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

Category: Flower Gardens Page 1 of 10

Urban Farming

A New Foster Puppy and Fall Planting

“Love, soft as an easy chair
Love, fresh as the morning air
Time won’t change the meaning of one love
Ageless and ever evergreen”

Summer flew by and suddenly, we are in September. The leaves have not turned their colors yet, but the crisp morning air and clear night sky are signaling that my favorite season is coming.


The dogs are enjoying the cold air + warm sun combo too. They spent lots of time in the yard even in the evenings.


In these photos you can see Dazumble, our first foster puppy. But I am happy to announce that she has been adopted! Dazumble went to her forever family about 10 days ago, and we brought her sister, the Snorch home to foster on the same day.

In addition to the new foster puppy, we also brought home new evergreen trees! They were purchased during the 50% tree sale from Home Depot. We always wanted more evergreen trees for our property. This time, we were fortunate to grab three decent sized evergreens for just over $200!


The first one is this weeping Norway Spruce. Isn’t it cute? We planted it next to the ginkgo tree and expanded the flower bed around it.


With the weeping habit this Norway spruce will grow to 8-12 ft tall and wide. We planted it 6 feet away from the fence and the ginkgo tree, so it can grow to its mature size without trimming. I also planted some daylilies to fill in the empty space around it. These daylilies were given to me as a gift. I spent a couple weekends dividing the irises in the front yard and gave away most of the rhizomes through Nextdoor. The irise giveaway attracted many gardeners to our house. One lady, when picking up irises, brought me daylilies she divided from her yard. These daylilies should bloom golden red. I cannot wait to see them flower next summer!


Here is the ginkgo tree, which was a small twig three years ago. Now it is 6 feet tall with very nice lower branching. Its leaves should turn to bright yellow color in a months or so.


This is the first year I planted flowers in the vegetable garden. The marigold has been blooming all summer long.


Besides the weeping Norway spruce, we also got a pine and a Colorado spruce. This Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Limber pine is about 6 feet tall right now, and eventually become 20′ tall and 15′ wide. We planted it in the new patio garden, with plenty of room to spread.


Behind the new pine is this Malabar spinach planted on a trellis. It is an annual in my area and a great climber. I planted two seedlings at the base of this metal trellis. I love its shape and purple-red stems. A must-have in the garden just for its beauty!


Here are the volunteer sunflowers in the same patio garden bed. They came up where our winter bird feeder was, probably planted by the birds. We can see at least two different varieties blooming.


Here is the last new evergreen we bought – a Colorado spruce! The Colorado blue spruce, also called Colorado Spruce or blue spruce, needs no introduction. It is a Rocky mountain native and can get to 70′ tall when planted at the right spot. Fortunately, it only spread to up to 20′ wide, making it possible to bring it into our backyard.


We situated it near the garden shed, in front of the two Ash trees. It gets dappled shade in the morning and full sun from noon to sunset. We also positioned it 9 feet away from the side fence and the hazelnut tree, so it has plenty room to spread.


Not until we planted the Colorado spruce I realized how much we needed its blue color in our backyard. Most of the trees here, including the Ash tree, the crabapple tree, the fruit and nut trees all have green foliage. Adding the icy blue color here really draws your eyes to the far corner of the yard, which makes the yard feel bigger.


On the other side of the hazelnut is the wisteria planted this spring. It has put on some growth and started climbing the trellis. 🙂 The weeping cedar planted along the side fence is also doing well. I have not see much growth from it, but the needles are all green and the tree seems to be well hydrated.


While all three evergreens went to the backyard, I added some Fall perennials and decor to the front yard garden. I’ve shown you the new boxwood in front of the new front porch. They are putting on new sprouts since planted a few weeks ago and appear to be very happy.


On the other side of the front door, we planted three junipers in early Spring. They should eventually crawl onto the gravel and cover the area around the foundation, but it will take lots of years for them to get there. To fill the space between them. I added three dwarf Joe-pye weed called “Euphoria™ Ruby”. It will only get 2′ tall and wide, a perfect size for this area.


Most of the plants in the front yard bloom in spring, so I have been wanting to add some color to the front yard garden for late summer/fall. The Ruby Joe-pye weed will bloom purple pink from mid-summer to frost, exactly what we need.


