Progress in the Front Garden!

I feel like I’ve probably opened a few posts this way by now, but whatever: when I was a kid, we moved from one new-ish house in suburban Northern Virginia to a new-new house also in suburban Northern Virginia. Looking back, the move shouldn’t have been a big deal. The two houses were maybe a 10-15 minute drive from each other. The old house wasn’t anything terribly special, and the new house had more space and exciting futuristic amenities, like an ice maker. We didn’t have to change schools or anything, and all our stuff was coming with us, so I’m not really sure what the hell our big problem was with the whole thing.

I blame my brother, Jeremy. Since he was three years older than my sister Laura and I, and I guess we took our emotional cues from him, his upset over the move became our upset, too. And we were very upset. Whenever we went to visit the new house while it was under construction, whether it was to check out the newly-poured foundation or later to pick out our bedrooms, Jeremy stayed in the car. He was having none of it. And while I wasn’t about to sacrifice the opportunity to choose the best bedroom just for the sake of solidarity, Laura and I weren’t much better. We bitched and moaned the whole time, and were general nightmare children throughout the entire ordeal. Moving day found me literally clinging to the curtains of my old bedroom, wailing as if I’d been set on fire while my father dragged me out of the only home I’d ever known and into the car.

Semi-related: the curtains were part of a larger dinosaur motif that had been enacted throughout the decor of my room a few years prior—the bedspread, sheets, wallpaper border, and said curtains were all of the same pattern and very obviously formed a set. I guess since the new owners also had a young son and liked that the wallpaper border matched the curtains, they negotiated the sale of the curtains with the home. Altogether, the various dinosaur-themed pieces displayed quite a dramatic effect, but separated the whole thing just seemed sort of sad and amateurish, decor-wise. I still consider this decision a grave error on my parents’ part, if only because my new room looked really bad with just the comforter left as evidence of its former glory.

ANYWAY. In a move of questionable parenting, my mother and father attempted to quell our complaints and unrelenting sadness with bribery. We were promised a second dog, which we eventually got (Yophie, the best dog ever). We were told that we could each have our own small pet, which we eventually did (I got a hamster and my sister got a guinea pig and my brother got a small exotic frog). Lastly, we were promised that we could all have our own garden.

This last promise still puzzles me. It isn’t as though our old house didn’t have a backyard that we could plant shit in—as far as I know, we’d just never really had any inclination. My brother spent most of his time indoors on his computer, and my sister an I had a swing set we were quite fond of and a whole lot of Barbies who, thanks to me, were always missing the majority of their hair. Gardening? Sure. I guess. Whatever, Mom.

My sister gave it a try, growing mostly edibles like strawberries and a few cucumbers every summer. I started with tomato plants, which I quickly learned needed to be watered and staked and caged to stay upright to actually bear tomatoes. My parents used to buy bagels and lox and cream cheese JUST for the occasion of eating my freshly harvested tomato crop, and I remember both really liking bagels and lox and cream cheese with a tomato on it and the idea that I’d actually grown a part of what I was eating.

And that’s how tomato gardening became my main passion in life. It was a lot of work and I liked it for whatever reason. I was a weird kid.

Soon my interests expanded, I think when my mother took me to our local farmer’s market for the first time. There were a few vendors who sold various types of non-edible plants, and I made quick work of taking over all of the space allotted to my sister and brother with black-eyed susans, astible, hosta, lilies, lamb’s ear, various ornamental grasses, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. When I’d filled up that space, I moved on to other areas of the backyard. When I got bored of that, I picked up where the landscapers left off and started filling in the front yard, replacing some dead azaleas with more exciting hydrangea bushes, putting some peonies  and evergreens on a forgotten strip of land next to the driveway, splitting the perennials that had matured in the back and moving them to various other places…I was prolific. Despite our hard, clay-dominated soil, for some reason everything I planted seemed to thrive. I’d spend entire days outside, completely engrossed in my gardening, and then make everyone come admire my efforts. In the summer I’d clip my flowers as they bloomed and arrange small vases of them throughout the house. In retrospect, I’m sure my mother was thankful for the free labor and fresh flowers, but I can’t really imagine my childhood without gardening. It taught me all the platitudes about life that gardening is meant to provide: about patience, the payoff that comes with a hard day’s work, and that it was OK to have a hobby that was totally my own—solitary, slow, and hardly the type of thing boys weren’t supposed to be spending their time on. I loved it.

I continued gardening here and there until I graduated from high school, albeit without quite the same vim and vigor I had when I was younger, and then I stopped. I moved from one apartment in Saskatchewan, Canada to another, and then I moved to a dorm room in New York, and then an apartment on the Upper East Side, and then another apartment in Brooklyn. Aside from a few houseplants I’ve kept alive with varying degrees of success, I never had the outdoor space or the inclination to do anything else gardening-wise. And sometime in the space of that near-decade, I forgot how much fun I used to have.

WELL. As much as I love working on the inside of our house, the electrical work is still not totally done, which means we’re more or less at a stand-still with what can be done for the moment. I’ve been getting some things accomplished here and there, but I’ve taken the opportunity to really start focusing on the outside a bit more—more specifically, the front garden that was created when I built the fence! The weather in the Hudson Valley has been beautiful, and even though I’m trying to be cautious about spending money on plants when I really need to be saving for ceilings and stuff, I’ve been having a hard time resisting buying a few things and putting in a ton of work to make my garden dreams a little closer to reality. Doing all this work in the front also helps distract me from the disaster in the backyard, which is an added bonus.

So! What did I do? Let me explain.

before2

It started with this huge clump of hosta growing next to the gate in the front yard. See it? It was huge. I had to dig out a section of it when I was breaking up the weird concrete path next to the entryway of the house so that I could fit a wheelbarrow into the space to cart off the concrete chunks and bring in soil to back-fill the resulting hole. I realized while doing this that the clump of hosta was long overdue to be divided and thinned out a little, so one thing led to another and I ended up digging out all of it and dividing it up into still-sizable chunks—25 plants in all!—each of them probably still bigger than what you’d buy at a nursery. All from about a 2’x3′ space. Crazy! I know the common wisdom with perennials is to divide them in the fall while the plants are going dormant for winter, but my childhood experiments in gardening taught me that hosta is super hardy and can pretty much be divided whenever. It won’t look so hot after it’s divided, but the next spring/summer it will re-emerge and look great.

Hosta isn’t really my favorite plant in the world and this variety of it definitely isn’t my favorite, but I don’t dislike it and I had so much to work with. So I started digging.

Before1

The first to go was actually the patch of grass in front of the original wrought-iron fence—a little over a foot of space between the fence and the sidewalk. I considered planting something evergreen here, but decided that was a bad idea when I remembered how much snow we got last winter, and how covered this area gets when we shovel the sidewalk! I felt like anything I’d plant would just get completely ruined, and we’ll be better off with something that completely dies off in the winter. Hosta it is!

The basic process of gardening this area was to dig out the grass and a fair amount of the soil to bring the ground level down a bit. It had built up a lot over the years, and the grass/clover/weeds had overtaken a good 6 inches or so of the sidewalk! It was kind of labor intensive filling up the wheelbarrow, bringing it to the back, and dumping everything in the newly-excavated area where the asphalt used to be, but it was kind of fun, too.

hostaprocess

After I dug the area out, I started placing my hostas about 2-3 feet apart. They’re going to continue to expand over the next few years, so I wanted to give them some space to fill out. After the hostas were planted, I mulched the area with black mulch and filled in the gaps with some creeping jenny and purple heart. I find that it’s easier to mulch around bigger plants, but easier to plant smaller things once the mulch is down. We’ll see how it all does! The purple heart is a perennial and supposed to be about 12″ tall and wide, so I’m hopeful that it’ll fill out and provide a nice contrast with the hosta. A few commenters have warned about creeping jenny (or any creeping ground cover, really!), so I’m keeping an eye on it. I liked the idea of planting something that would fill in around the purple heart and the hosta (and even creep onto the sidewalk and between the cracks, if it looked prettier than the weeds…), but I also don’t want it to be too aggressive and kill the other plants in the process!

