June 23, 2015

The Pine Street Status Report

A year ago this month a dilapidated, 70-year-old-house surrounded by end-of-life pines, burning bush, and swallowwort was torn down.  In the town where I live, such demolitions are the precursor to the building of a grand house, typically four thousand square feet (or more) in size.  Surrounding the foundation of that house will be a fringe of evergreen shrubs and, beyond that, a perfect green lawn with a handful of ‘usual suspect’ trees.  The care and maintenance of the property will left to a landscaping company that will deliver on its promise of a verdant, manicured lawn and a mailbox surrounded by annuals.

Part of the 30 cubic yards of mulch
we've put down.  That's Magnolia
'Elizabeth' in the center.
Our new home has not followed that script.  It is just 400 square feet larger than the 1700-square-foot house it replaced.  It is that size because we moved out of a so-called ‘starter castle’ when its size no longer suited our needs (if it ever did) or our lifestyle.  In our new home, we actually use every room.

But if the new house that rose from the debris of the old one pleased our neighbors, it is the landscaping now taking shape that is drawing stares. 

My contribution is a stone wall that
will be the backdrop for a perennial
I’ve already chronicled the transformation of the ‘builder’s crud’ on the site into a suitable gardening medium (here and here).  Now, we’re starting to populate the roughly half acre of ‘usable’ (i.e., not wetlands) property with plants, trees and shrubs.  Ours is a street filled with walkers, and the number of ‘thumbs up’ we get from passers-by is gratifying.

The biggest hurdle people have is the notion that there will be no lawn.  What isn’t planted is mulched – a beautiful, dark brown wood mulch that holds in the moisture and keeps the weeds at bay.  Once down, it is zero-maintenance.  The mulch, in turn, will improve the soil; adding organics as it breaks down.  We’ve spread thirty cubic yards so far with an additional fifteen waiting in the wings.

Construction of the sidewalk, patio
and driveway start tomorrow.  Until
they're finished, most of the
perennials will stay in pots.
Already visible are the paths within the mulched area that divide the garden into distinct planting zones.  Eventually, those paths will be pea gravel; for now, they’re just beaten-down soil.  Each zone, in turn, is anchored by a native specimen tree.  The oxydendrum, amalanchier, and cornus florida have now been joined by a Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ (already truncated to ‘Liz’ in honor of one of my fictional sleuths), a blue-green concolor fir, and a cladrastis kentuckea – the same Yellowwood I described from the West Roxbury Garden Tour. 

We found the latter tree at Weston Nurseries where it had sat unsold because no one was certain of its name and, therefore, of its growing habits.  Betty took one look at the now-past wisteria-like racemes and squeezed my hand so tightly it nearly broke a bone.  We planted it this morning.

The shrubs are going in according to a scheme that Betty is devising as she walks the property.  Perhaps thirty shrubs are now in place, scattered in various beds as she determines that they ‘look right’.  It is a small fraction of the eventual population.

Next week, this will look quite
Perennials are mostly being held in abeyance for the construction of the sidewalk, patio, and driveway.  We’ve installed a few of the peonies and amsonia, but there is an army of heuchera, tiarella, and hosta awaiting the ‘all clear’ signal on the construction front (which commences tomorrow and will last about a week).

My own contribution to this effort is the building of a stone wall.  It is roughly fifty feet long and rises to a maximum height of about three feet.  Every stone came from the property; a remnant of that ‘builder’s crud’ we removed.  It will soon be the backdrop of a perennial border.

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