Blog: King Of The Chickadees

Front Yard Makeover - Courtyard!

Showing 4 posts in the Gardening category for this blog.
Saturday, July 28, 2007

Volunteers - surprises in the garden, in the lawn, in the driveway . . . exhuberant life.

Seeds are distributed indiscriminately by the wind or birds and take root wherever they land.  Many of these volunteers, if sprouting in inappropriate places, can be pulled as weeds.  The thrifty gardener is overjoyed, though, to discover these little presents.

I once found a flowering Trillium poking through an asphalt driveway.  It was a chore to dig it out root and all.  I transplanted it under a Douglas Fir.  It bloomed the following year but never appeared again.

Since removing the grass in my courtyard a meadow of volunteers has sprung up.  There is a six foot tall Sunflower and two smaller siblings, a flowering Pumpkin, a Johnny Jump Up Violet, a forest of Evening Primroses, California Poppies, Feverfew, and an assortment of Dandelions.

Offspring of a Bronze Fennel I bought some years ago pop up all over.  I see my neighbor has a nice specimen descendant from my parent plant.  I don't recall how much the original cost but, whatever the price, it was a bargain.

Blackberries and Black Raspberries are vining in and out of the landscape.  One vine is threatening to barricade my front door.  The native birds and I love the berries but the barricade should probably be classified a weed.

Robins and Starlings feast on Mahonia berries and have deposited Mahonia seed here and there.  Those beautiful blue berries began as a fragrant cluster of yellow flowers in the spring.  The plant itself grows to ten or twelve feet tall and is a nice hedge along the west side of my property.  The birds don't seem to mind, but I try to avoid the spiky, thick Holly like leaves.

Two Mahonia volunteers have sprung up as bookends to a dying plum tree on the eastern border.  When the plum is finally gone I'll have another Mahonia hedge to replace it.

No mistake.  The plum will be sadly missed.  It produced the sweetest, juiciest fruit.  However, like many of us in advancing years, the plum's production is in decline.

The world is full of volunteers, though.  Life goes on.


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Hall's Honeysuckle
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I love the sweet smell of Honeysuckle.  It is ambrosia.  It conjures pleasant thoughts and is bound to put me in a happy mood.  Yet, a more willfully exuberant plant would be hard to find.

Seven or eight years ago I parted with $35, what seemed like a particularly irrational expenditure for a plant, and brought home Lonicera Japonica Halliana, Hall's Honeysuckle.

I installed a trellis outside my back door and planted HH up against the house.  It has a southern exposure, for maximum sunlight in the northern hemisphere, and seems to like the location and the moderate climate here in the Seattle area.

HH quickly grew up the trellis to the roof.  When it reached the top of the trellis gravity caused the vines to cascade back toward the ground.  Otherwise it would be growing up over the roof.

Vines have grown up under the shingle siding and I have even found vines in my utility room.  Runners have turned the corner of the house and sprinted up the side yard.  Those vines root themselves every so often and send up vertical shoots.

In another irrational moment I thought of propagating those shoots and giving them to friends and family or possibly even selling them.  There may not be anyone else willing to part with $35 for such a rampant weed, but maybe I could get $15.

Unfortunately, none of the shoots I potted took.

The Sunset New Western Garden Book says HH grows to 15 feet and will cover 150 square feet.  I think the plant they measured was immature.  I swear some of the vines on my plant are over 25 feet long and as thick as my thumb.  It is a sturdy plant.

Tarzan would have no qualms about swinging from the roof of the house to the roof of the garage, some 25 feet away, on one of these vines.

All summer long HH is covered with white and yellow tubular flowers.  Their scent is heavenly.  Any small breeze carries that perfume all over the back yard.  A time or two I even thought I could catch that scent while standing on the other side of the house.

Those tubular flowers seem perfectly designed for the hummingbird's dining pleasure.  Or maybe the hummingbird's long thin beak adapted to best extract the honeysuckle's delicious nectar.

All sorts of birds and bees are attracted to HH.

We had a huge wind storm in mid December that dislodged the trellis from the side of the house, which left HH lying face down in the mud.

For two months I debated with myself what to do.  The plant really isn't appropriate to grow up the side (and through the siding) of a house.  One vine had willfully pried its way between the gutter and the roof and actually bloomed up there where the sunlight was brightest.

At some point I may be inclined to do some exterior painting.  If Sunset is correct, there may be 150 square feet of siding inaccessible to the paint brush.

That isn't a crucial issue.  As the December wind has demonstrated, HH is such a hardy plant it can be toppled without the slightest damage to its thick but supple vines.  It would be a chore to decouple plant from house in order to paint, but it could be done.

Ideally, HH should be rambling along a rustic pasture fence.  In fact, I believe my introduction to Hall's Honeysuckle was walking along a fence on an urban residential street.  The entire fence was draped with green leaves and white and yellow tubular flowers.  It was a beautiful sight.  But it was the sweet scent that stopped me in my tracks.