after4

OK, yes, I’m aware that this doesn’t look so hot. The hostas definitely went through some trauma during the splitting process, and like I mentioned, they probably won’t really look too great until next year—I was hoping they’d perk back up this summer, but I don’t think it’s going to happen! They’re still growing and are just beginning to flower, though, so they’re OK. Just a little in shock and need some time to establish themselves.

after7

I love our sidewalk, by the way. It’s made of these enormous and very old locally-quarried bluestone slabs, which is pretty common in the Hudson Valley and in Kingston. During all of this gardening, my neighbors from across the street sauntered over to talk about plants—they’ve lived in their house since 1958 (!) and were so excited to see us taking care of the outside a bit! They told me that there was an initiative at one point to replace all the bluestone sidewalks in Kingston with concrete to make winter shoveling easier, and while plenty of other people leapt at the chance, the previous owner of our home (yes, the same one who died in the bathtub…) would not, under any circumstances, allow the city to replace the sidewalk bordering his house. That still makes me feel really good for some reason. Even though I spend a lot of time wondering what the hell this man was thinking when he paved our yard with asphalt or smeared caulk on a beautiful old radiator, it’s nice to know that for whatever reason, he was so instrumental in saving this bit of history. I think our sidewalk is absolutely beautiful, so I’m happy I get to take care of it a little bit. I love being able to see the edges of the bluestone slabs on that side! It makes me want to plant out the “hell strip” between the sidewalk and the street in a similar manner, too…I’m sure I’ll get to it someday.

process2

After I finished planting the area in front of the wrought-iron fence, I still had a bunch of hosta and pretty much just needed a place to dump them! I put three back where the original enormous clump had been…and then I started obsessing over the bluestone path that leads from the sidewalk through the wrought iron gate and to the new wood gate (and continues beyond it!). At some point, somebody set or, more likely, re-set all of these slabs in concrete. I think it was an attempt to keep water away from the foundation of the house, but it wasn’t doing its job—the concrete hadn’t bonded with either the bluestone or the foundation, leaving lots of gaps and cracks and weeds growing through the cracks and general ugliness. You can kind of see what I’m talking about here, although I didn’t really get a good shot at all.

summer20131

summer20141

I didn’t really plan to, but I ended up digging out all of the concrete and moving the bluestone slabs and re-laying the path entirely. It was a workout, but I think it looks a MILLION times better and more charming and more period-appropriate this way.

Once I got all the hosta in the ground, I felt the urge to get some stuff planted back along the new wood fence line and start to establish a little path through the future-garden.

path

A big slab of bluestone in the backyard was unfortunately damaged during the asphalt removal, so I chipped the concrete from the salvageable pieces and began to set them in a little path through the space. I like how it turned out! I didn’t do anything fancy like set them in gravel or sand or anything like that…I just messed with the soil until they were level and let them sit. Old school! It’ll be interesting to see what happens with it over the next couple of years…if it’s not fairing well, it’s not such a big deal to just redo it. Anyway, the path looks a little silly and arbitrary right now since there’s still a fair amount of sod in the front of the garden that I need to remove, but that would then involve buying lots more plants and that shit adds up. Someday, though, the path will be a nice way to get into the garden to water and prune and all that.

process5

ANYWAY. I figured I’d start by getting some stuff in the ground by the fence line, so I marked off the general shape of the bed with a garden hose and got to digging! The shape didn’t really matter too much since the rest of the sod will eventually be dug out, too, but I wanted it to at least look kind of OK in the interim. I’m not honestly sure when I’ll do that second part of the project…hopefully later in the summer, but we’ll see!

after6

Andddd, done-ish! Done for now. Whatever.

I know this picture is awful, but it was the only one I got that kind of shows everything going on back here…

after2

I’m really pleased with how the bluestone situation is panning out. Removing all the concrete and rearranging the stones opened up a nice little gardening bed area next to the porch, which is nice! I already feel like the hosta behind the fence line needs to go and get replaced with boxwoods or something evergreen, but I’m hoping I can catch a sale. My favorite boxwood variety is the “green velvet” ones (which are a little softer and less formal feeling than the traditional boxwoods…), but I’m having an impossible time finding inexpensive ones. The cheaper and free-er I can keep this project, at least for now, the better!

One of the things I love about gardening, though, is how low-pressure it is, relatively. Stuff can pretty much always be moved and shifted around, so I’m not expecting it to be perfect the first time around…I just wanted to get some things going while the weather is nice. The hardest part BY FAR is getting all the old sod/weeds out of the way, so I’m glad to have a lot of that over with!

So here’s what I planted…

hydrangea

Along the fence line in the back, I took a bunch of your suggestions and put in some big Hydrangea bushes. They aren’t so big right now, but they’re supposed to be huge! Like 6-8 feet tall and wide, although I’ll probably prune them when they start to get huge to keep things a little under control. The two on the left are Tardiva Hydrangea and were only $15 a pop at Lowe’s, and since I wanted one more and they didn’t have it, I compromised and bought a “Pinky Winky” (seriously), which is the one in the photo above. As the flowers mature, I guess they’ll start to turn pink from base to tip before dying. Sounds nice! The two varieties seem pretty similar, so it’s OK that they aren’t all identical, at least right now. Who knows how I’ll feel in a year or two.

Even though none of these are my absolute favorite variety of hydrangea, the price was right and I think they’ll be great when they mature next year and the year after. If not, I can put them to work elsewhere and plant something better up here. Not worried! I do think the size will be super nice, though, and the white flowers against the black fence will look really pretty. The hydrangeas should bloom in the summer and into the fall.

sedum1

Near the start of the path, behind the hostas which I want to remove, I put in 3 Dazzleberry Sedum, which are a type of succulent that seems to do well in our zone (5). I liked the blue-purple-grey color of the foliage, and that it stays pretty low (about 6″ high) but spreads a good 2-3 feet. I guess they’re supposed to start flowering in early summer and continue until the beginning of fall.

sedumbuds

One of them has started flowering since I planted it, and it’s pretty! I dig it.

Behind this sedum is some bleeding heart, which I transplanted from the backyard. It was getting strangled by hosta in its old location, and since the backyard is going to go through a lot in the next few years, I wanted to save it before it got killed. Bleeding heart is a really delicate plant, so it isn’t looking so hot post-transplantation, but I think next year the softness of the foliage will look nice among the hosta and the sedum and the hydrangea, and it should flower earlier in the spring. I’m trying to keep in mind that it’s nice to have things flowering at various times.

after9

Beyond that stuff, I threw some irises in that I also took from the backyard…same deal, just trying to save them before they get destroyed. I love iris but honestly have no idea what this variety is or what the flowers will look like, but I guess they also bloom early, so assuming they come back, it’ll be nice to have those little patches of color scattered around until the other plants take off for the summer.

I also planted a clump of 3 Autumn Joy Sedum, which should reach about 2′ high (they’re so tiny right now!) and about 2′ wide. I might have planted them a little close together, given this, but it happens. They should start to bloom pink flowers late in the summer and into the fall, which will be nice as everything else starts dying out. I like them! I’ve seen some mature plants around the neighborhood so they seem to do well here.

after10

In the back corner near the pine tree, I planted a Golden Mop False Cypress, which is supposed to potentially be really large—like 10 feet wide and 6 feet high. It can be pruned, though, and I wanted something evergreen to kind of fill in this corner near the tree, and I liked the color contrast it provides. It’s a slow-grower, though, so I don’t know how long it’ll take to start doing what I want it to do…

summer20132

summer20142

Anyway,  I know it’s hard to get super stoked about a bunch of dead-ish-looking plants and things that really need to mature and fill in and this remaining patch of grass that still needs to go, but to me this reflects a lot of hard work and a huge amount of improvement! It can only keep getting better…at least that’s what I keep telling myself! In any case, the neighborhood is super happy about all of this, which makes me feel really good.

purpleheart

hostabuds

after1

I still have a ton to learn when it comes to gardening. I sort of ignored the traditional wisdom of amending the soil with good compost/topsoil/humus/etc., which may have been a bad idea. My friends in Kingston talk about how amazing and fertile their soil is, so I figured I’d give it a try just plopping things in the ground and seeing how they do. I do need to pick up some fertilizer at the very least, though.

