April Showers Bring May Flowers

Shortly after we finished building a massive deck, hauling and spreading truckloads of rock, I set out to lush up the blank slate.  Before getting to the fun part of buying and planting, I created a simple landscape plan to serve as a guideline.


Even with that loose plan, I’ve made some changes based on plant availability and other things that caught my eye.  I started out as a complete novice, simply wanting to add some greenery and color.  As time went on, I realized I really liked researching, looking at, shopping, and caring for plants.  It’s so relaxing to wander through the plants, noticing the changes and getting excited by new blooms.  Growth can be such a slow process (just check out this post to see how dramatically different a year looks), it’s hard to remember just how small everything started out.  Because of this, I’ve decided to make more frequent garden updates, just to track progress.

Okay, I’ve chatted long enough, let’s look at the plants.  Out front, these smoke trees make me stupidly happy.  Dark burgundy leaves are a great contrast against all the green.  I also adore the way it looks with the siding and decks.


Those smoke like flower plumes are so pretty and delicate.


The row of nest spruce are absolutely covered in bright green new growth.


Near the front walkway, tucked under our balcony, is a hydrangea that looks healthy and happy.  Along the street side of the beams, I replaced the dead boxwood (poor choice on my part as they need more water) with a row of Karl Foerster reed grasses.  Closest to the door, you see a trio of catmint peeking out.


Just a warning about catmint: It gets huuuuge, so be careful where you plant.  Both here and in the back, each plant has spread to about two feet across, so leave ample space between to not overcrowd neighboring plants.  I happen to like a full, thick garden, so it’s good, but just something to keep in mind.


At the end of the front walk, there’s a rock planter filled with peonies and coneflower.  These Costco plants have done so well, with about 25 buds on each plant in only two years.


A lone coneflower bloom is starting up.


To the left side of the front steps, there’s a trio of day lilies and Russian sage.  Russian sage also gets big quickly, so I cut these back to the ground this spring.  This should help create a thicker plant, rather than a thin, spindly one.


For whatever reason, adding plants in the front hasn’t been as fun as the back.  Maybe because we have more hardscaping to work around?  There’s also an even more steep slope that’s almost impossible to add plants to.  Sure the back has some steep areas, but overall, it’s pretty workable.  Here’s a view from the driveway, showing off nearly every part of the back yard.


Over to the right of the steps coming up from the driveway, there’s a full sun flower grouping.  At the base of the hillside, a row of Karl Foerster grasses softens the edges and adds height.

Also taken from the driveway, but angled toward the house to show the little bed bordering the house.


This area includes two catmint, four coreopsis, two day lilies, an Icelandic poppy, and a butterfly bush.


In our zone, the butterfly bush dies completely back, starting from the ground up each year.  It’s on the tiny side right now, but I’m hoping it’ll come back with a vengeance.


It seems most full sun, drought tolerant plants come in purples.  To offset all the purple, a yellow Icelandic poppy at the center of this grouping adds a different splash of color.


As with the butterfly bush, the coreoposis die back, but are making their comeback.


With the way our house is situated, there’s very little shade.  Between the back walkway and house, there’s an eight foot wide by twenty or so feet long garden strip.  Of that space, about five feet from the house is shaded and that’s it.  Closest to the house, I’ve planted hostas, coral bells, Ajuga, and a hydrangea.  At the corner of the house is a beautiful Snowball Viburnum, a great alternative to Hydrangea.  Planted only last spring, it has doubled in size and is now covered in fist sized blooms.


Much like hydrangea, the blooms are clusters of tiny flowers.


With seemingly hundreds of hosta varieties, I’ve tried to add a mix.  After all, variety is the spice of life.


With so many single plants that kind of keep to themselves, I wanted to add a lower ground cover type plant to the mix.  Ajuga is the perfect addition, spreading out greenery and blooming purple flower stems.


Not quite as fast growing as the viburnum, the hydrangea has dozens of tiny cauliflower like buds emerging.


