If you have "no place to go," come here!

Gardendote of the Day 2013-03-25

Here's my problem area:

Because I cut down a tree (see "Stump") all these Zones get excellent sun from about noon onwards. The soil is lousy, because the tree I cut down was a Norway Maple, which sucked all of the moisture out of the soil, and had a very shallow root system. The soil is also rocky. This area was neglected for years. "Nothing will grow there!" Well, that's because nothing grows in the shade of a Norway Maple, the world's most evil tree.

Zone 1: Next to the sidewalk, covered now with horrible dead snow and winter grunge. Basically the last bit of lawn, Zone 1 is also infested with Japanese beetles, whose grubs eat the grass roots, so the grass turns green and can be ripped out in great clumps. I've had success reseeding with white clover -- tough roots? -- and also success with a small patch of wild flowers.

Zone 2: This is a flower garden, almost covered with dead snow, but you can see some of the rocky border poking up (very nice rocks). I put some seafood compost in there every year, and then plant with flats from the hardware store, mostly pansies. There are also violets which appear, spontaneously, and also columbines, which are reseeding themselves in massive quantities. Geraniums go in the pots on the stump.

Zone 3: This is... I don't know what it is. Partially, it's a path between the front porch with mailbox on the left (not visible) and the driveway on the right (also not visible). I tried planting an herb garden between the flower garden and the path, but since it wasn't in my Zone A, I ended up not picking the herbs and everything bolted. (I also got tremendous, glorious thistles in this Zone; I don't know why they like the space, but I believe thistles are good because they remove toxins from the soil.)

Zone 4: The area in the drip zone under the eaves. Some plantings there.

The "problem area" lacks what a real estate agent would call "curb appeal." I see it a bit differently; the problem the space has is that it doesn't give enough pleasure to people who walk. This includes people walking by on the sidewalk; "public diplomacy" is an important part of gardening! But it also includes me, as I walk to the mailbox and back, or down the street past the front yard on an errand. I've been planning to dump a couple of yards of seafood compost onto it, to improve the soil, and make another stone dust path... But so far, a design for the space has eluded me.

Nevertheless, I guess in writing this up I've figured out my goal for the space:

Making the space a pleasure to walk through, both on the sidewalk, and via the path in Zone 3.

(I don't want to sit in the space, because it's too close to the sidewalk for privacy and quiet.)

Readers, thoughts?

NOTE As an afterthought, intellectually I'm pleased with the division into zones. But maybe that geometry is too rigid, and I need to make the zones not parallel to the sidewalk, or introduce some curves. However, the path from the driveway to the mailbox must be efficient, or people will trample their own, more efficient path.

NOTE As a second afterthought, there's another patch next to the sidewalk that's out of scope for this project; I need to get up my nerve to cut down another tree. However, in that space, whose Zone 2 is filled with hostas, I have several small animal figurines that I hide under the hosta leaves (see "public diplomacy"). These are not loathesome artifacts, but real family artifacts. That principle, or some other idea to make the space "readable" in a surprising way, might be fun to employ.

UPDATE Rereading this, I'm thinking that I definitely do not want a sheet-mulched area with stand-alone plants. I want something more like masses of color with hidden delights.

gardendote_2013-03-25.jpg249.76 KB
No votes yet


TheMomCat's picture
Submitted by TheMomCat on

My lawn guys were here today, in the snow. Fortunately, it was too warm for the snow to do anything but melt when it hit the ground.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

New England wild flower seeds. You will get constant flowers because different ones will bloom at different times. Many will self-seed.So, after a couple of years you might not need to sow any more seed. It will be colorful, attrack pollinators and require little work on your part.

Here is an example of a NE wild flower mix. Scroll down the page to find a list of the individual flowers in the mix.

zot23's picture
Submitted by zot23 on

Typically, if I'm not sure of an area I till the heck out of it and plant fresh. But here in CO, compacted soil is a major problem as it is windy, arid, and the precip (when it comes) can be rough. Tilling through roots is difficult tough.

The "easier" route is to put a little mulch over the area and wait a year or two for the roots to rot away so something new can establish. To speed this up, you could grind down that stump so the roots die and rot more quickly.

For this year, I would suggest mulch and some nice wildflowers. They can usually grow anywhere halfway decent with sun. Maybe some herbs for your kitchen?

Submitted by lambert on

One of the great advantages of sheet mulch is that it attracts worms -- and worms do the tilling for me! Granted, my soil may be different from yours.