Oh! And yes—I am aware that black mulch can be toxic to dogs. My dogs don’t really seem to be interested in eating it at all, but given that this is a dog-free front yard, I’m not really concerned. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I get around to really working in the back, though.

Phew! OK, I know I can’t be the only one going a little garden-crazy right now.  Who else is logging some serious summer garden hours? Tell me EVERYTHING.

 


130 Comments

  1. looks good so far!! I have spent HOURS and HOURS in our yard transplanting things and taking transplants from friends to fill what I like to call “dirt patch 1” and “dirt patch 2,” it should start to look pretty amazing in about 3 years. Which is exactly when we plan on moving again, so the next owners better freaking appreciate it! :)

  2. I love creeping jenny and put it everywhere in my gardens. It spreads super fast into a gorgeous chartreusy carpet. I could see it strangling smaller plants, but my more mature perennials seem to do just fine with the creeping jenny filling in all the holes around them. I’m hoping that in another year or so I won’t have to mulch at all because the creeping jenny will have filled in all the spaces. It keeps weeds down too!

  3. okay..gotta say..Saskatchewan?? I must have missed that in my binge catching up on the old posts…
    The garden is coming along great…my father was a gardener by trade so my osmosis I learned a trick or two myself..love dividing plants…it’s free plants!!…and yes they look at little sad now but they will be great next year…maybe a drop of miracle grow to help them along…love, love the black mulch..it’s the only mulch …period..everything else looks like crap.(just saying)
    and love the contrast of the plants againest the black fence…no wonder your neighbours are excited…you guys are bringing that house back to life and the yard is the thing they have to look at everyday so they should be thrilled…
    the sidewalk is amazing….your pathways look great…

    this has been a great summer for gardening so far..I’m really happy with everything so far in my garden except for the damn brown spot on my roses….

    Enjoy , nothing better than digging in the dirt. (well obviously a few things but you know what I mean)

    • Yes! It’s kind of a long story, but I worked for a small film production company there for a year before I went to college.

      I picked up some Miracle Grow today, so hopefully things will improve! And thank you!!

  4. This is thrilling to me. Don’t you love how mulch makes such a difference? It frames everything so nicely. I feel I am forever dividing hostas and never the beautiful fancy blue ones that I covet. But free is free and free is my favorite kind of plant. I just moved a bleeding heart as well, because it was being crowded out by lilies of the valley and it seems to be have taken the move just fine. You are doing a beautiful job and moving bluestone slabs? You’re gonna be jacked! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got next spring…

    • I covet the fancy blue hostas too! Hopefully I can get some down the line…I always thing hostas look best when there’s a mix of a few different varieties layered together.

      Hah, the bluestones were definitely some heavy lifting! :)

  5. Let’s not forget what else we left behind in the move: the greatest sledding hill of all time. I will always fondly remember the winter it snowed enough that you were able to sled from our hill, across the entire street, down the neighbors’ driveway, and slam violently into their garage door.

    I don’t often reminisce about the dinosaur sheets, partly because I know that dinosaur sheets can be replace and partly because I’m still using mine, but that sledding hill was truly peerless.

    • However, did you fail to notice that wonderful sledding hill also left us a super steep driveway to deal with as well? You just hated change of any sort and still do. I’ll buy you new dinosaur sheets whenever you want a change. Those are only about 25 years old!!

    • Apparently a knack for lolz is in the Kanter genome. We currently have a sledding hill that ends in a river… should be exciting once my toddler is a bit older!
      Daniel, lovely work in the yard. We have hydrangeas and the autumn joy sedum, and both have done wonderfully even in our sandy Michigan soil.

  6. Me! Although I’m mainly sticking to indoor renovations out of pure necessity, some things just have to be done right now. Removing toxic plants, planting gifts which will wither otherwise. And it is so good!
    An update of your frontyard in a month or 2 would be lovely, to see how everthing has setteled. (Heads up Hostas!) And I’m really, really envious of your gorgeous sidewalk.

  7. Keep everything watered, watered, watered. Don’t get upset if the bleeding hearts look like they give up the ghost in a few weeks, that’s normal. The foliage gives out mid-summer.

    I’d cut off the bloom stems on the hostas to allow the plants to focus on their roots. Not sure if this is the right thing to do, but I do it to mine.

    I love the hydrangeas. The are the water sluts of the plant kingdom, though. They want water and they want it now.

    If I had my way, I’d mix in some different colored hostas. It’s not expensive if you have a friend with some or get small plants at the big box stores. I love chartreuse and my favorite are the blue/gray toned large leaf babies.

    I adore your work. I’m in awe of the bold whites and blacks. We put in a new wood fence and I look at it and think, that fence would be so cool black, like you’ve done. Just don’t have the nerve.

    • I’d also suggest trimming the transplanted iris leaves. just leave about 4″ above the dirt

      I have a lot of the same plants in my zone 5/6 NW yard including the pinky winky (a gift from my mom), irises (all free gifts or found behind the garage), sedums (some free, some purchased), 5+ varieties of hosta both big and small (all free from family/friends), various ground cover.

      Another plant that you might consider (especially if you get some from a friend) is hardy geranium. It comes in both pink and blue but it’s nothing like the red annual geranium everyone’s familiar with. The hardy varieties are lighter, lacier, and perennial. They don’t even require pruning in the fall.

      I think it looks great right now, and I agree that it’s nice to know that you can move, dig up and rearrange plants as needed if it’s not working like you thought. Even trade plants with other people if you’ve changed your mind about something or it’s not working well in your space.

    • Thank you! I definitely want to mix in different hostas down the line…I have a friend with a bunch that he might need help dividing in the fall… :)

      If you want the black fence, go for it! I’m such an enabler. I definitely don’t think black fences are right for every house/yard/location, but I’m so glad we did it here, especially…I think it really recedes and doesn’t distract from the house, aside from being a nice backdrop for the plants!

  8. Looks great! I really like the Acapulco-style chairs on the porch too.

    • Thanks! Total cheap-o chairs from Homegoods, but they’re pretty comfy. The old chairs got stolen, so I don’t want to put out anything too special or valuable…but I’m hoping these don’t get lifted! They’ve been out for a few weeks and so far, so good…

  9. Love love love the garden. I grew up in a similar vain, we had a hobby farm and I had an area to grow vegetables, now living in a city, I can only tend to my little basil plant that sits on the window sill.

    In other news, Benjamin Moore Onyx in the Pearl finish is everything. I’ve taken a page out of your book and spent all day Sunday putting multiple coats on all of my doors. Mine are similar to yours in detail which I love, the Onyx really brings out the character. I have one that has been recently replaced, but, the the fresh paint pulls them all together. So.. big thanks for taking a risk and giving me the confidence that it’ll turn out.

    Adam

    • I’m so glad the Onyx worked out! It’s my favorite black…so versatile, not too severe, but never blue. And yes, I find that painting newer or more boring doors black also helps them look WAY better! Yay!

  10. Daniel,

    We are also going throuth a gigantic renovation and gardening has been a very important source of motivation for me in the whole process. It evolves fast (and we do need so much to see things moving), it is very forgiving (we cannot say the same about plumbing or electrical work), it pretifies the house and it helps enjoying summer (that are so short here in Québec..). As I cannot justify big expenses with plants and there was/is a lot to be done, I have developed some strategies: 1. Using temporary solutions (moving/dividing what you already have, using simpler/cheaper plants to fill the space and be replaced later; 2. Starting seeds indoor. It is a longer process but you can choose some varieties that grow faster even if for temporary use and balance with some that take longer to grow or investing in some few mature/more expensive plants; 3. Buying bulbs/rizomes. I particularly like the bags Costco sells. It is a great price for the quantity of plants and they a not bad selection. Again, it takes longer to grow, but when balancing with other plants works great.
    Our garden is easier to solve than yours as it is a cottage garden, but it was half destroyed 2 years ago and you can barely notice now. I cannot say the same for our progress indoors… ;) Good season for you!

