Archive for February, 2013

Lookin’ Good in the Neighborhood: Part 2

Posted on February 27, 2013. Filed under: Gardening, Home |

I’m back with the details on our recent landscaping adventure! We were able to get 35 plants installed, watered, and pine straw spread in 24 hours. There were definitely some celebratory adult beverages to be had after that accomplishment!

Of course I wanted to get the plants the crew delivered in the ground as soon as possible. When it comes to home improvement projects, I have no patience. Fortunately, we had a mild Saturday in January with temperatures in the low 70s. We took advantage of it and planted the 10 boxwoods, 10 yew, 3 winter daphne, and 12 autumn ferns.

It was A LOT of work, but we saved a considerable chunk of change.

This is how we did it:

1. Rake pine straw/mulch out of the way

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2. Set out plants where you want them and look at them from all angles and distances.

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3. Dig holes 1.5-2x the size of the root ball

4. Place plant in hole and back fill with a mixture of native soil and new dirt (apparently this keeps the native soil from hardening back to a brick or in our case, Georgia clay)

5. Fill in low spots with extra dirt (we did this because very mature azaleas were removed and there were low spots from where they used to be)

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6. Re-spread pine straw

7. Lay soaker hoses

This was just phase 1 of the front yard.

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And I can’t really tell you how many phases there will be.

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I know that our immediate priorities will be:

1. Keep transplants and new stuff ALIVE by watering. So important.

2. Remove weeping dwarf cherry tree. We hate it. It’s smack dab in the middle of the yard and blocks the view of the house. It only flowers for a few days in the spring. In the winter it’s a depressing bundle of droopy sticks. See ‘ya.

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3. Re-sod some Bermuda

4. Get a lamppost for our stub.

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5. Get a matching porch light.

6. Plant foundation plants along left side of house.

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7. Fill-in empty space by boulders with liriope, Lenten rose, Heuchera, etc.

We invested some money in soaker hoses and a timer. This is an effective and inexpensive irrigation system, though it still cost money. But it will be worth it come summer time in Georgia. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be standing out there watering our yard in 100+ degree weather day after day. Adam spent a considerable amount of time winding the soaker hoses through the planting beds so we can make sure everything gets enough H2O.

But a pretty amazing transformation, right?

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Lookin’ Good in the Neighborhood – Part 1

Posted on February 18, 2013. Filed under: Gardening, Home |

Let’s just say that we didn’t buy our house for its front yard. Wooo-eeee. It was fugly when we bought it. Overgrown trees and bushes that hadn’t seen the sharp-end of shears in eons, two kinds of grass on the lawn, gigantic bushes flanking the driveway, and of course there was ivy. (Story of our lives.)

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The front yard still has a long way to go before it meets our dreams. It will take a few years. Be patient because I know I can’t be.

So what have we done up to this point in the front?

  1. Removed big bushes at the street
  2. Mailbox planting bed
  3. Pruned crepe myrtle
  4. Pruned & fertilized hollies, gardenias, waxleaf, azaleas, snowball bush, and camellia
  5. Painted front door and shutters
  6. Planted another hydrangea

At the beginning of the fall, we received a mailer from one of our favorite local businesses: a garden center. They were offering a special that involved 2 landscaping consultations in 12 months for $99. Since we don’t know much about plants, the front yard is muy importante for curb appeal, and we have to battle a ton of shade up in our hizzy, we went for it.

Which… of course led to a design plan and more money and a contract and a landscaping crew and more money. Hehe. That’s how I roll. Just kidding. The truth is that we were so impressed with the designer that came to visit. He had tons of ideas about transplanting what we already had so we could still use it and save money; and he came up with a low maintenance design that’s perfect for our shady yard and incorporates plants that will bloom at different times of the year. Awesome. We do not have the horticultural knowledge or the aesthetic sense to come up with such a genius plan. So we paid $175 for a design plan (I think that’s cheap) which also grants us 15% of plants at the nursery for the next 12 months.

