Tag Archives: conservation

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!

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photo 4

 

Photo 8

 

Photo 9

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

11 May

Blog Post – Actual One Year Savings Data on our Geothermal System

graph

 

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29 Jun

The Decision to Go Geothermal

SYSTEM-final-blog

The heating and cooling systems on our trusty suburban ranch was more than twenty years old when we decided it was time to replace them with new, high efficiency models. So Mary and I began our due diligence on the subject and started comparing available options. When I first learned about geothermal heating and cooling for residential applications, it was both fascinating and a little intimidating. It seemed like a technology that everyone should be using, but since they weren’t, I was skeptical that it could really be as advantageous as it seemed to be on the surface.

Read More

24 Jun

Attracting Birds to your Yard

Duck Family

If you want to attract birds to your backyard there are four things you should strive to provide…food, moisture, cover and housing.

We enjoy watching a variety of birds all year long. 

Read More

29 May

Actual Energy Use Data Year 1- See How Our Energy Saving Strategies are Adding Up!

gas use to march 2011

Last updated April 25, 2011

We are implementing energy saving strategies to attempt to reduce our energy use at our home by 50% In this post I am going to be updating graphs showing our total energy use for Electric and Gas showing the difference between the average energy usage of the last 5 years to our current usage. Read More

21 May

Proper Mulching Technique

mulch

By Mary Francois Deweese – Registered Landscape Architect and Sustainable Site Consultant, Principal of Acorn Landscapes, St. Louis, MO.

Today mulch is a staple of the nursery industry and home gardeners are using it with un-cautioned abandon, presumably for the benefit, though sometimes to the detriment, of their plants. This article takes a look at the proper way to use mulch. Read More

13 May

How We Saved 38% in Energy Costs for our Home Lighting

light

I wanted to show you how easily you can save money by changing out some of your light bulbs to compact fluorescent or LED.  With a few packages of new bulbs we saved 38% off the total cost of running lights in our house.  Read more to see exactly how we did it. Read More

27 Apr

Drill, Baby, Drill: The Dirt on Geothermal Installation

Dirt Left After Geothermal Installation

One of the factors to consider when choosing a geothermal heating and cooling system are the ramifications of the exterior installation requirements. Unlike traditional systems, there is quite a bit of work that needs to be done outside the home to place the lines in the ground that are needed to carry the liquid that runs to the compressor inside the house. The photo here shows a simple illustration of where the holes were drilled in our yard, 200′ deep and 10′ apart. (Geothermal systems can also be installed horizontally, or in pond or open loop systems, but in our situation vertical loops were the best option.) Read More

26 Apr

Time Lapse Geothermal Drilling and
Trenching Videos

time-lapse

We’ll be doing a number of posts about our new geothermal heating and cooling system. It is a substantial investment in our home, and will go a long way towards meeting our goals of reducing our energy bills and our carbon footprint.

These videos are made from time lapse photography we captured during the outdoor portion of the installation process. Read More

26 Apr

Begin with the End in Mind: Our Home Energy Audit

Energy Audit Montage

With our goal of slashing energy costs by 50% over the next two years, we needed to know what we were dealing with in terms of the condition of our house.

We decided to get a home energy audit, which can be a great way to understand the current condition of your home for energy savings opportunities.  In our case, two technicians from St. Louis based Home Green Home spent about three hours in our house. They checked the levels of insulation in the attic, walls, and basement. They used an infrared camera to look for areas of heat loss and inefficiency, and they performed a blower door test to analyze the air exchange in the house. Read More

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