    • Thanks for the tips, Carla! I definitely took the first one to heart with this, but I’m also going to start trying to grow stuff from seeds and bulbs and cuttings, too…we definitely don’t have the budget to drop a bunch of cash on plants, but I do want to get some stuff started in the hopes that by the time they mature, I can move them to more permanent locations in the front and back. Good luck with your projects!

  11. Your garden looks great. We just moved to a new place that has tons of deer. (Maybe literally – we’ve counted 6 standing in our yard at once, plus now there are fawns.) Believe or not we live in town. We’re going to be out of the garden business for a while… But our previous house had many hydrangeas. Most were no problem at all. Three of them, however, were paniculata with flowers very similar to yours; they grew into striking plants with lots of beautiful flowers (see below). My point of replying is that they got huge – somewhere around 12 feet even though the nursery said 9 feet. They started small like yours and grew fast. They flopped into our gutters causing a maintenance mess. Pruning was no fun because the dead wood is sharp and pokes you as you try to thin them out. If something this big doesn’t fit your garden, now is the time to relocate it.
    http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=g960

    • Wow, that’s enormous! Luckily these are pretty far away from the house and shouldn’t cause any problems, but I definitely don’t want them to get THAT big. I’ll keep an eye on them!

  12. It looks great! Gardening is an exercise in optimism!

    As a source for free plants, you might check to see if there are any gardening clubs in your area that have an email listserv. There’s an active one near where I live and in my multi-year effort to transform a weedy lawn to a cottage garden, it’s been a great way to re-home plants that weren’t quite right for my space or had taken over (there’s been a bumper crop of Rudebeckia this year) and I’ve also gotten literally a carload of plants from another gardener who was thinning out her Hosta collection. I don’t like Hosta well enough to pay for them, but they seem to be the only thing that will grow in the dry shade underneath a Japanese maple tree I have. Now it looks great and didn’t cost anything more than a day’s work.

    Another option is the plant swaps that local garden clubs hold with some regularity. Even if you don’t have plants to trade, bring bags of cookies or brownies to swap and you’ll be a big hit. Without exception, I have found the gardeners I have met to be lovely people.

    P.S. One plant I never saw in the suggestions for your garden was Monarda (or Bee Balm) — the flowers look like exploding fireworks and the leaves have a lovely citrus mint scent. It’s my favorite old-fashioned flower even though it’s a stretch to grow at it’s southern-most range in the humid DC summers where I live. It would be very happy in Kingston and some varieties (like Jacob Kline) grow quite tall after just a year.

    • I’ll look into the gardening clubs, thank you! That would be nice. I can definitely offer baked goods for plants!

  13. Just moved in with my boyfriend who had already converted his entire south-facing front yard (which is tiny, as we live in the City of St. Louis) into a garden. A completely disheveled yet productive garden (weeding suuuuuuucks). Anyway, I never realized that sedum bloomed (which we planted in hopes that it spreads like wildfire and stabilizes a little slope while pushing out the dang weeds). Lo and behold, one day I get home and realize the sedum has the most amazing and surprisingly vertical blooms. Now I have sedum fever too.

    • Amy – We also have a tiny city lot in St. Louis, although our front yard faces north, so hostas did really well for awhile until they took over. Our front yard is currently pretty bare.

      We’re contemplating an addition which is holding up any real backyard landscaping plans, but I love reading about other people’s yards. Yard work is tough but satisfying.

      Love the bluestone walks.

  14. My backyard needs so much help, so if you ever feel like experimenting in SoCal weather/plants please visit and stay as long as you like :)

    I’m attempting my first garden (since I was about 7) this summer and it’s not doing so hot. But, I DID harvest my first red bell peppers the other day and they are DELICIOUS. So there’s that.

    Your garden looks *gorgeous*!

    • SoCal has such good gardening options! LOVE a desert landscape plan. Totally wrong for our house/climate, but the options for you are so cool!

  15. It’s such a big improvement! I love the way the greenery looks against your black fence and mulch, and I like that you’re rescuing plants from the back and putting them out front. As you said – gardens get expensive fast, so it’s great that you’re starting by foraging from your own yard. Because of work, I am living away from my house and garden this summer, and I’m missing it a lot. Our yard is pretty huge and sometimes that feels like endless potential and sometimes it feels like endless work. I wrote a little about it here http://redhousewest.com/2014/06/04/katies-house-a-walk-in-the-garden-and-pergola-plans/ if you want to see. Also – the windows on your porch look beautiful! What a lovely spot to hang out.

  16. Hello! Been reading you for years and finally commenting. You can easily propagate boxwood cuttings. Kevin tells you how and I think you are in the same zone so his knowledge should come in handy. Hey! He ripped out a parking lot too! http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/04/boxwood-beauty-the-easy-way/

    • Oh cool, thank you!!

      • I agree – box takes really easily from cuttings, so you can buy a couple of the ones you want and grow yourself the rest. Good if you’re planning to stay in the house for the long haul – the luxury of time. A lot of what you’re paying for with plants ( especially shrubs) is someone else’s time. Front garden looks fab!

      • I’m so excited to know this! My friend John has a bunch of boxwoods that I love…I’m sure he won’t mind if I take some cuttings. Thanks!

  17. All that digging out and digging up has made a huge difference in curb appeal! FYI, the dried flower spikes of the autumn joy sedum make for some interest in the winter landscape, until they disappear in the snow. (I sometimes fill a few vases with those, along with dried grasses and hydrangea blossoms.) Note: You might get plants you want on a swap for the hostas that are now behind the fence that you seem iffy about–worth a try with a craigslist barter post or just a sign on your fence. Also, if you ask, your local garden centers will likely tell you when their shrubs (e.g., boxwood) will go on end-of-season clearance. Your place needed energy, enthusiasm, fearlessness, and creativity. Luckily you and the house found each other.

  18. daniel, i can’t get over the before and after in just a year.
    it looks super.

    i am a gardener in texas and i want to pass on old advice about gardens that i was given years ago.

    the first year, it sleeps.
    the second year, it creeps.
    the third year, it leaps.

    after that, it just looks amazing.

    can’t wait to see what you do in the back yard. you have room to plant some fruit trees.

    good job!

    • Thanks, Dawn! I’m really excited to see how things evolve in the next few years…I’m glad to be starting now, when the house still needs so much work! Maybe by the time that’s getting more done, we’ll have a really nice garden already…here’s hoping!

      And yes, I want to plant some fruit-bearing things! I have to figure out what our options are…

  19. I love the new garden and droopy or not the new plants look great. The reason the neighbors are so happy is that a house that looked derelict now looks like someone loves it. I have a neighbor whose house is practically falling down and a total eyesore from my back yard, but you wouldn’t know it from the street, where he keeps his front yard immaculate.

    When I bought my house in January, the first thing I did after carting off 3 truckloads of yard trash to the dump, was put up a new fence and fix the exterior of the house (which involved miles of replaced trim, paint, etc.). It took 4 months, but was worth it, because people routinely drop by to say how nice it is to have me in the neighborhood. I don’t have enough money to do the yard, but you can’t really see it over my pedestrian fence. So I keep watering the trees and then have let everything else (mostly crabgrass) die.

    I wish I had your green thumb and your boundless energy. Watering the trees every 3 days is about as much as I can accomplish while now tackling the interior.

    • Oh jeez, don’t beat yourself up, haha! That’s great that you were able to tackle the exterior first—looking back, I wish I had done a little more outside that first summer. The interior was just SO CRAZY at that point, though, and I knew we’d be roofing soon enough, and I just decided to ignore it completely, which made me feel super guilty. Even though the interior still has a TON of work ahead, it does feel really good to get stuff like this done. I live in a neighborhood that really needs more houses looking cared-for and loved, and I’m so glad I didn’t wait another year or two or whatever to get going! I’ve met tons of people just by virtue of being outside for hours, too, which has been really great. I feel much more connected to the community after a few weeks of gardening than I have in the entire year of living here!

      You’ll get to the garden someday! Good luck with the interior projects, and congrats on the house!:)

  20. Oh yay! I always think about how sad it must be as a homeowner to plant things that are going to take years to fill out and grow, but on the other hand, they own a house and I don’t, haha. I do appreciate how much you’re thinking about the future of this house.

