Growing stuff in my smallish suburban yard

Garden to-do list (with ugly photos)

It’s the time of year that I start getting anxious to get outside and get my hands dirty, but there’s so much clean-up work to do after a tough, cold winter. I get much more excited about buying and planting new things than about taking care of what’s already there. So to motivate myself, I’m going to post photos of the various parts of the yard that really need work. Actually, that’s most of it. Not just the usual spring pruning and weeding, but also areas that I’ve neglected for years. This is the year for us to do some major work, I think, and whip things into shape. Here’s what I’ve got planned.


I should probably sweep the porch from time to time.

This little trough in front of the house is nice, but the trees around us are a source of constant pine needles piling up here and on the porch. There’s a giant old rhododendron here that does produce some nice springtime flowers, and after years, I’ve finally managed to get some stuff to grow in the trough. Mostly sweet woodruff and that one big bleeding heart. By June, it’s big enough to engulf half the porch.



A young but crowded border bed.

This is the long border that’s near the street in our front yard. We built the little rock wall last year, and I’ve slowly been filling it in with plants. I’m trying to use lots of light colors; variegated foliage and white or yellow flowers, because it’s partially shaded by trees and needs to pop a little. But it’s been so slow filling in. The crocuses have had their day already, and the tulips are getting ready to bloom. There are a couple of euphorbias, including one of those great striped white ones, which you can see there by that pile of rocks. The rocks are supposed to be ornamental; what it really needs is some sort of statue or birdbath. I don’t exactly know. Like most of the rest of my yard, it’s a mishmash of things that caught my eye at nurseries, without focus or plan. I’m hoping that as it grows in, there will be a nice cottage garden effect. I’ve got a lot of groundcovers here and there that should, in another couple of years, fill in some of that empty space.



Another view of the front border.

That bare-looking tree in the middle here is a wild lilac (Ceanothus, not a real lilac). It’s got some amazing blue flowers that bring all the bees to the yard. But it also had a tough winter, and a lot of the inner branches look dead. There’s green on the tips, so maybe it’ll just need some hard pruning this year. To the right are a couple of staghorn sumacs, which I love in the fall, but which spend much of the spring and summer in a state of unleafyness. There’s also a smoke bush (Cotinus) that I have eternal high hopes for. Every year it looks nicer, and its red leaves do look lovely from summer until late fall.



Grass hates this area.

And this is the sad area I call the “lower front yard.” Our house is on a weird, two-level lot; this is the lower level. There are trees to the left of this photo which shade this whole area, making it possible for only the toughest grass to grow there, and of course the little shotweed plants that grow happily in any location at all. I don’t even bother to pull them out here, because hey, they’re green. There are a couple of patches of euphorbias, too, and those thankfully grow just about anywhere too. I really, really need to do something about this area. At the very least I should weed that patch of planting that’s over there next to the neighbor’s driveway. That’s definitely on this year’s to-do list.



Gone to hell.

And from there, we come to what we call “the sideyard.” It’s the corridor between our house and the neighbors’. On the left is a chain link fence, which I don’t think we can get rid of without some hefty expenditure, so I’ve encouraged honeysuckle vines to grow on it. There’s also a random mix of bamboo, miscellaneous shrubberies, happily spreading Vinca major, bamboo, and weeds, weeds, weeds. I have big plans for this area, though. There is a gravel path there, covered in weeds; I want to dig it all up and put down slate stepping stones. It needs some kind of enclosure for the air-conditioning unit (a lovely industrial touch), and more growth against the fence to hide that ugly thing. I transplanted some bamboo from a gardening neighbor; it’s the perfect place to plant it, with the neighbors’ concrete driveway on one side and the house on the other. If there’s any place I want things to be invasive, it’s here. Except the damn weeds. So I expect to spend a lot of time in this part of the yard in the coming year.



One nice little friend in the side yard.

At least these guys are happy in that sideyard mess.



Much work needed here.