Filling up the three-foot full sun area next to this is an alternating mix of catmint and salvia.


Up on the hillside, we have low growing, spreading Buffalo junipers to add as much greener as possible.  Between the evergreens are a variety of plants.  Seen here are a smoke tree, three Hameln grasses, Stonecrop Angelina, and native Yucca.



Toward the bottom of the rocks, I’ve dotted Artemisia, lavender, and day lilies around.


Everyone likes touching the Artemisia.  It’s this soft, silver-green mound of fluff.  It’s crazy to see just how much this has grown in less than a year.


Once this lavender blooms, it’s going to smell amazing in the back.  In the house, too since it’s a great cut and dried flower.


To liven up the patio, I picked up three five dollar arborvitae trees to fill in the planters.


Looking from the house toward the waterfall, things are filling in nicely.


These stonecrop Angelina are perfect to tuck between the cracks of the waterfall.  It’s as simple as plucking the offshoots, nestling each in dirt, keeping watered until rooted, and enjoying.  The plant that keeps on giving.


Since getting hooked on gardening, I’ve added over 200 assorted plants throughout our property.  I’m far from an expert, but through trial and error, I’m figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and enjoying the progress along the way.

Favorite House Plants

I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I’ve become a plant hoarder.  Maybe because I’ve had increasing luck (or skill) keeping various species alive.  Perhaps because there are so many fun, beautiful, and different options out there.  Whatever the reason,  I’m certainly not sorry.  Plants add color and life-like nothing else can.  In honor of the impending spring, as well as my hoarding tendencies, I thought it’d be fun to round-up my favorite house plants.  Let’s start with the fern group, since that’s what I happen to have the most of.

By far the most fickle of my collection is the infamous Maidenhair Fern, an adiantum raddianum, to be exact.  I’m particularly proud to say I’ve kept this specific one alive for over two years.  My secret?  Don’t be afraid of over watering.  Ferns notoriously need more frequent watering, so I water this one a little every few days or so.  Giving it a mist at the same time never hurts.  This fella lives in our southern exposure living room where it gets plenty of bright, indirect light.


Also in our living room is this ‘Kimberly Queen’ Australian Sword Fern.  Unlike the Maidenhair, it can tolerate a little more neglect, but I still water at the same time to save myself the hassle.


This Sprengeri Asparagus Fern has lived in our dining room for the past year, after picking it up from the outdoor annual section.  What started off as a small starter has begun to fill out and get those great droopy fronds.  I have a bar cart full of plants near our dining room door, so this one gets more light, some direct and it seems happy.


Bathrooms are a great place to keep ferns because of the higher humidity levels.  Luckily, our master bathroom has a south-facing window, letting in ample light for this guy.  Paired with the shower humidity, I water this one about once a week and it always looks fresh and healthy.


Some ferns can handle slightly darker conditions, like this Kangaroo Paw.  The foliage on this is so beautiful and grows out fuzzy little ‘legs’.  As with the others, watering once or twice a week has kept this alive and thriving, with a ton of new growth.


And the smallest in my grouping is this Selaginella Snow Top that I picked up around Christmas.  It loves water, especially in our low humidity home, so I keep it perched on the north facing kitchen window sill for easy watering every other day.


Other tips for keeping ferns alive:

  1.  Don’t remove the plant from the plastic store pots.  Instead, place inside a hole less planter.  If you’re an habitual plant killer caused by under watering, it’ll help show more exact watering needs.  Water, then check every day to see if there’s standing water left behind, and you can check the roots for dampness.  Try to keep track of the consumption and you’ll know how often to water.  If there’s standing water, it’s easy to dump out to prevent over watering.
  2. Keeping finicky plants near a water source makes it much harder to forget.
  3. Don’t place in direct sun.  Instead, choose a spot in the center of a bright room or closer to a window in a north facing space.