    And on an unrelated note, I love how long your posts are. Seriously. Everytime one pops up in my reader I know I’m gonna be occupied for a minute, and that’s so wonderful. So keep it up with all the details, they’re the best. :)

    • I don’t find it sad at all! Maybe it’s because I’ve been through this a time or two, or because I was starting from nothing, but it’s really exciting to have stuff in the ground and getting established! Even though it’ll definitely look better when it fills out in a few years, it already looks like a huge improvement to me. No complaints, here! :)

      And thank you! This one was a doozy!! I try to stay around 2,000 words…I think this was like 3,500. OOPS! I’m glad you enjoyed it, though!

  21. Daniel, I just made my first foray in to gardening ever about a month ago. In all my 43 years I’ve never even owned a house plant I think. I needed a new mailbox, so I decided to put one up (that was huge for me) and then do a little garden around it. I planted 4 types of plants. One died. RIP plant cuz I don’t remember your name. The other three (one has pink flowers and is tall, one was short, green with tiny purpley flowers and the last one was like a celadon green). I don’t know names but they are pretty. And so is my garden! :-)

    • Good for you! I find that people get really intimidated by gardening, but it isn’t really so hard in general! And if you like it, even better!

  22. I love the work you’ve done so far, it makes a difference! And I’m sooo glad the previous owner saved the bluestone. It’s stunning :)

    • Isn’t that just so cool? I don’t know why I’m so tickled by it…I guess because it just seems rather unlike him, given lots of the other stuff he did, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad he did!

  23. Looks amazing! Dont out yourself down. This is more work on your home than some people do in a year on theirs…you sre like a marine! Are you able to replant thre grass in the back?

    • Ha, thanks kathyg! I’m a little obsessive, maybe…

      I don’t think it’s really possible to replant the grass, unless I was SUPER careful with it…but that’s OK. I’ve just been dumping it in the pit that’s going to get filled up and re-graded anyway…hopefully giving that process a little boost. The grass up here isn’t nice, and I actually think we’re probably going to plant a clover lawn instead of grass in the back, anyway…a reader suggested it, and it sounds great! Dog-resistant, drought-resistant, self-fertilizing…I don’t care about having a traditional lawn, so I think it’ll be awesome for us!

  24. Daniel; it’s amazing….LOVE your house. Everything’s coming out so nicely!!! You make me wish that I’d done things differently in my own house…and that I was a better carpenter :)

    I have one of those cypress mop things in my front garden bed; and it’s stayed about the same size for maybe 4 years? Although-I’m in Atlanta; maybe they don’t like the heat here. It also turns much more green in the sun and loses its golden color.

    I also have a bunch of hosta in the back that are King Kong sized and need dividing….good to know I can do that whenever and don’t have to wait til fall….

  25. Great job on the front garden. I have the same creeping jenny mixed in with my hostas and astilbes in the front yard and they all coexist happily. The creeping jenny is now growing in the cracks between our paving stones and I think it looks great. They are also super easy to pull out if things get out of hand.

  26. That was a ton of work! It looks really great. Loved the lead-in story with your earlier love of gardening. (And I was wondering about the bluestone sidewalk!)

  27. Looks great, and I love your sidewalk! Have you been to Opus 40 yet? You’d love it!

    My first garden attempt at gardening was in midtown Kingston. Your friends aren’t exaggerating. Everything grew like mad. I ended up with a flower/herb garden, vegetable garden and wall of Russian Mammoth sunflowers. I took my lead from a friend who lived down by Rondout and used only a manure tea to fertilize. Pest control was covered by mixing in plants that bugs don’t like. With a fair amount of rain and no deer in midtown, it didn’t require much maintenance at all. I’ve never managed a garden like that since then. I thought it was beginner’s luck. It must have been the Kingston soil.

    • I haven’t been to Opus 40! It looks super cool! Will definitely check it out this summer…thanks!

      I’m glad your midtown garden worked out! We’re in midtown, too…I hope we have the same luck!

  28. The great thing about planting hostas along the front sidewalk is that they’re dog-pee proof. I have no fence in front of my house and the dog pee kills the hydrangea flowers. It drives me crazy that people let their dogs pee on my flowers. I’m thinking about planting a row of hostas in front the hydrangea to protect them…or invest in a fence. But the hostas will do it.

  29. When i moved into my house 13yrs ago I found a trove of slate slabs buried in the back yard. Took me a year or two to figure out that it used to be the sidewalk! We did re-purpose as a walk way and it looks lovely.

    Side note: your exterior windows look great…..did you permanently remove the storm windows? If so, is it drafty or leaky? I would love to do that to see the old wavy glass better.

    • That’s awesome about the slate! I keep hoping I’ll find something like that…

      The “storm windows” on these long windows in the front were actually just big plexiglass panels attached between the outer sash stop and some base shoe…not cute. They were well past the point of doing anything useful, and were permanently super etched and just a total eyesore, so I took them off! The whole house is kind of drafty right now (missing ceilings will do that…), so I don’t notice anything particular with these windows. I’d recommend keeping your storms normally, though…they definitely help with the draftiness and energy efficiency, and they also help protect your old sashes from the elements! Since these are under a covered porch, they don’t really see any serious rain or anything, but I plan to keep storms on our other windows. Hopefully I’ll just be able to afford (or make…) nicer ones someday!

  30. Wow Daniel, everything looks SO GOOD!!!

    I think it looks like an enormous amount of progress has been made and it all looks great! Some of my neighbors have “Pinky Winky” hydrangeas and they are GORGEOUS. I’ve never known what they are until you just described them. The florets are super conical and transition from a chartreuse-y green to a vibrant ivory-white to a really great deep red. I loved watching them change last summer and considered clipping a blossom to take home more than once! I’m sure your front garden is only going to get more beautiful in the coming summer months.

    PS-I spy a cute little Linus in the last ‘after’ shot of the house!

  31. Great improvements Daniel! It’s wonderful to work in the garden, you get it see it each and every time you come home and enjoy it so much as it grows and changes each season. When I first started gardening I always used black mulch too, because I loved the contrast. I got so frustrated with the quick fading though and switched to pine bark nuggets, love them now! They hold their color all year, done disintegrate at quickly and look lovely. They’re also cheaper. Another tip about hostas I learned from my gardening father in law is to buy some of that green Velcro on a roll from Home Depot, about five bucks, and bundle up your hostas as you divide them. Leave the Velcro on for a good week as you water and they settle into their new homes. Does wonders for making them look good that season and you can keep the Velcro pieces and reuse them. Like someone else said too, snip off the blooms now as you want your new plants to work on establishing roots and leaves rather than spending energy to produce flowers. I love everything you have done, enjoy!

  32. Gardening is so rewarding. Yours looks great! I’m envious of your endless talents…and loving the types of sedum you chose. Can’t wait to see it fill out.

  33. Looks great! I’ve been spending my free moments over the past few weeks carving out a little formal-ish garden in our side yard. I’ve been evening out the ambiguous edges of the beds and transplanting like crazy. Almost every plant in our yard (front, back and side) has been transplanted from somewhere else in the yard. I got about thirty day lilies out of three clumps in the backyard. The only plants that were bought were the green velvet boxwoods that we used to create a hedge to contain the messy cottage garden. They were actually a gift from my parents for the house, otherwise I couldn’t have afforded them either! Birthday present idea?

  34. Your house and yard are looking fabulous but please be careful with your dogs around the hydrangea. Both the flowers and the leaves can be toxic to pets.

    • Noted! The dogs don’t go out here at all, so should be all safe!

      • and the only thing with that black mulch is, the part of it you put out on the street – that can affect other people’s dogs. best to keep it only on your side of the fence.

  35. Hydrangeas?! Now Madonna will NEVER visit your house! ;)

  36. I like hydrangeas, too. And why not plant some tulips when this winter comes, so you have a tulip garden next spring. I’m in Sydney and I’ve planted the bulds last week.

    Love your garden makeover. We are only renting, but once we buy our own house, I’ll indulge myself with a lot of gardening (currently it’s mostly potted plants).

