|The property as it looked this morning|
Slowly, piece by piece, the landscape of 26 Pine Street is beginning to take shape.
This is a long-term project; undertaken by two people who are hell-bent upon being able to say that they did this themselves. There is a shopping list for trees, shrubs, and perennials; but their purchase is dictated by season and getting not just the right cultivar, but also the right conformance and pedigree.
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For example, there is a designated space in our landscape for a cercis canadensis, the forest pansy redbud. We have been to five nurseries of which three had specimens. But the trees we found were leggy, too small, or had branches crossing so badly that the tree would need to be pruned close to extinction to have the right shape.
One cercis met all criteria but, curiously, it was both balled and burlapped and in a container. Also, its leaves had turned green though it was early July and there had not been the string of warm nights that are generally required to make that transformation. Those oddities caused us to ask questions, which eventually revealed that the tree’s origin was South Carolina. We were looking at a tree bred for Zone 7 or 8, about to be plunged into Zone 5. Sensibly, we passed.
The lone cersis that passed all tests had a tag on it indicating that it was being held as a possible replacement tree. We called or visited the nursery every few days, hoping to spring the tree free. Alas, it was called away. We will wait until 2016 to find our specimen.
This is also predominantly a native garden. There are two kinds of chionanthus – fringe trees. Ninety percent of what is in nurseries is chionanthus chinesis, the Asian cultivar which is more popular because it grows more quickly. We held out for virginicus, the native version. It’s smaller (for now) but it’s what we wanted.
There are non-natives in the garden. Hostas and epimedium can be found in multiple places. These are the ‘friendly’ aliens. They won’t take over the garden; they won’t spread seeds in the woods.
Most surprising to most visitors and passers-by is that ours is, by choice, a grassless garden. Our goal is to emphasize trees and shrubs (most of them flowering) and perennials. We sold our mower when we moved, cementing that lawn-less decision. The 45 cubic yards of mulch we have put down ensure that few weeds pop up. We’re also saving thousands of gallons of water in a town that, in summer, pumps more that 100% of the water being replenished in its aquifer.
In time, the additional shrubs and perennials we plant will grow to maturity. When they do, the absence of grass will cease to be an issue because the greenery will predominate. We’re willing to wait.
We know our garden is not for everyone. It’s a statement about conservation; a demonstration that ‘thoughtful’ landscaping can also be colorful and attractive. We’re out working in front of the property most mornings before 6 a.m. and we get hundreds of walkers, bicyclists, and joggers every week. There are lots of ‘thumbs up’ and many encouraging words.
All gardening should be a labor of love. This one is also a journey of educating ourselves and those who are open to a different vision of suburban horticulture.