Category Archives: BioDiversity and Habitat

This section will include topics such as creating ecosystems in your yard, increasing biodiversity, and other backyard ecology issues.

11 Jun

Hillside Wildflower Garden – What’s in Bloom – June 6th

wildflower hillside

Things are really happening on the hillside so I thought I would take some pictures and document what I could find blooming today – June 6th, 2015.  This amount of flowers creates a wonderful habitat for the birds, bees and other pollinators!

Here is a list, with some pictures below

Longhead Coneflower – Ratibida columnifera

Ox-eye Sunflower – Heliopsis helianthoides

Missouri Coneflower – Rudbeckia missouriensis

Rocket Larkspur – Delphinium ajacis (Ranunculaceae)

Bishops flower – Amni majus

Pale Purple Coneflower – Echinacea pallida

Showy Primrose – Oenotheria speciosa

Catmint – Nepeta ‘walkers low’

Lavender – Lavendula ‘munstead’

Autumn Sage – Salvia Greggii ‘maraschino’

Blanket Flower – Gaillardia

Cosmos – Cosmos bipinnatis

Plains Coreopsis – Coreopsis tinctoria

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’

Lemon Beebalm – Monarda citriodora

Clasping coneflower – Dracopis amplexicaulis

ratibida

 

mexican blanket flower meadow

 

 

lemon mint monarda

 

 

rocket larkspur

 

 

autumn salvia

 

 

22 Jan

Hill Garden 2001-2014 a Transformation!

Before photo 2002

 

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When my husband and I moved into our St. Louis suburban home in 2001 we inherited a south-facing, 18-foot tall, very steep, lawn-covered hill.  I looked at that hill and saw it as a great opportunity.  The grade itself provides privacy from neighbors, and the hill faces the house so I knew that we would get the full visual benefit of turning it into a garden.  My husband looked at it and wasn’t convinced!

Before even beginning my landscape planning, I knew I needed to get a jump-start on screening the surrounding houses, so right away I planted several ‘Keteleeri’ upright juniper on the top eastern corner of the hill.  These large evergreen shrubs would eventually satisfy my need for a 12-foot screen, without overgrowing the space.

hill digging

 

In order to create the formal look I desired for the rest of the yard, and to define the lower edge of the hill, we had a 4’ tall concrete block retaining wall installed.  By cutting into the hill, the wall also helped to expand the flat, useable area of my yard.  I resisted multiple terraces, because I wanted the area above the wall to be dominated by plants, not hardscape.

wall install

 

I kept my choice of plants to those with very fine foliage, small flowers, and a mature height of less than 3 feet tall.  This makes the plants appear farther away and the property appear larger.  I also wanted to create the feeling of an alpine meadow, which requires adhering to a specialized color scheme of mostly bluish purple, true pink, and red, with just a dab of clear yellow.  Most importantly, the plants had to be drought and sun tolerant.  To that end, I used a mixture of native and adapted plants.

I implemented the first round of planting over 2 years, starting with small wholesale liner plugs (72 plants to a flat).  Additionally, I fill in every year with new plants to replace what has not done well, or just for the fun of trying something new.

hill plugs

new hill plants

 

Each year, in the very early spring, my husband and I cut back all the plants on the hill.  We don’t remove any of the dead and dried plant material, we simply shred it and leave it to decompose between the plants and return the nutrients to the soil.   In mid spring, before the plants fill out, we hand weed quite a bit. Mainly we tackle the woody trees sprouting up.  We battle honeysuckle, maples and red bud trying to turn my prairie like hill garden back into a woodland forest!  The more we pull during the early spring, the less we have to do the rest of the year in terms of maintenance. But by the time the plants fill out in late spring, if we have done a good job of weeding to that point, there is little weed competition for the rest of the year.  I fertilize with an organic slow release fertilizer annually, and water about once a week.

plants 1 season

 

The three main initial grass varieties on the hill were the backbone of the design: Pennisetum orentale ‘Karley Rose’, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ , and to a lesser extent the Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ (which is a beautiful grass, but hasn’t thrived for me).

