Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Road to Laurel Springs

I love those old "The Road to ..." movies with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (whose name I can never remember). I always hope Bob Hope will get the girl in the end, but Bing always wins, well except for the one time when Bob Hope hypnotized Dorothy Lamour and kind of won her. Oh, well ... I guess Bing had the charisma back in those days, goofy ears and all.

So anyway, Ian is on "The Road to Laurel Springs" today to get us 3 Graham Blandy shrubs. It's a 3-1/2 hour drive each way, so I hope the shrubs work out well. We paid $75 each for them which seems to be a good price considering the cost of other mature shrubs we have seen for sale in this area. I am excited to get them planted this weekend so our house doesn't look so barren any more!

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 27, 2006

The New and Improved Flowerbox

Here it is ... the new and improved flower box ... wider, deeper and better constructed than the old one (which is currently sitting on the burn pile). Ian did a good job assembling it, and the paint is a perfect match with the shutters! The paint department woman at Lowes took a long time to get it right, but she matched the sample wonderfully. (They have a nifty computer that scans the sample and squirts the proper dye into the paint, but it's not 100% accurate and took some fiddling around with.) We don't have it attached to the wall properly yet, so it is still empty. It has been really cold here the past two weekends. I am hoping it will warm up so this project can be stamped Finished.

Labels: , ,

That "New House" Look

The barren facade of our house gives the illusion of that un-landscaped, "New House" look. We are waiting patiently for our rose bushes to arrive, but they are not due for another 3 weeks or so. The bushes will be very small, so they aren't really going to transform the appearance of the house very quickly anyway.

Ian came up with a great idea to place three upright shrubs of some sort between the windows on the right side of the house to give the yard a more finished look faster. After a recent trip to the local arboretum, we found the "Graham Blandy" boxwood. I scoured the Internet and found a greenhouse in North Carolina that has three 6 foot tall plants in stock, but I am waiting for them to call back with a price. Unfortunately, we visited every greenhouse and garden center in our area, and did not find anything like what we want, so we might have to make a three-hour trip to get these.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Transplanting Shrubs

As I said earlier, transplanting shrubs is tedious, back-breaking work that requires a lot of patience and care. We're not sure if our transplants will live, but I think we did all we could tolerate doing to ensure their survival. Since the plants were so close together, we could not dig up an adequate sized root ball, so that meant digging up each root individually and effectively transplanting the shrub bare-root. It is early Spring, and there is no new growth on the plants, so they should still be dormant, and it just might work.

After transplanting the bushes, I searched the Internet for information on how to care for them during their transition. While searching, I found that we made three flaws in transplanting our shrubs that I think are worth mentioning here as a learning experience. First, we didn't keep the roots wet while digging them up. Although they were exposed to the sun for at most an hour, it was hot that day, and the exposure might have been enough to dry them out. Second, we didn't replant the boxwoods facing the same direction they were previously facing. I'm not sure how damaging this will be on them, but we decided against digging them back up and turning them, mostly because the back sides are bare and ugly. And finally, I fertilized them, and according to the Internet plant gurus, I should not have. Hopefully the mild 5-5-5 fertilizer won't be enough to burn their roots. There is nothing to be done about it now though. All we can do is wish them well and not grow too attached to them ...

Our Progress to Date

Here is a picture of our house to date. It's looking pretty good!

We removed the flower box from the left side of the house and purchased new wood to rebuild it bigger and better. Once Ian gets it put together, I will plant the remainder of the Tulips and Daffodils in it for Spring blooming, and red and yellow cascading Begonias for Summer blooming! I am very excited about the new flower box!

Over a two-day period, we dug up and transplanted four shrubs from the right side of the house. Although it might not sound like much progress to have made in two days, transplanting shrubs is a serious pain in the neck ... and back ... and legs ... We have three more shrubs left, but we're not so adament about saving them, so it might be easier work.

We transplanted one shrub next to the mailbox, as can be seen in the above photograph, and the two boxwoods into the back yard on either side of a weathered flower box that will be removed sometime in the future. We hope to transform the back deck into a more pleasant place to hang out. As it is, it's pretty ratty. Although one of the boxwoods is larger than the other, we hope to even them out with some pruning and watering. The smaller shrub was wedged pretty tightly between two other bushes in the front yard, so it will enjoy the extra space, nutrients and sunshine it will receive here. There is one more boxwood wrapped up in a tarp that we have not yet re-planted. It's very spindly though, so we might not try to save it after all.

