trailing lantana, and across the flagstone path, a white Salvia greggii.
Perennials

I think I'd like this grouping better if the salvia wasn't so woody; I'll whack it back to the ground at the end of next month and it should fill out with soft, new growth before fall. Orange Gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana incana) on the left, Salvia greggii 'Velvet Violet' on the right, blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) in front.
Globe mallow, 'Velvet Violet' salvia, blackfoot daisy

Looking east to west, you can actually see the agave in the middle of this shot; Bur Oak to the agave's left, the neighbor's Arizona ash in the rear. Front to back: Salvia greggi 'Cherry Sage', four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa), 'Indigo Spires' salvia, rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), white Salvia greggi, purple trailing lantana, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', California poppies, Englemann's daisy, Mexican feathergrass.
Front garden beds

Northeast side of the garden. Front to back: white Salvia greggii, rock rose, 'Indigo Spires' salvia, dwarf Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens). The perennials look full and lush from this angle, but they're really rather spindly (check out the next photo). If you look closely, you'll spot some iris foliage to the right of the 'Indigo Spires'.
Front garden bed

This shot was taken from the front door looking to the northeast. Horseherb and weedy grasses are growing amongst the flagstones in the path, making it less of a trip hazard; the grasses are dying in the heat and need to be dug out. Clockwise from the front: pink Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph' greggii 'Teresa', Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' (very low to the ground, near the egg-shaped rock; not blooming), pink Gaura lindheimeri (not flowering), 'Yellow Bells' esperanza (Tecoma stans), blue Plumbago auriculata, white Salvia greggi, pink rock rose, 'Indigo Spires' salvia, dwarf Texas sage, iris foliage, fall Aster oblongifolius (not flowering). In the center of the garden are two tiny mounds of Salvia farinacea 'Mealy Blue Sage' (not flowering) and a ginormous patch of Bermuda grass. The rock edging and the perennials make it extremely difficult to mow this area (but I did, after taking this shot).
Flagstone path, perennials and Bermuda

To the right of the fall aster lives this 'Peter's Purple' bee balm (Monarda fistulosa). It was looking a bit peaked a few weeks ago, but a mid-May rainstorm convinced it to bloom. I'll cut it back to the ground after it blooms and see if it recovers from whatever's turning its lower leaves yellow, droopy and spotty. Behind it is a large patch of red 'Cedar Sage' (Salvia roemeriana ).
'Peter's Purple' monarda

A close-up of 'Yellow Bells' esperanza (Tecoma stans) and blue Plumbago auriculata amidst the Bermuda. Esperanza and plumbago

Our Austin garden blogging group has a monthly get-together where we hash out design ideas for our garden "problem areas". I signed up to host in March 2013, but I don't think I can wait! My "problem areas" are obvious: 1) BERMUDA H. GRASS (the H stands for HADES). If anyone has an idea for taking it out without killing the trees and the perennials (or installing 4' x 4' x 4' concrete planters in my front yard), I'm all ears! 2) Lack of maintenance. I could use a recommendation for an Austin landscape maintenance company with a crew that can tell the difference between nutsedge and wildflower seedlings. 3) Assuming the Bermuda can be eradicated, I may actually have space on the northeast side for a) walking paths, b) additional plantings and/or c) a sitting area -- but can't decide between on what (pea gravel? decomposed granite? more flagstone? something else?).

I'd love to hear what you think! But be gentle...

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

35 comments:

  1. Caroline, I love your front garden. I know these plants attract many beneficial insects, which are a great joy to any gardener. Having these wonderful plantings can at times lead to a few unwanted plants a.k.a. Costal Bermuda. I have a problem with it in my front garden also. Usually your neighbor’s front patch is filled with it as well…they call it a lawn. So try as you might it seems to always return. I know it’s a hard battle and we usually lose, but I believe the garden you have created is well worth it! So Kudos To You!

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    1. Thank you, Lucy. I love it too, and yes, it's chock full of butterflies, bees, and caterpillars. The neighbor to the east has St. Augustine and the neighbor to the west (rental) has weeds for a lawn. The hellstrip is full of Bermuda and it's my theory that the Bermuda tunnels under the sidewalk to get to the garden! I guess I just need to find some help digging it out every season, it's wearing me out.

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    2. Oh, and Lucy, thank you for identifying the Bermuda in question. I knew it wasn't lawn-quality Bermuda I was dealing with (it looks horrible when mowed). I've been Googling "eradicate coastal Bermuda" this evening!

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  2. Wonderful to see the transformation of your garden from boring old grass to beautiful native plantings. It looks lovely. As to the bermuda- I have the same problem and just keep pulling it out which at least prevents it from creeping. I don't think you can ever get it out now that you have plants in there. It is so deep rooted. Nutgrass is a little easier as you can paint the stems. Even so it does come back. A sitting area would really be nice. Looking forward to visiting your garden even if it is next year.

