Tag Archives: home

22 Jan

Hill Garden 2001-2014 a Transformation!

Before photo 2002

 

IMG_9731

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.

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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26 May

May 2011 Garden Photos

Native Pink Honeysuckle macro

May was a great month for the garden!  I spent a lot of time out there and am pleased that it looks as good as it does.  It has rained quite a bit and everything is extremely green!  I stepped back for some of these photos so you can see the design of the garden more instead of focusing so much on individual flowers.  I hope you enjoy taking a tour of the garden, I wish you all could see it in person because the pictures just don’t do it justice.  It is like a garden of paradise out there, with so many birds and animals, flowers and fruit, I am truly one lucky gardener!

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11 May

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

graph

 

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03 May

April 2011 Garden Photos

Strawberry Blooming

Here are some photos from my garden in April 2011.  It was a very rainy month and some of the photos really turned out nice…they are worth a click to see the larger image because the thumbnails really don’t do them justice.  I particularly like the way the rain droplets look…I think my favorite photo is the Solomon seal, but the strawberry photo is a close second…actually, I like them all.  The rain this month has made everything very green and vivid. Read More

30 Apr

April 2011 Garden Time Lapse Video

backyard

Here is the first time lapse video of the garden….April 2011

Note the video begins with the forsythia in bloom and the hill still brown and not cut back or mulched.  Then the serviceberries bloom and the grass and hill start to turn green.  The next installment for May should show the hill burst into bloom, pink and purple!!!!!


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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.

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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. 

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21 Jun

June 2010 Garden Photos

hibisucs

Time for another tour of the garden!  June is a big month for the garden!!! Things that were small in the beginning of the month are huge now.  Beans and corn that were still seeds a month ago are now over 5  feet tall!  Here is a gallery of photos I took, mostly from June 21st (solstice) so you can see what is blooming and how far along some of the vegetables are.  Click on the thumbnail for detailed descriptions and larger photos.  Everything is grown organically. 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

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