Hello fellow readers, When I met Stephanie of Denville NJ, four years ago, she wished to forgo a front lawn and plant a garden she could stroll through and enjoy viewing from the inside looking out. An ambitious undertaking for most, but I quickly learned Stephanie didn’t think so.
I designed natural stone paths from the road to the front door and meandering across the front yard leading to a seating rock. My colleague, Robert of Sierra Landscape Management, resolved a drainage issue caused by road runoff, adding a boulder wall and garden steps to make the transition to the stone paths he so beautifully built. Folks likely thought we were crazy when well over three hundred plants arrived for the cottage-style garden designed to complement her charming home located in a lake community. Of course, it’s deer country, so plants highest in deer resistance were chosen. However, Stephanie wished for a few less resistant plants such as Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)— their late winter blooms are longed-for when all else is sleeping—and Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) with fragrant lavender spikes welcoming spring. Plus, she has a kindness towards wildlife and tolerates much more munching than most, despite my gentle persistence and provision of an organic deer spray remedy.
Stephanie’s not a fussy gardener either; we share that in common. She lets plants just be, such as the spent daffodil foliage left to decompose to provide nourishment for the soil. And, she does little to no deadheading so seed heads can fall and make more plants.
We planted pollinator magnets like Catmint (Nepeta faassenii), Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Plus, Blues Festival St. John’s-Wort (Hypericum kalmianum) along the road as it tolerates salt. My favorite Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum ‘Becky’, is peppered here and there, complimenting her cottage’s white trim. In the nooks and crannies of the walk are Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox), Scotch Moss (Saginaw subulate), and Mountain pink (Phlox subulate).
We returned recently to add more Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) to her back garden’s steep woodland slope and a new swath of Low Scape Mound Chokeberry under the large oak where chipmunks dug up herbaceous groundcovers planted previously. Hopefully, the more substantial roots of the Aronia melanocarpa, a low growing mound of glossy green foliage that turns bright red in fall, will better survive the ruckus of rodents.
While Robert was wrestling in the new plants, I toured the front garden and came across a field mouse nestled in the creeping thyme. He appeared to be sleeping but roused as I carefully stepped. His fur was mangy. Perhaps he was sick. Or maybe it was his time. It reminded me of an elderly raccoon that took up residence in our window well not long ago. Curt thought he could be rabid and should be removed. He was found lying near the brook the next day. Just as with our elderly raccoon, there’s solace in letting critters complete their lives amongst a garden of love.
“Are you glad you ripped out your lawn?” I asked Stephanie. “Most certainly. It’s less work than taking care of a lawn and a lot more fun.” Garden dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com
Last fall, I shared the story of Stephanie’s steep backyard leading down to the lower echelons of wilderness, which we didn’t see as a dilemma. More, an opportunity to create a woodland garden after removing years of debris from the previous owner and building a series of steps to maneuver the terrain. Then came the extreme gardening I call “goat gardening.” I invite you to read the full story – A Steep Woodland Garden.