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    1. Dear Lancashire rose, thank you. A couple walking their dog past my garden one morning complemented me on my "cottage-style garden" -- I immediately thought of your garden and how mine pales in comparison! I'd love a sitting area. Even in late spring, it's really nice under the red oak tree, particularly in the morning. We have several neighbors that like to sit in front of their homes to watch the goings-on and it'd be nice to join them. My garden would be honored to have you visit -- mark your calendar!

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    1. Thank you, Phillip. I am inspired by your amazing garden! I'd like to do something similar to your no-mow gravel "lawn" under my red oak, with a small sitting area.

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  4. You see the weeds, we see the beauty! The transformation is wonderful.

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    1. You're so sweet! It really is a work in progress. Then again, Lancashire rose would say the same thing about her spectacular garden. Gardeners, I've found, are most critical of their own handiwork.

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  5. I think your garden looks great.
    I've always said that Bermuda is the most invasive plant on the planet. When it gets a foothold in a plant, you just have to dig up the whole thing, and..if you're lucky...rip it out of the plant's roots. Sometimes, there's no hope. I had a bed edged in liriope and had to just toss the whole thing. Couldn't get that Bermuda out...grrr.
    Nutgrass is just as bad. If you don't get the underground runners, you haven't gotten it at all.
    It's lots of work, but sometimes you can win a battle, if not the war.
    Good luck....

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    1. Thank you, Linda! I need all the help I can get! "The Battle of Bermuda" -- now there's a gardening blog title! I win the battle for a few weeks every season but Bermuda is winning the war. If I have to choose between the perennials and the Bermuda, then I'm afraid the Bermuda is here to stay (sob).

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  6. Bermuda and nut sedge - they are the banes in all my bedding areas. I keep thinking if I could somehow train the wandering deer to develop tasties for Bermuda grass and nut sedge - they could meander around munching to their heart's delight and we'd all be happy!

    I feel you on looking at your own garden and mostly seeing the work yet to be done. I promise none of the rest of us see anything other than the glorious results of all your work so far. And glorious results they are! Spectacular blooms, great color combinations...your beds are inspirational.

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    1. Deb, thanks for your kind words. I was thinking maybe goats, or sheep -- trained to nibble only on weedy grass, never perennials! I still think the purple lantana next to the 'Lipstick' salvia is a bit "clown pants" but maybe it's just me...red is a rather overwhelming color, but the hummingbirds love it so.

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    2. p.s. I can't take credit for "clown plants" as a garden design descriptor -- that honor goes to Gail of "Clay and Limestone". http://www.clayandlimestone.com/2012/05/sometimes-i-like-my-garden-sometimes-i.html

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  7. Ya dun good! It's beautiful and more appropriate for this area than grass. It takes time and you shouldn't be hard on yourself--we learn more from our mistakes than our successes (or at least that's what I keep reading). A sitting space would be a nice addition as would some garden "art." Unlike most of the Austin gardeners, I'm not a huge fan of the various agave--I think that for most urban/suburban landscapes, they just get too large. That said, I planted 3 in my gardens last year with the thought that I will not allow them to get larger than 3'X 3'--mine are the Americana so they constantly put out pups to replant. To you--kudos for a job well done.

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    1. Tina, thank you. Patience is not my long suit! I'd love some garden art but Jack's more, um, "selective" than I am. He'd also like to move the agave to the back yard, he feels it's too big and too close to the driveway for safety (visions of Halloween trick-or-treaters tripping and impaling themselves) so I'm planning to convert my overgrown corner herb garden in the back to a "danger garden". I don't relish moving that bad boy, though. (Did I mention I need some capable hired help?)

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    2. My inspiration for a "danger garden" -- Loree's blog, aptly titled. http://dangergarden.blogspot.com/

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  8. It's great! I love seeing all the different long shots. And the rock path is so cool. Can't wait to come see it in person. I have a Bermuda grass secret but I'd have to kill you if I told! All your hard work is really paying off.

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    1. Diana, thanks -- I hope you'll be able to visit! I'm convinced the Bermuda is trying to kill me (or drive me insane). A few more summer digging-out sessions and I might be willing to take you up on that deal!

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  9. Your garden is just beautiful and wildlife-friendly. You should be proud.--Wish your house was beside mine.

    I too have Bermuda and in fact had a 100' x 10' garden bed filled with it the year I couldn't do any gardening/weeding/anything outside. The Bermuda got to be about 12" tall and took over. While I can't say I got rid of ALL of the Bermuda, I did get rid of most of it. I laid down thick sheets of cardboard on top of the Bermuda, but around my plants, and then covered it with 3-4" of Pine Bark nuggets. (I know most people dislike Pine Bark nuggets, but they seem to last longer than other types of mulch in our climate.) Anyway, most of the Bermuda is now gone. I do this every 2 years. I do have a concrete block edge around the bed so that may have helped some because the bed was not open to the lawn. Laura

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    1. Congratulations on your achievement, Laura! I've done cardboard and mulch. It lasted a bit longer than newspaper and mulch, but -- well, you can see. I'm considering tilling again, then covering with stone to create a sitting area, at least on the northeast (under the red oak tree). We tilled where the stone path is now, and there isn't much Bermuda there at all.

