Grass to Meadow

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A while back I wrote about this.  Practically all summer I was waiting to start this project.  While I have been lamenting the loss of summer’s heat and long days, looking forward to this project has been the only good part of the cooling weather.  We ripped out our small, needless front lawn and replaced that space with native plants.  The plan was to make it look something like this:

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I love the look of the cone flower coming out from the grasses.  So much prettier than trampled grass scorched brown by the neighborhoods’ dogs. While I couldn’t source prairie dropseed or little blue stem for this project, I still managed to acheive the effect.

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Everything has a bit of transplant shock right now… most everything was divided from existing perennials and grasses around the yard.  Echinacea purpurea pop out around the grasses.  Rudbekia are interspersed.  Baptista dominates one corner (I think I have it in blue and white, time will tell!).  Shasta daisy and columbine are in the shadier parts.

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I put some butterfly weed in the sunniest parts.  I divided my stonecrop & hens and chicks- they hold the soil very well.  The yard has a slight slope, so the stonecrop serves to hold it all in place.

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I edged it with repurposed brick from an old bed.  This brick is easily 50 years old and now lines the garden at the edge of the sidewalk.  When placing the plants, I threw a handful of compost into each hole, then top dressed around them.  The soil was fairly compacted and as we ripped out the sod, organic material was lacking.  I finished off the whole production with several inches of composted leaf mulch.  This stuff breaks down fairly quickly, and is almost more like a compost than a mulch.  Next year I may need some more mulch, but I hope that it’ll fill in enough that mulch will become obsolete- the plants will serve as their own living mulch, and I’ll only sprinkle handfuls around when I have to divide something or pull out under-performers.

And boy do I still have plans for this space!

I have some bulbs to add (not native, but after a long New England winter I need daffodils.  Need).  I would love to add an extra bird feeder and maybe a bird bath.  I have plans to add some native bleeding heart.  – I have already put in some Dicentra cucullaria (dutchmen’s breeches) bare roots.  I will probably also transfer some Geranium maculatum (wild geranium) from the backyard in the spring.  I’ll probably also crumble some seed heads around and see what ends up popping up.  I like to shake out the Physostegia virginiana (obediant plant) and Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) and let them spread themselves as they please.  I’m not above annuals either.  Mexican sunflower will for sure make an appearance next year.

Can you tell from my rambling that I’m still exited about my new garden bed?  But now I need a brake.  I moved 2 yards of mulch around today and for that I need a breather.

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Doing Away with Needless Lawn (part 1)

In the native plant & water friendly gardening community folks can come down pretty hard against turf grass & lawns.  I hear ya.  They can be ecological dead zones.  Parasitic in their zeal for water, fertilizer & petroleum consumption.  Not to mention time and money.  As all of these resources become harder to come by and the awareness of the impact of individual consumption of these resources (particularly petroleum) increases I think we will see (hopefully) fewer lawns.  At least fewer needless lawns.

See, I have a young child and he loves to run around our (very small, non-fertilized and certainly non-monoculture) grassy lawn.  He would play all day out there if I let him, and I often do.  There is no way I’m going to take that away from him.  But our front lawn?  That thing is a waste.  Sure, we sit on it from time to time, but it is needless lawn.  After five years of successive failures to get any grass to grow there, I’m throwing in the towel.  The combination of baking sun, slight slope, neighbor dogs pee and road salt makes it a very tough spot for turf grass.  (Actually, the problem is 75% due to dog pee)

So, we’re going to  rip it all out.  See that below?  It’s gross looking, even after a week of rain.  And it’s too small to be a useful play area.

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And what does that mean?  A whole new garden space to plan.  Not just add to, but a whole ~12×12 area to plant!

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We’re planning on generally replicating & extending the look of what is next to the sad and sorry patch.  By our porch stairs is a ~8×8 square that I planted last fall after ripping out some seriously sad yew and half dead spirea that came with our house.  I had haphazardly added to it over the years, but without any plan.  This time around I had a plan, a plan I will continue, even if in this above picture it’s soggy looking and not in the best light.

Above there is some ninebark (Physocarpus opfulifolius  cv ‘Coppertina’), some fountain grass that I lost the tag to (might be Pennisetum setaceum), Liatris spicata in purple and white, coneflowers, wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) and Rudbekia hirta (black eyed Susan).  There are a few miscellaneous stonecrops in there that are serving as a living mulch for the moment.  In the spring the assortment of bulbs and Phlox subulata (creeping phlox) take the stage.

What I want to focus on in this garden extension is a good mix of grasses and heat tolerant natives/semi natives.  I really like the look of the coneflowers and dropseed in the bottom picture- it’s sort of a cultivated meadow.  That is a look I’d like to go for, but with some of the other plants and grasses.  The daisy will do well in some of the shadier parts of that space (there is a tree along the sidewalk that provides shade much of the afternoon).  I’ll plant daffodils because after a Boston winter I need daffodils, and some non-native allium will bridge the time of daffodils to the time of the daisies.  I love the bright pop of purple liatris against the splash of cheery rudbekia- it’s my new favorite.

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So that’s the plan right now.  Many of these plants I’ll get through spiltting or thinning current ones in the yard.  Some will be bought at end of season sales.  So we’ll see what actually takes shape!  And of course, what ever happens will only be version 1.0.  Who knows what the following year will bring!