  37. Gardening. The one thing that’s a big black hole.

    You did a great thing with that front garden, I can’t wait to see how it’ll eventually turn out.I’ll have to take the thing with the hosta splitting into consideration, we have some here as well that are growing quite big… As is anything else in our garden, it needs some mass pruning action.

    I’m surprised to read that you plan to one day tackle the grass between the sidewalk and the street, over here that would be impossible because it would be civic property and not ours…

    • It’s technically civic property here, too, but it’s relatively common for people to plant that area anyway! As long as things don’t get too big or start to encroach on the sidewalk, I think it’s really nice. Plus, I don’t want to mow that strip forever!

  38. Great job! The hostas are going to look awsome next year already. I for one love them :)

  39. Hi Daniel:
    I love what y’all have done to the garden. It’s a lot of hard work but what a pay off! For free plants, check out Freecycle and Craigslist for your area. You might also talk to the local garden clubs, those ladies love to give away starts to aspiring gardeners.

  40. This looks spectacular! I love the false cypress. Great texture.

  41. I’m just wondering where in Saskatchewan did you live?!!!! I’m in Saskatoon…I’ve been following your blog for about a year now and I never imagined you would have lived in this province….

    • I lived in Regina! I worked for a small film company there after I graduated high school…kind of a long story, but I had a great time! Enjoy the summer…it’s so nice there this time of year!!

  42. Damn, this is a really impressive update. That is a LOT of gardening work! And I love the result. I love black fences, and paired with a colour palette of green and white in front, with the bluestone, and the black fence? I think it looks great.

    It’s really hard to plan out the flowering seasons of plants, I find. You really have to have a strategy regarding “okay, the tall stuff will flower in August, and my hostas will flower between June and August, and the sedum will pop in September soooooooooooo I need flowers for June and July? When does echinacea flower, uhm, how tall will they be, will they hide the sedum? omg I’ve gone cross-eyed.”

    I’m secretly so glad you mentioned that plants can be moved. I plant things and then want to move them a day later, and then feel like I’m being neurotic. THEN I feel like “well you should have thought this through better, hunh” and then the plants don’t get moved and I’ll be in a ‘mood for day or two. LOL

    Maybe I’ll just move the damn plants and let it go!

    • Janine– I’ve been gardening with way more enthusiasm than skill for years. My neighbors joke about my “plants on wheels” efforts, but sometimes research falls short, and you have to let your plants tell you where they want to be, and your eye tell you what you like to look at. Plants will spread, and you may not want them where they put themselves. Friends may offer you divisions you like better than what you have. It’s all a process. Gardens are never “done.” Just have fun with it, and yah, move the damn plants if you want to. It’s YOUR garden. :)

  43. OMG. I can’t believe the size of that hosta…
    Have you thought about growing some clematis and/or honeysuckle along the iron fence ? Or do you prefer to keep things more formal ?
    Anyway, it’s looking great already ! And I loved reading about gardening being your hobby when you were a kid :-)

    • I know—the hosta was out of control!

      I’m not sure…I think both might be a little too wild looking for the front. I definitely don’t want the garden SUPER formal or anything, but I also don’t want to go too far the other direction, you know? Somewhere between formal and informal, I guess…haha.

  44. Long time lurker finally commenting here to say, if you weren’t already aware, there’s a Master Gardener organization in your county. You may have just missed the plant swap :( but I’ve found MGs to be so helpful and knowledgeable about the area they live in. Sharing cuttings among neighbors and friends has helped me with my garden. I’m in the tropics so I have no advice for your zone, but hope the MG suggestion helps.
    And so far, your home and garden look great!

  45. That looks AMAZING! I love the repurposed crazy patch pathway into your garden. You know, I’d put a bird bath or a gazing ball or a piece of statuary at the end of the path – instant purpose and focal point.

    I do have one question, what’s the plan for the downspout there at the corner of the porch? I have to ask, because I have one too (a downspout to nowhere that is, and a porch LOL).

    • Ha! Good question…I *think* now that the pathway doesn’t butt up against the house, it would be good to turn the downspout toward the street and run it that way…so kind of parallel to the path and away from the house. With some stuff planted in front of it, I think it wouldn’t be so noticeable and would definitely be better for the house…I worry about it draining so close to the foundation like that! Not the point of gutters!

  46. It’s going to be just great!

  47. Talk about progress! I love creeping jenny and have it in a giant pot in my front yard with caladiums. It looks pretty amazing cascading down the pot. I know you probably already know this since you and Home Depot are close friends :), but are you a member of their garden club? It’s definitely worth joining! They send me coupons all the time. The coupons are usually $5-$10.00 off your purchase. I also keep my eye on Craigslist for plants. I live in New Orleans where things grow 365 days a year, so people are always trying to get rid of overgrown irises, ginger, etc. I have gotten a bunch of free plants- you dig it out, you can have it!

    • That’s good to know! I actually *very* rarely shop at Home Depot…I’m a Lowe’s guy! Sometimes I’ll pop in if I’m looking for something that Lowe’s doesn’t have, but that’s about it. I wonder if Lowe’s has a similar program…if not, I might just have to go where the deals are!

      I’ll definitely start looking on CL for stuff! Max is going to HATE this new habit, haha. “Come on, honey, we have to go dig a huge plant out of some stranger’s yard!”

  48. WOW, the progress is so amazing! It’s incredible how the hostas along the front of the fence have already classed that whole area up and made it look so much better – and when they really come in next year, along with the other plants – oh, my! So cool!
    I’ve grown up in USSR where my family HAD to grow vegetables to supplement our table, and now that I live in US, it feels downright decadent to just grow flowers and things that have no practical value (though part of me still tries to make it “reasonable” by growing lavender and herbs, etc.) and you’re right, it’s such a satisfying work and so forgiving, as compared to plumbing and such. Since we have moved into our house 3 years ago, I have played mad musical chairs with almost every plant in my front, side and back yards.
    I totally wish I lived closer to Kingston, so I could happily share some plants with you, but I’d follow what other people advised – stalk Craigslist for free plants. At least in our area, there’s always something popping up.

    • Thank you, Tanya!

      I didn’t write about it in this post, but we actually did set up a very sad little herb garden in the back, too! I do really like growing veggies…my new plan is to have a bunch of raised beds in the back for this purpose. I’ve never had to do it for any other reason than a hobby, though. You enjoy those flowers! No guilt about gardening. :)

  49. I will echo the you’re gonna be jacked comment from above. I keep getting compliments on how toned my arms are. Little do they know you don’t need a gym membership. Just start gardening. Your gardens look great. I love your philosophy of move things around, divide plants and don’t worry about the optimal time to transplant or split. It encourages me that I’m not some gardening heretic. If I waited until the “right” time to transplant, I’d never do any gardening. That said, I have some pretty scraggly looking plants right now. Fingers crossed they (and yours) survive and come back bigger and better next year.

  50. I can relate to both the anger at moving at a young age but also to the love of gardening! When I was seven we moved from a house with a very well kept and standard garden to a house with a giant fir-tree hedge and a garden that hadn’t been worked with for a long time. At first I hated it but then I released it was great! We discovered all kinds of treasures in that garden; old toys, pots, cool plants… and in the old shed there were this barrel filled with oil and tools! Weird. Anyway, now I have my own house with a tiny garden that I love too. I just put a mirror in there, to open it up a bit, turned out great, have a look: http://magpiesatsunrise.blogspot.no/search/label/gardening

  51. I think everything looks lovely! I rent and live in an urban setting, but our landlady has let me do a bit of gardening in our front “yard” small rectangle of about 12′ by 6′. It is a bit challenging because it doesn’t get a lot of sun, but the hydrangea I planted about 4 years ago is doing wondrous! I also have a plot in a community garden where I plant edibles.
    I’ve gotten a lot of perennials from friends and freecycle.

  52. Daniel,
    It looks great! I wish you lived near me, I am continually dividing my perennials and giving them away. Any chance you have friends or family passing through Middletown, CT?

    Also, the Garden Conservancy has Open Days where you can visit spectacular gardens in your area; garden tours always inspire me and make me feel inadequate at the same time!

