Friday, June 26, 2009

Rip it out

Along with the dogwood, the less attractive pink azalea is now gone, too, revealing the downspout tucked behind it and making the view down the pathway clearer. At the moment the plan is to plant poor 'Zepherine Drouhin,' who's been moved around the garden for the last month, in place of the azalea, bordered by the three bearberries I bought from the Tri-City people last month.  
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I'm not sure the scale is right, with the azalea overbalanced on the left side of the steps, but we'll see. Also worried that the rose won't get enough sun, but again, time will tell.

Oh, the possibilities

The white dogwood that came with the house has been slowly dying back the last few years, and I finally had it taken out. Of course, the first thing I realized was how nicely it had screened the neighbor's driveway from view - not entirely, but just enough to give us both some privacy. But it also revealed that side of the front lawn as ripe for development!

Here are views from the house looking down toward the street (the weird mess at the top is the Soil Moist), looking up from the street with the neighbor's driveway at left, and up toward the house, with just a few branches of the maple in view at right.

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It certainly looks bleak, doesn't it? Apart from the scraggly state of the lawn, I am most aware of the full sun that this side of the lawn enjoys. Many possibilities have been floating through my mind: a set of shrubs, including a lilac just for the flowers; a perennial border of sun lovers to include scads of lilies; a wee little vegetable garden bordered with low shrubs... But of course, the most important consideration is what would actually look good there from a design sense. How to make whatever garden is there flow with the rest of the space? And what garden should be created that will not end up being burdensome to maintain?

And don't forget Mom's advice to keep it low.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book report

I've always thought that growing native plants is vaguely good - they're better adapted to the local climate and more apt to do well - but I never realized how important they are until I read this book.

Douglas Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware. In this book he explains that native plants support native bugs, who then support native birds. Simple, right? He provides numerous examples of plants - often touted as pest-free, and now I understand why - that may thrive in your garden, but that bugs avoid because they're not adapted to recognize them as food and couldn't digest them even if they did. The fewer the bugs, the less there is for the birds to eat.

Does this mean that a garden of native plants will be chewed up by the happy, hungry bugs? He claims not, citing a study that shows gardeners don't notice bug damage until it's reached more than 10% of the plant. Plus, if you plant a diverse group of natives instead of a monoculture, bugs can eat a little bit of many plants instead of all of just a few.

He also encourages everyone to reduce the space devoted to lawns - not a new idea, but he makes a compelling case when he points out that lawns provide the perfect habitat for Japanese beetles. Stop killing the grubs, just reduce your lawn!

Finally, he provides a rundown of the lepidoptera you can expect to support by growing native trees and shrubs. The white oak in the back yard turns out to be the perfect choice, supporting as many as 517 lepidoptera species! I had to rush over to the oak tree and turn over leaves in hopes of finding some of the caterpillars he mentions.

Which brings me to a caveat - though the text is inspiring and the photos gorgeous, why is there no scale (how big is that Luna moth, anyway?) and why is there no time frame (just when am I likely to find the yellow-shouldered slug caterpillar?).

The good news is that I've recently planted several natives, according to his helpful lists in the back of the book, fothergilla, clethra, oakleaf hydrangea, and sweetspire among them. And as I grub out more and more of the English ivy, I can make room for the Virginia creeper that "will enable the majestic Pandora sphinx to reproduce (by contrast, English ivy, the vine of choice in suburbia, hosts nothing)."

Notes to self: consider planting a native cherry, which supports giant silk moths and the tiger swallowtail butterfly, and put in several kinds of milkweed (asclepia tuberosa, syriaca, and incarnata) for color from June into September and the chance to attract 11 different butterflies. Also, forget butterfly bush! Yes, it provides nectar for adult butterflies, "but not one species of butterfly in North America can use buddleias as larval host plants. To have butterflies, we need to make butterflies." So there. Well, maybe I can tuck in just one to feed the grownups, as long as I provide the milkweed for the babies?