Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Way This All Started, Part 3

 Ok, back to the Tales of the Front Yard:
After we removed the first spruce, we had more room for our hosta collection, which by 2005 had grown to more than 500 individual cultivars.  So, for a year or two, we left the front garden alone while we worked on the Quarry Garden in the backyard.

In late 2005 we were asked to open our garden for a large local garden walk, which is a big deal in these parts.  There's nothing like knowing your garden will be scrutinized by many horticultural aficionados to set off anxiety and make you really rethink your landscaping choices, especially when they have to buy a ticket and your garden will be one of six or seven on the tour.  (No, it's not a competition and all the money went to the local botanical garden, so it's for a good cause, but you don't want to have people make all the effort to drive over 20 miles to see a garden of nothing.)  We have had lots of visitors over the years to the 'Flintstone's yard' but no one ever had to pay to see it before.  We sure didn't want folks to be disappointed.
Once again, we did a stroll through the gardens and came to the realization that the second spruce really should come down, too.  This was not a hasty thought by any means, and the lack of shade provided by the long-gone elm and spruce trees meant the removal of around 200 mature hostas to another bed.

Early April 2006 finds 20 yr. old Joel up in a tree with the Stihl chainsaw and me on the ground 'helping'.  In reality, there's not a lot the person can do on the ground other than duck from falling limbs and hold the ladder for the poor guy up in the tree and nag in a motherly, concerned voice, "Now, Joel, you be careful!" which always helps, right?  (However, my vast talents are put to good use when it's time to pick up the brush.)

As you can see, once again, we began sawing this tree down late in the day, but we weren't able to finish it that night because a strong southwesterly wind came up and we felt that even with a cable hooked to the tractor there might still be a risk of hitting the house.  So the tree stood like this overnight.

The next day dawned sunny and much less breezy, so it was time.   I was in my spot on the 574 way out on the road with the cable.  We took a deep breath and Carl fired up the chain saw.

 The most nerve-wracking part of sawing down trees is the final cut.  I don't breathe too well until the tree is on the ground, and everyone is safe and sound.

Here goes:

After every tree we saw down, there's a moment of panic; did we do the right thing?  The house is certainly much more exposed NOW....oh, what have we done??  No matter how much you think you are prepared for how it will look when a large tree is removed, reality is something else again.  But, you can't put them back up- how's that old saying go?  Measure twice, cut once?  Good idea.

We removed all of the hostas from the bed in front of the house, which took a good two weeks.   There had been a low stone wall around the spruce trees which we put on pallets and hauled out back.  Then we decided to try to add some height to our flat landscape by hauling in a few loads of dirt.  We had a few stones leftover from the quarry garden which we brought in with the tractor, but we were out of the really big ones I wanted at this time.
A few days later and this is the way it looked:
The work progressed on, but we had a very wet spring that year, and it was slow going.  Our youngest son, David, has always had an interest in sedums and rock garden plants.  Since the front of the house was in full sun now, he took me up on the offer to install a tufa stone sedum/succulent bed right in front of the house.  In the following pictures David is seen busily planting.

By June 2006, the garden had started to fill in a little bit:

And by July (and the garden walk) it was looking pretty good:
Here is the view from the road, July 2006:

The garden walk went well that year, around 700 people toured the garden,  but it was SO hot, we actually were over 100 degrees and had one of the driest summers we could remember in years. 

The front garden remained the same as it is now until the fall of 2009, when we removed the third spruce to put in the geothermal furnace. 

I am currently working on the next post, which will be about the back yard and the Quarry construction.  We will revisit the Pachyberm and geothermal construction later on.  I promise. 

I'm enjoying this stroll down memory lane as all I've been doing in the garden the last few days is rip things out and prune things back; you know, the usual fall routine.  I keep thinking while I'm working of what I could possibly write that would interest anyone, and when I see the old pictures, I can't help but smile.  I hope you enjoy them, too.


