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I’m getting older – what that means for my home landscape

September 29, 2021 Dave Marciniak 0 Comments

It was time to reclaim what was mine. I swung my Hori knife like a machete, slicing through thick stalks of pokeweed and tangles of morning glory vines. Woody saplings fell before my expensive, ergonomically designed pruners. In a matter of minutes I built a pile of cuttings and weeds that dwarfed the nearby pallet of fieldstone. I was once again a proud steward of the land! 

And then I tried to stand up straight again. 

Picture of a jungle temple, with text that says my body is a temple... ancient and crumbling... probably cursed... hardoring an unspeakable horror

It’s amazing how quickly the landscape can get away from you at the best of times. 2021 sure hasn’t been the best of times. Foot surgery just before Christmas 2020 caused my back problems to get even worse, which led to back surgery in August. I quickly fell behind on landscape upkeep. My success at soil amendment hastened my failure at keeping the weeds from overtaking the beds. Mindy and I once again had That Discussion, the one where I insist I can handle it and she reminds me that I’m no longer 22 and I have a (hopefully) temporary disability. It’s pretty awesome being married to a smart woman, but the thing where she’s perpetually right does get a tad bit annoying. It’s time to make some changes. 

Step one – better plant decisions

I would love to say that my backyard is a carefully curated collection of one of a kind plants, but I’d be lying. My rear garden is a jumble of jobsite leftovers sprinkled with a few really cool specimen plants. I yanked out all the shrubs that were likely to cause maintenance issues, but I need to make some tough decisions re: perennials. 

Photo of Echinacea in my landscape bed

The thing is, I’ve been doing this long enough that I know what will behave and what will get away from me. I just need to curate what comes through the gate. 

Trees – I’m just about maxed out on trees. Dwarf conifers and smaller Japanese maples are probably ok, and I might sneak a fig in there, but anything bigger is out. If I had more space, I’d focus on slow growing, robust trees like oaks; moderate growers but heavy show-ers, like saucer magnolias; and maybe some hollies like ‘Mary Nell’ and ‘Emily Brunner’ because I think they’re neat. I’d also make it a point to avoid messy trees. The leaves that American hollies drop hurt, the leaves from evergreen magnolias are a nightmare, and walnuts sound like a sprained ankle every other week during nut season. That is not low maintenance. 

Photo of a columnar culrivar of magnolia grandiflora at George Washington's Mt Vernon
Magnolia grandiflora

Shrubs – Knowing that space is limited I won’t be doing anything big like a lot of viburnums or common lilacs. As much as I love pruning I can’t count on being able to fight a plant’s genetic programming for size.  I don’t consider a little leaf drop from a small to mid-sized shrub to be anything problematic, so I’m going to focus on unique shrubs that make me happy. That means cool shapes and forms, unusual foliage, or flowers and/or berries. Instead of random inkberry hollies clogging up my plant beds, every shrub needs to earn its place. 

Perennials – I’m going to make dumb choices with perennials, but let’s lie to ourselves and say there’s a plan. Piet Oudolf-style big swoops of perennials that fill out the beds are my best bet to out-compete weeds and lighten my mulch load. My eupatorium ‘Gateway’ are floppy and annoying this time of year so they should go (but they won’t). I’ll content myself with avoiding perennials that will make impenetrable mats of roots like Leucanthemum or Miscanthus, so my mistakes can get moved. 

Step two – use landscape design to limit my plant impulses

I’ve already started down this path. Keeping the plant beds a little shallower means I need to use my best judgement when planting. Theming certain areas – succulents, ferns, pollinator plants – gives me constraints. And, of course, the increasing shade as my maple grows will be a limiting factor. Now that we’re down to one dog, and he’s a lazy potato, I can play with the edges of the lawn to get some funky shapes going. 

photo of Jazzy Dawg, a gorgeous copper colored hound mix

Step three – create destinations that will pull me out to at least see what needs done

Even if I need to pay my crew to do the actual work, I need to know what’s ready for some TLC. I have 15,000 lbs of stone sitting at my friend’s farm, just waiting to be made into a killer water feature. I promised Mindy I’d build her an A-frame outdoor office/reading nook. And, even if it has to go in the full shade of the river birches, I’m building my greenhouse at some point. 

Step four – put beds-to-be into suspended animation

What does that mean? Arborist wood chips! Anywhere that I’m planning to put plants, but not for a while, will get a hefty 6-12” of wood chips. Conditioning the soil while suppressing weeds is pretty great. Hopefully I’ll heal enough that I can at least schlepp around something as light as a few wheelbarrows of chips. 

That’s the plan. I think it’s totally doable, and it’s really just following the same advice I’ve been giving my clients for years. If you’d like to be one of those clients getting awesome advice, contact us today! We’d love to make your landscape the best on the block.

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