Saturday, December 1, 2012

So, Here's That Garden Bio

This garden is ten years old and surrounds a tiny house on a narrow long lot. From the very beginning this garden has been a problem solving garden. The goals have been to provide food, to harbor a plant collector's hobby, and to beautify a space while providing privacy.

Surrounded by street and unpaved alley on three sides, it has cluttered back yards as its borrowed views. Original plants on site included two huge hollow boxelders at the back of the lot that needed to be removed, a beech that came down in the June 2001 storm, the arborvitae on the lot line, and of course its signature white pine. Additionally, there was no outdoor storage.

At the very beginning this garden started with a plan. The only real change has been the addition of a cut-out potager and a berry brambles, which includes blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The vegetable garden serves as a kitchen garden and strawberry patch, supplying fresh herbs, salad greens, and such.

Some of the basic design developed as solutions to problems with the site. A nice grassy lawn would not grow in the north front yard because of the sandy soil and shade of the white pine so the hosta collection garden found its place. Visually, the lot needs to look larger than it is, yet it needs to screen the views available. From the very beginning, sustainable practices needed to be used to improve the sandy soil. Each property owner is literally sitting on top of their own well water here in the village. No trees, or even large shrubs, can be planted between the houses because of sewer and gas lines running underground. The garden needed to be appropriate to the cottage style of the house. Being a plant collector, it was important to be able to have as many different species as possible without the garden turning into a jumble of green. This is the garden with its separate rooms and flowing alley-side border of shrubs and fruit trees that has been the result.

This small yard has many fruit trees: a Honeycrisp apple tree, Moorpark apricot, Seckl pear, and Mount Royal plum. While the apricot and plum are self-fruitful, the homeowner relies on traveling bees bringing pollen from neighboring fruit trees to pollinate the apple and pear. In 2011, honey bees were frequent visitors to the side yard bird bath where they would drink in groups of 3-4 dozen at a time, particularly on the hot afternoons. A neighbor maintains two hives in his yard providing these working pollinators.

Some of the unusual plants growing in this garden include: many clematis, Japanese peonies, Dart's gold ninebark, ‘Nordine' smokebush, ‘Golden Spirit' smokebush, a correctly-pruned privet hedges, over 65 different hosta, assorted daylilies, Orienpet and Asiatic lilies, ‘Quickfire' hydrangea and other hydrangeas, topiaried Katsura trees, climbing roses, a gravel scree garden, hazelnuts, four different species of lilacs, wine grapes, a dappled willow, ‘Diabolo' ninebark, akebia quinata, trumpet vine, honeysuckle vine,'Crimson Frost' birch, crytomeria japonica ‘Sugi',‘Blue Star' juniper, azalea and rhododendrons, the evergreen carex ‘Ice Dance', weeping European larch, aronia, and a large number of native plants, and collections of many cultivars of the same species so they can be studied as they grow such as nepeta, geraniums, sedums, alliums, and roses.

Viburnum 'Mohican'

Clematis 'The President'

Smokebush 'Golden Spirit'

Variegated Red Twig Dogwood


  1. Looks like you've built a beautiful garden in a challenging spot. We also have been here for 10 years. I have Jackman clematis and would like to grow more, but have focused instead on native honeysuckles and Dutchman's Pipe for vines. Maybe I can figure out more locations for clematis. I'm sure the master gardeners will be bowled over with your garden!

  2. I like so many of the plants you posted today and have them in my gardens here on the shores of Lake Michigan. My Viburnum Mohican get red berries no so blue as yours. Maybe it is the soil here. LIke that blue. Jack

  3. Such garden is inviting despite its spot. Hats off to you for maintaining a lovely green yard.