2005

 

2005b smaller

 

The perennials successes are led by the Nepeta (Catmint),  Salvia greggii ‘maraschino’ (which surprisingly has come back for me for years despite it being only rated hardy to zone 7) and Amsonia hubrechtii, which has a fantastic golden fall color.  Pink Missouri primrose, several types of lavender and Plains Coreopsis (a self seeding native annual) also have established well.

Another species that is thriving is Rhus Glabra, the only woody species on the hill.  It is a native suckering shrub that I planted in the opposite corner from the evergreens to visually balance their height.  It has an outstanding fall color and is doing very well (maybe too well as it also wants to take over now…but it is pretty, and native, and for the most part the sumac and I are friends).

early fall 2006 smaller

 

I’ve also had a few disappointments – the Gaura ‘siskiyou pink’ and the Agastache rupestris I tried, both bloomed beautifully the first year and looked fantastic by my design criteria, but died out after only a year.  I’ve had little luck with Russian sage surprisingly, and also have been disappointed by several types of Penstemon, although last year I planted more Penstemon, so we’ll see if I fare better this summer.

I considered the Hill portion of the hill garden mature when it was 3 years old…about 2007.  The surrounding woody plants, the smooth sumac, the junipers, and many of the trees and shrubs in the rest of the yard have been growing now for over a decade, and although the hill itself still looks a lot like it did in 2007, the perimeter of the yard has gotten much larger and the yard is very private now.

 

2014 Pictures

2014

 

2014b

 

Our planning and work has paid off, as you can see in the photos. Instead of a bland, hard-to-mow steep slope of turf grass, we have an ever-changing view of diverse and colorful plants to enjoy throughout the year. We’ve provided a nice sized area for local bird and pollinator insect populations, and a pleasant backdrop to the various activities in and around our suburban home. Most of the winter we have a resident fox who likes to sleep in the hillside sun…and, for a plant lover like me, I’ve created a wonderful place to test and enjoy a variety of grasses and wildflowers in my own backyard paradise.

The hill changes with every season.  Here are a few more of my favorite photos of the hill garden, enjoy!

P1000204

 

photo 4

 

Photo 8

 

Photo 9

Mary Francois Deweese is a Registered Landscape Architect and Owner of Acorn Landscapes in St. Louis.

20 Jan

Evergreens for Wildlife and Landscaping

Evergreens for screening and wildlife

Evergreens for Screening and Wildlife

Including evergreens in your home landscaping provides many unique benefits to wildlife and people.

Benefits to Wildlife:

Cover and Nesting sites for birds – Dense evergreen shrubs are a key cover plant for songbirds in the home landscape. No bird habitat should be without a nice grouping of evergreens, or at least one specimen. I have an arborvitae close to my bird feeder station, and it is the first place the birds fly to for cover when they get spooked. When I pull my car up to the evergreen by the driveway, a small flock of birds always fly from it, up into the maple tree. The shrubby dense evergreens like Juniper and Arborvitae are particularly good evergreens for birds to take shelter in during the cold winter nights. Of course these are also prime nest building sites as well, because they provide shade, warmth and protection (a strong nest high in a dense arborvitae can be a safe haven from the neighbor’s cat!)

Food – Many evergreens provide food for wildlife. Junipers, Pines, Holly, and Hemlock all have edible seeds and fruit for birds. Having fruit that is attractive to birds invites fruit eating birds, many of which don’t frequent birdseed feeders. It is always a pleasure to spot a cedar waxwing in the yard!

Benefits to People:

Energy Conservation – placing large evergreens on the North and Northwest side of your home will deflect the coldest prevailing winds in the winter, saving energy. Grouping large evergreen trees such as blue spruce, red pine and Norway spruce trees will give you a dense windbreak. This type of windbreak works well when a large group of trees are planted well away from the home, but even a single tree at the corner of the house will provide some energy saving benefit.

