Sometimes the best things evolve and happen organically. Other times they don't.
Our front yard had evolved organically over the past 5 years that we've been in Humphrey House, almost like a nursery rhyme, "here a plant, there a plant, everywhere a plant plant." And you know what? It wasn't working. In fact, it failed miserably. Even though people tried valiantly to help us, we had no clue about various plant sizes - placing things in a tight bunch, too close to the foundation, putting tall plants in front of short plants, sun plants in shady areas - if there was a list of bad DIY landscape plans, I felt certain we were on that list. Well, all that changed over the weekend as I finally set things straight.
With Jen leaving town for the weekend, I promptly set off to surprise her upon her return, and ripped out the existing hardscape timbers and dug up almost every existing thing in our front yard and put the plants into spare containers. The only thing that survived were the coneflowers Chris from TinyBungalow gave us a few years ago and our weeping cherry tree. This gave me a blank slate, with lots of dead ground to play with.
The plan for our yard started with a goal: Create a sustainable landscape. Great, but what does that mean? Well, a landscape that is more native (adapted) to the local climate - able to withstand Chicago's winters and dry summers without extra care. A garden that doesn't need extra watering beyond the natural rainfall we receive. And a landscape that would be more pervious and help absorb stormwater on-site rather than directing it to the overburdened municipal storm sewers. Additionally, native plants also are more attractive to wildlife providing food and cover for birds, butterflies, etc.
But there were many challenges to meeting this goal:
- Aesthetics - we wanted something with year-round interest that didn't look like crap.
- Shade - our parkway has a Norway Maple that provides dense shade - and few hours of sunlight. Most aesthetically pleasing drought-tolerant plants and flowers thrive in full sun.
- Maintenance - I like the idea of quarterly yard maintenance rather than weekly mowing.
- Budget - always a factor, which meant trying to use many materials we had on-site
- Size - while not huge compared to many, we are dealing with 2/3 of our front yard, about 400 square feet, which could definitely stretch the budget. We also wanted some good vertical height to transition to the porch.
Well, it all came together so much better than expected. Once everything was cleared out and placed into extra planting containers, I laid down some flagstone pavers that had been left behind under the back porch by the previous homeowners. With a hardscaped footpath in place, I then played around with arrangements with the existing plants such as evergreen boxwoods, along with some new plants I had picked up. Fortunately some of the local garden centers have a nice distribution line with American Beauties. No, that's not a link to some X-rated site, it's a native plant landscape supplier. Combining this with the selection at the big box stores and our existing plants, I grouped the plants together in odd numbers and got successful results.
So what did we do? Well, using advice from friends as well as a native plant specialist, I selected:
- A chokeberry bush which should get 4-7 feet as an edge near the steps.
- Existing dwarf boxwoods for evergreen interest
- Some wild columbine for spring blooms.
- Coreopsis Route 66 - tickseed that is supposed to tolerate part sun (we'll see)
- A nice red fern so I don't have to wonder where it grows anymore
- Shade-friendly bugbane
- Blue cohush
- A sweet bush (yay for shade bloomers!)
- More pretty purple coneflowers
- Our existing joe pye weed
- Our existing Golden Alexander, which hopefully made the transplant
- Our existing coral bells
- Blue liriope clumping grass
- An evergreen groundcover, winterberry
While I was working, several neighbors came up and remarked on how improved things look. Of course, anything is better than the dead lawn that was there for for months. I'm not entirely convinced the spacing is "just right" for everything, but we'll keep an eye on the plants and adjust as the year goes by. In the meantime, it's had a truly transformative effect on our home giving it style and a natural prairie setting to our neighborhood.