A Cry for Help

My  friend Peter who reads this blog, and others, responded to the review of Covering Ground by Barbara Ellis with the following post and request.

 “I need some gardeners’ advice. The two photos show the side area of our house. It was cleared and a lawn (of sorts) planted before we bought the place. We do not use the area, and our dogs don’t go down there either. Its value is in providing a respite with open space (neighbors here are just crazy about trees – someday we’ll have a hurricane and they’ll change their tune) and abundant sunlight. My questions: 1. What can be planted to secure the slope (on the left, below the low stone wall)? We’d thought a sea of azaleas would work.

2.) For the larger sloping lawn area to the right, we’d like to replace the grass with a sweep or mass of something colorful and fragrant. We thought lavender would be lovely. Ideas? 3.) There is a rock outcropping that steps down from the corner of the house. So far the soil has been supporting weeds which require hand cutting or the use of a weed whacker. Surely there’s something that likes to grow in among rocks and has more charm and grace than the current weed population. Again, ideas?

This is the dullest elevation of the house, and we do have plans to visually break up its massiveness. But the photographs are taken from the right-of-way we’ve granted for neighbors to walk to the beach. We see no harm in planting something they might enjoy as they walk by, and color, texture and fragrance might divert them from spending too much time looking at the house’s bulkiness.

I am a reluctant slave to the lawn mower. We use a battery mulching mower and it takes three chargings to mow everything. You have written that ground covers that lessen the lawn area also reduce one’s carbon footprint. At the moment we have rather big feet, clown feet apparently, and look to your readers for ideas that will lower our shoe shoe size.”

I will add from my own knowledge of this house, that the distance between the right of way and the house is 96 feet, and the house is not as monumental as it appears in the photo. It is a modest and charming one story house built in the 1950s in the modern style. On this side of the house is an entry into the finished basement – a very comfortable guest room and bath.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. tina

    Good morning! I am very surprised we haven’t run into one another before. You have a great blog here. Lots of great plants and diehard gardening info (just the kind I like!). I especially enjoyed the blooms of bulbs in the daffodil field at the botanical garden.

    But let’s see if I can help you here. I am from Maine originally, so kind of understand the growing conditions. To stabilize the hill on the left, would daylilies work? I am always hesitant to offer groundcover types up since they can take over, but daylilies don’t. Maybe fill in early spring with forget me nots?

    The right side with the lawn sloping down, it appears it is sunny (since you think lavender?), maybe rugosa roses with some lavender and herbs mixed in? Good luck and what a nice spot. I miss the ocean so much. Take care on this glorious day!

  2. Frances

    Hi Pat, that is a huge area, I would love to have that to work with. I would have to advise not to plant all of any one thing. Diversity is always best, for the appearance, for wildlife and in case something goes wrong you don’t lose the whole kit and kaboodle. Some azaleas, if they do well in your climate? I suggest driving around and looking at other landscapes, ones that you admire and see what is planted there. Your zone is so different from mine that I hesitate to make specific suggestions. Ornamental grasses in large drifts with some small evergreens and taller perennials with a good fast growing evergreen groundcover would be great. Good luck with it.

  3. Peter

    Oh, Frances, I so agree with you about diversity. But what do you recommend for owner’s sloth? Did I say I’m lazy – inertia is my byword. However I have spied azaleas, and of course, once you look you see them everywhere – they seem to do quite well in coastal Connecticut (our previous experience was in in Washington, DC, where azaleas are in their glory). And we have been charmed by ornamental grasses but never taken the time to cultivate and appreciate them in their fullest. Now might just be the right time. You also mentioned smaller evergreens and I’m really taken by the smaller (lower) blue tinged junipers such as Bar Harbor. I so very much liked your comment and I thank you profoundly.

  4. Peter

    Addendum to Frances:

    I have just spent some time scouring images and information about ornamental grasses, bearing in mind that most of the grasses, whatever species, are destined to be labeled “pampas grass”. [I’m looking at architectural photos, not gardening books]. My image of the Pampas is a vast, Argentinean great plains and that at some point in time one actually could have seen miles and miles of these glorious blades rising and waving their voluptuous tails. (I also see lots of movie-star cowboy types ready to dismount and tango, or at least consume massive quantities of beef). Back to grasses.

    Whenever I see grasses planted (and my neighbors have plenty of ho-hum examples) they seem to planted as clumps, usually marking or lining a drive way. They look marooned and used in the most pejorative sense as “ornamental”. And yet – and yet !– I have never seen a full sweep of ornamental grasses, recreating how the might have appeared in nature – or Argentina.