Privacy – Evergreens are one of the best choices when it comes to creating privacy and screening in the home landscape. One mistake I frequently see people make is choosing an evergreen tree that is ultimately going to be too large for the spot they are chosen for. Those trees look nice when they are young, and only 3 feet wide, but when it is mature, and is now 40 feet wide, it very well might be too large. I usually prefer some of the small tree type evergreens, or large shrub type evergreens for screening neighbors. You usually only need to screen up about 15 feet at the most, so it is best to choose evergreens that don’t become 80’ tall giants (the taller trees usually aren’t dense at the lowest levels anyway when they get mature, and they there goes your screening at eye level) My favorite screening evergreens for full sun are Keteleeri upright juniper mixed with a few Hicksii Yew. For shade I favor Foster Holly, American Holly and even boxwood and yew for some variety (the boxwood and yew take much longer to fill in, so I like to use a layered strategy for very dense and private screens.

Holiday Decorating – Every year, when the holidays arrive, I see expensive holiday greens being sold around town. These greens are usually farm raised, and have traveled far to get to your location. A more sustainable idea is to just go to your own backyard, and harvest fresh evergreens for your door and decorations. They are obviously very fresh, local, and are organic (if you follow natural landscaping practices) I have a couple boxwood, some holly, and juniper that I can forage from for my front door display each year!

Aesthetics – Evergreens are a very important visual component of landscape design. Winter interest is an obvious asset, but I also find that the dark green of evergreens are an essential element of the fall landscape as well. The deep green gives the necessary contrast to the fiery fall colors, and, contrary to what you first might think, the visual effect of the fall colors is greatly lessened without them. Of course Evergreens provide all the general benefits of deciduous trees as well…shade, habitat, oxygen, soil building, etc. Evergreens are often overlooked and considered ‘background’ plants, but there are many benefits to using them in your home landscape to both you and your outdoor animal friends!

holly 2

10 Jun

2014 Early June Garden Pictures

It has been a while since I posted pictures of the garden, a couple years actually, but I wanted to share with you some of the plants and fruits that I have going this year.

A place in the garden for meditation and relaxation

A place in the garden for meditation and relaxation

I bought this Buddha statue at Target about 10 years ago. It is resin (plastic) but still looks really great after an entire decade in the garden. ‘Catlin’s Giant’ Ajuga groundcover is in the foreground, along with annual begonia. A variety of native woodland irises (iris cristata) is just to the statue’s right with the short sword shaped leaves. In the far back is an evergreen yew. Behind the statue you can see the larger sword shaped leaves of a bearded iris and a chartreuse leaf spiderwort. I think the large boulder the statues sits on is ideal for creating some additional scale and impact, so the statue feels grounded and connected to the earth. Some black Mexican river stones around the statue also lend a nice effect.

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A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio.

A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio.

A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio. It is a little too much for this arbor and I haven’t cut it back yet this summer, so it looks a little out of control. The gate has bamboo poles spray painted black zip tied to the gate, extending above it, so the neighborhood deer don’t jump through the gate (the metal portion of the gate is only the bottom half) Looking through the gate you can see my Celeste fig and some other perennials in containers.

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Sprinkler tripod made from Bamboo

Sprinkler tripod made from Bamboo

I made this tripod to elevate my impact sprinkler (which is on a timer)  The tripod is made from very heavy bamboo and the sprinkler is screwed very securely to it at the top.  The legs were also pounded into the ground about 6 inches or more.  It is amazing how much force a sprinkler has as it pulsates, but this thing isn’t going anywhere, it is very sturdy, and the added height allows the water to go over the shrubs and evenly water a large area.

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Shade garden plants that have some nice color and texture contrasts.

Shade garden plants that have some nice color and texture contrasts.

I took the time to label the plants in this picture because I thought is was a good illustration of using foliage color and texture to create interest in a shade garden.  There are few plants that bloom for a long period in the shade, so relying on foliage is a good strategy for having a beautiful shade garden throughout the summer.  This is a mixture of native, and non native plants.  The coleus and the flowering torenia are annuals, but the rest are perennials that come back each year.