Hyacinths on Display

We purchased two of these cement planters from Home Depot for the Hyacinths. We tried "antiquing" them, attempting to create a weathered look, but everything we did just looked bad. We ended up painting them white, and although it isn't what I had hoped for, I think it still looks nice. Once the Hyacinths start to show their pale lavendar, pink and white blooms, I think the planters will be better off white anyway.

The Hyacinths are doing well after their transplant from a plastic window box. I see the first hints of a bloom peeking through the leaves on many of the plants. I am excited to see what colors come up. I purchased the multi-colored set of bulbs just so I could be surprised by their display.

I was reading up on the propagation of Hyacinths, and it is very intimidating. Most bulbs are easy to propagate, just pull off the little baby bulbs clinging to the side of the parent bulb, but Hyacinth propagation requires slicing into the parent bulb to expose the offspring. As my Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening says, "Propagation of Hyacinths is best left to the professionals."

A Path of Tulips and Daffodils

Hopefully, this walkway will be overflowing with Tulips and Daffodils very soon to welcome us home and greet our guests. Although it is far too early in the year to plant these Spring flowering bulbs, I transplanted some bulbs I started last Fall in containers. Spring flowering bulbs must be planted in the Fall so they can have time to establish strong, healthy roots. They are growing, and I am hopeful that they will bloom this year. Most of them have very nice root systems started, so chances are good that they will make it. I added a teaspoon of bone meal to each hole to help their roots grow stronger, and we mixed in plenty of peat, top soil and manure to fertilize and loosen up the heavy clay soil.

We transplanted the sod to a place in the backyard that was barren. I think it was barren due to a lack of sunlight and an abundance of pine needles though, so this grass might not make it either, but we gave it our best try!

Grab a Shovel and Start Digging!

It is so much easier to dig up a shrub that you have no interest in saving than to dig up a shrub for transplanting. Even if you've never dug up a shrub, you would probably guess this would be true, but I was surprised by how incredibly tedious it is to save a shrub. We first started digging up the shrubs on the left side of the house with the intention of saving as many as possible, but in the end, it just wasn't worth the effort. The azaleas were spindly, and the huge bean-shaped mass of shrubs was too large to transplant anywhere around our house. In the end, we saved one azalea bush which we gave to Ian's Mom. Shrubs come out of the ground a lot easier when you clip off all their branches, chop off their roots and dig in. It only took us about an hour and a half to get the 4 shrubs out of the ground.

Preparing the soil for the new rose bushes took a lot longer than removing the previous shrubs. We found that our soil is mostly clay, which is really good for roses, but it was compacted and needed to be enriched. We broke up the clay with our shovels and added 10 bags of top soil, 1 bag of soil conditioner, 2 bags of cow manure and 1 bag of peat moss to the bed. We also added 5 lbs of superphosphate, since roses love it.

If the Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening taught me anything, it is the importance of well-prepared soil. Soil needs to be able to hold water, yet porous enough to keep water from standing and rotting the roots. Since the clay in our soil could cause root rot due to poor drainage, we mixed in peat moss to lighten it up. Also, soil must be fertile, and there is no better source of nutrients than well-rotted fresh cow manure. Since the garden center at the Farmer's Market was out of fresh cow manure, we had to settle for dried manure, but it is still good stuff. Finally, the soil must be the proper pH for the respective plants. Roses prosper in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. We purchased an electronic pH soil tester from Lowe's for $20 and found that our prepared soil was the perfect pH! I highly recommend investing in the electronic tester, as the one-time use kits cost about $4, and as the name suggests, you get only one use from them.

After one weekend's accomplishments, we were feeling good, but the fun had just began ...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Getting Antsy

Spring seemed to be millions of years away, but I was ready to do something. I began to grow very impatient with the frozen ground, and a visit to the Famer's Market inspired me to create an ivy topiary to "dress up" the front porch. So, I went on the Internet looking for a suitable topiary to emulate and maybe some instructions on how to do it.

