Category Archives: landscaping

So Long Shrubs & Hello Clean Lines

Landscaping Update: Goodbye ShrubsThere are about a dozen projects inside the house that should be getting our attention. Half of those – like the fireplace and bathroom – were started over the winter and left mid-project. I said I’d come back to them when it warmed up and I could work with the windows open. Instead, we’ve spent most of the summer working on exterior projects. This is the upper Midwest, after all. We spend roughly six months of the year hunkered indoors, shivering and stuffing our faces full of baked goods to survive the darkness and cold. Once nice weather hits, we want to spend all of our free time outdoors.

Fortunately, there’s always gardening and landscaping to be done. Which means that we can be outdoors while also advancing the goal of transforming the house. This weekend, in addition to weeding the garden, which seems to be a never ending job, we finally cleaned up the south side of the house.

shrubs06We’ve been planning to remove these shrubs from day one. With this big, boxy house and its decorative trim, the tall, floppy shrubs felt too fussy. And this became even more apparent when we put the geraniums in the window box. No, this house should not be surrounded by commanding shrubbery. The house should shoot straight up from the ground, the trim and window box unimpeded. Besides, we recently learned that having tall shrubs close to the house has contributed to the deterioration of the wood trim and stucco at the base of the house. That was all the confirmation we needed!

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The four evergreen bushes came out easier than I expected. First, I used a saw to cut of the branches big branches off and then I cut them down to a stump.  If I had thought of it, I would have waited until fall to cut down the shrubs. The branches would make beautiful arrangements for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, they’re going to make a wonderful bonfire.

After they were cut down, I dug up the roots. OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve only dug up one bush’s roots. Digging up the roots is the hard part, of course. Not helped by the rocks that were used as ground covering on this side of the house. Besides, once the bushes were out, it was obvious that the hostas in front of the window box also needed to be transplanted elsewhere. So I abandoned the stumps and dug up the hostas.

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(Don’t worry – this will not be another project left half-finished. The rests of the stumps are coming out this weekend and mulch will be going down until we decide which plants we want to use as ground covering.)

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Yes, the house looks quite bare in the after photo. In fact, I probably shouldn’t call it an after photo at all. It’s really an in-progress photo. We will plant something on this side of the house – it will just be low and will probably have some white in it.  For now, we’re happy to let the house breathe a bit. You can probably see how the paint on the lower trim has flaked off in large patches. It looks like we’re putting off our plans to have all the trim repainted in a new color for the second summer in a row. However, we are going to take this opportunity to try to repaint the lower trim with color-matched paint. Having pulled out the shrubs, patching the lower trim will now be an easier job.

Kicking Off Summer at the Delbert Meier House

Kicking Off Summer at This American HouseIt was a long winter with a lot of long absences from the house so this Memorial Day weekend feels like quite a treat. Mother Nature gave us a couple of idyllic days filled with sunshine, warm breezes and bleeding hearts. There was a little rain as well but that just gave us an excuse to impose a day of inside projects.

bleeding hearts

These bleeding hearts are just about my favorite thing this year. At least, I think these are bleeding hearts. I had been calling them court jesters for their similarity to the hats worn from ye olde court jesters. But then The Mister had no idea what I was talking about when I was raving about the gorgeous court jesters in the yard.

Happy summer, folks!

UPDATE: Thanks to Cliff for emailing in with the identify of what we thought might be bleeding hearts. It turns out that we’re growing columbines in our backyard. These wildflowers are self propagating and bloom from late spring through early summer. Thanks for the note, Cliff!

Flower Power: Bringing Spring Indoors

Flower Power: Bringing Spring Indoors

After a long, cold and snowy winter, the first spring flowers feel like a gift from Mother Nature. It’s as if she’s saying, “Congratulations! You survived another upper Midwest winter!” And even when those flowers pop up where they’re not supposed to, it’s exciting to see their colorful little buds sprouting up from the ground.

When we pulled up the flower beds that the previous owners had planted around This American House, we relocated many of the plants and flowers. We also pulled up a bunch of bulbs that I threw in a bag with the intention of replanting later. We spread grass seed in the former flower beds and called it a season.