  53. Daniel, is there anything that you put your talented hands on that doesn’t turn out golden? ;-)))
    I love the lightness and scandinavian touch of your garden scheme. When I saw the black chairs on the porch, my first thought was: “Gosh, please not these horrible Ikea cheapies”, and then *click* these light, delicate chairs turned up. ;-))) My second thought was, if you don’t have to worry about theft …..
    And I really wish, I could give you some of my boxwood plants. I inherited nine small boxwood balls which had been tossed in my front garden by the preowners. Little did I care about them until two years ago, we first encountered the box tree moth, which had secretly imigrated from Germany. I started to cure them, organised special, bee-friendly-medicine for the whole neighbourhood and taught people what to do. My plants survived and thanked me by growing enormously (five times more in one year than in the six years in total before). All my neighbours plants died ;-(((( – some of which were like three feet in diameter. I would not hesitate a minute to undig them and ship them to you; if only there wasn’t the ocean in between. But I will try to think of a solution ….

    • Aw, thanks Isabelle! I’m glad you could save your boxwoods—enjoy them!! I think I’m going to try to grow my own from cuttings…we shall see! :)

      You know, it’s funny…I sort of loved those IKEA chairs! They got stolen, alas, and we found these guys for cheap at Home Goods, but I do sort of miss the other ones sometimes! I concede that these are better for the front porch, though…but I still want the IKEA ones for the backyard fire pit. They’re comfy funky lounge-y times!

  54. looks beautiful, restoring old houses really is a resurrection. i am so happy your neighbors of 50+ years are still there and schmoozing. could you invite them over for a cocktail and some costco pigs in blankets and pick their brains???? i love this kind of neighborhood info.

  55. This is my favourite post of yours to date ! The melodrama of your childhood is hilarious ! I love the vivid detail. Your poor parents.

    • I agree. Missed commenting on that ;-)))) The comments of your brother and Mom are hilarious, but heart-warming at the same time. LOVE!

  56. I love what you’re doing with the gardens! BTW, boxwood is really easy to start from cuttings — just clip off a piece, dip it in rooting powder, and pop it into growing medium. Once rooted, you can transplant easily. Voila! Homemade boxwood, and each sprig will grow into a lovely shrub! You can get tons of cuttings from one plant. And the best time to do it is late summer/fall. IT’S LIKE IT WAS MEANT TO BE. DO IT, DANIEL. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.

    • I do! A couple of my friends have some nice boxwoods…I’m sure they’ll let me take cuttings! Snip snip!

  57. The secret to cheap Green Velvet boxwoods is to buy them right around or after Halloween. All the plants at Lowes/Home Depot get dramatically marked down to clear our for Christmas trees, etc in the garden center. I start keeping an eye out at both stores n the fall and buy the pretty ones when they get marked 50% off. When they get marked 75% off I buy every Green Velvet Boxwood they have left. (They may have some other cultivars mislabeled, So be careful or plan to move the non matching ones in the spring). Check out in the garden center, and ask if they’ll give them you the dead/dying looking ones for free. That staff is tasked with clearing the space for new product, so they’ll usually throw them in if you’re buying a lot of others. I think I got $1000 worth of boxwoods like this for less than $200 last fall. Some of them looked pretty sketchy/dead, but if you loosen/root prune before you plant they will come back pretty and green in the spring. Boxwood is the only thing I’ve found that this really works for though. There might be an alert for these sales, but I just tend to garden center stalk rather than let technology solve that problem.

    • That’s good to keep in mind! I’m at lowe’s like every other day, so I don’t think I’ll miss the sales! Thanks!

  58. You are the gardener, not me, and the clover lawn got my attention. I’m in AZ, and struggle with a grass lawn that my dogs don’t beat up and that doesn’t require almost constant watering. Clover intrigued me, I started googling. It does look like it would wear well but has some limitations – like some types produce burs (not the white clover which you mentioned). BUT I found it all attracts bees! Dogs get bit because they like to chase them. (Have you ever seen a dog with a bee bit in his mouth…it ain’t pretty, so painful!). SO..that was a deal breaker for me. Just thought you might want to check it out further. I’m still stuck with my sucky bermuda until I can find something else.

    • Hmmmm…I definitely need to do more research on the lawn situation before I commit…luckily I have some time, since we still just have a dirt patch! I wonder if the bee thing is bad if it stays mowed? I’d imagine they’re attracted to the flowers, not the foliage…

      I don’t really know anything about this, but the advice I got is to buy grass seed from a local nursery, which will be more likely to carry a type of grass that’s indigenous or at least thrives well in your region. I don’t know how that works for AZ, but it might be worth a shot if you haven’t already? It sounds like it would be hard to grow grass there!

  59. I haven’t read through the other comments, so I apologize in advance for any repeated suggestions.

    Mother of thyme is a very nice creeping perennial, takes a beating, and is fragrant when crushed or mowed. Same with lemon thyme. Wooly thyme is really nice too, with tiny fuzzy silvery leaves. For something shady near the back of your plantings, goat’s beard is also very nice, with tall plumes of tiny white flowers. Get a male variety if you can find it- they’re upright, as opposed to the female variety which does not have an upright habit. I pulled out all of my creeping jenny, because once it’s in your lawn, it’s just a nightmare to get rid of.

    I love how your home is coming along. It’s always a pleasure to read your updates. All the best.

    • Thank you—those are great suggestions! I love the idea of using one of the creeping thymes…I’ll keep an eye out for them!

  60. Hey Daniel- you are doing such amazing work!

    The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Willow (west of Woodstock) has loads and loads of manure that they give away for free. My parents have a country house up there and they drive their car right to the piles (very well organized so you can find stuff that has been properly aged and isn’t smelly) and load up 3 or 4 five gallon buckets with the stuff. It does absolute wonders with their garden– everything from hydrangeas to herbs to tomatoes & rhubarb. (Rhubarb needs a lot of manure to keep producing for more than a few weeks). Definitely cheaper than miracle grow!

    The drive out to willow from Kingston is very pretty and the sanctuary is great to visit in any case!

    • That’s really good to know! That might be a good alternative to paying for nicer soil when we eventually do that…buy the cheaper stuff and them get manure for free. Thanks!

  61. Daniel, after following your blog for eons I thought you could no longer surprise me! You have mentioned that you dabbled in gardening as a kid but I didn’t realise you were so proficient and knowledgeable! (especially compared to me). The garden is looking splendid and I’m so excited to see it in a years time. Thank God the previous owner fought for the bluestone slabs! The hostas will do a good job of hiding the garden hose outlet. My own garden is looking a little sad at the moment; the roses have mildew and blackfly and the eco-friendly solution I had to spray on is a horrible rust colour, hopefully is does the job. The roofers ran the zinc runoff pipes right through our lawn so the rainwater could run directly into the old well leaving 2 hideous muddy paths in said lawn which one of the dogs thinks are its own personal digging spot >:/ To top it all off my lawnmower broke down and I’m still waiting for a replacement part… So seeing your fresh new garden makes me envious but very happy for you. Well done!

  62. If you wants some (almost) free flowering trees and shrubs, check out the Arbor Day Foundation. For a $10 donation they’ll send you 12, chosen for your climate zone. They are tiny when they arrive, but hey…they only cost $10! They sent me 3 redbud, 3 dogwood, 2 crepe myrtle, 2 washington hawthorne and 2 ornamental cherries. I planted all 12 around the perimeter of my mom’s yard in DC a couple of months ago and they’re doing well, so far. Ten dollars!!

  63. Hey Daniel,
    Those pipes sticking out of the corners of your roof are gutter, correct? Does the water just pour out of them and onto grass below? Will that cause any damage to your garden below?

  64. Wow. You’re an absolute magician. I can see just how that’s all going to look next year and it’s so graceful and, yes, period-appropriate! I’ve been thinking about the value of a good path, and you’ve demonstrated it here so perfectly.

  65. Your story of childhood gardening is so great. How wonderful you had parents who would just let it be ok to garden and mess around In the dirt and plants as much as you wanted to! I can almost see how great this house will be in a few years with all your drive and vision.

