Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism


Meadow maintenance

Aside from occasional light weeding, the side yard meadow has taken off really well! The areas I planted this year are lush, and the whole thing is very green and flowery and pretty. I also have had a pretty successful vegetable and herb garden so far this year.

Unfortunately, the meadow was invaded by white clover, which took over large sections of the yard and aggressively obscured the walking path. So I did some maintenance to clean the whole thing up and to help the other perennials see the sun again. I couldn’t really remove it all–it was too quickly established to do that without killing everything else–but it was easy to trim back, and I will just have to do that periodically going forward. So aside from occasionally weeding the garden beds, pulling the rare weed that sprouts up through the meadow, and trimming the ground covers next to the path and the bushes a few times over the warm months, the only maintenance work the yard now needs is 1) refilling bird feeders and 2) spreading out BTI granules over the low lying and thickly vegetated areas every three weeks or so to [very safely] keep the mosquito population under control. Oh, and harvesting and eating the garden plants!

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Freshly trimmed walkway in the foreground, looking towards the back of the yard with a very green wildflower meadow. You can see that the lettuce bolted while I was out of town–too bad, but I’m sure I’ll find some cooking use for bitter greens.

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Closeup of the bolted romaine lettuce. Immediately behind it and to the left are a few leeks, and behind that is cauliflower.

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Looking into the keyhole garden. This is where the creeping mazus has gone a little nuts after all the wet weather we’ve had. It’s easy to pull and trim back, though, and I’m going to use the extra to plant the sidewalk strip.

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The back area up against the house has a lot of happy herbs, and wax beans in the center and on the right that have already produced a bunch of beans! In the foreground keyhole bed are several happy tomato plants. That keyhole also contains rosemary (just at the far right edge of the photograph) and onions just out of view.

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The other keyhole bed also has a few more surviving tomato plants, and all the way on the right are some very healthy carrots–the greens have gotten huge and they should be almost ready for harvesting! In the background bed are more beans (left) and two surviving cauliflower plants (center), along with the crazy lettuce (right).

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I planted cucumbers (big leaves on the right) and straightneck summer squash (yellow flowers on the left) right in the meadow at the top of the slope, so they would be in the sun and could vine down the slope. So far they are really happy! My only worry now is that I put them too close together, and they will cross-pollinate to make something that is not very tasty! There is also lavendar a little further down the slope, doing well and flowering this year.

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A very comfortable picnic area in the meadow!

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Replanting everything

After killing the yard, of course, you have to replant. (Well, unless you would prefer a weed hayfield.) Because I was ordering my plants from nurseries and farms online, this had to happen in stages for me, and in the meantime I had to do a. lot. of. weeding. But the weeds were small and easy to pull out, so it wasn’t strenuous work–just annoying and time-consuming. I accept that this is the price of replanting a yard of perennials: for a few years I will be weeding a whole lot, while the new plants get established, so I might as well get used to it!

I was really organized about this process. I actually had measured out with reasonable accuracy the dimensions of my yard, and I sketched it out to scale to calculate how many plants I would need for full coverage. The diagram was covered in lots of sophisticated mathematical calculations, like “12′ x 20′ = 20 plants.” This might not be a necessary step for everyone, but it definitely helped me plan out the yard in an organized way so that I didn’t risk overplanting (or underplanting, but I think overplanting is often a more significant risk), and once the plants arrived it was invaluable for helping me remember where to put them all. My goals were to select plants that were 1) appropriate to the sun/shade and moisture and slope conditions of the different parts of the yard, and 2) low maintenance once established (no mowing, only periodic trimming/edging, not too much watering, little weeding after the first couple years, and a full-scale cutting back either never or once a year).

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My graphed yard landscaping plan! I’m a very organized person, so this was fun. That book, by the way, was very helpful.

First: the nursery reviews. First to arrive were my perennials from American Meadows. Sometimes they hold off on shipping if the plants aren’t at the right stage for shipping, but this time the plants were ready to go in the nursery and had to ship right away. Most shipped as bare roots, so I had to immediately pot them to safely wait until the yard was fully dead and ready for replanting. Those plants were most of the ones I had ordered for the perennial border around the edge of the front yard and at the tops of all the side slopes. Some of these roots have not yet broken the surface, but most of them have and look good (though a few seem to be in a bit of shock from the ridiculous amount of rain we’ve had this past month–hopefully they will recover). In my now pretty extensive experience, American Meadows plants are a little more expensive than some other nurseries, but the percentage of what you order that sprouts/germinates successfully is generally higher than most other places, too, so it works out to be reasonably priced. I also received the handful of decorative sedge grasses from Santa Rosa Gardens very promptly and in great shape. They were fine sitting on the stoop for a week, and then transplanted happily and are going strong (for one of them, even after being half mowed-over by my neighbor’s truck!).