Submitted by lambert on


One thing I'm not getting: I'm a big sheet mulch fan (better soil, no work, no watering). So it seems to me that sheet mulching the wild flower area would be best. But is that do-able? Broadcast the seeds on top of the straw? (I sheet mulch with a layer with compost on the bottom, then a layer of newspaper, then a layer of straw). How does that work?

Also, in terms of the walking requirement, I'm not sure there's enough here. Maybe not? Maybe the path needs some sort of entrance at least on the left (driveway side).

Also, I now see, I forgot the filbert trees. And I like the stump. I can put pots of geraniums on it. It's a found object!

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

Sowing seed in soil ( compost works) and then covering with a light layer of straw might be better.

A little information about how to have success with Wildflower seeds. Pick the proper site; these seed mixtures need sun to really thrive. There is not a seed mix that will tolerate full shade. Even the shade mixture requires 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. Now that you have a good sunny location you need to get rid of all existing weeds. This is a must before you sow your seeds; the best way to do this is by hand pulling, or a general herbicide. Now that you have the area weed free you may want to add some compost or other organic matter to improve the soil. After adding organic matter the soil should be tilled, but not to deep, the deeper you go the more weed seeds you stir up. You are now ready to sow the seed. To help sow the seed more evenly get a five gallon bucket, fill it 3/4 full of sand or some other fine material such as peat moss, or vermiculite. Now mix the seed in this bucket and you are ready to broadcast the seed. The sand will help the seed spread more evenly and give it some cover when you spread it. Lightly rake the seed in; it does not have to be deep just lightly covered to keep it from drying out. You are now ready to cover it very lightly with some weed free straw. You should still see some ground through the straw after you spread it. This straw will keep the seed from drying out. It is a must to keep the ground moist for the next 4-6 weeks so the seeds will get a good start. After they are growing good you can back off on the watering and fertilize them lightly with some 5-5-5 or 8-8-8, too much fertilizer can burn them. A good liquid fertilizer is probably best at this stage of growth.

Please be patient, the first year your annuals will bloom, Second year your biennials will bloom with some of your perennials, the third year is when your perennials should really start blooming. It may be necessary to reseed bare spots from time to time to keep the full color going. Some people will sow some annual seeds every year to give it an extra punch of color.

Check out this link for more info on the care and feeding of wildflowers.

Submitted by lambert on

Maybe if I layered (top to bottom):

1. straw

2. compost

3. newspaper

4. more compost

The newspaper layer really is important. Not only is it a good preventer against weeds and even worse, grass, worms like it. And I need those happy worms working through my clay-ey soil.

I'm assuming that the wildflower roots are strong enough to make their way through the newspaper. They have every incentive, after all. An alternative to newspaper might be a layer of leaves, of which I have lots.

* * *

Am I going to have to weed the wildflowers anyhow? Weeding is work, and I don't like work. When I sow the clover, it's so thick and fast I don't have to weed it. Would some similar principal work here?

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

My suggestion would be:

1. newspaper
2. compost
3. more compost.

Double compost gives the seeds a chance to develop some before they work their way through the newspaper. Also, the newspaper will begin to breakdown as the season goes on.

Since straw keeps the soil cool and seeds need warmth to germinate, I would wait on the straw and just lightly layer it over the top after the seeds have sprouted. This should help tamp down weeds, too.

I've never had to weed patches of wildflowers, but I sow them liberally. That way they block out the weeds. And, as I said above, you might have to broadcast more seed for a year or two, but after that the reseeding flowers will take over,

Submitted by lambert on


1. Compost

2. Newspaper

3. More compost?

Yes, I intend to "sow liberally." That's one secret to my success with clover.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

1. the ground
2. newspaper directly on the ground
3. compost on top of newspaper
4. more compost on top of compost
5. plant seeds in the compost.
6. lightly spread straw.
I put compost twice because I think it would be good to have at least 4 inches of compost on top of the newspaper.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

I am totally not a gardener, but I am in love with perennials, especially the ones I haven't been able to kill (Russian Sage, for example) Stuff like lavender, too, which I guess is just a blooming bush, which really really attracts bees and butterflies. I'm wondering if there might not be an assortment of native plants you could try. May I also sing the praises of "hens and chicks", which I also have not been able to kill, they make a great low-growing plant, are very drought tolerant, (but they spread easily). I've found they work well in rock type gardens or in containers. And that about covers my landscape flowers expertise :-)

Submitted by lambert on

but when I tried this last year, they were not on my accustomed path, and so I just didn't pick them. There is also the issue that they are near the sidewalk, hence a busy street, hence all the pollution autos throw off. Maybe if I put them in pots so I could move them.