I found the picture here to the left, and with Ian's help, came up with a plan to create the pyramid-shaped structure using wire mesh. We have tons of Irish ivy growing wild in the back yard, and I planned to transplant some of it onto my topiary. I had great success in Mobile propagating ivy from cuttings, and I hoped to repeat that success with this project. We also found a suitable square pot from Home Depot made of durable cement.

I wasn't sure if the ivy growing in our yard would work well, because it is large-leafed ivy, and all the resources I found on the Internet instructed me to use small-leafed ivy. But, my ivy was free, and I'm going to give it a shot before I spend more money on this project than necessary.

After hours of cutting and shaping the wire mesh and securing the 3 foot long branches of ivy to the structure with florist wire, this is the product of our labor. It's not quite as sleek as our muse, but I think it turned out nicely. It will take a couple months for the ivy to grow and cover the entire pyramid, but I think we did a decent job. Now we need to get to the Screen Door and find a nice finial for the top. We actually purchased enough materials to make two topiaries, but I want to see if the ivy roots before we spend that much time on another one.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another Moment of Weakness

In yet another moment of weakness, I purchased a Patio Tree Rose from House of Wesley, which I later found through Dave's Garden to not be a reputable on-line gardening vendor. (Ian could try hiding my credit card, but I have the number memorized.) I was tempted to cancel my order, but it was only $20, and if I am in the 5% of satisfied shoppers, it will be well worth it. If not, that's a good lesson learned. I expect the plant to ship bare root and look mostly dead when I get it, so unless it's just an absolutely shriveled up twig of a stick, I should be happy. It's just so cool how they've combined the Peace and Chrysler hybrid roses on the same stem. I still have high hopes that it will turn out well ... Besides, I have the Time-Life volume on roses to help me nurse it through!

While on the House of Wesley website, I was also tempted by the Climbing Shell Plant. It was only $4 though, so it's not that much of a gamble, and if it turns out to grow, it will be really cool. (They also threw in a couple of free gifts that supposedly value $10.) I think the pastels of the flowers will complement the pastel yellow of our house very nicely. The plant is supposed to grow up to 20 feet and spread up to 3 feet. Maybe I can train it to grow on a trellis up the side of the house ... I read somewhere that these plants grow in the wild in California. What a beautiful site that would be to stumble upon!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Note about Buying Plants on the Internet

As I posted earlier, I purchased my plants on-line from Greenwood Nursery. Fortunately for me, I found out after I placed the order that Greenwood Nursery is a reputable Internet source for plants through Dave's Garden, an Internet watchdog of on-line gardening vendors. Dave's Garden maintains a database of users detailing their experiences, both good and bad, with over 4700 on-line vendors. The website maintains a list of the 30 highest scoring vendors named, "The Watchdog 30." I recommend you consult with this database before purchasing from any on-line vendor. Membership to Dave's Garden is free, and the site offers other services that I have found helpful too.

So Many Plants, Such Little Space

I love color, and I knew I didn't want to replace the existing mess of bushes with more boring greenery that would eventually become another ugly mess of bushes, but I do appreciate the tidiness offered by a sleek hedge row when it is well-maintained. However, how long will it take for us to grow bored of trimming and clipping hedges to keep them in line? I am particularly notorious for losing interest in projects that I was once so ambitious to complete. I started scouring Internet greenhouse websites in search of the sleek flowering shrub that didn't require constant care.

I found so many plants that I loved, but for this reason or that, they just wouldn't work. I wish our yard was 10 times the size it is so I could fit in Weeping Cherry trees, Old-Fashioned Lilacs, Wisteria, Crape Myrtles and Japanese Magnolias. But, since our land isn't going to magically multiply, I need to focus on the task at hand and find the right plants for this yard. It takes discipline to choose the right plants, because the "right" plant isn't always necesarily your favorite plant. I found that you usually have to make a compromise between what you want and what is practial; otherwise, you will end up digging up dying plants in a future season, heart-broken at the loss.