Next came the daylilies from Smokey’s Daylily Gardens, which offers a dizzying variety of daylily options. I bought a large number of these to fill the center of my sidewalk strip around both sides of my corner lot. I purchased exclusively from their clearance sale varieties, to save on cost, and they were still all very healthy plants with (so far) quite pretty flowers. I did receive someone else’s small order by mistake, but the nursery was prompt and generous about fixing the error (because shipping them back didn’t make sense, I even got to keep the 12 extra plants! I used them to border the front steps and to add a little extra variety to the edges of the sidewalk strips). These also arrived so quickly that I was unable to plant them right away. On their customer service rep’s recommendation, I put the fans in several large mop buckets and added enough water to cover their roots until I was ready to put them in the ground. They were just at the point where the water had to be changed when I was ready to plant, but in case this happens to you: change it after ~4 days and/or whenever the water starts to get smelly/filmy looking. They all took well to the transplanting: I have not lost a single plant, out of more than 100 total. Some of which even got stepped on by neighbors and snapped off soon after I planted them, and they are still alive. It’s hard to kill a daylily!

I ordered two batches of leptinella potentilla (a hardy, fast-spreading variety of Brass Buttons) from different nurseries, in order to get a sufficient quantity. This is probably the most expensive thing I ordered, but because they are fast spreaders I went really conservative and ordered just enough to plant a separated 1/3 to 1/4 section of each 3.5″ pot at one-foot intervals around the sidewalk strip edge. The first group, from Mini Forest, arrived quickly and were bushy and happy chilling in the shade for a week or two while I got the strip ready for planting. Not all of the separated clumps were too happy about transplanting, but it looks like most of them have survived.

The second group was from Farm Fresh Living, a farm affiliated with Stargazer Perennials. I had had one negative experience with Stargazer in the past (an order that never arrived, with no shipping notification issued, and then no response to many attempts to contact them over the span of weeks, and then finally a response that said the order had actually been shipped (clearly not true) but they would grudgingly return my money anyway), one that I now know mirrors similar comments in the Dave’s Garden reviews from around the same time period. But no one else was selling that leptinella variety, from what I could find, so I took a chance, hoping the business was just having a bad spell last year. This time, the plants shipped in a few weeks and I received all the shipping notifications and information very promptly! Unfortunately, probably due to overly warm shipping conditions, they arrived with a serious case of rot. I was away from home for a week and had someone else sign for the packages, open them immediately, place them in the shade, and water them so they could recover from the shock of shipping (since I didn’t know about the rot). Unfortunately, eastern PA has received about 30 inches of rain in the past month, which meant the rotting plants then proceeded to be rained on regularly for a week; by the time I got home they were fully or nearly dead (hard to tell yet). Happily, however, this time the nursery’s customer service responded to my multiple messages within a day and was very reasonable. (After my last experience, I did not hesitate to bombard them: I left them a voicemail and simultaneously emailed them in two different ways! It worked!) The plants are now out of the rain and drying out in hopes that the roots recover. So far, no luck. If they fail, it sounds like the nursery/farm may give me some of my money back in credit. Either way I will probably transplant plugs of my now-vigorous mazus reptans from the side garden down to the sidewalk strip instead of the Brass Buttons, since it’s now late in the year to try to get my hands on any more leptinella.

Finally, the lilyturfs. I ordered a large quantity of both monkeygrass (variegated liriope muscari) for the bases of the side slopes, and dwarf mondo grass for the center of the front yard, all from Mondo Grass Online. This company was really great: they worked with me to set up a timetable for shipping that matched my planting schedule, their prices were good, and they were very prompt with communication. They also shipped me 25 extra liriope sprigs and 125 extra sprigs of mondo: the “small sprigs” were free! As with the rest, I was very sparing about the spacing of the sprigs in my yard, since they will spread and I wanted to keep the cost reasonable. So the extras should help it fill in a little faster!

Then, of course, I had to weed the whole yard and dig hundreds of holes, some of it right after tilling and hoeing (read: very sore, crampy back). Incidentally, if I haven’t mentioned it before, this whole process of removing and replacing your yard is rather laborious!

Without further ado, pictures with details are below. I will update with more interesting ones later in the summer, and follow up with final results once it has all filled in more next year!

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Looking across the front yard from the walkway. This area gets mostly shade, though on the left it receives part sun in the afternoon. To the right is dwarf mondo grass, which will be a low groundcover that can handle light walking. On the left is the edge of the slope, with variegated monkeygrass. And in the center and around the back right edge is the front yard border. The border contains alternating hostas (Hosta So Sweet) and solomon’s seal (Variegatum) perennials, with interspersed small astilbes (Younique Pink), foamflowers, bloodroot flowers, and mixed anemone de caen bulbs for colorful and textural accents. Mondo is a great shade ground cover, as long as conditions are reasonably moist, and can survive in zone 7 just fine. The monkeygrass is a particularly good part-shade choice for an eroding slope. The border perennials can all tolerate part to full shade. I’m a little worried that some of them were overwatered by our ridiculous month of rain and are a little stressed, but hopefully they will recover quickly. I added the brick paver divider on the far side, to add some definition and also to protect the neighbor’s yard and mine from too much unwanted plant encroachment.