On the other hand, speaking to the requirement of a pleasant walk, I did have the concept of sweet smelling herbs. Any other appeals possible to this sense?

jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

Compact clay soils not only need composting but add gypsum this allows the roots of whatever you have planted to get the food out of the soil. It’s cheap and most nursery care it in pellets or powder, the powder works faster but is messy. This should be done ever other yr with the composting. I’m slowly putting together a Rosemary hedge along to driveway/garden it Great for BBQ and smells good. I have Sage in pots on the Deck. I also dug a trench along the driveway put down gypsum then added Daffodils, Iris, Gladioli’s then covered them with compost, they do need to be feed every winter. I’m also a believer in wild flowers because as Casey pointed out within a few yrs they’re like weeds only pretty and bees/butterflies love them. I have no clue what will work for you but this what I have in Calli central valley. Here’s what else I planted, Snapdragons, Alyssum, & Lavender, the Snapdragons are a blast from childhood and the others smell good a spread like weeds.

Submitted by lambert on

I love that zig zag green lawn in the background -- that's really fun.

But what's that vertical tree-like thing in the back with what looks like green tape on it?

It's making me think I can also go vertical. I've got space in zone 4 maybe for a trellis.... Or maybe even something with hops? What are people's thoughts on going vertical in some way? (Has to be in zone 4 so as not to steal sun. I have a very small patch!)

NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

* Day lilies (hemerocallis) - nearly indestructible, even in clay soil, also drought resistant, perennial.

* Sedum 'Matrona' or 'Autumn Joy' or similar - Looks interesting when sprouting, blooming, and even with spent, dry flower stalks. Also drought-resistant perennial. Yeah, it's used a lot because it's such a tough and lovely plant. There are some new varieties even darker purple than 'Matrona' which are gorgeous.

* Perennial ornamental grasses.

* Lavender, which is drought-tolerant, fragrant, and really pretty tough, also a bee plant. Evergreen or ever-gray...

* a dwarf conifer or two for evergreen color. Some conifers are gold-tinged or blueish which can be interesting.

* Columbines have long roots, are drought-resistant, and most re-seed splendidly so you'll be yanking out the extras in a few years.

* Bulbs (appropriate for your area) are a great idea, too. Consider true lilies -- they are usually much hardier than perceived. Many are fragrant. Drawbacks: theft of blooms.

* Asters -- perennial & drought-resistant, bloom in autumn.

I've found wildflower seed mixes to be disappointing and short-lived, but that could be just me. Though I think most gardens don't have the characteristics which match those where the wildflowers naturally grow. However, they are gorgeous in full bloom, but usually not too interesting the rest of the year.

Pics: Aster 'Black Prince' and Lavender in summer -- aster in bud, lavender finished blooming, then later with frost, then how the area looked in spring with columbine & lavender blooming (I think 1 year earlier). Apologies for uploading the photos in backwards seasonal order!

NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

lambert, thanks. Appreciate the help!

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

The sedums are ones I've had grreat success with, they are beautiful, and truly hardy-never watered them after they established, and they were planted near a driveway, so they survived salt and other assaults splendidly. And I too have been disappointed with the wildflower seed mixes, but then I'm a negectful gardener. The grasses also serve as a screen, if needed, and native ones are great for birds when they produce seedheads, and are very pretty in winter.

NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

Ooops, flower bed pic #1 is actually Sedum 'Autumn Joy' in upper half and Aster 'Black Prince' in lower half, in late September. Really nice to have something that blooms late in the year.

jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on This insect killer that kills on contact only and leaves no residual. This is sold at Ace Hardware or you can buy direct from them. Do not spray on plants or veggies it will kill them. This Company makes this weed killer, great stuff. I have a problem with morning glory and this kills it dead and it doesn’t come back. Safe, they do not sell to the public so you’ll need to look around your area on who sells it This nursery sells both products and they ship anywhere but be ready to wait 10 days or less for whatever you buy.

Submitted by lambert on

The only insect problem I have is Japanese beetles on the raspberries...

And the only places I have weeds are the places where I have been too lazy to sheet mulch.