The plants I wish I could have but can't are Nikko Blue Hydrangeas. I lived in Alabama for about 10 years, and this is where I fell in love with Hydrangeas. I moved to Alabama from the North when I was 19, and I can't recall ever seeing a Hydrangea in that zone. My first idea was to replace the current bushes with hydrangeas, but that was quickly hampered when I found that hydrangeas can't withstand the 8 hours of direct sunlight our front yard receives every day. Furthermore, hydrangeas can't really be manicured into a tidy hedge row. I won't deny that I scoured the Internet searching for someone to tell me the Hydrangeas would prosper in my front yard, but in the end, I gave up the dream in favor of a plant that would thrive in the given conditions. The purplish-blue tint of the poms would probably have clashed badly with the yellow and burgundy of our house anyway, so I'm sure it's all for the best. I did order one Nikko Blue Hydrangea that I plan to grow in a large pot on the back deck. I just couldn't resist ...

Then I came upon the Knockout Rose, touted to be the lowest maintenance rose shrub ever bred, blooming profusely from early Spring to late Fall with beautiful deep red blooms that would match our house nicely. I had shyed away from roses due to their reknowned difficulty to grow and maintain, and my reknowned ability to kill house plants quickly, but this looks to be the perfect rose shrub that even I can't kill! I guess we'll see about that ... I ordered 10 quart sized shrubs from Greenwood Nursery that will be shipped the week of April 3rd. That would give us over a month to tear out the old shrubs and prepare the soil. We should be able to get that done in time, right?

While on the Greenwood Nursery website I also gave in to my temptation to purchase 5 Japanese Snowball trees. Our backyard could use some sprucing up too, and we're going to start with some of these! They claim to be hardy and easy to grow, and I plan to put that statement to the test. I eventually had to stop browsing plants on the Internet, because I have trouble not purchasing the unusual specimens I would find. I can talk myself into finding a spot for everything I like.

The Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening

Neither Ian nor myself have much gardening experience, so although we knew we wanted to make a lot of landscaping changes, we didn't really know where to start. Lucky for us, one Friday night visit to the Tuten / Penland Auction House offered us a good start. The evening was growing late when a set of books from The Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening came up for bid. Neither of us recalled seeing this 20-volume set when we browsed the items for sale that night, and we were happy to win them for only $15.

The books were written in the 70's by James Underwood Crocket, and although they are old, the information contained within them is still relevant. In the set we found books on roses, bulbs, annuals, perennials, pruning, ferns, trees, herbs and much more. The books provide information on how plants feed and reproduce, and give detailed instructions for preparing soil for plant beds. Furthermore, the end of each book contains an illustrated encyclopedia of many different types of plants, describing when, where and how to plant them, their soil preferences, and other general care instructions. These books are no longer for sale through Time-Life, but you can still find them on ebay for a decent price.

We still didn't know what type of plants we wanted to purchase, but we were now armed with a nice arsenal of information to at least educate us on the possibilities.

In the Beginning ...

We purchased our first house at the end of October, 2005. This is the photograph of the house that was posted on Craig's List when it was first listed for sale. Although the previous owners had worked hard to transform the interior of this boring 60's ranch into a more modern living space, the landscaping was still in need of some updating. For starters, the front beds were horribly overgrown, under nourished, and just plain ugly.

The left bed consisted of four bushes; two dying azaleas and two overgrown, nutrient-sucking behemeth bushes that had grown together to form one lima bean shaped lump. The right bed consisted of no less than 6 bushes of various types, planted at inconsistent distances from each other and from the front and back of the bed, giving an overall disheveled appearance. To add to the eye sore, various types of monkey (mondo) grass were planted here and there in the same bed. It was apparent that our first order of business would be to replace these plants with something more tailored and hopefully colorful.

I have always been a big fan of the classic types of bulbs; tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc..., so we would also need a flower bed of some sort in the front of the house. Since we have a nice view of the front yard from the large bay window in the living room, it would be great if we could see the flower bed from our couch, and even enjoy the scent of flowers from an open window. I purchased close to 200 daffodil, tulip and hyacinth bulbs in November 2005 and planted them in pots in hopes of transplanting them in the Spring. I stored them on the back porch where they would remain cool and get limited sunlight. We did not want to rush our landscaping plans, and since we were very busy with moving and unpacking, there was no way for us to plan out the flower bed and have it appropriately prepared before the first frost, so I would have to take my chances with transplanting the bulbs in Spring.

There was an old deteriorating flower box on the far left of the house that would also need replacing. The new one would be deeper to accommodate the daffodils and tulips. The construction of the flower box seemed simple enough to imitate, so this should be a relatively easy job. Matching the burgundy paint might be a little more difficult though.