It looks like we missed a few bulbs … and I have to say that I’m not mad at that. When I saw these little yellow and purple flowers standing tall(ish) among the not-quite-green grass, I actually uttered the words, “Well hey there little guys! What are you doing here?” Although I was surprised that we had missed a few bulbs, the sight of the colorful flowers in the grass was delightful nonetheless.

Spring Flowers

Before I left the house to return to the city on Sunday, I pulled the flowers, bulbs and all, from the ground and dropped them into a little vase. They may not survive, I thought, but at least I’ll be able to enjoy the flowers on the drive back to the city.

Much to my surprise, the flowers not only survived the drive, they’re still thriving three days later. I’m not a botanist so I have no idea what these flowers are*. All I know is that I’m gladly accepting this gift from Mother Nature. And now I know that I need to find that bag of bulbs and find a place to plant them so that I can enjoy a little spring treat again next year.

*Thanks to my Instagram followers, I’ve learned that these are crocuses. According to Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Small bulbs like crocus not only provide winter garden color, but they naturalize, meaning that they spread and come back year after year—with minimum care—for an ever-larger display. As a bonus, deer, squirrels, and rabbits rarely bother early little bulbs.” Now I really do need to find a place to replace the bulbs I pulled up last year!

Images: This American House

Pic a Day: Leaves, Shadows & Blue Sky
November 11, 2014

Delbert Meier House | This American House

I snapped this photo before the rest of the leaves were gathered and burned. We made a big effort to clean up all the fallen leaves this year. The house sat neglected through much of summer and fall last year and by the time we closed on it at the end of November, there was a layer of snow covering everything. That made for a very labor intensive spring clean up. With the help of our friends Steve and Joan, we got the yard all cleaned up and ready to go for the winter. But that doesn’t mean we’re ready for snow!

Image: This American House

Slow & Steady Wins the Race: Discounted Shrubs

Slow & Steady Wins the Race: Our Discounted Shrubs

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate. OK, actually, we’re not really procrastinating with the landscaping. We were given the advice by a landscape architect that we should live with the landscaping for one full year before we make any major changes. While we wanted to rush out and buy all sorts of new plants and shrubs for the house this summer, we held back. And even if we had wanted to buy a bunch of shrubs, holy cow are they expensive!

As city boys, we had no concept of the cost of landscaping. In the dozen or so apartments we’ve rented over the years, landscaping was always the responsibility of the landlord. Plants and grass and trees and shurbs were the farthest things from our minds. Now that we’re homeowners, we’re getting a crash course in Landscaping 101 … along with a little bit of Economics 101.

On a recent trip to the local hardware store, we were delighted to see a sign announcing 60% off all perennials and shrubs. Of course, this late in the season the selection was somewhat lacking. Still, The Mister and I stood in front of the discounted perennials and tried to find something to take back to the house.

Digging Holes for New Shrubs | This American House

We ended up with two Purpleleaf Sand Cherry plants, plus two other shrubs and an annual. I actually thought we were buying three Purpleleaf Sand Cherries but when I got home I realized we only had two of them.

We don’t really know where these shrubs will live on a permanent basis but we do know that we need to get them into the ground before it gets too cold. So we planted the two Purpleleaf Sand Cherries in the side yard. Once spring arrives we can either move them or, more likely, fill in around them to create a bed of shrubs in our side yard.

Digging holes in the ground always reminds me of those Loony Toons cartoons when Bug Bunny would dig his way to China. It also usually gets Peter Gabriel’s Digging in the Dirt playing on a continual loop in my mental jukebox. Yes, folks, that’s just how my mind works!

Purpleleaf Sand Cherry | This American House

They may not look like much right now but the shrubs will (hopefully) fill out quickly. They are supposed to grow to seven feet in height and five to seven feet in circumference. And, again, if spring arrives and we think they should be moved, we’ll dig them back up and move them. At 60% off their original price, they were just too good to pass up!

Images: This American House