Design Time-Solutions For A Slope
Ideas have been swirling of late in the now muted-color-topped cerebrum, it is beginning to match the dried leaves. Ideas of all sorts float around in there, but many involve the garden, pondering how to improve the overall look, particularly in the late fall blending into winter season. Above, Rosa ‘Moonlight’ in the sky with diamonds, er make that dogwood buds and silver maple branches.
What we do have is lasting leaf cover around the ever expanding multitrunk silver maple. This tree was professionally given a drastic haircut during the initial home and garden renovation in 2000. The multi trunks included more trees than just the maple. Hackberries had cozied up dancing trunk to trunk and were removed. The remaining stumps were drilled with holes and weed killer was poured into those depressions full strength to hasten their demise. The use of these chemicals has long since stopped, but it worked. Other stumps were ground down by a massive machine to a foot or more below soil level, churning soil and chip into a casserole of goodness for plant roots. What was left was a nice pile of woodchips and a cleared hill just to the left of the pruned maple. It was early fall and good neighbor Mae called me over to dig a piece of each cultivar of daylily growing in her garden. Plastic grocery bags were labeled with permanent markers with the names copied from the metal tags stuck in the ground by each patch as we carefully dug. “Put your butt into it!” she said to me. She had heard me say that to offspring Semi when she was helping me plant the liriope rows along the front curbside and thought it hilarious. Well ladies, we do know from whence our strength emanates.
There were twenty five bags filled with large root clumps when we finished. Not sure where to place them, the blank hill of freshly ground woodchips seemed the logical choice. Pale buff colored bricks found on the property were used to identify each daylily, painted with the names as they were planted in a neat grid of rows. The paint used was nail polish of all colors, also found on the property, this time inside the house as it seems Miss Semi had, and still has a thing about painting her finger and toe tips on a nearly daily basis. As a word to the wise, while pretty and cheap, nail polish does not last more than a few months in the elements. Other labeling methods have been tried and the perfect one has yet to be found.
That was quite a detour from the intended topic, sorry. Now you know the origins of the daylily hill. Where were we? Ah, designing for the drab months of the year, it is flowing back now. The point of the paragraph above was to explain the situation that there is one area of fallen leaf duvet comforter while the remaining gardens are without any such desirable protective cover at all. Let us study the first gardens tackled when we moved back to Tennessee in 2000, the steep slope behind the main house. (I am aware that this year has already been mentioned but am trying to help some readers stay with the narrative.)
After being cleared and terraced with the backhoe brought in to dig the foundation for the main house addition, groundcovers were planted to help with erosion control over the entire north facing slope behind the main house. Many happened to be evergreen and added welcome color and interest in winter.
Duking it out are various dianthus, ajuga, golden creeping lysimachia, cerestium, creeping thymes and the deciduous but thuggish wild violets that simply cannot be eradicated no matter the thousands of hours spent trying to do so, among others. Constant rearranging was done to make the view more interesting. What is that blue flowering plant in the center of the above image, you might be thinking?
Reddish hued heucheras and Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ add jeweltones to the palette. Hellebores have colonized the hillside and are quite welcome with their larger dark green leathery finger shaped foliage. Mulching the hill, while somewhat expensive is necessary as heavy rains often will expose the roots of groundcovers and larger plantings, even the trees, dogwoods and Japanese maples. But mulching groundcovers is tricky business. Too thickly applied and the low growers will be suffocated, not enough and the roots are still bared to the occasional sunshine, never helpful for herbacious health.
Whilst determining the exact amount of mulch to use, much of the colorful tapestry is lost to the monotone of the soil enriching additions. (For those interested, the mulch we use is called soil conditioner, finely ground pine bark). The brown and grey leaf cover by the silver maple is also mulched. The solution to the sea of brown has been the addition of evergreen grasses and their close relatives, specifically Nasella tenuissima, assorted Carex, Blue fescue and Acorus. Golden yellows, blues and tans are embroidered throughout the hillside. Movement and dimension from the grasses add spice and animation to the landscape. The trees and shrubs of the hillside planting are the backbone, the skeleton helping to hold the soil in place and giving structural geometry in all seasons. The aforementioned dogwoods and maples are joined by azaleas, roses, fothergillas, flowering quinces, blue star junipers, heaths and hypericums among others. This seems like a motley crew, and it is, but these original plantings have been tweaked and edited until they are now pleasing to the eye and and cohabitating without major breakouts of botanical violence. There is artful, sometimes, and disastrous, occasionally, pruning done to maintain the right balance and light exposure for the underling plantings. Self seeding, unforseen spreading and even demises have continued to make the hilly garden constantly changing with little more than observation by the gardener for the plantings that make up the ecosystem. These plant selections are what works here in zone 7a southeast Tennessee on a sharply draining clay based acid soil. It is hoped that these selections might be helpful to both new and experienced gardeners working with their own diverse conditions. Results, as we all know, vary.
Other areas of the Fairegarden are still much more a work in progress. The aforementioned daylily hill, just outside the realm of the steep slope is constantly fiddled with. A couple of posts on this topic can be seen by clicking here and here. To have interest after the daylilies have finished blooming has proven to be an onerous task. The growing shade of the maple, oh yes that is why we told the story of the severely pruned maple, it all is rushing back into the cerebral folds now, is affecting what can be grown on the once sunny spot. The maple was slow to regrow its canopy with the drought years that followed its harsh haircut, allowing sun loving plantings to thrive underneath. That is changing rapidly now, as can be foretold in the crystal ball of foggy leaf cover. There are so many more leaves on the deck and paths, not to mention on the gardens where they are left to biodegrade this year. More leaves translates to more shade. That’s what trees do isn’t it, provide ever more shade unless catastrophic conditions cause the tree to die and then there is blazing sudden sunlight, as in the case of poor Ferngully, RIP. Plantings need to be adjusted as the light changes.
Next time kiddies, we will explore further the many variations of plantings on the daylily hill, for there is enough to digest for one posting here already, as I see by the word count at the bottom of the drafting page. Winter is an excellent time to ponder design, along with life the universe and everything.
In an abupt change of style, this post was written text first with the images added afterwards. It seems all crazy and mixed up, even with captions inside the photos. I like it!