One of the projects that I am currently developing is close to my heart- It is a parcel of land where my wife and I would like to build our final house. We found it by looking at rustic parcels on the edge of town from aerial photographs. After identifying one possibility, we pursued it with the current owner and were able to purchase it for a reasonable price. It had a lot going for it: close proximity to town, access to paved roads, complete privacy, some great existing trees and an existing (although drained) pond. It also had some issues- the upper flat portion (about 4 acres) was completely covered with cedar trees, and there was an abandoned house that had mostly collapsed and needed to be removed. In order to actually see the property, we started by removing the house and its foundation and septic tank, and bulldozing the majority of the cedar trees, just keeping the significant ones. We cleaned out and deepened the pond, and rebuilt the dam that had been opened up a long time ago. The end result of the demolition phase was just what we were seeking- a property that featured groupings of trees with wide open spaces between them, one large sentinel red oak, and two rows of mature cedars that create an interesting tension in the gap between them. The pond covers three fourths of an acre and is sixteen feet deep at its deepest, and is spring fed in the rainy season.
Presented with large expanses of raw topsoil, I knew that I needed to get the ground layer under control quickly. Given the rural feel, this landscape needs to be very different from my current garden- softer, gentler, and very low maintenance, without any necessary irrigation. I turned to a Nebraska seed company called Stock Seed Farms that specializes in native grasses and wildflowers, and purchased their Roadside Mix. This is a mix of both native and introduced wildflowers, and short prairie grasses.
I hired a grading company to smooth out the exposed soil, and they then drilled the seed into the soil and covered it with a thin layer of native grass hay. We then waited for the spring rains… which never really came. It finally started raining in late June and early July, and while a few things bloomed sparingly (there is an annual wildflower component that will bloom the first year included in the mix), not a lot was happening, and I was a little apprehensive. However, in mid- August, I noticed that lots of little perennial seedlings had appeared, and seemed to be doing pretty well. Encouraged, I tried to put my concerns aside and wait until the next spring to see what would happen.
After a fairly mild and very dry winter, I started waiting and watching the wildflower plants. The first to bloom was Siberian Wallflower, and they bloomed for about two weeks in late April and early May.
They are a somewhat odd color that I wasn’t really expecting, but I found that they were a long lasting flower, and I decided that I liked the color by the end of their bloom. Second to arrive was the Lance Leaf Coreopsis, and it coincided with what ended up being two months of heavy rain. The coreopsis loved all of the moisture, and they bloomed for about three to four weeks.
The fore-mentioned rain really caused all of the wildflowers to just explode, and the show for the past few weeks has been pretty amazing. Right now, it is just a sea of yellow Black Eyed Susan, purple Lemon Balm, yellow and burgundy Dwarf Blanket flower, yellow and red Plains Coreopsis, and burgundy Mexican Hat.
The contrast between the before and after shots, taken a year apart, is pretty amazing. The only negative aspect of this experiment has been the emergence of both yellow and white tall clover, which I don’t like. I have had some of my employees pull a lot of those by hand when it was too wet to do anything else, and it changes the looks of the wildflowers significantly for the better. I’m not sure if they were part of the seed mix, or if those seeds were already lying dormant in the soil. Whatever the source, they tend to overwhelm everything else, so I will continue to try to eradicate them.
It is now the end of June, and the rains have finally stopped. Many varieties of flowers are still in full bloom, and the quick onset of heat in the upper nineties hasn’t seemed to impact the wild flowers at all. I am very excited about the progress that has been made in creating this beautiful, low maintenance landscape, and I will continue to update the seasons as they progress.
I have always used my personal garden as an experiment- trying different plant varieties, different plant combinations and always looking for atypical plants that will do well in our high plains environment. We are blessed with cold, often dry winters (which are brutal for broadleaf evergreens like boxwood or azaleas), searing heat in summer, but a beautiful spring and fall. Rainfall is rarely dependable, and the occasional tornado will rumble through. In short, not an easy garden environment.
That being said, there are lots of beautiful, interesting plants that will thrive here, and one of my favorites is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris). I have four vines planted on the north facing wall of my living room in raised limestone planters. The planters were open to the soil below on the bottom, so the roots had lots of room to expand. We completed the house in 1998, and the fact that it was new construction put to rest any concerns that I had about damaging the stucco. If this was a fifty year old house with original stucco in questionable shape, or a similarly aged brick or stone house with decaying mortar, I might have thought differently about growing a self-attaching vine. I’m sure that a lot of architects out there might disagree, but I see nothing wrong with using vines on new brick, stone or stucco houses. Wood siding is another matter- I wouldn’t ever plant any sort of vine on wood. The leaves hold in moisture and would hasten the decay of the siding. Vines that are woven through a metal trellis that is attached to the house (but removable) are the only way to go with a wood house.
My vines have performed admirably, for the most part climbing to the top of that wall. One is sort of my problem child- it will grow up three or four feet in a summer, and then peel away from the house and have to be cut back. No particular rhyme or reason for this- it is the exact same environment for all four vines. As a result, it is about eight feet shorter than the rest, but it has blended well and doesn’t look particularly out of place. Interestingly, the vine that was planted in an inside corner grew the fastest by far- one stem grew straight up in that corner to the top of the wall in about three seasons, and branched out horizontally really well.
You can see in the photos how the plants look in the blooming season in the spring, and in the fall. The blooms are large, and are held out from the wall anywhere from twelve to eighteen inches. They aren’t particularly long lasting (maybe a week and a half) but very showy. The fall color isn’t always dependable, but can turn a beautiful yellow. Birds like robins and mourning doves like to nest in it, and I have had ducks nest under the boxwoods planted at the base of the vines (as well as five foot long black snakes in pursuit of the duck eggs). I love the look of the vines, and feel that they give this part of my garden a very romantic, established feel. When viewed from inside the living room, the greenery that extends out from the wall frames the view through those large arch top doors, and makes you feel that you are very much a part of the garden. If you have the proper environment and are interested, I would wholeheartedly recommend the plant.
As many of you know, it is now customary for design websites to have blogs…. Witty, inspiring blogs, beautifully illustrated with spectacular photographs, filled with pearls of wisdom that will inspire and entertain all who read them. I read several blogs regularly, and I am often impressed with the amount of research, work and time that goes into producing successful ones. I am hesitant to embark on such an endeavor, because I have some idea of just how much time is involved, and the luxury of free time is one thing that I lack. Nonetheless, I have promised myself that this is something to which I am committed, and I will do my best to come up with topics, photos and research that I hope will at least entertain you, and at best leave you knowing more than you did before. My company is dedicated to designing and installing beautiful gardens, and we are lucky to have wonderful clients with both generous budgets and the desire to create something unique and beautiful. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t ever share details of their lives, but I will share photographs of some of the wonderful gardens of which we have had a hand in creating, and tell you about some of the challenges that we have faced while designing gardens on the high plains of Kansas and Missouri.