Archive for the 'shrubs' Category

Spring is coming?

We’ve had a very mild winter here in southern Wisconsin with only a handful of big snowstorms all season. So it was a little surprising to wake up to a big wet March snowfall the other day. The snow clung to every little branch and made our yard look like a winter wonderland.

The driveway.

The view of the pond from the middle of the driveway.

The backyard.

Do you see what I see?

That is right just after the snow storm passed we saw our first geese on the pond.

They look bewildered like hey where is the open water?! This group was surely just passing through but that means in no time we’ll be seeing our first pair of mating geese and hearing them defend the both ponds as theirs. The first sign of waterfowl on the ponds each spring is always exciting!


The conifers we planted out front have provided great winter interest. They look especially nice with a thin layer of snow accentuating their branches.

With the warm temperatures the snow is melting fast. I love sunny days when there is snow on the ground!


This winter we’ve had an extra special treat with two male pheasants calling our yard home. This is only the second time this had happened. Two years ago we had a male hang out in our yard over the winter.

We would catch him sunning himself on our front steps every morning but unfortunately he didn’t last long. Our dog found a crime scene of blood and feathers in the snow a few weeks later. : ( But this year we bought some food for the pheasants and have been feeding them where they were scratching the ground for food. They are skittish creatures and nearly every day Flannel Man has scared them out of the brush when he walks the dog on the pond and I will sometimes see them as I’m leaving the driveway in the morning. I managed to get a few pictures of them through the trees as they crossed the lower part of our driveway one weekend.

(Cropped to give you a better view of the details. Not very good photography but they are the only shots I’ve ever gotten of pheasants on our property so I wanted to share.)

They are so funny to watch when they run. Their head bobs back and forth every time they take a step.


What signs of spring have you seen lately?


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.

Our New Snow Clearing Toy

Two weekends ago was our first big storm with 1-2” of freezing rain followed by 10” of snow. Along with that we had 35 mph winds which resulted in blizzard warnings and weatherman encouraging people to stay inside all weekend. On the bright side it did leave a pretty coating on the trees and shrubs.

It may have been a crummy weekend but Flannel Man was excited to try out his new toy, an ATV with a plow. For the past two years he’s used our riding lawn mower with a small fixed plow. He got the plow for free from a co-worker who had it lying around in his barn. It was full of rust but Flannel Man sandblasted it, painted it, and modified it to fit the lawn mower. It worked OK but we were often stuck inside after a big storm because it didn’t have enough power to push the heavy snow. Luckily, we have a very nice neighbor who has two sheds full of snow clearing toys of his own and he would come clear off our driveway if he was home. Our neighbor is a truck driver though so he is often gone for a week at a time so he wasn’t always around in the winter.

We even inherited a small snow blower from Flannel Man’s grandmother last year but it could barely handle the heavy snow so you had to move very slow. It took forever to clear off both of our driveways. It didn’t help that we have three locations where our driveways meet the street (our main driveway is a semi-circle) and the town plows make a big pile of snow as they pass by. So this year Flannel Man began looking for a used ATV he could use to plow the snow. He found it very difficult in our area to find one that would work. Every time he thought he found “the one” the seller had just sold it or they wanted too much for it and wouldn’t negotiate. When November came it really hit home that he better buy one fast or get ready to shovel (we had given Papa Flannel the snow blower since his broke)! On his drive to work he saw an ATV plow for sale out on someone’s front yard and bought it for only $100. So now we had a plow but nothing to attach it to.

Then one Saturday I woke up to “Do you want to go on an eight hour road trip to Indiana?” Apparently he was searching through Craigslist in nearby cities to see if they had a better selection of ATVs and found someone in Indiana that was posting on the Chicago board. So we hoped in the truck and headed off taking the dog with us. It ended up being well worth the trip because he got a bigger, nicer ATV than he’d planned for a great price. There were a few minor fixes he had to make (the electric start switch was broken for one) but with the help of some friends he got it up and working. Finally, he installed plates to hold a winch and the plow and he was ready to go.