The Way This All Started, Part 2

Ok, here we go with Part 2 of The Way This All Started:

So now we return to the tale...there we were, living in a jungle.  Can you find a house in this picture?  There was so much shade being produced by the elm tree that the two spruces were starting to suffer.  The best growing conditions for blue spruce is full sun.  This isn't merely a recommendation, this is a must, unless you want thin, sickly spruce trees, like this one below:
While all of the trees were growing in the front yard, we were busy creating chaos in other parts of the yard (and raising two boys!) so time just sort of got away from us.  We realized we had an unattractive front yard, but there was the lack of time and our sentimental attachment to the trees.

Many people might laugh about that, but we do become attached to them.  Some of my guilt over planting them awkwardly was assuaged when I read a part of Adrian Bloom's book, Conifers for Your Garden, where he himself (and he is my idol) admitted to planting things too closely or not in the right spot over the years.  Mr. Bloom said if a tree has outlived its usefulness and really must go, we shouldn't look on it as a loss, but rather an opportunity to plant something new and exciting.  (ok, he was more eloquent, but the book is in our bedroom and Carl's asleep).

As so often happens when something needs to change, Mother Nature took over and the elm tree developed Dutch Elm disease.  We decided to take the elm down before it was completely overcome in the hope it wouldn't spread to the other three elms we had, but that turned out to be useless, as within the next year, they all succumbed.  Here we are getting ready to saw down the elm, note the upper left-hand branches are browning:
In this picture, Carl is getting ready to hook the cable up to the tractor so we can make certain the tree doesn't fall on the house.  I am always a big fan of hooking a cable to a tree before sawing them down, especially when a tree is this close to a building.  This way there are no unpleasant, dangerous surprises if a breeze should happen to spring up from the wrong direction right when the final cut is made, and we have had that happen.  I wasn't able to find any pictures of the actual felling of the tree, but rest assured, you will see some later of different trees.

I am not certain of the actual time-frame here, but after we took the elm down, we began to think about what we could do to open up the front garden again.  We had planted a Schwedler Maple when Joel was around 2 years old.

 The note on the back of the picture says: Planting Schwedler Maple, May 29, 1988  Joel, 30 months old, Daddy 30 years old.  $30 from Nursery. 
(Now can you see where the sentimental part comes in?  Sniff, sniff...seriously, this does get to me)

 Joel has always been our willing right-hand man with the landscaping projects, not that we kept him chained to the yard or anything.  (However, he may tell you something different...I don't know where he gets such silly ideas.)

The maple tree grew very well, and as you can see, so did Joel, now 16! and by 2001, it was apparent we'd have to do something with it. (The tree, I mean.)  Once again, bad judgment on the ultimate size of mature trees.
I had a friend who had a sister who had a new house (confused yet?) and wanted a nice tree for her yard, so we gave the tree away to her, though she had to pay to have it moved.  This was when we first met the owners of the tree spade service.  The tree was moved about ten miles from here, and last time I looked, it's still thriving, though the people who bought it have since moved.

Up, up and away!
When David came home from school, he volunteered to stand in the hole for this picture.  He is 12 yrs old in this picture and much taller than he looks!

After the maple was gone, some more time passed and we decided it was time to remove the blue spruce closest to the driveway.  Our hosta collection (illness) was going full bore and we needed the room to put more in, and since the tree was so spindly, out it went.

We started this project rather late at night, which is a bad habit of ours; we'll be strolling through the gardens, talking about something needing to be cut down and out come the chain saws.  I think the reason for this is due to the sentimental thing again, you have to strike while the iron is hot and before we think too much.  First we had to limb the tree up a bit higher:

The tractor on the right is our 574, my father's pride and joy, and mine too, hooked up to a cable to convince the tree to fall the right way.

  It's getting easier to see the house now, isn't it?  I see in this 2006 picture we had the shutters off the house for repainting, gads, I like them on much better, but, stay tuned for Part 3!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Way This All Started

This flashback contains part of a post I originally wrote back in April of 2010.  I thought it might be fun to revisit this little history tour of the garden here, so I hope you enjoy it. 

