Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Garden (Page 1 of 4)

Front Yard Video Tour – A Year Long Transformation of Our Curb Appeal

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Thank you for all your kind support through our front yard overhaul. We could not be happier with the newly mulched flower bed in front of our house. It is such an improvement of our curb appeal, and many neighbors stopped by to tell us how much they love and appreciate what we did. ūüôā

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Adding curb appeal has been a goal of ours from day one. It is not just about changing the appearance, but also to improve the function. The unsightly are often not maintained, which means they do not perform well or even cause issues to the house.

When we moved into our ranch last summer, the front of our house looked like this:

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Immediately we could see three water issues: the flower bed right against the foundation, the sinking patio that directs rain water towards the house, and several rusty window wells failing to protect basement windows.

So, soon after we moved in, the foundation planting bed was removed. Last fall, we replaced old window wells, and graded around the foundation with drainage rocks.

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To address the sinking patio issue, we had to remove the front patio completely. The rusty awning went with it, which might be our biggest curb appeal improvement yet!

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Before winter hits, we also replaced the leaky roof and gutter, painted the soffit and fascia, and restored the front doors (1, 2, 3)

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All these actions not only made the house water-tight, but also improved its appearance from the street. We went into out first winter with the front of the house looking like this:

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And this is what the front entry looks like today. The glass storm door has been the pups’ favorite spot to look out:

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Not too shabby, especially when compared to the Before:

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This summer, we decided to give our front yard a large overhaul, consisting of the removal of >600 sqft turf, planting a privacy hedge, and adding a retaining wall and a dry creek.

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And today, our front yard look like this:

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Instead of this:

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We packed 64 perennials in this 600 sqft space during the last 6 weeks. It is nice to see all of them started taking roots and showing growth. Here is a short video walk-through of the garden area:

The mulched flower beds and evergreens not only improve the curb appeal, but also save irrigation water and are more inviting to native wild life. We want our house to be a safe haven not only for us and our two dogs, but also for native insects, birds, and small mammals that need a home they deserve.

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These arborvitaes were planted at the peak of the summer in 95 degree heat. They definitely struggled a bit during the first a few weeks. But most of them bounced back nicely and have put on an inch or more new growth.

The mock orange we planted last weekend:

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The winter berries were planted a month ago. They did not grow taller, but are definitely getting denser around the base.

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This dwarf pine was also planted in the middle of summer, but has been growing fiercely.

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This sandcherry was the last one planted, just five days ago. It is still recovering but I have high hopes for some delicious berries next Summer.

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Of course we had to have Colorado’s state grass – the Blue Grama grass – in our yard:

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And the Shenandoah switch grasses have already started coloring up for Fall. So pretty.

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These larkspur and bubblemint hyssop were planted last weekend. And guess what Рthey bloomed!

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More hyssop – they bloom red and have a more low-mount form.

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Isn’t this silver brocade sage gorgeous?

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Penstemon, butterfly weed, and sedums. Love the colors!

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So GORG:

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We also planted lots ground covers, including prairie winecups, creeping phlox, and veronica:

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To make the garden more inviting to wild life, we put in a bird feeders and bird bath. We also installed drip irrigation and a new hose reel to make watering easier.

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This area under the mailbox did not get as much attention this year, but the plants we put in have done very well.

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Here we have two rosemary plants, one lavender, a red hot poker, and a rose bush:

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Here is another short video in which I talk you though the additional upgrades in the front yard, including the under-the-mailbox planting:

I hope you enjoy to see our “new” front yard in these videos. They are filmed just yesterday so this is truly what our yard looks like now. We are proud of this little corner garden in the making, and hope you like it too. Please consider to start a pollinator garden, put out a bird feeder, or add a bee house too! I just learned that native pollinators feed up to three-story high, so even¬†you are living in an apartment, they can benefit from your flowers too!

Planting It Up!

After overhauling our front yard for months, it is finally planted!

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Landscaping the front yard was never on our 2018 to-do list. But summer rolled around and our front lawn started to look really, really bad. We booked a landscape consultation to get some ideas on how to rejuvenate the front yard, which led to the decision to replace 600-sqft of tuft with a perennial garden. Once we had the idea, we just couldn’t shake it off and had to put it in action right away.

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Following professional advice, we removed the turf of the northwest corner of our front yard and amended the soil. We also built a retaining wall and a dry creek to help to keep the topsoil and precious water in our yard. We are new to landscaping and needless to say, there was a lot uncertainty and self-doubt. Did we add enough compost? What about PH? Is the retaining wall tall enough? What curvature should the dry creek have? Which color of mulch looks the best? And most importantly, what plants should we get for the front yard?

