With the hardscape decided, it’s finally time to consider the plants—my favorite part! Since our home came with a certificate good for a free garden design (e.g., they make you pay for it in the price of the house), I decided to hire a professional. She asked for a scale plan of our property and a list of plants I particularly like. I gave her four pages worth! (Really, I tried to only list my favorites). I also included a shorter list of plants I do not want in my yard—with junipers in the number 1 slot. (See last month’s post.)
That “unwanted” list also included yuccas, shrubby cinquefoil (aka Potentilla, right), Japanese barberries, and burning bush (Euonymus alatus). Shrubby cinquefoil and barberry are used far too often—I want to see something different for a change. And the Burning Bush is a green lump all summer, spectacular for a week in fall, and then a bare, twiggy mess all winter. No thanks.
One of the reasons we were willing to put up with an HOA and its strict landscape rules is that we’re being “forced” to do something we wanted to do anyway. Instead of the usual grid of fenced yards with lawn, rocks, junipers, and obligatory crabapple, our HOA requires continuous landscapes with no fencing between houses. Better yet, xeriscaping is encouraged, along with a distinctively Colorado-style plant palette. The community center even has five demonstration gardens depicting five local biomes—coniferous forest, foothills, shortgrass prairie, and the like, for inspiration.
To get our designer pointed in the right direction, we listed our priorities. We wanted something attractive, informal, and with a reduced demand for water. We wanted a place that would welcome both people and birds. And finally, I asked for two raised beds, each four by ten feet, in which to grow veggies. Could we have all that on a small lot? You bet! Click on the diagram at top of this page for a larger view of the first (now revised) plan.
Our front yard is quite small and partially shaded by the house. We didn’t want a lawn there—the only time we’d ever walk on it was to mow it. Instead, we decided on rock retaining walls and large boulders, conifers, sprawling evergreen shrubs, and many native flowers, all designed to remind one of the nearby mountains. (We’re stuck with an English Oak for a street tree, but it won’t be big enough to have an impact for years and years.)
For conifers, our designer picked out several dwarf spruce cultivars (no doubt substitutes for the rejected junipers), and a semi-dwarf limber pine. In the shade by the front door, Mahonia repens will provide four-season interest, along with a variety of hardy geraniums. I’m especially excited about trialing several Manzanita cultivars (left), which are intended to spill over the stonework. Both the Mahonia (aka Oregon Grape Holly) and the manzanitas produce berries, which I’ll be happy to share with the birds.
The backyard will be quite different. Our large deck and a scaled-down lawn will offer space for rest and play. Surrounding the lawn we’ll plant five trees– a hawthorn and a chokecherry for their bird-attracting fruit, two pines to provide winter cover and jay-pleasing pinecones, and a MacFree apple tree to make Pete happy. The trees will also provide a buffer between our property and the open space next door.
Finally, at a wider spot in the side yard, I’ll plant a nectar garden to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The rest of the space will be occupied by berry-producing shrubs, colorful perennials, and yes, my two veggie beds.
The plan looks great on paper, and we’re excited. Everything has been approved, and work will start as soon as our landscaper has an opening. Frustratingly, the rainiest May on record has everything backed up, so it might be a while before they get to us. When they do, I’ll be sure to share how it goes.