Carl and I met when we were fourteen years old and freshmen in high school.  I had gone to public school and he had gone to parochial, but in the ninth grade, both of our schools came together.  We had one class together, 9th Grade Science,  and we were seated alphabetically since our last names both ended in 'V' at the time.  I was a fairly good student, but I only earned a 'D' for a final grade.  I found something way more interesting than Science.   I found Carl. 

The surprising part was, we had grown up less than a mile away from each other as the crow flies, but in what might as well been different worlds, with him being the son of a blacksmith and me being the proverbial farmer's daughter.  I do remember seeing him once about four years before high school when my dad had taken me along to the neighborhood blacksmith to get a hay baler part fixed.  It was a blisteringly hot day and we'd been baling hay all afternoon, that is, until the baler broke down.  Dad was sweating bullets and swearing a blue streak trying to get the part off the machine and when he finally did I was ready.   I quickly snuck a cherry Popsicle out of the freezer and hopped in the truck.  I would take any opportunity to 'go for a ride' when I was a kid; come to think of it, I'm still the same way.  

As Dad drove down our side road, I hung my arm out the window and made my hand go up and down with the wind currents as we drove the two miles to the blacksmith shop.  We had no air conditioning in those days and the wind rushing in the old Ford 150's window was as warm as bathtub water.  Though I knew getting the hay off the field (gotta make hay while the sun shines) was really important, I sure welcomed this break in the work. 

I often went anywhere I could with my father; farm auctions, the feed mill, the run to the local quarry for barn lime, the Sunday afternoon drive where we went to see how everyone else's crops were growing, and even the taverns.  But I was a shy kid, being raised basically as an only child; my brother was 13 years my senior and we had nothing in common.  

I didn't much like other kids and was more than happy just being a tomboy and my father's right-hand man.  I just didn't understand children at all, I may have looked like one, but I sure wasn't raised like one.  Even in school, when I'd be on the playground and the other kids were running around in circles and yelling, I thought they'd lost their minds, and for Heaven's sake, keep your voices down!  My very strict father was of the Old School, 'Children Should be Seen and Not Heard' and did not suffer fools lightly.  And loud-mouthed kids even less. 

While Dad was in Carl's dad's shop getting the part welded, shy me was sitting in the truck observing the blacksmith's sons (and working on the Popsicle, of course).  One of the boys was wearing shorts (I thought, wow, I didn't know boys wore shorts, huh, how silly).  This kid looked to be around my age and was rather reluctantly working on emptying steel from a bucket to a pile.  The process was making a lot of noise.  His dad asked him to please be a little quieter at the job, but he pretended not to hear him and kept on chucking the steel loudly.  I saw my Dad shoot him a very disapproving look, and I thought, "Kid, you're lucky you don't live with my dad, he'd show you who's the boss."

Just at that time, the mom came outside with a pitcher of some cold, refreshing beverage and a platter of watermelon slices.  The boy tossing the metal (Carl) and his brother dropped what they were doing and joined by their two sisters, all gathered under the shade tree in their front yard.  There was a nice picnic table to sit at and it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.  

I sat in the truck and stared in disbelief.  Well, la-di-dah.  Something like that would never happen at my home, we didn't have the time to sit under shade trees at 3PM and enjoy ourselves on a weekday afternoon!  It appeared one of the boys was showing off, spitting watermelon seeds, how juvenile.  I kept staring until one of them noticed me and then I slithered slowly down the seat until I was huddled in a pile on the floorboards.  Can't have them seeing me being all nosy, I thought.  I'd best finish the second half of this Popsicle.  I did sneak covert glimpses from time to time, feeling rather haughty being a witness to all this fine family togetherness.  

Finally, Dad came back out of the blacksmith shop, dropped the still-glowing baler part in the back of the truck bed and we retraced our path back home.  Just a mile apart, and yet it was like a galaxy.  I was back on the tractor, baling hay in fifteen minutes.  

So, yes, Carl and I did meet again around four years later in high school.   And it was really different then.  For one thing, Carl was wearing long pants.  And I wasn't hiding on the floorboards of the Ford anymore.  We courted for five years and married when we were both 20. 

