Archive for the 'flowers' Category

Gardening 2011

This year I want to add a second set of pictures for the year. I dove deep into the hobby of gardening this year and though it isn’t the main focus of this blog I think homes and gardens go together hand and hand. It’s hard to break apart which pictures are home improvements and which are strictly gardening so if you want to see glimpses of the new fence flowerbed, the moss filled flagstone path, or my new gardening bench check out this post.


Ever since I started gardening I’ve been taking pictures of what I buy in the garage before I plant it along with recording the scientific name and other info in an Excel spreadsheet. I know all too many gardeners who can’t remember what plant they have because they didn’t record it so I’m going to do my best to keep a record of this stuff. Plus looking back at what size a plant started out could be fun especially with the conifers that can last for decades. So here is what I added to my garden this year…


To celebrate my birthday Flannel Man took me to Chicago to see the flower and garden show. We stayed overnight at a nice hotel within walking distance of Navy Pier where the show was at and had a delicious sushi dinner.


Mother’s Day weekend is the start of many plant sales in our area. I stopped by a nearby garden club sale and went to the yearly Olbrich Garden sale. Highlights include Hydrangea ‘Invincibelle Spirit’, ‘Chicagoland Green’ Boxwood, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’, and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern.


This year we took a strong stance on the nasty invasive garlic mustard and pulled thousands of plants by hand. We bagged them up and labeled them as invasive plants and put them with our weekly trash pick-up.


I got a lot of great plants at low cost from two more local garden club sales. Some of my favorites from those sales were a white with pink spotted hellebore, white bleeding heart, white pulmonaria, and a yellow toad lily. I decided I really liked the look of the white flowers against the dark brown fence so most of them went into the new fence flowerbed.


My reconnaissance mission to a local nursery that specializes in rare conifers. I tried to not buy everything I could get my hands on. This is just a small sample of what he has.


Adding some more flowering shrubs to the edges of our yard. Quick Fire Hydrangea, Rhododendron ‘PJM Elite’ and ‘Golden Lights’, and an ice plant.


The big conifer buy of 2011! 7 nurseries and 18 plants later I was in heaven. I got a Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ that was left over from last season and priced to sell, a gorgeous ‘Golden Shadows’ dogwood, and two Tsuga canadensis (‘Geneva’ and ‘Brandleyi’) from the clearance section of a nursery.

The two clearance Tsuga weren’t looking too good as they were forgotten and barely maintained in the back corner of the parking lot they were kept. With only a small amount of new growth I convinced the nursery staff to give me even more of a discount if I took both of them off their hands as they had multiples of each type. Once home I carefully bare rooted them (which was my first time trying that technique) and they are looking great now. A couple of these questionable zone 4 Chamaecyparis did not survive but that is the beauty of having a one year warranty. I was able to take them back and get credit towards my next purchase.


New groundcover plants for the dog yard and some perennials for the fence flowerbed. I went to Home Depot for some tools but ended up walking out with some sale astilbie, hostas, and a fern. Then I picked up a silver sage and bush clematis from a nursery.


I went on a garden tour of three local gardens followed by a pot luck dinner made with ingredients from everyone’s gardens.


I went on my second garden tour of the year. This tour featured an amazing sustainable garden, the garden of a daylily connoisseur, and a Frank Lloyd Wright home.


Some late season plant buying thanks to a Groupon and some nursery reward points. More hostas, colorful sedium, a red Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), a white Hakonechloa, and a snowberry bush.


I used the last of my nursery reward points in a very late season sale. Some ferns, late blooming anemone, and spring bulbs will make a nice addition to my shady beds.


Rock Wall Redo

In a previous post I explained the history of our house and its previous owners. One of the nice things the original owners created was a tiered rock wall with flowerbeds along the stairs to our front door. I’m sure it was beautiful at the time but the second owners completely neglected it. When we bought the house it looked like this:


Well not exactly…there were some small trees growing in there that we cut down right when we bought the house. As you can see over 35 years the dirt made its way through the rocks and mounded on the tier below it. It became impossible to keep mulch there because every time it rained it would spill over the side. Originally, we tried to fix the area by just digging down the flower beds but we ran into another problem. There was still an angled pile of dirt between the driveway and the rock wall for weeds to grow in. I tried growing Vinca Minor (aka. Periwinkle) a hardy groundcover there but between the winter plowing and occasional salting it didn’t do too well. After digging out the beds last year:

Notice how small the rocks look…


Flannel Man (FM) insisted on tearing out the rock wall and redoing it this year. We started by digging out the hard compacted dirt between the rock wall and the driveway. Then we took apart the rock wall piece by piece. What seemed to be a straight forward task of course became a much more difficult one when we realized many of the boulders were much larger than they appeared. We wouldn’t have been able to move some of them if we hadn’t dug out the area in front of them.

After we had moved all of the rocks we dug down where the rock wall had been and added gravel. After having done many projects involving gravel we’ve found that the cheapest place to get it is straight from our local quarry. You need to have a trailer though as they load the gravel with some big machinery that doesn’t have enough finesse to load a pick-up truck. This time we got ¾” limestone with fill which basically means it has both rocks and sand. It is the recommended base for patios and other hardscape since it compacts down very well. We also added landscaping fabric behind the wall to help keep soil from coming through the gaps.