Okay, moving from the more difficult to the easy care plants, succulents and cacti.  Well draining soil is this categories BFF.  This long-haired Muppet is a Rhipsalis Baccifera.  It can tolerate low light, but prefers moderate light.  I happened upon this in the hanging plant section at Lowe’s, but prefer it in a taller footed planter.


In terms of texture, this Princess Pine succulent packs a punch.  Living in a smaller pot has forced it to branch out, spilling over the edges.


The boys asked for a plant in their room, but it’s so easy to forget about it so I chose a super low maintenance Climbing Aloe.  The east window lets in plenty of light and the occasional watering is easy enough to handle.


Sitting on the cart in the dining room, next to the asparagus fern is a Christmas Cactus.  It too is so easy to care for, just a watering per week and that’s all.


In my opinion, the easiest house plant of all is the Snake plant.  Luckily, they’re just as easy to find at home improvement stores.  Honestly, I think I water this one maybe every two weeks and let it soak up as much sun as possible next to our north facing door.  That’s it, nothing special.


As for larger growing plants, of course there’s the Fiddle Leaf Fig.  I found this one at Wal-Mart several weeks ago, but I’ve kept my other alive for nearly three years.  I can’t say I know all the tricks, but watering weekly and keeping in a bright room seem to help.


A Big Leaf Philodendron resides in a corner of our living room, near a window.  What started off as a smallish plant has become a crazy, splayed out creature of greatness.


Around the holidays, Norfolk Island Pines are abundant.  This one is small, but has doubled in size since I got it two years ago.  I water thoroughly once a week.


Now for the random group, starting with this Hoya I picked up on clearance because it was looking quite sad.  After bringing it home, I cut off all the dead, droopy leaves.  It’s perking up, but I’d love any tips on keeping it healthy and happy.


For colorful foliage, a Croton can’t be beat.  Mine is on the small side, but has been a cinch to keep alive and growing.  New leaves sprout out the top and gradually change color with age.


I think the fastest growing plant in our home is this Peperomia.  When I bought it, it had three leaves on each stem.


Pothos are another easy to find, easy to care for greenery.  I have three, two living in the brighter living room and entry and another on our mantle.  They’re not picky with lighting requirements, ranging from bright to low.


Now that I’ve shared mine, care to share your favorite houseplants?  There are so many options, and I’ve realized I prefer greenery over flowers simply because I assume the plant is dying after the flowers fade away.

New Favorite Plants

Never in my life have I considered myself a garden person, until this year, that is.  I was bitten by the radioactive spider that makes me want all.the.plants.  Seriously, it’s becoming an addiction, stopping at various garden centers, wandering through rows of plants, reading tags, taking notes, and almost always returning home with at least one plant.  I made a plan, that I fully intended to stick to, but with so many amazing plants, I’ve come to the decision to buy what I like and will work in our conditions, because I will find a place to plant it.


Take this small area along the front of the house.  My initial idea was to plant a low evergreen, but with the addition of the walkway, every juniper grows too wide.  A change in plans was necessary, and I like the idea of a wider variety of plants, colors, and textures.


Still wanting year-round greenery, a Yew between the windows will fill the area, but can be trimmed to maintain size and shape.


Working as a groundcover, dark green and purple Ajuga will spread up to three feet wide, covering a decent amount with a small plant.


In front of the windows, Rockfoil is supposed to be an evergreen, even in our cold winter climate.  This low growing, mounding,  hen and chick looking plant should max out at 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide, which won’t obstruct the view out the window or need much maintenance.  The bright, spring green is almost the complete opposite from the adjacent dark Ajuga.


In addition to wanting/needing and evergreen base to cover rock expanses, adding colorful shrubs and flowering perennials adds character.  If this Smoke Tree makes it through the winter, I’m ready to declare it my favorite for the dark, matte red/purple leaves, and lace like ‘smoke’ plumes.


