Tag Archives: Mary Deweese

22 Jan

Hill Garden 2001-2014 a Transformation!

Before photo 2002



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).



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





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!



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

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

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