The design plan is pretty sweet. Our designer recommended Korean boxwoods, spreading plum yew, winter daphne, autumn ferns, tea olives, sweet box confusa, gardenias, azaleas, heuchera, hostas, linten rose, and silvery liriope. Oooo. The possibilities. The potential. The pretty flowers.

Our landscape designer was super flexible about what we actually wanted to tackle from the design plan. If we pulled the trigger and paid for them to do everything in this plan, it would have been quite expensive. We exchanged emails back and forth with different scenarios and what specific labor we would like to pay for versus the labor we could manage on our own. Getting our front yard in shape is like getting your body back in shape, it’s probably going to be painful, hurt your wallet, and take a lot longer than you want it to. We are resigned to the fact that it will most likely take 2 or 3 planting seasons to accomplish everything in this design plan.

So what did we decide to do in January 2013???

  • Transplant azaleas, hydrangeas, and gardenias in front of kitchen and near front walk to the left property line – landscaping crew
  • Remove waxleaf and hollies along foundation – landscaping crew
  • Plant 2 tea olives on left corner of house – landscaping crew
  • Plant 1 Japanese maple in center of planting bed in front of kitchen – landscaping crew
  • Install 5 landscaping boulders – landscaping crew
  • Spread soil amendments and pine straw – landscaping crew
  • Deliver 10 Korean boxwoods, 10 plum yew, 3 winter daphne, and 12 autumn ferns for us to install

We plan to tackle the planting bed to the right of the front door first since it will make the most impact. The existing azaleas are too big for that location, much like a lot of plants in our yard.

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We opted to have the crew do the transplanting since we didn’t want to have to dig 2 holes per bush and we didn’t want to risk killing the plants with our inexperience. The azaleas’ new location is perfect: it’s the right amount of shade, they frame the yard nicely, and they act as a relaxed hedge at the property line.

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We also paid for the removal of mature hollies and a waxleaf myrtle because it would have been a lot of work for Adam to remove 5 mature plants with rather large root balls. Oh the dirty jokes you could make…

I honestly didn’t remember asking the crew to install the 2 tea olives, but it was in the contract (must have overlooked that, irresponsible homeowner), and I’m glad they did since they are a little larger. Larger = bigger hole to dig. You can see them on the corner of the house in the picture below.

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Speaking of… a 15 gallon Japanese maple requires a humongous hole. And it’s an expensive tree. We’d rather pay someone else to do it and get the 12 month guarantee on plants AND labor. Yep. There’s not much to see of the maple at this point since it’s dormant. It will be beautiful in the fall if our other Japanese maple is any indication.

Boulders are heavy. ‘Nuff said.

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Soil amendments and pine straw are a part of the planting process. What we didn’t realize are two things: that they would edge the pine island for us near the street, and how much difference some fresh pine straw makes in improving your curb appeal.

All of the plants we had delivered are for the planting bed to the right of the front door. We are saving some major change by planting the rest ourselves.

So this is how everything looked after the landscaping crew:

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Our stubby lamppost above…

It’s amazing what a difference there is! You can see our house! We were so giddy… until we saw the plants waiting for us on the parking pad…

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Next time, I’ll tell you how we went about getting 35 plants in the ground in 1 and half days. And you’ll get to see “after” pictures for phase 1.

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The Slope of Most Resistance

Posted on February 15, 2013. Filed under: Gardening, Home |

You know how I said a long, long time 2 years ago that Adam would be writing something for the blog? Well, he’s still allowing his creative juices to percolate. I know he wants to talk about a major project that we’ve been working on since we moved into our house. He may want to wait until we’re completely finished with it. But I’m too excited to keep it in any longer and I don’t know if we’ll ever “finish” it.

We have a patio off of our den that is built at the top of a steep slope. This steep slope was covered – no, consumed – with Old English Ivy. See these pictures:

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The ivy went all the way around the side of our house, surrounded the patio, and traveled down the slope and into the wooded area of our yard where it climbed trees 100’s of feet tall. It was so bad, it ate our playground. Just kidding. We got rid of that within the first few months of home ownership.

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It’s like the pink slime in Ghostbusters. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it ooze out of our shower faucet. Not only did it take up a lot of surface area, it was very dense and deep in several sections of our yard.