I don't have a pasture fence.  And HH is long past transplanting.

So on a chilly February afternoon I pruned off the longest runners and much of the dead wood that never saw the light of day sandwiched between the house and the rest of the plant's luxuriant foliage.

I found a bird's nest wedged inside HH made entirely of strips of paper thin honeysuckle bark.  If I were a bird, I'd consider this prime real estate.

It was quite heavy, but I managed to get the plant upright again and wired the trellis to hooks screwed into the eaves.  I replaced the bird's nest.  It is exposed now but, when summer begins, it should be well hidden behind a screen of green foliage and fragrant white and yellow flowers.

Pruning shears should keep HH under control.

I fantasize that one day I may die in my sleep.  No one will miss me.  The vines will grow, with no gardener to tame them, and I shall be encased in a honeysuckle tomb.


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Fire Hazard
Sunday, September 03, 2006

This Labor Day weekend I'm still digging up the grass in my front yard.  The intention is to replace what used to pass for lawn with bark and flagstones, a few plantings, a park bench, and a bird bath.  In more ambitious moments I even think about building a goldfish pond.

The dream is to someday have an outdoor sanctuary, a courtyard, where I can read a book in the sun to the background music of dozens of songbirds.  My own urban oasis.

In the process I've made a rather disturbing discovery.  As I was digging up grass near the corner of the house I found tall grass growing in a bed of oriental poppies and day lilies.  Grass was growing up against the side of the house.  Grass was even growing up underneath the siding.  I've never maintained this flower bed since that side of the house is maybe three feet from my neighbor's driveway and I just don't go there.

The flowers are perennial.  They grow up, bloom, die off, and reemerge again in spring.  The only times I see these flowers are when I run the lawnmower down that side of the house.

After living here for fourteen years, it has finally occurred to me that tall, dry grass growing next to the side of my house is a fire hazard!

This is The Evergreen State and it rains a lot here.  But there is a window of time from late July well into September when we get little to no rain.  Temperatures reach into the 80s and sometimes even 90 degrees.  Our forests become tinder, easily lit by lightning, campfires, or carelessly discarded cigarettes.

Perennials, including grass, without water, also dry out and can be accidentally ignited.  It probably isn't a good idea to allow a perennial bed to grow, without maintenance, too close to a wood building.

So my courtyard project  now includes digging up a flower bed along the side of the house and replacing it with gravel and flagstones.


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King Of The Chickadees
Sunday, August 20, 2006

If a man's home is his castle, shouldn't he have a courtyard?

I'm not a king.  And my "castle" is a 750 square foot rambler in a blue collar suburb of Seattle, Washington.  I've lived here since 1992 and have decided it might be time for a makeover.

A courtyard?

The front yard was planted in grass but was more of a meadow with violets and plenty of  moss and weeds.  It required water on a weekly basis in summer and still turned from green to blonde by late summer when only the dandelions flourished.  In the spring, I had to fire up the lawnmower once a week.

Water is a precious resource, all the more so in this era of global warming.  And the lawnmower ran on another increasingly precious resource, gasoline.

My little plot of land is located about five feet below street level.  There is a concrete block retaining wall that keeps the street and its run off out of my yard.  I've planted laurel and butterfly bushes in the parking strip above the wall.  The plantings not only screen off the street and traffic but attract sparrows, finches, and, my favorites, chickadees, not to mention butterflies.  These plantings do well in sterile soil and don't need to be watered in this climate.  I do need to prune them back from time to time.

The center piece in the front yard is a six foot long rectangular planter box now home to some overgrown rugosas.  The plants produce fragrant white flowers practically all summer and bright orange hips after the blooms fade.  Like the laurel and butterfly bushes, rugosas need no more watering than nature already provides.

The problem is the rugosas have overgrown the planter box and are overwhelming my front yard.

There is an evergreen tree in my front yard.  I believe it is a larch, about fifty feet tall with silvery blue needles.  The rugosas have grown up into the tree's lower branches.  A little separation would be more esthetically pleasing.  I'm thinking of transplanting the rugosas elsewhere and replacing them with a lace leaf maple with red foliage.

If it is to truly be a courtyard, it should have a pond with lilies and koi.  Well, goldfish, maybe.  And if I build a pond I might as well add a waterfall so the esthetics will be audible as well as visible.  The chickadees will appreciate a water feature as much as I will.

What to do about the grass?  I've already dug most of it up.  Right now bare dirt graces my courtyard.  That's liable to turn to mud during the rainy season.  Someone told me not to buy a weed barrier.  Newspaper will do.  I'll cover the newspaper with bark.  It might be worth it to invest in flagstones to build a winding path around water wise plantings.

Viola!  A courtyard fit for the king of the chickadees.  At least that is the plan.

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Burien, WA USA
About Me:

I'm an old dreamer and city dweller looking to carve a small niche in nature.

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