When we moved into our house the two front “flower beds” had one potentilla and one spirea each. All 4 plants were hideously gnarly and overgrown, with bare sides and ugly flowers. I pruned both back to about 12″ (they had been about 3′ before pruning) and the spirea recovered amazingly well. Unfortunately, the potentilla looked like a giant hippo had eaten them and then puked them back up in my front yard. Pretty awful.
Last spring we hauled in soil in for our raised bed veggie patch and there was a surplus so we had to figure out where to go with it. I decided to re-do the flower beds and fill them up with the new, rich soil. In order to do so I needed to remove the landscape fabric that was there, but I didn’t know then the horror that awaited me.
Previous owners of our property had very carefully put down a double layer of thick plastic to keep the weeds down, then they had covered the plastic with landscape rocks. Then, probably years later, someone had put down a yucky layer of roofing tar paper and a layer of mulch. All I could see was the layer of mulch, mixed with bits of tar paper, but there was no way to dig through all that garbage, so I had to remove it all.
I chose (stupidly?) to keep as much of the mulch and soil as I could, and remove just the garbage and the rocks. In order to do that I painstakingly picked little rocks out of my front beds for weeks, if not months. I even had friends and relatives come and help me pick little rocks. Tim manufactured creative sieves and shakers to remove debris and keep the soil. Did I mention that this was through the hottest part of summer? Did I mention that I was rather largely pregnant at the time? Well, it was and I was. Front landscape + last summer = miserable.
Finally sometime in July it was all cleaned out. Everything. We didn’t even leave the spirea. We moved the soil into the beds one wheelbarrow at a time, transplanted a few awkward-looking daylilies and asiatic lilies into the gaps, inherited some random sedum from neighbors, along with hostas, hen and chicks, and I can’t remember what else. Basically, it looked a little sorry.
But my garden-center-loving husband took me through Menards one day and we hit the jackpot on perennial sales due to the lateness of the year. We got more hostas, dayilies, balloon flower, astilbe, coral bells, russian sage, cone flower, lady’s mantle, speedwell, and delphiniums. I planted things half-hoping they would do ok despite the heat and the lateness of the summer.
This summer this is what greeted me as I walked down my sidewalk each day.
I guess the soil is good :)
Since this picture was taken, we’ve hit more plant sales and filled in a couple more gaps.
On the other side of the stairs, where I didn’t plant as densely last year, I put in more of everything, and it too looks great this year.
I am especially proud of a Clematis that I put in this summer. Clematis tends to not grow upwardly at all the first year in order to establish the root system. It also doesn’t like it’s roots disturbed during the transplant process, and usually shocks a lot. In order to undo some serious root-bound from it’s small pot, I completely untied and separated each root from the others at the time of transplanting (generally a big no-no). I put it in a part sun location on the north side of the house, where the soil stays very cool, and tied it to it’s new trellis. It has, quite miraculously, grown about 2′ or more! I am excited to see it bloom next year, right out front. I do hope it overwinters…
The long and the short of it is, I don’t look at my garden and think, “Oh, what a blasted amount of horrible work that was last year” I think, “Oh, this garden is doing beautifully…It was so worth the work”.
If you are facing a big project that is uncomplicated but will take “forever” please keep these tips in mind:
- Stay hydrated
- Listen to music
- Rope in friends and family
- Figure out what to do with the rocks (“paving” a part of the yard for a parking pad is a good idea, as we found out)
- Be patient (it will be worth it in the end)
- Prepare yourself to be amazed at how quickly plants grow in just a couple of months
- Hit the sales
Finally, I would like to say that this spring I was talking to my furnace/AC maintenance guy, and it turns out that he has (had?) the exact same problem we had! He too bought a foreclosure and had oodles of layers of junk in his landscaping so he too devised a sieve system! He said the side of a metal dog crate works great! I bet that would work better than the lid of a reptile tank – the holes are too small in tank lids, and too much mulch stays in. As crazy as our situation was (in my opinion) we were certainly not the only ones going through what we went through. You are not alone.
So, keep on making things beautiful in this little neglected world we live in! Maybe your neighbors will yell at you as they pass by your house on their daily walk, “Hey, it’s looking great!” and you can say, “Oh, thanks! It’s a lot of work, but it’s coming!”