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Adam may get into the nitty gritty of how we removed it. I’ll summarize it by saying that it was back-breaking, hard work. Round-up does not kill it. We could’ve doused it in gasoline and torched it, but it was too close to the house to risk it. Our tools: our hands, a weed eater, a lawn mower, and stiff rakes and pitch forks. Shout out to Ryan and Gannon who helped us pull ivy one weekend and they were compensated with a strong dose of another kind of ivy: the poisonous kind. Sorry about that.

There isn’t much of a slope off of 1 side of the patio, but it is very steep on the other 2 sides. We decided to plant low-growing junipers that will eventually have a 5-6 foot spread on the slope. These are popular plants for slopes because they help with erosion control, they are extremely low maintenance, and they are attractive ground cover. We bought 10 Old Gold junipers at Lowes and spent the better part of a day digging the holes and planting them. We also planted a butterfly bush among them. I’ve always wanted one. We spread lots of pine straw to help with erosion and to serve as filler until the junipers reach maturity. Almost a year later (yes, bad blogger here), I am thinking about planting a few more junipers. We’ll see. In other plant news, I bought 8 5-gallon double knockout roses which we planted at the top of the slope around the perimeter of the patio. But the roses have struggled until recently. About 2 weeks ago, I noticed A LOT of leaf buds/new growth. Roses are dormant in winter, so I’ll have to update with pictures when they’re in full bloom.

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I fertilized them like they say to do when this happens and I’ve been watering them like crazy. I want to observe them and care for them for another warm season. If they don’t do well, we will have to dig them up, transplant what we can to the front yard, and replace them with something else. I will be bummed, but these things happen. I’m sure I’m not the only person to plant something in their yard and watch it die. I’m hoping that the reason they struggled last summer is because they didn’t get enough time to establish themselves (I planted in May) before they were inundated with Georgia heat. I’ll let you know how they do. We’ve had multiple pest issues with these roses. One pest is sucking the chlorophyll out of the leaves. The other pest is furry and four-legged and likes to dig, pee, and eat at my roses. Oh bother.

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This slope is a major project that requires a lot of work and takes time, and going in you think you can knock it out in a few weekends. Not so. You have to wait for the right time to plant things and pull ivy. You also have to wait for everything to mature and fill-in – which could take a few years. And we have to replenish the pine straw every few months – or at the very least rake it over some bare spots.

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Overall, we are happy with the way this is looking – a little more cultivated and usable. I mean, I wouldn’t walk in that ankle deep ivy, would you? I really don’t want it to swallow my Labradoodle either. Ignore the leaves. They are a constant battle between November and February, but it’s worth it to have super cheap utility bills because of the shade those trees offer.

We thought about hiring a landscaping company with a Bobcat to come in and rip all the ivy out. We even considered calling in a consultant for landscape design. We didn’t. We did everything ourselves: labor, design, planting. We’re proud of what we did.

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Yes, it took a long time. Yes, there are still issues. But this problem was in the backyard (no one could see it) and we tackled it in the winter when we don’t have much company outside.

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Of course this space still needs work. Here are the things we’d still like to do with this section of the backyard:

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  2. Get gravel, stepping stones, and hedge borders to help with water on this side of the house – DONE.
  3. Pull weeds and ivy – this will be constant for a while, maybe forever
  4. Stampcrete the patio – long-term
  5. Install stampcrete stairs off of the patio instead of the wooden ones – long-term
  6. Purchase patio furniture
  7. Have a few container pots full of colorful plants
  8. Plant shrubs along tree line for a nice landscaped border and to add a purpose to the flat space at the bottom of the slope.
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Razzle, Dazzle, Magically Travel Gravel… to the Side Yard!

Posted on February 4, 2013. Filed under: Gardening, Home |

Sometimes ambition can be problematic, especially when your ambition results in a 4-ton pile of gravel in your driveway which must be moved if you want to get your car out of the garage. Oopsies.

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Speaking of problematic… We ordered 2 types of gravel which were delivered in the same dump truck – it was cheaper this way. The driver did a relatively good job of not mixing the gravel, but there was still quite a bit of sortin’ to do!