The last question probably took the longest time to research. We wanted flowering perennials that look good but low-maintenance, pollinator friendly and diverse, strong yet xeriscape, and we want as many native and edible plants as possible. There is a high bar to meet.

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Fortunately, Colorado has a long tradition of urban permaculture¬†and lots of helpful resources. We have been attending water-wise seminars and visiting garden centers/exhibitions full of native plants. The “bee heaven” garden-in-a-box kit we have been growing since Spring boosted our confidence. And the free (!) landscaping consultation we received from Resource Central provided a long list of plants we could choose from in order to assemble a successful high country garden.

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Most of the plants arrived last Saturday and we got busy at planting.

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In total we packed 64 perennials into this 600 sqft space, including evergreens, large flowering shrubs, berry-bearing shrubs, grasses, flowering perennials, ground covers, and irises.

Six evergreens (North Pole Arborvitae) functions¬†as windbreakers along the north edge of the front yard. They should grow into a 10~15 feet tall privacy hedge between our yard and our neighbor’s driveway.

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In addition to the arborvitaes, we planted a dwarf mugo pine in the middle of the landscaping. I love the color and the low mount growing habit of this pine. Colorado has long winters and most of the trees in our yard are deciduous. We could always use more evergreens for winter interest.

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Speaking of winter interest, I want more color on top of evergreens. So we chose to plant 4 Berry Poppins (one being male). The three female shrubs should bear bright red berries next winter once they put on more growth, which not only look great against snow, but also provide food for hungry birds in winter.

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Another fruit-bearing shrub we planted here is a western native Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry. This shrub produces edible berries in summer which are delicious. It also has a mahogany-red foliage in the fall.

To create a mixed and soft-looking hedge, we planted a mock orange tree called “Snow White Sensation”¬†at the northwest corner of our yard. It should grow to be 6’~8′ tall and mask the street light pole behind. It will carry some height to the corner, provide some shade and privacy, without being too tall while being right next the sidewalk. It also has a softer look compared to the arborvitaes – it has multi-stems that arch gracefully and will bloom white flowers in Spring and early summer.

Mock orange, at the lower left corner:

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Little dog sign hopefully prohibits neighbor’s dogs to poop in our yard…

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I used 14 irises (white and purple) to align the dry creek, and ground covers along the retaining wall.

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On the slope, in between the house and the street, we planted xeriscape perennial grasses and flowers. These plants came from another garden-in-a-box kit called “Cool Connection” from Resource Central, which has a color palette of pink, white, purple, and burgundy which I adore. I am really happy with the quality of the plants from our last garden-in-a-box purchase, and I think the selection of native, drought-resistant plants really sets the garden for success. All the perennials included are either native to Colorado or have been shown to do well with little water in our weather.

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This is how the garden-in-a-box plants supposed to look like on their third year – with our experience with the Spring garden, I expect most of the plants to reach their mature sizes in their second summer!

Before we put down mulch, Slav and I put in drip irrigation for the entire garden bed. We divided the whole planting bed into two zones according to the water need Рone for the arborvitaes, and the other one for all the other perennials.

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We then put down 4″ of wood chips to cover every inch of the bare soil. (We get our mulch for free from our city park service), then top dressed the planting bed with¬†additional 1″ of black mulch. Slav and I both love the look of green plants again black mulch. However, we want to use as little dye as possible, even though it is advertised as a natural, non-toxic high quality dye . So top dressing is the best solution for us.

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With >4″ of mulch, we only need to water once a week to keep the soil damp and cool. Mulch also allows everything in this flower bed to naturalize and spread. We only used landscape fabric under the arborvitaes and at the bottom of the dry creek, since we do not want anything (else) to grow there.

Here is our finished flower bed. ūüôā

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Cherry on top, I made a fall wreath for the front door and Slav replaced the rusty and old hose hanger with a brand new Eley hose reel.

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Remember the sad before?

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And this is the happy “after” after we replace the¬†600-sqft of tired grass and weeds…

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We. Love. It!¬†We will be keeping an close eye on all the tiny plants and baby them over their first winter. I think it might be time for another video walkthrough of the yard, don’t you think?

Dry Creek DIY – A Labor of Love

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We’ve been landscaping our yard for four months now. Four months! Our living room still does not have baseboards, and our bathroom windows refuse to open. But our yard came as a weed infested trash pit and I grew up touring gardens like this, so landscaping we have been.

Jichang Garden, WuXi, China

It also makes sense to landscape as early as we could since perennials take time to grow. Since May, we have planted 22 fruit trees and shrubs, 4 climbing roses, 2 climbing vines, 28 perennial flowers, and a 400-sqft vegetable garden. In spite of the heavy clay soil, everything is doing exceptionally well and putting on lots of growth.