Salvia is another favorite because it thrives in full sun without needing excessive watering.  The bold purple flowers really stand out among the other plants.


A few Golden Barberry offer bright yellow and lime green leaves.  I love the contrast against the dark junipers, but the color reminds Ben of over watered, dying plants; to each his own.


Planted near early summer blooming peonies, late summer bloomer, Coneflower, is super drought tolerant as well as a hard-working pollinator.

Purple-ConeflowerAs with the front, starting with creeping junipers will give a good base, but adding a variety of other perennials has benefits.  First, the various root systems, as well as the rock layer, help stabilize the hill.  Secondly, more pockets of plants will absorb rain water, prevention excess runoff.  Third, give visual interest and textures to the hill throughout the seasons.  When selecting plants, I’ve been careful to choose plants with pretty or interesting foliage.  That way, even when not in bloom, it still looks nice.  Here, a small Lavender and Angeline Stonecrop have very different looks.


By planting lower growing plants to the front, and taller shrubs near the back, each plant is still visible.  At the front edge, Artemisia, a silvery green dry loving plant softens the hard rocks.  Once mature, it should spill over the base a little and become dotted with tiny flowers.


In the back, the Viburnum planted this May has already grown by leaps and bounds.  Next year, it just might be covered in snowball sized flowers!


Right next to that Viburnum is a Catmint that has gone wild, in the best way.


Here’s that it looked like just over one month ago:


For the majority of the plantings, I’ve selected full sun, drought tolerant varieties because we want a pretty, but still resource friendly landscape.  In the small, only truly shaded area we have, evaporation isn’t as much of a concern, so I’ve added a few slightly less water wise plants.  Hostas and Coral Bells still don’t need much water to live, but flourish with deeper watering.


By far the most water drinking plant I have is this Hydrangea.  For the nearly head size blooms, I think it’s a fair trade-off.


At the end of the back walkway, I’ve started a full sun-loving flower garden.  It includes a reed grass, red day lilies, Catmint, poppy, Delphinium, and a Petite Snow Butterfly Bush, bottom left.


Watching this (and the other plants) grow and bloom is exciting, which is why I’m hooked on gardening.


Near the butterfly bush is an American Dream Coreopsis, with thread like stems and leaves and dainty pink flowers.


Another Coreopsis, this time creamy white Big Bang round out the full sun area, at least for now.  I’m giving it a year to grow and fill in before adding anything else to the mix.


Needing more color to the left of the waterfall, I’ve added another Coreopsis, this time hot pink Show Stopper.


As I continue researching, my plant want list grows.  My next step is to include native grasses, perhaps Switchgrass and Little Bluestem, dotted over the hillsides.  For native plants and guides, Prairie Nursery has been extremely helpful to this novice gardener, giving plant conditions and a map of native areas.  If you have any plant suggestions, feel free to shoot them to me.

Walk This Way

Over the last two years I’ve dreamed, researched, plotted, and planned, and at long last, I’m slowly tackling our landscape plan.  Having an incredibly steep lot, both front and back, has been challenging to say the least.  Before starting anything, we discussed oodles of options: wood, metal, concrete, or stacked stone retaining walls, all of which are difficult to secure enough to prevent leaning or toppling over time.  Yes, plenty of houses have these in our ‘hood, but they’re all leaning or have caved in heavy rains.  We kept coming back to one option, setting boulders against the natural slope to prevent erosion, but it also serves as a retaining wall, without being rigid and noticeable if it shifts a little.  But, that led to another decision to fill even the flat areas with rock, not knowing where or how to separate the slope from the flat areas.

Basically what I’m saying is, we have literal TONS, and tons, and tons of rock and while it’s super low maintenance, I’ve been looking for ways to break up large areas.  Of course, plants are a must and I’ve added 170 (no exaggeration) between this year and last, though I have deviated/changed up my landscape plan.  Sadly, I’m not finished, instead focusing my attention to the most noticeable areas, then I’ll take time to tackle the smaller, untouched areas later on.