I also want to add more Fall colors along the sidewalk. Here are six Fall blooming mums new to the front yard! These little plants will grow into 2′-3′ mounds of cute flowers which last the whole autumn. They might not be able to bloom this season, but they seems to be taken in very well and I am looking forward to their blooms next Fall.


Believe or not, some pumpkins in my vegetable garden have matured. I have never picked pumpkins this early, and they may not last as long as those in previous years. But I was happy to get the new front porch decorated early. I grabbed two flowering mums from the stores and added pumpkins from my own vines. I like how colorful and cheerful this small decoration looks.


As the summer is coming to an end, we will be harvesting, grilling, dining outside, and cozy up with Roxie, Charlie, and our new foster puppy. Are you fond of fall too?


The Side Yard Evolution




Is it spring at your home yet? We shoveled snow just last week… So the gardening season is still far away for us. I am actually starting seeds this week, and I will make sure to show you the plant babies when they come up. To get rid of the cabin fever, I want to revisit a feel-good gardening project we completed last fall, which was actually a five-year evolution of our north side yard.

2017-2018: The new fence and side yards

The ranch house has two small side yards – one on the south side of the house, and the other on the north side. Both side yards were lawn space when we bought the house in 2017:

The south side yard


The north side yard


When we built the fence in 2018, we decided to incorporate most of the south side yard to the back. So we could hide the trailer and trash cans from the street view:



When it came to the north side of the house, we decided to move the fence line forward to match the south side. This meant that most of the north side yard would be connected to the backyard as well.




The six-foot privacy fence helped to create this 20′ x 15′ space. It is hidden from majority of the property. You have to walk around the house in order to see the space in its entirety.


My initial plan was to make this side yard a “secret garden”. But at that time, we just started landscaping the front yard and there were much bigger fishes to fry (here and here). So this place waited.


2019 fall: Sheet mulching and planting ground cover


The next Spring, we mulched the entire northern slope of the backyard with wood chips. Edible perennials like hazelnut trees and raspberries were planted, the former of which you could see in the picture above. We kept the lawn grass on the north side yard, but very soon, the lawn grass started dying. The fix-foot tall privacy fence blocked the afternoon sun to this side yard. And being on the north side of the house, this space became too shady for grass to grow.


Gone the grass, came the weeds. I knew I had to do something ASAP here. I decided to plant vinca minor as a ground cover. Vinca minor, aka periwinkle, grows vigorous in our area. It is one of the very few groundcovers that can out compete perennial weeds and it is evergreen. By planting it along the property line, I hoped to stop the weeds coming from our northern neighbors’ yard.


The periwinkle were little plugs I took from a gardener friend. They quickly grew into a dense mat with small purple flowers popping up all season long. I love them.


I did not have enough periwinkle to cover the whole side yard, so I decided to sheet mulch the rest of the space. The steel edging separating mulch from the lawn was removed, and I laid down cardboard directly on the grass and weeds:



The steel edging did not go to waste! It was installed along the side of the house to prevent the foundation drainage rocks from falling into the future garden. I took this opportunity to expand the rock area a bit wider:


Then put cardboard against the new edging and weighted them down with scrap wood:


Then just tiled away.


For sheet mulching, adding cardboard is only the first step. It is recommended to mulch over the cardboard with wood chips or compost, so light will not reach the ground through the gaps between the cardboard. We did not have time to apply mulch that fall, so we weighted the cardboard down with rocks, scrape wood, and Roxie.


Of course I did not mulch over the periwinkle. They continue to grow even in winter months and I could see that they would eventually climb the hill and cover the entire slope.



Here is how the side yard looked before and after the cardboard layer. Although the cardboard was not pretty to look at, I did feel better knowing that the weeds were under control.




2020-2021: A secret pumpkin patch

With the unexpected disruption of our lives in 2020, we were not able to plant this side yard for a while. To not let the space sit empty, I put in pumpkins and butternut squash here. Boy did they grow! These vining plants completely covered the cardboard by mid summer, and we got hundreds of pumpkin and squashes in the fall:


We repeated pumpkins here again in 2021 and got great results again. The side yard was the perfect spot for a pumpkin patch – the vines did not look too hot before harvest, but we could hardly see it from most of the backyard.