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So Mom, Mason, and I plopped down on our mini mountain of rocks and began the process of sorting. Well, Mason tried to eat the rocks. I swear. There’s more Labrador in him than Poodle. While we sorted, I reminisced about playing with pea gravel in my grandparents’ backyard. They had a walkway to their screened porch filled with pea gravel. I would go out there with plastic cups and play in it like it was sand. Kids these days with their X boxes and iPads; I had plastic cups and rocks. Pfsh! After about 45 minutes, we had most of the slate chips and the river rock in their respective piles. Sweet. Not so sweet if you just painted your nails. Sorting rocks is hell on a manicure.

The river rock will fill in the existing parking pad. The pad already has river rock and we didn’t want to change it up.

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We are also building wide steps/terraces down this side of the house and filling them with the river rock for water run-off and to prevent the rocks from traveling into the backyard. We don’t want to keep adding more rock if we don’t have to. The river rock/wide terrace project is just beginning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The slate chips are for the other side of the house and will serve the same purpose: to keep our backyard from getting washed away. We chose slate chips over river rock because we liked the look of them and they were cheaper. Since they are on the other side of the house, we didn’t think it mattered much to have matching rocks.

Since this post is all about the left side of the house and the slate chips, I will give you a little more detail on the problems over here, our genius (not really) idea for how to fix them, how we did it, and life post-gravel.

The Steps:

1. Research. We looked at a lot of rocks online to see what we liked in pictures. We paid attention to the water run-off when we received heavy rains to see where our problem areas were.

  • Down spout eruptus: We have a down spout off of the back of the house that shoots water out at an alarming rate when it rains. It floods the area around it and flows down the hill into the natural valley we have between the patio and the wooded area in our yard. There are a couple of things we could do to fix this: (1) rain barrel, (2) bury a flexi pipe all the way down the hill and have it empty near the trees, (3) spread out a bunch of gravel.
  • Flat area next to the house: With the down spout off the back and another on the side emptying into a very flat area right next to our house, it was a swamp land. Having a swamp with a furry dog… bad idea.

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  • The gate. The gate stretched across the swamp. Whenever it rained, the gate would get caked in mud. Not a huge deal, but not pretty either.

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In reference to the down spout situation above, we haven’t ruled out a rain barrel. But because we had multiple problems, we decided to go for the gravel first.

2. Measure, price out gravel, go look at rocks in person at a landscape supply place, order ‘dem rocks. This is pretty self-explanatory. Like I said before, we decided to have both types of rocks delivered at once to save some moolah.

3. Clear the area. We raked out all of the pine straw and pulled weeds where we wanted to put the gravel. There was also a collection of landscaping pavers by the chimney.

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4. Install the edging. We bought aluminum edging at Lowes to contain the gravel. It was pretty easy to install and bends easily. Adam and I did this together.

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5. Bring in the gravel! Adam did 99% of the heavy lifting for this project. Poor guy. It cannot be fun to shovel gravel into a wheel barrow and then wheel that barrow down the front yard to the side yard, dump, repeat. I tried to shovel up some gravel into the wheel barrow for Adam. It was too heavy. Talk about a total body workout. So while Adam went back and forth loading and dumping and flexing his muscles, I took a stiff rake and used it to spread out the gravel.

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6. Spread the gravel. I learned pretty quickly that using the stiff rake to push the gravel into place was much more effective than pulling. I also used my feet and my hands. Mason helped by licking the rocks and sticking his whole face into 3” of rock. Then he helped by jumping up and yanking my work glove off and running across the yard with it. Fun times.

7. Hose it down. This is optional, but the rocks were so dirty and dusty that I wanted to give them a nice shower.

That’s it. It’s easy except for the hard labor.

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Leaves galore, but it looks so much better!

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It’s three months later and I am happy to report that the gravel is working perfectly! There is no swamp, there is no river, and there is no giant puddle underneath the down spout. I couldn’t be happier. The gate opens easily over the gravel and this area of the yard has a purpose.

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