    My question then, to Frances and to others, is this: bearing in mind Frances’ wise council about diversity, what would it be like to have a field of a particular tall, elegant and not-to-be-mowed grass stretching across the lawn? What I’m imagining is everyone’s text book image of waving fields of grain gone Armani – vigorous blades of green with waving seedheads poised with real attitude. And if it turns out to be pampas grass, well – I expect a tango cotillion! Can you go with this Frances?

  5. Shady Gardener

    What about Siberian Iris (they make nice full clumps), Purple Coneflower, Monarda, Rudbeckia, and other space-filling tallish flowers, alongside peonies, daylilies, etc. I love the azaleas, rhododendrons, as well as viburnum and dogwoods for the birds. I should think you might alleviate a lot of mowing, should you get some of these things going! 😉

  6. Peter

    Shady Gardener is breaking my heart with Siberian Iris and Rudbeckia – I know and love them both. But Shady… I have only one lifetime – how long would it take for those iris to cover this expanse? However, you’re right in suggesting the iris because there is ample wet but sunny space in the lower areas near the walkway where they might flourish and absolutely stun beach-bound pedestrians. [Note to Pat: do the commenting readers understand that I am unlike them, that I plant and hope rather than plant and work, work, work?]

  7. Peter

    Lest readers wonder…

    I first encountered Pat Leuchtman, the Common Weeder, twenty years ago when she and husband Henry were in Beijing (Tiananmen Square era) on assignment. Pat was submitting daily dispatches to the local (Greenfield Recorder) newspaper, and I, a new arrival to rural life, thought, “This is astounding! This rural gazette has a correspondent in Beijing? Who needs the New York Times?”

    Pat and Henry were repatriated and I got to know them both. They have become treasured friends. Pat gardens: I take the Darwinian approach and plant and despair. Pat reads: I order books and admire their cover art. Pat cooks and bakes brilliantly: I read recipes, salivate and head for the carry out counter at Dean&DeLuca. Pat has become more and more (alarmingly) sincere about her obligation to be a good steward of the land and it has been difficult not to be persuaded. So, Common Weeders, I have to admit that she has convinced me: by fits and starts I read each posting and try to incorporate its wisdom. No doubt you, fellow readers, are further along than I, but rest assured: Pat is one of the stars by which I get my bearings. I will meet you at the summit.

  8. admin

    Jeanie, Thyme is a great ground cover. I have common thyme all over my lawn. After all, the English feature their thyme lawns, different varieties and even bloom.

  9. Nan

    Opinions galore! I would rather have grass than ground covers. I don’t like any of them. They all seem weedy and scary the way they take over. :<) I like the daylilies idea. They look good coming, in bloom, and even after for a while. Also, though they could take over, rosa rugosas work really well. Lupines in the spring with daylilies to follow could be nice. Once any of these plants are in, you don’t have to do much. If it were me (I) I’d put in some common purple lilacs instead of the azaleas. So, now you see everyone who has a garden has different thoughts on what they love and what they don’t. :<)

  10. admin

    Nan – you are absolutely right. Everyone would do it differently – which is why it is such fun to see everyone’s ideas on how to handle the same situation. I personally love the idea of a wide rugosa hedge. Peter, are you continuing to pay attention?

  11. Peter

    First, apologies to Tina, whose comment I’d missed earlier: she is absolutely right about day lilies being terrific for hill stabilization. [Tina: I’m from Maine as well – Presque Isle, but haven’t been tempted to plant potatoes: your idea is far superior.] My favorite daylily? Hyperion! A hillside of hyperion would be tantamount to my image of heaven. I’m also intrigued by Jeannie’s sensational suggestion for ground thyme , which would be overwhelming in a way I could easily get used to. And Nan, you alarmed at first (the comment about scary/weedy) but you came through brilliantly with the rugosa endorsement. So kind, thoughtful and generous Common Weeders, I’ve told the asphalt paving contractor an emphatic “No”. Now… for the hard work! I promise to keep you all informed. Many thanks.Finally, I think I will follow Frances suggestion and celebrate diversity (including, no doubt, a healthy display of weeds). So now you all know what I’m doing with my summer.

  12. Frances

    Hi Peter, interesting comments here. I suggest that instead of architectural books, check out the gardens designed by Piet Oudolf who does grasses like no one I have ever seen, mixed in with tall perennials. No Pampas grass for you, it is not hardy and is a horrible messy hard to care for giant. I had it and broke a prize shovel trying to dig it out. Any of the Oudolf books will show you great photos of large sweeps of grasses as you describe. Good luck.

  13. Peter

    Frances! As soon as I’m done typing this brief post I’ll either go to Amazon.com or the library and get a Piet Oudolf book. Simply to see a sweep of grass would be enormously informative. Thank you for the suggestion, the help and the inspiration. And sorry about the shovel… But appreciate the warning.

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