  66. Your garden is looking awesome! Just wanted to say that and hello from a Saskatchewan girl:)

  67. I was on the Adirondack Trailways Bus from Kingston to NYC this morning at the crack of dawn sleepily looking out the window when I noticed a beautiful sharp looking black and white house. That looks familiar, I said to myself and then I spotted your black fence! Wow – what an amazing job you have done with the house. It looks positively magnificent. My gardening tip is: if you can, build a small compost bin and use the Bokashi method of composting (google Bokashi and Teraganix). It will not smell and vermin does not like it. I learned this from community gardeners in NYC who create fertile soil from brick dust.

  68. I love what you have done! Great job!

  69. Looks great. Love the hydrangea, and I think the hosta will look really good as soon as it fills in a bit, which could be in just a couple of weeks. So it turns out that all along you were secretly a MASTER GARDENER. Ha ha ha we should have known.

  70. Hey there! Everything’s looking great a far. These things take so much time! But being surrounded by so many plants and so much greenery is such a relaxing feeling! Keep your eyes peeled for any and every nursery and garden you pass. You never know exactly where you’re going to find what you’re looking for or what you didn’t even know you wanted. My mom is always working on her garden. I live in Santa Cruz, CA and she lives in LA. When she was planning her trip up for my graduation, she asked me to pick up some plants for her to take back home. They were more common in my area and so they were less expensive. When she came up, she went out and bought so many plants and flowers that are normally hard to find in her area and are much pricier for that reason. While she was with me, we stopped EVERYWHERE she saw a nursery/garden sign. The car was packed and she was so happy to have so much for her garden. My stuff rode in the trunk. -.- Keep your eyes peeled and make friends with employees. Never stop looking! Especially if you take a car trip to visit someone. It’s a slow process, so there’s no need to rush into anything. Just something I thought I’d share that might help. Good luck with your gardening adventures!

  71. Daniel, I get so excited each weekend when I’m expecting a new post from you – I love your reno and I especially love your writing! You have great design taste and a wildly funny, engaging style😊.
    This may sound a little weird but I have a great tip for plants that suffer from stress after handling; if you know where to get hold of Bach Flower Remedies (meant for people, incidentally, not plants!) buy some Walnut and put seven drops in a watering can. It helps with transitions. Even Bach Rescue Remedy will work and that is readily available….
    You may even move on from the dinosaur curtains if you take some yourself 😜
    Keep up the brilliant work!

  72. Every time you write a story about your family, I want to be adopted by your parents and join the Kanter tribe. Also, the beginnings of your garden are so beautiful. I can’t wait to see more, and if you experiment with boxwood cuttings please please divulge every last bit!

    I wanted to follow up on my prior comment on the last post about Martha being the queen-of-everything-that-is-holy-in-this-world, including gardening. I couldn’t remember this before, but favorite garden planning article was “The Weekend Country Garden” http://www.marthastewart.com/904671/weekend-country-garden. And, I’m currently obsessing about her selections in “Pale Fire” http://www.marthastewart.com/269157/pale-fire, because I think all white gardens are so elegant.

    • Thanks, Zoe!

      Those links are great! Sigh…I love Martha. I’m currently making my way through her first gardening book and it’s just…amazing. She knows everything.

  73. Good grief, you’re a gardener, too?!?

  74. Looks great!
    An important thing to know as you start building a new garden is that many/most of the seeds and starter plants now sold at big-box stores have been treated as seeds with systemic pesticides (neonicotinoids) which are implicated in killing bees. Because the pesticides are systemic, the plants will produce nectar/pollen with neonicotinoid residue for multiple years after planting. So even if you avoid using pesticides in your garden (and despite your love of bleach, I hope you avoid pesticides), you can still end up with a garden that is harmful to bees. We have definitely noticed a decrease in pollinator activity in our area of the world (Colorado front range) and people are taking action to increase awareness of this problem. Getting plants from garden trades (asking first if people have used systemic pesticides) and from local garden stores that know the source of their plants is a great step (although even local stores may have suppliers using nenonics). At the very least, ask the garden store if they know if the plants have been treated with neonics.

    I’m not associated with them, but Friends of the Earth is generally a reliable source:
    http://www.foe.org/beeaction

    Wired magazine picked up the story as well in June of this year:
    http://www.wired.com/2014/06/garden-center-neonicotinoids/

    Keep up the good work (love your blog!) and BEE SAFE!

    Davidah

    • Wow, thank you so much for bringing this up! I had no idea! I’ll definitely aim to be more conscious about where I’m buying my plants and what might be in them. Yikes!

  75. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of weeks but this is the first time I’ve commented. Our stories are SO similar! I got obsessed with gardening as a child after I read the book “The Secret Garden” and with my mom’s help completely landscaped our back yard. I made a curved, stone edged bed on one side, and a stone path on the other, planted all sorts of things in it, and once I was old enough to babysit for pocket money, I spent all of my money at the nearby garden center.

    Fast forward to being an adult, and we bought our first house last year with a completely overgrown back and front yard. Invaded with holly and ivy and 15′ tall poke plants. I was 6 months + pregnant with our first child when we moved in June, so I couldn’t do any gardening last year, but hubby ripped out all the holly and ivy and who knows what else and it sat bare all year. This year I’ve FINALLY been able to get it going. I replaced the holly in the front with azaleas, it turns out I inherited some lovely unusual bright red Oriental lillies and flourishing daylilies, and a similar 2′ x 3′ hosta bed along the side of our house in a sunny spot that was ridiculously overgrown. I ripped the hostas out in early June and replanted them along the 18′ side of our house where the garage is. It had been covered with ivy, and the hostas were so dense and overgrown, I planted them 2 rows deep (offset) 2 feet apart along the entire length of the house and STILL had hostas left to give away to our neighbor. I’m really happy with the switch – hostas are shade tolerant and by moving them I freed up a sunny space for tomatoes in our yard which otherwise doesn’t get alot of sun. Due to the lay of the land, the back yard is mostly shaded, so full sun spots for vegetables are at a premium.

    Good luck in your gardening, I think you chose great plants and in a couple of years it will look great! My fall plans include transplanting some peonies from my mother’s garden. :-)

  76. I saw in one of the comments that you were thinking about some fruit trees, and if I may, I would suggest a Sour Cherry tree. I had never had them until a couple of years ago when my parents moved into a house that had three trees. The trees are pretty as well as interesting looking (in a good way) and the baked goods are life changing. Also, if you lived here (Minneapolis) I would share my blue hostas with you. I love your blog, you are doing amazing work!

  77. Howdy!

    Love the fence and garden! Just wanted to mention (and you probably already know this) that the pH level of your soil will affect the color of your hydrangeas. Test the soil and then lower/raise the pH as needed to get the color you want. For bluer flowers, you need a higher acidity in your soil, which means a lower pH around a 5.5. Pinks are around 6.5. White flowers won’t ever change, they will stay white.

    Aluminum = low pH = Blue flowers. To lower the pH, add aluminum sulfate during the spring and fall (not too much, it is toxic in large doses! Add 1 Tbsp to a gallon of water and use after you’ve already watered it to prevent root burn), or by adding sulfur, pennies, rusty nails, citrus fruit peels, coffee grounds, evergreen tree needles or bark.

    No aluminum = higher pH = Pink flowers. To get pink flowers or raise the pH levels, add dolomitic lime or wood ash several times a year to edge up the scale toward 6.0-6.3. Fertilize with a product that is very low in phosphate. Phosphate limits the absorption of aluminum.

    It will take several seasons for the color turn from pink to blue or vice versa, but you will see some nice variations in between! :)

  78. I love that you were a gardening child! I actually HATED it because my mother had sixty million hobbies that changed as often as she changed her socks and gardening was one of them. Of course the children were relegated to all the un-fun parts of gardening, like weeding and raking leaves… But now that I’m an adult-ish person I have a really deep seated love for planting things and I don’t even mind weeding. So I guess all those semi-torturous sessions paid off? ANYHOW, this spring I planted only food. I did a lot of gai-lan (sometimes called Chinese broccoli) and one little daikon (Japanese radish). The daikon was an experiment that kind of failed, it turned out weeny and bitter tasting unlike the ginormous daikon you can find at the store… Alas. I’ll try again next spring.

Comments are now closed for this article.

Back to Top