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Serviceberry tree / Amelanchier 'Autumn Brilliance' after fruiting (and after harvesting)

Serviceberry tree / Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’ after fruiting (and after harvesting)

This shows our serviceberry tree about a week after the fruit was ripe.  Unfortunately, due to the late freeze this year we had very little fruit set…but usually between the two trees of this size we get up to 9 pounds of berries.  Well hope for better luck next year.

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Native Edible Paw Paw tree in such deep shade my camera's flash popped up...ha!

Native Edible Paw Paw tree in such deep shade my camera’s flash popped up…ha!

I planted 3 paw paw but this is the only one that survived the transplanting…one was in too much sun and the other was in a place that was too dry, this spot was just right, very deep shade, and moist soil…

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North Star Cherry just beginning to get ripe!

North Star Cherry just beginning to get ripe!

This North Star Cherry is about 3 years old and this is the first year we will get cherries off of it.  Right now they are looking beautiful….just starting to get ripe (if you follow me on facebook you know that I ended up netting this tree to keep the chipmunks from stealing the cherries….and yesterday I harvested about a pound and a half of cherries….)

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Mandevilla in hanging wall basket planters.

Mandevilla in hanging wall basket planters.

This year I am trying tropical Mandevilla in the wall baskets….I hope they get enough sun to bloom well…they get about half a day’s sun facing east….I absolutely love having drip irrigation on my planters because things do so very much better when they don’t dry out so much during the day.

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'Liberty' apple early June

‘Liberty’ apple early June

My apple trees are about 4 years old now…maybe 5…the fruit isn’t ripe until the fall, but it has set quite a few apples this year.  I wonder if I’ll get any or if the wildlife will take them all again this year?

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Kousa dogwood with immature fruit and the last of its flowers.

Kousa dogwood with immature fruit and the last of its flowers.

This is the Kousa dogwood in the shade garden, it isn’t native but it is actually a lot hardier than our native dogwood in situations where there is full sun, shallow soil, and some drought.  Did you know that the fruits on this tree are edible?  They are, but they aren’t the greatest things I’ve ever tasted.   Not bad as an addition to the morning smoothies in moderation though, and I love eating a variety of things from the garden that you can’t find at the grocery store.

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Hosta and ferns that overwinter outside in their containers in my zone 6 (last winter it dropped to zone 5) garden

Hosta and ferns that overwinter outside in their containers in my zone 6 (last winter it dropped to zone 5) garden

This hosta and native fern have both been in these containers for about 4 years.  I don’t take them inside or cover them or anything during the winter and they come back great each year, in fact, every year they look bigger and better!

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A wider view of the hill garden from the shade garden patio

A wider view of the hill garden from the shade garden patio

I really love my garden!

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immature blueberries on a plant that overwintered in a container, zone 6

immature blueberries on a plant that overwintered in a container, zone 6

These blueberries have also overwintered in containers outside for a few years now, and last winter the temps got down below any we had seen for over 15 years, so definitely below zone six and solidly into zone 5 temps.

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24 Apr

What is a Food Forest?

What is a Food Forest?

Mary’s definition:

A food forest is a constructed or modified forest ecosystem system designed to largely self sustain over time, while providing the ecosystem services of a natural woodland and providing some food or other resources for human consumption.

It is not “vegetable gardening in the shade”

The 7 layers of forest gardening - drawing by Graham Burnett

The 7 layers of forest gardening – drawing by Graham Burnett

Basically, a food forest is a very ancient method of agriculture. Evidence of people modifying the forests for an increase yield of edible plants can be found as much as 11,000 thousand of years ago, before traditional cereal based agriculture. It is a method of growing things that people need like fruits and vegetables, providing habitat for animals that humans might want to eat, like rabbits, chickens and goats, and other products that people want, like honey, maple syrup, herbs, nuts and wood products, but with less intensive inputs and within a more sustainable ecosystem system that supports water quality, biodiversity, air quality, soil health, and ecosystem resilience.