We needed a place to live. I thought buying a fixer-upper would be a good idea...Carl didn't.  "Let's just build one," he said, like houses and the money to build them grow on trees.  In order to build a house, we needed land.  Dad reluctantly sold us an acre of alfalfa field down the road from Mom & Dad's house.  He hated to part with the land, all farmers do--but it was sandy and in dry years, hard to grow anything on it, so he thought, ok, go ahead, if you must.  We started building.  The gardens came later, but let's start at the beginning.

The picture below was taken in May of 1978.  The gravel driveway in the lower right-hand corner would become the driveway for our house.  
The field before excavation

The construction crew, hard at work, pouring our basement.

We needed some sort of trees around the house, that much was apparent!  Carl's parents had also built a home around the same time we did, and had purchased a few thousand trees.  They offered us 500 mixed evergreen seedlings containing Colorado blue, white and Black Hills spruces and  red, white and Scotch pines.  We planted these trees in 1988 on our then one acre, which expanded to two+ acres in 1990.  They also offered us three Colorado Blue spruce from their old home which were about 3' tall.  These three bigger trees were planted in front of the house.  Mistake #1.

Quoting Michael Dirr from his excellent book, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, in regards to Colorado Blue Spruce or (correctly Picea pungens) he states: "Overused; popular as a specimen but hard to combine well with other plants; can be used in groupings; one of the standard practices in past years has been the use of this plant in the front yard where it immediately detracts from the rest of the landscape."

No truer words were ever spoken.  Ok, where was Mr. Dirr's book when we needed it?  ( I see the 5th edition of Dirr's book came out in 1998--years after we committed the botanical faux pas.)

There it is, Little House on the Prairie-ish, not a tree in sight.

My parents had a fair-sized flowering crabapple in their yard which they donated to our treeless cause.  My late father, pictured below, was not a patient man when it came to tree moving.  We had gone to my parents to try and dig the tree by hand without much luck.  While we were eating supper that evening, my father decided to take matters into his own hands and, attaching a chain around the trunk of the tree and one to his tractor's bucket, he yanked the poor crab out by it's roots, effectively scarring the tree trunk, too.  He arrived at our house with the tree dangling from the tractor's bucket, swaying to and fro from a chain with a few roots intact.  Never let it be said that a flowering crab is not a tough tree, because it lived through this!  (The apple is on Dad's left side, the spruce from Carl's parents is in the middle and the birch which Dad dug up from our fenceline is on the right.)
  I fully understand why people plant tiny spruce trees close to the house, I mean, just look at the pretty blue spruce in this next picture.
Ok, a 'bit' enhanced blue spruce!

So, time went on and the trees began to grow.
To add to the mistakes, we planted some elm trees (the one on the left) and allowed a cottonwood (on the right) to grow in the ditch by the driveway, too.  The Town had a real problem with the cottonwood, so we removed it.  It was too close to the road.  The elm, of course, succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease after about 15 years, time which could have been put to use growing a nice specimen oak or something else.  But we were young, broke, and landscaped-challenged and a free tree sounded good, right?  This picture was taken in 1985.

The trees haven't grown too much yet, and it's not all that bad-looking, really.  Now we will fast forward to 1992, and some much bigger trees:
The spruce trees actually look pretty good at this point.
But you can see what Dirr means about 'detracting from the rest of the landscape' even in this early picture.

Some more time passed, and wait a minute, where's the house?

You can barely make out our front window on the right side of this picture. 

This was the flowerbed right in front of the house, very dark and dingy, though good for growing hostas.
The house is becoming overgrown; the panels on the front porch were our greenhouse for a time (remember I mentioned the front porch greenhouse in an earlier post?)
Once we realized we were 'treed in' we decided to remove the bottom limbs on the two spruce trees in front of the house.  This added a little more light again.  I think this picture was taken in the late 1990's, about twenty years after the house was built.

The next installments of this series will show 'the rest of the story'.