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Creating distinctive outdoor environments by blending the elements of architecture with the beauty of nature
Updated: 36 min ago
Perennials for old fashioned gardens
In Northfield, we do a lot of landscaping around older homes. I remember when I was younger, my Mom and Dad would take me to Grandma’s house. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed looking at all the all the flowers in her garden. (A sign of things to come?). Grandma Smith would use a lot of them for flower arranging. Grandpa was a pastor, and she would make arrangements for the church alter every Sunday.
Other than a few shrubs around the front porch, I can’t recall seeing many houses “formally” landscaped back then. But almost everyone had a flower or vegetable garden of some sort. Anyway, I like to incorporate some of the more old-fashioned varieties of perennials in my landscape plans. With the tremendous rise in popularity of perennials, a lot of new varieties are finding their way to the market, which makes the truly old fashioned perennials harder to find. I think too many of the older homes are over-landscaped, like they tried too hard too make it look “contemporary”. To my way of thinking, it takes away from the uniqueness of the older home by covering up some of its best features.
Of course there are the old standbys of peonies, hollyhocks, and lily-of-the-valley, but take a look at the list below. Hopefully, you will find a few that would suite your Grandma’s fancy.
Beebalm (Monarda), Aster Bellflower (Campanula), Bleeding-heart (Dicentra), Blue Bells (Mertensia), Daylily (Hemerocallis), Delphinium, Forget-me-nots (Myosotis,) Hollyhock (Althaea), Foloves (Digitalis), Gas Plant (Dictamnus), Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria), Lupines, (Lupinus), Monkshood (Aconitum), Pansies (Viola), Phlox (creeping and standard garden variety), Ostrich fern, Sedum (Both groundcover and var. ‘Autumn Joy’), Peony (Paeonia), Primrose (Primula), Tiger Lily (Lilium).
Ground covers are making themselves at home around a flagstone pathway as it makes its way to the gate at the far end of the garden. We needed to fit this garden between the house and nearby driveway (out of view to the left of the picture). A picket fence and some large arborvitae trunks outside of the fence form an “outdoor room” and also separate the driveway from the garden.
We used ajuga, lamiastrum,and lamium for the ground covers, along with some hostas that we recycled from from her garden in the back yard. We also made use of ,grasses, annual geraniums, and perennial salvia. In the front left corner you can see part of a bird feeding station that is visible form the kitchen.
I designed an entrance that used that brick pavers to lead through a gated picket fence to make a nice lead-in to the back entrance, which was recently added on to the house.
After you come through the gate, the garden is on your left. A trellis placed at the corner will have a clematis growing on it to soften the abruptness of the deck meeting the corner of the house.
Yellow leaves can be a sign of iron deficiency. Chlorosis is a common problem of many acid loving trees and shrubs in Minnesota, particularly in urban areas. Chlorosis is caused by a lack of micronutrients, resulting in the inability of the plant to produce chlorophyll, which is essential to the plant’s survival. It can cause the decline of the plant and eventually its’ death. The leaves show the first signs of chlorosis, which will start to turn a pale green or light yellow. It will start out in blotches, progressing to a bright yellow and spreading to the whole leaf, except the veins.
The plant that gets the most attention concerning this problem is the Pin Oak. It is commonly found in trees improperly planted in heavy clay or poorly drained soils which lock up the micronutrients, most commonly iron. The lack of magnesium, zinc, or copper can also cause the same symptoms. Construction damage is also a common cause due to soil compaction and root damage.
Chlorosis is a sign that something is wrong underneath the ground, and not in the leaves. . Planting the tree in the right spot is the best “cure” The soil should be acid, in the ph range of 5-6.5. Avoid planting the Eastern strain of Pin Oak. The northern pin oak is more resistant to chlorosis.
If doing a new construction project, make sure the roots are protected against compaction or damage.