In modern times forest gardening is being rediscovered for the environmental benefits, but is also being tested as an economically viable alternative to modern agricultural methods.

I’ll be blogging more extensively on forest gardening as an urban and suburban agricultural system over the coming months.

11 Apr

Early April Shitake Mushrooms (and flowers)

A few photos I took tonight (April 11th 2014) to show the first harvest of the season for the shitake mushroom logs we have in the shade garden. I think this marks 1.5 years since inoculation so I am expecting several more pounds this spring…I hope. This harvest was 13.5 ounces, and I left a few small ones on the logs to get bigger, maybe by tomorrow they will be ready.

While I was out there I also took some pictures of the hellebore (which has been blooming for a month now) and the native wildflower – bloodroot (which only blooms a few days each year, so it is a treat to see it. I did notice that I now have 3 bloodroot flowers, they have multiplied because the last 2 years I only had one.

Shitake mushroom log 2014 April - 1.5 years after inoculation

Shitake mushroom log 2014 April – 1.5 years after inoculation

Shitake Mushroom harvest

Shitake Mushroom harvest

Hellebore Spp. www.sprawlstainable.com

Hellebore Spp. www.sprawlstainable.com

Bloodroot Sanquinaria Canadensis L. www.sprawlstainable.com April 2014

Bloodroot Sanquinaria Canadensis L. www.sprawlstainable.com April 2014

11 Mar

Sprawlstainable – New and Improved for 2014

Spawlstainable began as a two year chronicle of Dan and Mary Deweese’s journey to create a more sustainable lifestyle while living in the suburbs. Their 2 year goal was to reduce their energy consumption by 50% (which they did) and to grow 10% of their own food (which they didn’t). After the two years was up they had many followers, and had enjoyed their blogging experience, but new things came along and Sprawlstainable went dormant, without updates, for another couple of years. Now, Mary is resurrecting Sprawlstainable with new categories, a new mobile compatible word press template, and most importantly, a new commitment to adding content, because, even though the blogging had taken a hiatus, the Deweese’s journey towards sustainable living did not, and there is a lot to write about and catch up on…..so welcome to the New and Improved Sprawlstainable Blog….Thanks for Visiting!

Mary Deweese

12 Aug

July 2011 Garden Photos

Sunflower planted by Chipmunks

Wow, July was a very dry month for us here in Missouri…although the total amount of rainfall was near normal…that 3 inches all came in the first few days of the month…and then nothing for the rest of the month.  Things have struggled in the drought and heat this month…there were several weeks of very high temperatures…many days in the triple digits.  It has been almost impossible to keep up with weeding chores because of the heat…so things are getting a little overgrown in places…it is always difficult to stay motivated to maintain the garden when it is so hot, and this summer was a record setter!

 

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24 Jul

June 2011 Garden Photos

Fibrous Begonia Macro orange

Here is a nice collection of Photos from June, although I am a little late getting these posted…Things looked good in June…had regular rain…maybe too much rain…and the vegetable garden was a few weeks behind what it was last year…but most things look healthy and the season in quite underway.  I was on a garden tour this month called the Sustainable Backyard Tour…we had about 50 people come by…and the garden looked really nice.  I got a new wicker bench and chair which I have been wanting for several years for our main patio…and the weeds were mostly under control.  The wildlife has been incredible this month, and it really feels like a garden of Eden out there.

 

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03 Jun

Cicada Invasion 2011 Video! Amazing and Disgusting

IMG_0198

Tens of thousands of Cicada septendecim from the XIX Brood are making an >80 decibel racket in my St. Louis, Missouri backyard garden.  Totally gross and loud.  Can someone please tell me what they are shooting out of their butts?  Yuck!  I took these videos on June 2, 2011.  Some people think they are locust, but they are not, but it does feel like a plague with all these insects.  Thank goodness I covered all 9 of my new fruit trees with netting…unfortunately, the un-netted serviceberries are getting the brunt of the cicada army. It will be a long 4-6 weeks until they are gone.  Luckily they quiet down after dark.

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