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We planted most of perennials in early Spring. By early summer, we had seen the rewards from our planting. The early success totally messed up my dopamine system. So late summer, in true avalanche fashion, I gutted our front yard.

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Well, to be fair, Slav gutted our front yard. Slav lifted 600 sqft turf grass, and Slav sifted through the topsoil to remove roots and weeds. Although, he did it upon my order request. I designed the garden and bought plants, and I told him where to dig. Of course, knowing Slav would be the one doing all the physical work subconsciously led to my over-design of the front yard garden.

Slav really deserves a metal of “the best husband in 2018”. He did not question at all my decision and plans and he did not even ask what plants I ordered. His blind trust landed him sooo much dirt work which ate up a solid month of his spare time, and an additional week to build the retaining wall.

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We spent three weekends alone just to sift soil. But at the end, we are rewarded with weed-free, crumbly and rich soil that is great for planting:

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And thanks to the cooler weather in August, our arborvitae survived just fine despite being planted in the middle of summer.

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Yet, just when we were gearing up to fall planting, I spotted some nice dry creeks in our neighborhood. Dry creeks are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also an effective way to retain water and prevent storm water runoff.

Still sore from the retaining wall built, I approached Slav for the possibility of incorporating a dry creek into our front yard landscaping. My guy, my hero, who was busy making dough for the family at that time, responded, “Sure, map it out and I will build it”.

Don’t you just love this guy? I do.

So, last weekend we got a ton of river cobbles from a local rock shop:

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And constructed our first dry creek!

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To not undermine the hard work Slav had put in, here are some numbers:

1. Determining the shape of the dry creek with 2 electrical cords:

For marking boundaries I prefer electrical cords to garden hoses for better flexibility. The goal is to direct the water from the corner downspout to the garden area, then to slow it down so all the rain water can be slowly seeping into the garden.

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As part of the planning, I marked where the plants (we have 50 of them coming!) would go with rocks.

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As you can see, the dry creek mostly follows the slope but fans out and terminates 2/3 downhill on the slope.

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2. Digging a 130 ft long, 3-5 feet wide, and 1.5 feet deep trench:

This step was not hard at all given that we have already turned the soil in most places. We formed swales as creek beds, which are basically shallow trenches perpendicular to the slope. The dirt removed from the trench was pilled downhill along the swales to form berms, which are like dams to retain water in the swales. Berms and swales are common ways in permaculture to slow down water and topsoil run off from a hill.

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3. Laying and pinning down 4-ft wide landscape fabric:

We have serious bindweed issue in our yard, so we put down some landscape fabric before filling the creek bed with rocks. The side of landscape fabric facing down has fine hair to wick moisture, which helps water to seep down into the soil.

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4. Layering in river rocks and big boulders to get the “creek” look:

As mentioned before, we got a ton of 1.5″ size local river cobbles. We also got a pallet of big boulders (for $45!!!) from the Resource Central’s retail store¬†(where we got the retaining wall blocks). As Slav shoveled the cobbles into the creek bed, I set the boulders randomly along the creek for a more nature look. I am not artistic at all so it took a while for the creek to look semi-acceptable. I am sure there will be more tweaking down the road.

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5. Connecting the downspout to the dry creek

The last step of the dry creek construction was to direct water from the corner downspout to the creek bed. To keep the lawn continuous, we decided to bury a pipe under the lawn that connects the downspout with the dry creek. We have a piece of 4″ black PVC laying around and guess what, it fits the distance perfectly! ūüôā

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We used a piece of flexible elbow to connect the downspouts to the PVC pipe:

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And a flexible T connection at the end of the black PVC pipe splits the water into each side of the creek bed.

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Slav lifted the sod carefully then dug down another 4″ deep to bury the pipe.

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The downspout had to sink lower into the ground to accommodate the sod on top. (See how we graded around the foundation here.)

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Slav put the sod back on and patched it perfectly:

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We then refilled the rock back to bury the downspout end of the connection:

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The T connection sits at the bottom of the creek bed. We put some water through the downspout to make sure that the dry creek worked properly:

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We then installed garden edging around the PVC pipe and this is the final result!

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6. Fall Planting in two weeks!

Now the dry creek is done, we are FINALLY ready for planting. We have over 50 perennial flowers and shrubs coming in by the end of this month, and I am pumped to wrap up everything landscaping for 2018. I will be sure to walk you through all the plants with my camera once the dirt is settled. Just for reference: here is a video in which I explained our 2018 gardening goals back to the Spring Рyou can tell that we were not thinking about landscaping front yard at all! But the nice thing about being a home owner is precisely this: to be able to shift focus and do whatever we want, right?

Enjoy!

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