Update on lawn removal projects…

Early last summer I shared that we were embarking on several lawn removal projects. Because our mixed grass lawn (a euphemism for a jumble of lawns planted and repaired over the 17 year life of this home) leans heavily to common bermuda we had the lawn in areas we planned to renovate professionally chemically treated. Bermuda needs heat to break out of dormancy and the grass needs to be actively growing for the chemical treatment to be effective. We were well into July before any of the areas could be worked. In my August 15, 2016 post I shared photos of the two very small areas we had completed. I am pleased to say the little crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’, which looked like it had been involved in nuclear accident, has survived and, although this white flowering hybrid is still smaller than some of my husband’s walking sticks, it has just started to put on its new leaves. We underplanted it with a couple of six packs of one of my favorites, Convolvulus mauritanicus ‘Moroccan Blue’ and they are really coming on. I showed you this clear blue ground morning glory used as ground cover elsewhere in my garden in my April 12, 2016 post on ground covers. Here’s how it looks today:

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This winter’s rain was plentiful enough that we have not used our irrigation system since November. As the year heats up I will evaluate the need for extra water to these new plantings and hopefully will be able to eliminate 2 of the 3 sprinkler heads.

The second small area was basically a upside down U shaped extension of a lawn area that was always an issue to mow and continually dry as it sloped down and away from the rest of the lawn. The August picture showed the 3 Double Knock Out roses we used to fill the area–you could not even see the one itty bitty lavender Lantana montevidensis in the center! It has steadily filled the area since then and now forms a bright carpet which will provide a nice contrast to the dark pink blooms in a month or so. I had also added in some tall bearded iris divisions gleaned from other beds and their foliage is strong and proud! This newish bed, even though south facing, may be challenged with too much shade from mature trees in its vicinity but it is getting a good start. The three evergreen shrubs you see in the background are Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’ planted about 5 years ago. This cultivar is one of the smaller euonymus varieties and will grow to a relatively narrow six foot high columnar form, forming a nice green backdrop that is pleasing on both sides from our property line.

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You can see my spring efforts toward top dressing all my beds with new, rich and dark humus has not reached this side of the garden yet.

And now for the big reveal of what has seemed to the project with no end–what we call the driveway circle bed. Not really a circle, this bed is about 400 square feet and sits on the corner of our two driveways. I had to go way back into my digital photo files to find a pic of this bed about 6 months after we moved in.

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The 3 foot tall boxwood hedges were a design element throughout the original landscape. Every one of the original beds had its own hedge separating it from the lawn areas. The interiors of most of the beds only occupants were China Doll roses. Many, many China Doll roses. The driveway bed was originally planted with three crape myrtles but only a stump of the west facing one remained in 2008. Over the last 8 years we have removed all but one of the hedges and now keep that one loosely trimmed (you can see it in the first picture of this post), rather than sheared. Over the years the roses became so shaded out that we had few, if any, blooms. I added perennials and annuals along the edges of the beds, including hundreds of bearded iris, but most simply failed to thrive after a while–lots of tree root competition, either total dry shade or screaming hot sun, and then they were the snails! The lawn thinned and suffered from all of the above and it became a logical, confined area from which the lawn could be removed. The optimum area to actively garden in this bed was the lawn area–leaving as much of the interior undisturbed for the trees. It all seemed so simple when I said it but turned out to be so much easier said than done!

The roots from the two mature and very large trees were everywhere and demanded very careful pick and shovel work to even remove what remained of the underground leftovers of the turf. My prime directive to my intrepid and pretty long suffering gardener’s strong man husband was that we save the crape myrtles at all costs! Even though they don’t bloom spectacularly well (I prefer not to severely prune them to stimulate new blooming wood) they provide us with screening from the street that could not be replaced in our lifetimes. We completed double digging and amending the narrow street curve side of the bed in late October, the southwestern facing section in January and finally the remaining northwestern areas a couple of weeks ago. As we went, we realigned the irrigation, hoping to end up eliminating an entire sprinkler line. I am sure the whole project was a true source of amusement to most of our neighbors, at least one of whom put in an entire new drought tolerant front landscape while we were still shoveling and wheelbarrowing.