Because this is a natural stone (aka. field stone) wall we didn’t need a drain pipe nor did we need to bury the bottom layer of rocks for a base. A cut stone or cement block wall should have 1” of buried wall for every foot of exposed wall height.

Since the new wall was going to be taller than the old one we had to come up with some more boulders. At stone yards we’ve seen medium sized boulders for $100-150 a pop since the price is based on weight. $150 for a rock! And not even a pretty colored one, those are more. Instead we turned to a great local source, farmers. Living in farm country we know that every farmer has at least one pile of rocks they hit when plowing their fields. So we visited a friend’s farm who said he “had a few rocks.” After driving through a long, muddy field (4 wheel drive trucks really come in handy in the country) we saw his 8’ tall 40’ long rock pile. We were in rock pile heaven! So we dug through the pile picking out our favorite rocks which sometimes meant moving ten rocks to get to one but hey they were free. We got about 20 rocks which would have cost us $2500 at the stone yard.

Here’s what the finished 40’ x 3’ wall looked like:

For a few of the really heavy rocks that we couldn’t move back into the wall we had to have our neighbor move with his tractor. One of them became a step for the transition between the end of the rock wall and the lawn. The other two are now in our woods.


**Public Service Announcement**
Note the beautiful tulips in the background of the picture above. This is the time of year to plant your bulbs for next year. Last fall I bought a bag of 50 tulip bulbs and planted them on either side of our driveway for some nice spring color. Not all of them came up as I found out that squirrels love to eat them and a few others came up in the ditch (now I know I didn’t plant those there!) because the squirrels moved them but overall it was a success. For $13 from Costco I’m happy with the results.

**Back to the rock wall**


We also dug down the upper two tiers of rock wall in a similar fashion to even everything out. To edge the flower bed we ended up using a composite material because we thought the brick border that we used on other flower beds would look strange next to natural rocks. Then to finish of the space between the rock wall and driveway we added flagstone with polymeric sand. This makes the space easy to plow and walk on plus the rock wall has become a make shift seating area. Here’s what the finished product looks like:

Most of the flowers were done blooming at this point but they will put on quite a show next year. I’ll follow up with a separate post on the polymeric sand for those of you who are interested.

Now that the rock wall is done we’ve moved onto another flagstone project that is still in the works. More on that later.

Getting Into Gardening

The other thing I’ve been busy with all spring is getting into gardening. I joined our local garden club, have been reading books and websites about what can grow in our area, and visit local nurseries to see what they recommend. So far it’s been really fun! I have a lot of work ahead of me though because we have a lot of flower beds.

The original owners of the house were a retired couple who were avid gardeners. According to our 80 year old neighbor they regularly hosted garden tours and many people passing by would stop to admire their beautiful gardens. Then the second owners of the house were well…hippies. They let everything go “natural.” In some cases that allowed wonderful native plants to spread but it also let the nasty invasive plants spread even more. The flower beds along the house disappeared into a jungle of weeds and over a dozen of volunteer trees were allowed to grow within a few feet of the house. But that is more because they were very, very lazy.

Our plan is to find a balance in between the beautiful but high maintenance gardens of the first owners and the wild overgrown “gardens” (if you want to call them that) of the second owners. Luckily, some reminders of the first owner’s gardens remain. There are a number of raised flower beds made with cedar planks that have withstood the test of time along with a lot of great plants that have filled out nicely and managed to survive 10 years of neglect from the second owners (now those are my kind of plants!). Here are some examples:


Lilac Bush, possibly ‘Charles Joy’ – This was the plant we had moved last year. Originally, it was along our driveway but the pine trees eventually choked out the majority of it’s sunlight so it grow out over the driveway. Now it’s in a nice open space with lots of sun.

(New spot)

Forsythia – Though their blooms only last a short time seeing their punch of color in early spring really melts the winter blues away.


Crab Apple Tree

Willow Tree – We’ll never know for sure but we were told the original owners planted this. It seems too big to be only 35 years old but who knows willows do grow fast.

Big Blue Conifers – Blue, evergreen, and low maintenance what more could you want?

Feather Topped Grass

Rock Garden Peony – My garden club loved this mature plant.

Surprise Lilies


Traditional Peonies


Balloon Flowers

Black Eyed Susans



Ostrich Ferns

Contained Lily of the Valley – “Contained” is the key word there. I love these fragrant blooms but they spread like crazy. So thank you original owners for containing them with the driveway!

Grape Hyacinths


Lots & Lots of Daffodils – Between the forsythia and the daffodils I think the original owner’s favorite color was yellow.


As you can see we have a lot of flower beds! What you can’t see is that most of the flower beds are actually weeds. Oh well it’s a start.

Did anyone else inherit great plants when they bought their house?


After The Rain

We got a lot done this weekend including re-roofing the shed. But I’m too sore and tired to write about it right now so enjoy some pictures I took last Friday after a storm came through. I’m going to go try to wash the shingle “rocks” out of my hair now…




Apple Bloosoms

In the last three weeks since we bought the house the apple tree down by the garden has bloomed and is now in full bloom. I love walking down there to smell the wonderful scent it gives off and to take pictures of course. I don’t think I can take enough pictures of this tree. I just can’t grasp the full beauty of it in a photo. I need a real photographer like Carrie to come take some pictures.


Here is a photo timeline of the apple tree since we moved in:


The last one is my favorite because of the beautiful bokeh.



This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
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