The soil can be acidified, but not all at once. Drill a hole about 2’ apart and 18” deep, and fill it with a mix of soil sulpher and sand. You will need to repeat this treatment in the spring and fall, continuing the treatment even after the leaves regain their normal color, because the sulpher can leach through the soil.
Spraying the leaves with an iron chelate solution will give the leaves a quick green-up, but is not a good long term solution because it doesn’t address the real problem, which is in the soil.
Designing and landscaping small spaces is one of my favorite things to do. I tend be be somewhat of a private person myself, so I enjoy creating intimate, private spaces. There is something therapeutic about being outside, yet having that feeling that you are still “in your room”. Sort of like relaxing in your den or your favorite chair after a long day. There are a lot of things to consider when landscaping a small space, but I will hit a few of the basics
A well designed space can be the difference between actually enjoying your time in the space, or just looking at it from your window, wishing you would have spent your money on that new hardwood floor. .
The first thing to do is to ask yourself some questions. Don’t forget to consider practicality as well as esthetics.”What am I going to use the area for? Entertaining? Do I just need a place to put my grill or do I also want room for patio furniture and a hot tub?” Questions like this will help you determine the size, the location (a grill would normally be close to the kitchen, for example) and how you will access it. What features would you like to see? How about a water feature, such as a pond or bubbling rock? Do you want a paver patio, a deck, or just a small area of grass? If you need a walkway will it be flagstone, pavers, or any of the new concrete products available? In the photo above, the large piece of flagstone to the right of the sidewalk will be where the grill goes. The two large boulders integrated into the sidewalk and the flower pots do nice job of framing the door to the three season porch.
Just like a room in your house, your outdoor room also has walls, a floor, and a ceiling. The walls could be a hedge, your house, a fence, or even a low flagstone wall. The ceiling could be an arbor, the canopy of a large tree, or even the sky. The floor, can be composed of any number of things, including a patio, a walkway, planting beds and even your lawn. Consider how you want to incorporate these elements in to your space to create your outdoor room. In the job we did in photo at the left, the walls are a lattice fence, the house, and a small detached garage. The sky is the canopy of a shade tree, and the floor is combination of a paver patio, a raised planting bed, some lawn, and a flagstone walkway. The raised planting bed could also be considered part of the wall. (Click on photo to enlarge)
Don’t be afraid to consider breaking up your room into into smaller segments. This can create interest and also give you the feeling that it is actually a bit larger by creating depth. Make sure you keep it in scale, however. For instance, don’t use pieces of flagstone in your walkway that are too large, or a plant that that has large leaves instead of one with
a finer texture that will look better in a narrow planting bed. In these photos I used a walkway, raised planting beds, and a small patch of lawn to break up the space. The lattice fence screens the area from a neighboring daycare center. The lattice-work creates privacy without feeling too boxed in.
In the lower left photo, the boulder in the foreground and the trunks of the Pagoda Dogwood in the background add a feeling of depth.The Pagoda Dogwood forces your eye to follow the sidewalk around it to the entrance, adding an illusion of a larger area.The wooden steps are actually quite close to where I was standing when I took this picture.
Right: A little serendipity never hurt anybody! In this picture, a small, old stature my client picked up is combined with a birdbath. You can find them hiding on a low stone seat-wall in among the ferns.
The photo at the below is the view of our pond from our bedroom window, and shows what can be done with a problem area. The pond itself is 11′ by 16′
The steep slope along both sides of this home really restricted access to the back yard. That plus the fact that the deep shade that covered the area most of the day made for quite a “slippery slope” when it rained. We built timber framed steps and put in a dark blue dresser trap rock inside the frame. In order to keep any soil or gravel from washing out through the bottom of the timber on to the next step down,we installed a weep barrier (usually of 2×6 treated wood) right underneath each timber step.
The upper lawn originally started to slope down hill at about the corner of the house, where it turned in to weeds and brambles. Our client wanted to neaten up the area and extend the yard, so we brought in several loads of good black dirt and extended the lawn about 230 feet where we constructed a boulder wall where it dropped off.