This new snow removal rig is slick! It takes fraction of the time to clear both of the driveways and has so much more power he can really pile up the snow. Plus it helps that it’s actually fun to drive. I’m pretty sure I saw a smile under that face mask. Now I just need to learn how to drive a manual ATV…maybe I’ll wait until spring.

Dwarf Conifers for the Shade

So I’ll admit the front beds are a bit underwhelming but it’s the unique conifers that will someday define the space.  Conifers are low maintenance, do well in poor soil, can handle our cold Zone 4 winters, and look good all year round when other plants go dormant so of course I wanted them in our new front flower beds.  The only problems were that we had limited space and not enough sun.

Living in the woods is beautiful but with all the shade it has made my gardening effort much more difficult!  Conifers love sun but there a some odd balls that can handle shade you just need to do your research.  Surprisingly, the hardest time of the year for these conifers is winter.  The deciduous trees have lost their leaves and the ground is covered in snow which increases the amount of light they get and they can easily burn (aka. browned needles).

The style of our house limited how tall the plants in our front beds should be.  A long, short ranch with tall arborvitae on each corner just makes the house look shorter.  Plus our windows are less than 4′  off the ground and we someday plan to turn the screened in porch into a covered porch with railings so we were limited in height.  Also our front door is accessed from a sidewalk that runs along the side of the house which creates one of the beds which is 6′ wide and 30′ long.  My solution to this was to buy some slow growing conifers called dwarf conifers.  Which just means that they grow between 1-6″ a year.  For example a”mother” variety may be 40′ tall but the dwarf variety will only be 20′ tall in the same time…not really what you think of when you see the word “dwarf.”  Conifers never stop growing so unless they are in the middle of a field they will always outgrow a space but at least with dwarf conifers it will take them a few more years to outgrow a space.

After doing all this research I thought I’d let you know which plants I ended up buying.  As you walk up to the house the first conifer you see is this guy:

Tsuga canadensis ‘Frostie’

Canadian Hemlocks are one of the best conifers for partial shade (besides arborvitae which are just considered deer food in the country).  ‘Frostie’ gets to be approximately 4′ wide and 3′ tall in 10 years creating a mop head like mound.  It is known for holding it’s white color longer than other varieties and having a faint pink color in the winter.  Similar varieties include ‘Moon Frost’ and ‘Gentsch White.’


Tsuga canadensis ‘Jeddeloh’

This Canaden Hemlock creates a birds nest shape with light green growth turning to dark green.  It’s approximate 10 year size is 3′ tall and 4′ wide creating multiple “nests.”  It’s overlapping fan shaped branches create an interesting layered effect.  This variety was actually discovered as a seedling in a German cemetery in 1950 and raised by Jeddeloh Nurseries in Oldenburg.  Similar varieties include ‘Bennett’ and ‘Gracilis.’


Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’

The Cypress family has some of my favorite irregular shaped and colored conifers but unfortunately Chamaecyparis obtusa do not do well in our area and can die unexpectedly.  However the Chamaecyparis pisifera family (this is why scientific names are important!) can handle our area though they have a more limited range of options.  But when I saw this little guy at a local nursery and there was only one left I just had to buy him!  It had a much whiter color when I bought it a few months ago but being true to it’s name still has a hint of white.  It’s such a cute little ball that visitors are always stopping to touch it’s feathery texture.  In 10 years it should be approximately 1.5′ around.


Abies koreana ‘Starker’s Dwarf’

OK, so this Korean Fir was a splurge.  It cost significantly more than the other conifers (besides our big blue conifer).  I’m not exactly sure why but I think it’s because it is a rarer variety which is why it was difficult finding information on this variety. It’s unique texture won me over though; I couldn’t get it out of my head.  It has short, flat needles that are stiff but blunt on the end so they don’t prick you.  The needles are widely spaced and have a fun white underside.  It creates a nice contrast with the nearby ‘White Pygmy.’  In 10 years it will be approximately 2.5′ wide and 3′ tall.  Similar but not nearly as cool as ‘Starker’s Dwarf’ is ‘Cis.’


Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’

This Japanese Yew has the best yellow color for shade.  It’s new growth is school bus yellow in the spring which fades to lime green in the fall.  Like most yews it is a vigorous grower but since this is a dwarf variety it should be more manageable.  Because of this I went with only a 1 gallon plant instead of the 3 gallon and saved my money for the other conifers.  In 10 years it should be approximately 3′ tall and 6′ wide.  ‘Dwarf Bright Gold’ is a very similar variety but is said to be slightly less yellow.


Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Glauca Compacta’ aka. ‘Arizonica Compacta’

This big guy is our focal point!  Because this is the end of 60′ of flower beds we needed something with some height to catch the eye and add a pop of color.  This corner of the yard drops off to a step slope so we used that to our advantage and created a short retaining wall that extends the flower bed past the side of the house so this area would receive more sun.  This Cork Bark Fir needs more sun than the other conifers so hopefully it’s 4 hours of direct morning light and 1-2 hours of afternoon light will be enough.  It is supposed to be one of the more shade tolerant blue conifers which normally need full sun.  This plant has dense growth with silvery blue needles and light green new growth in the spring.  Mature trees have purple colored cones and the trunk is a creamy white color.  Its is a slow growing pyramidal conifer that stays relatively narrow at approximately 4′ wide and 6′ tall in 10 years.  This one is could be 10 years old already (which is why it cost so much) looking at the growth each year.  As shown below it only grew 1.5″ last year but it may have already been in burlap at that time.

Well that’s all of them.  Did you have any idea conifers could be so interesting?  I had no idea a year ago.
You can find more information here, here, and here.

Front Flower Bed Transformations

Boy we had a busy Labor Day weekend! Last week the weather suddenly went from hot and dry to cold and rainy. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in two days! Of course that meant I could officially plant my fall shrubs. So we dropped everything and went to buy the dwarf conifers I began researching back in January. I originally wanted to plant them in the spring but we didn’t have the flower beds prepared and planting shrubs in the fall is easier since they don’t need to be watered through the dry summer.

When we bought the house the front flower beds looked like this:

I don’t have pictures of them in the summer but the weeds would get to be 3′ tall! The north flower bed had fabric and rocks laid down at one point but no edging. Because the yard was higher the area was filled with dirt over time where weeds could grow. The south flower bed (between the sidewalk and house) was also too high but luckily didn’t have any fabric or rocks. It was a serious mess. So the following spring we dug out the top 6″ of the flower bed and removed the weeds. Having never gardened in my life I wanted something quick and easy. The only plants I kept were hostas so I broke them up so I had enough to fill the space. Then we laid down fabric and rocks. I planned to add additional plants later.

When I look at this picture I think it was the most boring flower bed ever! Seriously, rows of hostas…and not just any hosta the most boring, typical, everyone has them hosta. Then add some predictable river rock and you have a 30′ x 6′ flower bed no one will ever notice! Luckily we never got to the north flower bed because I couldn’t decide on what type of edging I wanted. I’ve just never liked that black plastic stuff everyone uses. So we just lived with the weeds and pulled the tall ones when they began to block the windows.

Fast forward to a few months later and we decided to finally dig out the also messy rock wall flower bed and I realized that I’m going to have learn something about plants unless I want flower beds full of hostas. So I started reading up about gardening online and at the library. Then one night I saw a flyer for a Garden Club meeting at the library where they meet. I was super intimidated but I went to the next meeting where I didn’t know anyone. Turns out they were some of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met! Granted they were all my mother or grandmother’s age but the generational gap didn’t seem to matter when we were talking plants.

In August we finally got to installing a brick edging and retaining wall for the north flower bed. Next we tore out the boring hosta bed spending a weekend on our hands and knees picking up thousands of rocks by hand. Fun! Last weekend we picked up mulch from our county waste site ($5 for a trailer full), bought all of my dwarf conifers from two different nurseries, and picked up some mulch. And here’s how it looks now:

Don’t mind the dirt embedded into the sidewalk and the multi-colored mulch. I know it looks pretty sparse right now but I plan to fill in with more perennials next year and the conifers will fill in slowly. I think it’s a good base of unique plants that will look good all year round even covered with snow. So what do you think?

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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