If you think the fall sight was bad, the winter view was worse. Lazy me left all the vines in the ground to decompose after harvest. Although the dead vines functioned like a mulch layer, it was terrible to look at. This was NOT the secret garden I had in mind. Oops.


2022 Fall – Finally planting!

Fast forward to the Fall of 2022, after finishing the major renovations inside of the house, it was time to make over this little side yard! My plan was still to make this space a secret garden. With the fence/house on all three sides, I would be adding screening evergreens and climbing plants on the perimeters and fill the center with perennials.


To prepare for the planting, I racked out pumpkin vines and cardboard pieces that had not decomposed after two seasons, and added the grass clippings I saved over the summer. This not only helped the ground to retain moisture, but would also add organic matter into the soil when it decomposes.


We also decided to remove the old lilac. It was intermingled with the old chain link fence and we had to cut it down to the ground during the fence removal. The poor lilac has not looked healthy since and never flowered again:


Lilacs are famous for its deep root system. I called for help:


When we started this project, Charlie just joined the pack. He was following us everywhere.


Here is Charlie again, pulling on the lilac roots. Too bad he did not do it when the root was still in the ground. 🙂


After removing the old lilac, Slav (and Charlie) weeded along the fence and applied mulch between the periwinkles.


Planting arborvitae along the fence

Then, it was time to plant! I first added six “North pole” arborvitaes the same as the ones we planted in the front yard for privacy. I spaced them 3 feet apart, which should cover 19′ of the fence when they grow up.


The first one was planted 3′ from the corner (where the yellow marker was). The periwinkle should eventually cover the ground around the arborvitae.


Here were the little ones, planted!


They looked so good and fresh.



Completing ground planting with shade-loving plants

To fill the ground I got a starter connection of shade-loving plants mostly hostas and ferns. They were most bareroot so I used flags to indicate where they were planted:


The hostas were spaced apart based on their mature sizes. After a couple years, we should not be able to see the ground in between.


I used an old straw bale to mark the future path. I made it curvey and narrow, so the path would not be obvious from distance.


Here is how the path ends. I planted a bigger arborvitae at the corner as an anchor.


Finishing the shade garden with mulch

No landscaping project is complete without drip irrigation and mulch. I used up all the drip tubings I had to install a drip system for the side yard. Not an inch more! Of course Charlie was around to help. What a sweet boy!


The last step was mulch. Now the shade garden was planted!




2017-2022: A five year evolution

Over five seasons, this side yard endured many changes. From the lawn grass:



To a weedy ground:


To its pumpkin patch glory:



To sheet mulch:


And finally to the shade garden today!


Like many people, we focused on other areas that “mattered more” and let this space wait. But after five years, it eventually got the attention it deserves. And I am looking forward to the 2023 Spring mainly because of this garden. Please treat the picture below, which I took in early 2019 as the “before”, and I hope to update you the pretty “after” a few months from now! Stay tuned, friends!



Getting Rid of Our Raspberry Patch!

Over the years, we have carved out quite a few large garden beds on our property: the vegetable garden, the back fence orchard, the front yard flower bed, and most recently, the shed patio garden. But we have never “renovated” one. Last Fall, after completing the shed patio project, we decided to redo one of the garden beds in our backyard – the raspberry patch:


Why redo the raspberry garden?

I started this raspberry patch back in 2019. The first a couple summers, the raspberry plants remained small. Despite that, we still got the raspberries we needed:


But during the last two seasons, these raspberry plants explored:


Although we tried to thin the canes in Spring, the growth was too robust to control. The patch quickly grew into a 7-foot-tall jungle. Rabbits and mice started making nests between the canes.


We also found raspberry suckers popping up everywhere: in nearby flower beds, on the lawn space, and even inside basement window sills. Raspberry spreads by horizontal rhizomes underground. Although we love eating fresh raspberries, we did not want a raspberry-infested yard.


Digging out the raspberry canes and future plans

Finally, we made the painful decision to remove the raspberry patch. It was not a task for the faint of heart – these canes were full of thorns and we expected snakes and rodents had taken refuge inside the patch. I started by cutting off the canes after the summer harvest, and worked from the outside in. I found so many berries we could not see through the dense foliage, and ended up freezing several five-gallon buckets of berries from this small patch! Can you believe it? Raspberry must really liked our soil.