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Looking up at the front yard from below.

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A close look at the liriope muscari planted on the slope.

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I planted some of the extra daylilies next to the steps as flowering accents. Since this was an erroneous delivery, I didn’t even know what they would look like! This spot gets enough afternoon sun for them to bloom (as you can see–a lot of them started blooming just two weeks after the fans were in the ground!)

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The sidewalk strip in front of the house. I added the stepping stones (oddly, none of the houses in this neighborhood have a path that extends from the front door past the sidewalk), sedge at the corners, and the row of yellow daylilies down the center. The strips both receive part to full sun, and the part sun areas receive afternoon sun, so the daylilies and a sun-loving groundcover will be happy here. I will be planting ground cover all around the edge, but due to shipping problems I haven’t been able to do that yet.

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Focus on the sidewalk strip. Daylily to the left, hair sedge (carex flagellifera) in the middle, and a little bit of the brass buttons (leptinella potentilla) groundcover that shipped healthy on the right (all hardy, sun-loving plants). There isn’t enough leptinella to go very far due to the shipping problems, so I will be migrating plugs of mazus reptans from the garden to fill in the rest of the strip border (see last picture below).

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This daylily variety in particular was very fast to flower in the sidewalk strip!

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Closeup of the outer slope of the yard, with more liriope to help hold back the erosion. I may need to order more for a third row at the base, but I’m going to see how bushy these get before I do that. (The roots are lower on the slope than the long leaves make them look–this was just the easiest way to get them into their holes!)

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Looking around the corner at the side slope with monkeygrass, and the rest of the sidewalk strip with its line of daylilies.

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After such a wet June, I have no shortage of creeping mazus in the garden! (There are small flagstones somewhere under there!) Clearly I need to trim it back anyway, and the brass buttons order was mostly not a success, so this is where I’ll harvest plugs to plant along the border of the sidewalk strip.


Plants!

Once the path and garden beds were more or less in place, it was time to plant! It was pretty late in the season (and very hot), so my goals were to get some of the things I planned established for next year, and to help reduce erosion as much as possible.

I planted plugs of creeping mazus along the stone path. Mazus will spread well to fill in between the stones, making a lush, low, walkable carpet. It also has pretty blue flowers! It does prefer some moisture, so if we have a midsummer drought I’m not sure how well it will do, but last summer it held up pretty well during some dry weeks, so I am hopeful.

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Groundcovers and wildflower meadow, a month or two after getting them in. The clumps of green mats interspersed and close to the path are mazus. The rest are some pansies (which are hardy and should survive at least one more season–they’re not really single-season annuals) and the wildflower mix.

On the slopes I added a few things: some lavender plants, some transplanted lilies, and some perennial seeds (aster and dianthus, if I remember right). Hard to tell if all of those took, but I’ll know for sure next year.

Otherwise I used a lawn-alternative wildflower meadow mix from American Meadows. Unfortunately, it was too late and too hot for it to germinate quickly, but I had the advantage of bare, untouched ground with few weeds. Some of the seeds were washed out of higher or more gravelly areas before they germinated, so the cover is a little patchy, and I will be oversowing this coming spring to even that out. This year the perennials weren’t ready to bloom, but I had a nice show with sweet alyssum, creeping daisy, and roman chamomile flowers.

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Early plantings.

In the keyhole gardens, I got some preliminary vegetables and herbs going, because why not? The herb seeds I scattered around took off like weeds, and they haven’t died back during our mild winter this year so I’ll have to do some transplanting in the spring! The rosemary took well and I had a nice late crop of peas, plus some tiny and delicious late carrots!

Carrots!

Carrots!

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The right keyhole had a transplanted lily that I saved and some herbs this year. Those onions got in too late to produce much.

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The left keyhole has the rosemary in the middle, with some herbs around the sides.

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Transplanted chives and sage from my previous residences off to the right. The gravel bed is a trench I dug to help control drainage from the house gutters. Previously it was falling right over the house foundation, and I added a drain extender to move it away from the house. Once the area is better planted I hope the rest of the runoff will stop eroding and washing out the new path so much.

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Mazus on the path in the foreground; lots of snap peas (I switched to dwarf peas for next spring!); and lots and lots of cilantro.

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These were in too late to produce a large crop, but after a few frosts, the tiny carrots I grew were delicious.

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A pleasant surprise: the parsley attracted a lot of beautiful black swallowtail caterpillars! I had so much parsley that I could certainly afford to let them eat some. This is an early stage caterpillar.

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And here’s a late stage black swallowtail caterpillar, probably days from making a chrysalis. This guy was seriously chomping down on that leaf.