Yard Savvy

If you are a gardener, you know that plants grow best if they are indigenous to your area. My garden is 100% perennial except for a few zinnias that I grow from seed. I love the Knock Out® shrub roses. They are showy and except for occasional trimmings, are almost care free.

The little orange berries of bittersweet are perfect for decorating in the fall but expensive to buy. Naively, I dug up a couple of small bushes along the fence line of our Ozark farm and brought them home to plant between our neighbor’s house and ours. In less then three years, they overgrew every tree and shrub in sight. It took lots of persistence and patience to get rid of them and I never did get any berries. I don’t plant anything invasive any more, especially plants taken from the wild.

Dogwood and redbud trees do well in the Midwest. Thanks to the birds, I have a profusion of redbud sprouts. It takes five years or more for seedlings to flower so I pick out one or two of the strongest plants and nurse them along.

Years ago, we planted a sweet gum tree near the driveway. It grew very fast and we relished its gorgeous fall display but it dropped hundreds of seriously dangerous, spiky little balls. Sadly, it had to go.

Our expert arborist has made it his mission to save a silver maple tree that has been growing in our yard for one hundred and fifty years. Its beautiful leaves provides vast amounts of shade from spring until fall and houses untold numbers of squirrels, raccoons, possum and birds. Who knows how many children have swung on the tire swing or how much joy the hanging wind chimes and a funny pottery face have brought? I’m sure the trunk is hollow all they way up and down but our arborist, who keeps it trimmed and wired together, reminds us that all  manner of tubes can be hollow but strong.

I love ornamental grasses, the ones that stay in neat clumps until you divide them, not the rhizome forming type that spread underground. My favorite is called Heavy Metal (Panicum virgatum) It is light and airy and keeps its shape. It has tiny little seeds that make wonderful foliage background for indoor arrangements. Ornamental grasses take very little care, are nice to look at and make interesting viewing in the winter when everything else is gone.

Bird, bat and butterfly houses add interesting visitors to any yard. Before water gardens became popular, we added a little pond made of cement and a bunch of rocks we dragged home from the Ozarks. Pumped water flowing over the rocks makes a lovely sound and attracts all kinds of wild life. Moving water also stops mosquitoes from hatching. By the way, don’t use bug zappers. They hardly ever attract mosquitoes and the good ones give off a lot of CO₂.

We tried putting gold fish in the pond but they disappeared during the night. A hungry raccoon maybe? Last summer, the cement finally started to crumble so fixing it will be our spring project.

I love butterflies so have  several butterfly bushes scattered about. Last summer, I bought a swamp milkweed plant (Asclepias incarnata). Monarch butterflies like to lay their eggs on the leaves of this plant and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the leaves until they transform into a chrysalis.

February 12-15 is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Watch a video explaining how to participate. It’s fun.

Finally, we have an area under our silver maple that is in total shade. No sun at all. Maybe you can help me figure out what to plant there, so here are my criteria: perennial, doesn’t need much water, non invasive, grows well in the mid-west and pretty. I’m willing to try all sorts of things and will let you know the results.

Hard Metal Ornamental Grass

4 Responses to Yard Savvy

  • Andrew Barnett says:

    I love your gardens. I only wish we had a little topsoil here in Marblehead instead of whatever it is and ledge.

    You’re right about bittersweet. Conservation land around here is overgrown with it and there are ongoing projects (year’s long) to try to contain or get rid of it.

    This year I’m going to build a raised bed somewhere and grow vegies. Also have to start thinking about where to build a backyard jungle gym…again…hmmm.

    TT Andy

    • Cathy Thomas says:

      I got a garden design book for Christmas this year. It’s called “The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer” by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy J. Ondra. I enjoy it a lot. They recommend foliage plants like Japanese Painted Fern, Hakone grass, Lamium, Pulmonaria, Tiarella, Hosta, Creeping Mazus, Lysimachia and Astilbe (great flowers!). My personal obsession is Anemones. The flowers are delicate, varied, gorgeous, and bloom in late summer/fall, but they need protection from winds. Climbing Hydrangea is an excellent plant. I hear it takes a good while to get established but is worth the wait as it improves each year after.

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