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    2. Check this out -- I'd like to do something similar (on a much smaller scale)
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolinehomerphotography/5970402330/

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  10. That's a fantastic makeover! The gardener's court finds that you did a fabulous job and we sentence your bermuda grass to whatever horrid fate you can dream up. I have had pretty good success with thick newspaper or cardboard covered with mulch. My problem area now is a small bermuda lawn that borders an area that I recently planted. Now that I'm irrigating, the bermuda is very interested in growing into my new beds. Grrrr.

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    1. "Here Comes the Judge!" I like the way you think, Ally. Thanks for the kind words!

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  11. I don't think, I KNOW bermuda is the devil. Love your abundance!!!

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    1. Thanks, Carla! "Bermuda is the root of all evil"

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  12. you may want to talk to Jeremiah at GreenWork Landscaping (http://www.greenworklandscape.com/index.html)- Tell him one of his wife's coworkers sent you.

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    1. Hooray, a recommendation for a landscape maintenance company! Thank you, Katina.

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  13. The transformation in the past few years is amazing - what a beautiful landscape you have created - in spite of the Bermuda H Grass. I also battle it (and sedge grass, which is worse for me) in my landscape. Will you use herbicides in your landscape? When I have allowed our bermuda to wander unchecked for too long and it has spread into the plantings, I use a little round-up. With a small hand-held sprayer, I can direct the herbicide to the culprit and leave my lovelies alone. I've also used 20% vinegar. The vinegar gives me an more immediate browning, but doesn't seem to move to the roots and KILL the unwanted. Either way, you will probably need multiple treatments, but I have actually eradicated bermuda in some of my planting beds. Good luck!

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    1. Mary Beth, thank you. It's good to know the Battle of Bermuda can be won. I have admittedly tried glyphosate before the first round of newspapers and mulch, and it did not work. But from what I've read since, glyphosate needs to be applied to the actively growing green growth several times over a month or so to kill Bermuda to the root.

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  14. Caroline, it looks absolutely stunning! I remember reading your earlier posts about starting your front garden, and it's so filled out and flowery now. Beautiful! And I think the agave gives a perfect element of structure to all the flowery perennials.

    Re: the evil Bermuda, since you have such a pernicious infestation, my advice would be to cut your perennials back really hard now, water well to keep them from stressing too much in the heat, and then hit the Bermuda with 2-3 applications of RoundUp over the course of a month as your perennials fill back out for fall. Repeat in early spring and you should have it knocked back pretty good, enough to stay on top of it with spot treating next summer.

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    1. Thanks for the praise, Pam! I wish I'd had your upcoming book "Lawn Gone!", three years ago. The herbicide tip is most appreciated. I've suddenly realized I can't till deeply around the red oak or I could damage the tree's surface roots, so herbicide is probably my only option. I've started whacking back the perennials and I'll try the repeated application method. I think I'll fashion a "weed wiper" to keep the herbicide from soaking into the soil or drifting to desirable plants. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/travis/docs/HomemadeWeedWiper2010.pdf

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  15. Your lovely garden is so encouraging. There is an ongoing discussion here about keeping lawn in the front. I'd like to turn ours into more parking, surrounded by flower beds. We don't have bermuda grass, but wild sweet peas, morning glory, oxalis (can you imagine anyone letting that stuff loose in their garden), and red sorrel are enough. Thankfully the fireweed pulls out easily. The foxtail is another issue. We have to use a very toxic herbicide, rubber gloves, long sleeves, mask, and pour it through a funnel on each individual spike. Learning to like it might be an option. I hate using that herbicide. Looking forward to the evolution of your lovely garden. Everything about it appeals to me. Thanks for blogging on it.

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    1. Lenore, thanks for visiting and for your kind words. I love that people are discussing alternatives to lawns! Sounds like you have some really tenacious weeds to deal with. I have wild morning glory as well but it pulls out easily like your fireweed. And yes, actually, I can imagine someone letting oxalis loose in their garden - me! Our native woodsorrel ran rampant in my back yard 3 years ago, and I let it do its thing. http://shovelreadygarden.blogspot.com/2009/09/spontaneous-woodsorrel-fieldin-my.html Like most natives, such 'weeds' have a season, and woodsorrel's season ended last year with a hard winter freeze followed by the worst drought in Texas since the 1950s. Now the horseherb's making a comeback.

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    2. Looking back at your earlier post...Before all the great work

      you have done an amazing job!

      The front landscape is whimsical and magical.
      Simply Lovely.

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