After I cut down the canes, Slav the husband of the year took over to dig out the rhizomes.


It took Slav a few weekends to eliminate the raspberry roots. Here was the pile from his work. Mostly prickly raspberry canes. Oh my.


At the meantime, I started contemplating how to utilize the former raspberry patch. I quickly decided to incorporate half of it into the nearby patio garden. Adding this section significantly enlarged the once skinny patio garden, making it look more like a planting “island” instead of a “strip”.


This was the look of the new planting island. Imagine a small ornamental tree where the yellow stick is, maybe an evergreen, surrounded by low-mount grasses and perennial blooms? It will create a layered look and bring more winter interest to this area.


Next to the planting island I wanted a path, so we could walk among the big flower beds easily. Being a visual person, I started by laying down some tree stumps to highlight the future path:


From the picture above and below you can see that the path travelled from the back of the house, right under my office window, to the center of the herb garden. It looked wide in the pictures, but in reality it was barely four feet wide. I also made the path curvy for a more organic look.


It was a lot harder to decide what to do with other half of the former raspberry patch… Although north-facing, this slope was very productive when planting pumpkins and melons.


Unfortunately, we are no longer able to plant vine crops here next year, because of our new dog, Charlie. Charlie loves to taste unripe fruits from my garden, precisely one bite from each fruit. This little devil…


I will show you how we converted this slope in the next post – we found a great use of it! You will like it, I promise. 🙂

Planting the back patio “island”

When it came to the plant choices, I knew we needed some evergreen trees. We only had deciduous trees in our backyard, which looked really bare for 5 months of a year. Planting more evergreens will bring some much needed structure into the winter garden. However, evergreens were so expensive – that I can only afford the tiniest size. But if we plant now, we can have something pretty to look at in ten years!

Besides the evergreens, I also ordered a Jane magnolia. I’ve been long wanting a magnolia tree. It is the tree besides gingko that I really missed since moving to the States. The Jane magnolia is the most cold-hardy and it might have a fighting chance in our zone 5 winter.


I got a couple of the Japanese grasses to plant around the trees. These grasses are cold-hardy, vigorous, and they can tolerate both sun and shade. They should be able to naturalize in our yard and become a dense groundcover in a couple years.


Came with the tree order were a couple free plants. They are called “Rainbow” dog hobble (leucothoe fontanesiana). I never heard this plant before, but I was immediately attracted to its variegated leaves and open branching structure:


Apparently the dog hobble is a native to our climate, drought tolerant, and evengreen to zone 5 (!). It checks all the boxes I want for a mile-high garden. They should mature to 4-5 feet tall and wide. I think they will add lots of color to this corner.


Here is how everything looked like in ground: a “Bialobok” Colorado Spruce, surrounded by three Hakone Japanese Forest Grass “All Gold”. I later added several ‘Nigrescens’ black mondo grasses in between the “All Gold”:


I transplanted this rosemary from the patio garden. It was shaded by a russian sage so it did not put on much growth last year. But it developed a massive root ball. Hopefully the strong root system could help it survive this winter and establish itself as a perennial in my garden:


Also transplanted here was a passion flower from the mailbox garden. It barely grew there last year. I figured that it could use some protection from afternoon sun. Passion flower is supposed to be a perennial too in my zone (5b), so we will see if it comes back next Spring!


To offset the costs of the new plants, I filled the rest of the planting area by “shopping my own garden”, which means that I walked through my yard, divided what looked mature, and dug out what looked crowded. There were an English lavender from the front yard, a catmint (cut back to the ground) from the herb garden, and an itoh peony I got from a neighbor:


Last but not the least, the Jane magnolia was planted into the ground! It took me a while to find it a permanent home:


To finish the new planting area, we covered the bare soil using cardboard, and piled Fall leaves on top. I am curious to see how many weeds will come up in this area since we disturbed the soil, and we are certain that the raspberry runners will come up in Spring. We plan to put a few inches of wood chips next Spring as mulch, which will tidy up this area a lot. It would be very nice if all the perennials come back to life!

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