As much as it embarrasses me to post this, I need to be honest: this is the state of our backyard. This patch is the vegetable garden from last year; this year it’s back to flowers for me. But I don’t want to just re-dig it and plant, I want to really plan out what’s going to be done in the back yard. It’s also a two-level affair, like the front; I want to join up the various borders you can see here around the edges, and have a nice little pool of grass in the middle. Maybe it’ll even be grass without moss and clover…but I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath for that. The most amusing and ugly thing about this photo is that our table and chairs there in the seating area by the shed were covered with a nice cover last fall, which the ravages of winter have caused to rip. It looks so trashy just hanging there like that, but it hasn’t been nice enough to justify taking the cover off yet. That can be a pleasant area, when all the containers are freshened up and you’re sitting around the little firepit with a drink; it’s just ugly and unkempt at the moment. And it wouldn’t kill me to sweep the stairs there often enough that plants don’t grow on them. More for the to-do list.



Dog town.

And this is the “lower back yard” aka “where the dog poops.” It has some nice features; there’s a pretty clematis on that back fence, and some hardy geraniums, a climbing hydrangea, a happy shrubby hydrangea, some ferns, some Gooseneck Loosestrife, and a few other shade specimens — none of which are doing much this early in the year. The bushes to the left get pretty nice white blooms on them around July, but in the winter and spring they’re not good for much except blocking the view of the neighbors’ house. We also have a healthy crop of dog toys and balls, because Mina thinks this area is not just her toilet but also her toybox.


This was nice once.

There’s that clematis. It really will be pretty in a month or so. To the right is my ancient lavender; one of the first things I ever planted here. I haven’t cut it back yet because I think it’s coming out this year. You can’t see it, but next to it is what used to be a wonderful, tall eucalyptus. The poor thing, which I loved dearly, didn’t make it through the winter, like so many things. So both are going to the compost bin. And I so badly need to weed the area against that back fence. There are some great little plants in there but they’ve been overtaken by lawn grass.



Fresh start for the herb garden.

This has always been what I think of as the herb garden; up ’til this year it hosted two massive sage bushes and a decade-old rosemary. But the rosemary died in the cold, so out it came. And I figured I’d just yank out the sages too, since they were a good three feet into the walkway. So I’ve gone and planted new baby sages, and a new rosemary, and there will be room in between for some other herbs until these three take over again. This is all underneath a very old lilac, which I’m sure was planted around the time the house was built in the 1960s, but the tree’s so tall that it doesn’t shade the area much at all (which also unfortunately makes it almost impossible for me to pick lilacs to bring indoors). The whiskey barrel there has been used for all kinds of things; now I’ve started another lavender in there, and packed in some hardy geraniums. Those will grow anywhere, and they’re my go-to plant in areas I don’t want to have to spend much time on.



Pears on the way.

Well, that’s about it. Here are some pretty asian pear buds to make up for all that ugliness. I hope to get a lot of these problem areas cleaned up, trimmed up, dug up and replanted over the course of the year, and I’ll try to be diligent about recording my efforts here. I know it’s really not that interesting to see the ugly side of other peoples’ gardens, but it’s good for me to be able to go back and see how things looked in the past, and encouraging to keep me going on future garden work. And I hope it made someone feel a little better about their own garden tasks as yet undone.

Happy spring!


4 responses

  1. I don’t know why you’d be embarrassed, it looks wonderful! The poor rosemary – I had one die too. I love the wild lilac bush. Sonya, this looks like it will be do much fun!

    April 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm

  2. This is just what it looks like after the winter has reluctantly unclenched her cold iron fist. In the summer it becomes a Babylonian garden of sin and delight!

    April 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm

  3. Stacy Winnick

    My rosemary died, too. The rabbits ate the little sage plants I planted to replace it. Chickens dug up the remaining roots. Dobby carried off the roots. Doomed, I think.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:36 am

  4. Chris Gorley

    Like your blog, Sonja. Your home and garden are beautiful. Have fun. c

    April 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

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