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The crape myrtle leaves are just peeking out and the entire bed has a fresh layer of humus.  All looks very fresh in the early morning light!

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On the narrow east facing street side  I kept the planting to a minimum adding only a curve of Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ and small starts of the trailing lavender lantana that is so successful here seemingly regardless of heat or drought. This strip is ground zero for tree roots and the pittosporum is tolerant of competition. ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ was bred at the Wheeler Nursery in Macon, GA which was only a few miles from my home there. It has gained great favor as an evergreen shrub tolerant of many growing conditions with little care once established. They will form 2-3-ft. high ground hugging mounds not more than 4-5 ft. wide, perfectly filling this difficult area with year round green. the lantana will add a little color and substance while the pittosporum are small and repeats a color and form element used elsewhere in the front.

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In previous seasons I had added daylily divisions and some ground cover starts of Vinca minor ‘Bowle’s Variety’. We left these, along with three Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Berlin’ intact. The vinca colonies are small but mighty hugging the bases of the trees and I tucked a few more in the bed’s shady interior. This evergreen spring blooming creeper is a cheerful lilac and sports a white rimmed eye.

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The west facing section is in full sun virtually all day. I placed 5 Double Knock Out roses at the southwestern most corner, repeating the color vignette from the far side of the yard by underplanting them with the lavender lantana. Modern shrub roses are remarkably drought tolerant once they are established and the Knock Out series of roses has proven to be as tough as nails in my garden. Three Salvia greggii ‘Alba’ will provide a little white bloom relief from the bed’s predominantly lavender, purple and dark pink scheme. Several handfuls of daffodil bulbs got moved around in the digging–I like where this group landed! The foliage in the foreground are newly leafed out ground cover roses, Pink Splash Flower Carpet. I love striped roses and all the better if they are pink and white. As the bed curves to the northwest I planted another large grouping of salvia, my go-to Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’. There are five plants, placed on 3 foot centers.  Planted from 4″ pots found last fall in a local nursery’s $1 pitiful plants section, they are so small they would not even show up in photos.

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The shape and nature of the bed has opportunities for plantings all the way from full shade to full sun. The north curve gave me a chance to try something new. In my hunt for a 2-3 foot evergreen spreading shrub tolerant of shade but still having a bit of color I found Correa ‘Carmine Bells’. Commonly called Australian fuchsia, this delicate looking shrub needs good drainage and does well in poor or rocky soil. The winter blooming flowers are purported to be dainty little dark red bells which hang below the branches.

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The center of the bed was a dilemma. It is quite a large area and its plantings would serve as the backdrop for everything planted around the perimeter. My first choice was Plumbago auriculata ‘Royal Cape’, the cape plumbago variety with the strongest blue flowers. This cultivar is a Monrovia grown selection and they tend to only offer them in a 5 gallon size. It would be very difficult to get a 5 gallon root ball in the center of the bed amongst the largest of the tree roots without damaging them. So without a plan B, I grabbed up several 4″ pots of Duranta erecta ‘Lime’ from the aforementioned $1 bargain bin. I have had one of these in a pot for years and its bright yellow green leaves practically glow when planted in concert with other darker green foliage. Duranta bear clusters of pale blue-violet flowers which are very attractive to butterflies. They can be a bit cold tender in my area but for a total $5 investment I just went for it. Not 3 weeks after I dug them in we had a really cold snap and all 5 little plant totally defoliated! You can see the one above has started to leaf out again. Four of the five look like they will survive–I used crape myrtle prunings to make little tripod protective structures for them so we wouldn’t step on the dead looking twigs through the winter.

I’ll give my initial plant choices a few more months to settle in before looking to add in additional plant material. I’ll mark my calendar for June to take a few more pictures so you can see how it is progressing!

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