Our bocce court is a water and hassle free way to section off a large rectangle.

Another large part of the rock is broken up by the reclaimed beam back deck, stairs, and front steps, but between the bocce court and stairs was a long strip of super boring rock.  After nestling in a few pavers in the back, I knew adding a longer, winding path would add interest.


Reusing leftover pavers from the old back patio, I created a stepping stone walkway to connect the two areas.


Just off the step edge, narrower stones go between the Russian sage and day lilies.


On the other side of the Russian sage, I plan to add a short ground cover plant below the basement windows, so I curved around, leaving room for growing plants.



On the other side, I’ve already added my favorite succulent, a stonecrop Angelina.


I know it grows well here with little water or effort because the one in the back near the waterfall has gone crazy over the last year.



Creeping junipers are always welcome, covering large areas with year round color, but need little maintenance.  To contrast against the deep emerald-green, I added two golden barberry plants.  Ben says the just look like dying plants, but I love the chartreuse color.


Looking from the bocce court toward the entry, things are taking shape, but still not finished.


I find adding plants extremely enjoyable, bordering on addicting, but waiting for each to mature is a different story.  Much like children, even fast growing plants are hard to notice growth when seen on a daily basis.  You don’t see a startling difference, but looking back on pictures proves just how much they’ve changed in a short time span.


Look at the puny Russian sage not even a year ago, now they’re almost five feet tall!  Can you tell plants and landscaping have been at the front of my mind these warmer months?  Never before did I enjoy gardening, but I’m totally digging it now.  Oh the puns, the hilarity.  Now I feel like going through old photos of my kids and plants to fully appreciate the changes and growth that have taken place right in front of my face.  I didn’t realize how nostalgic a simple walkway could make me feel.

Rusted Steel & Curb Appeal

In last week’s deck and garden update, I shared a few pictures with peeks at the CorTen steel siding that has now started to rust.


For those not familiar, CorTen is a steel alloy that develops an outer layer of rust patina, protecting from further corrosion. When purchased, the steel is gray with a slight sheen but as it is exposed to weather, it rusts, but only as a surface layer.


Snow, rain, and two rounds of spraying with a water/vinegar mixture has warmed it up, though the process isn’t perfectly even.  See how much darker the rust looks closer to the house roof?  Vinegar quickly starts the rusting process, and helps even out the color.


Right after install and before rusting, the front looked very monotone and boring.  We wanted a maintenance free material to contrast against the traditional painted lap siding and break up the long, simple rectangle.  When freshly installed, the steel looked like a shiny version of the gray painted lap siding.


The addition of plants, the start of our bedroom balcony, and weather, the front looks very different.  When fully rusted, it actually looks like stained wood board and batten from short distances.  Once up close, the mottled look is noticeable and proves it’s actually rusted steel.  Again, you can see where moisture naturally hits the siding versus the eaves and protected areas.  Another round of spraying is on my to do list soon.


Notice how similarly toned the stained beams and bench are to the rust?  After finishing the railing install and staining, our balcony will fit right in.



When sprayed, gravity comes into play and darkens the bottoms more.  I’m going to experiment with a rag to see if rubbing vinegar will even out the top sections-at least on the easy to reach parts.


The most evenly and thoroughly rusted side is the garage end.


A lack of overhang leaves the entire section open to water.  Note: even after fiddling with settings, some of the colors are a little off; the photo above is the most accurate color representation of the paint and steel.


The local supplier/manufacturer created custom edge trim to go over the painted frames to help prevent the steel from dripping on the white.


One area got a little more water and it has streaked the white on one side, but that’s nothing a quick coat of paint can’t fix.


So far, we’re 100% thrilled with the results and ease of care, and our neighbors seem pretty happy as well.  On several occasions, people have stopped to compliment the new look, which is nice to hear considering our house is part of their view.  Heck, they probably look at the exterior more often than we do!