Saturday, September 3, 2016



I have been improving my back yard these past few seasons, beginning in 2013. While most of my improvement projects that first year were devoted to urgent repairs on the house and garage, I did have my rotten deck replaced.

In 2014 my niece's fiancĂ©, Marcus, installed my courtyard garden, which I showed you in an earlier post. He also replaced my old arbor over the front sidewalk and replaced it with a gorgeous cedar arbor, and he and my niece, Kelsey, rototilled and planted a perennial garden in the back left of the property, and my daylily bed in the back right.

I can't think of any big projects accomplished last year but this year Marcus and his helper really went to town. The two prime reasons for the changes were my dogs barking at the neighbors, and the lack of shade over my deck after my beloved elm had to be cut down (see previous post). I knew that the shade for my deck would no longer be sufficient, but I went ahead and bought my shade plants anyway, because a lot of the temporary greenhouses pack it up by the end of June, and the permanent ones are out of annuals - at least the healthy ones - by then as well.

I knew the plants would suffer, and they did. A few of my orchids were severely burned, as well as a bird's nest fern. Impatiens, my old reliables, sickened. Some houseplants actually bit the dust!  I quickly researched cloth shade sails and umbrellas, and ultimately decided on two huge umbrellas in a gorgeous blue, which Marcus and his friend installed. They lasted two days - literally. I bought these umbrellas for shade, not for me but for the plants, so I left them up during the day. The second day, a huge wind/rain storm whipped through town while I was at work, and broke the ropes on both umbrellas, destroying their capacity to open and close. They were a total loss - a bitter disappointment and a hit in the pocketbook.

Then, Marcus offered to build a pergola. I am quite satisfied at how well it turned out, except that I had hoped for longer, more dramatic Japanese-style rafters. I was thrilled at how they blended the deck, built by other contractors, with the new pergola. The top photo is the view looking up from the lower deck, and the bottom photo shows it from the back yard. If you enlarge the photo you can see Holly giving an adoring look to "her Marcus", the photographer, and also a part of the lower deck behind the garage.

Mostly, I am tickled pink with how it turned out. Not only can I place a lot of annuals and houseplants in the shade, I can hang orchids from the lattice top (photo taken before I did this). Other plants include heliotrope, pansies, regular and New Guinea impatiens, tuberous and dragon-wing begonias, and several varieties of fuchsias. I am also able to hang wind chimes, votive candles and garden flags. I have mounted plant hangers on a couple of posts, and hung some of my smaller "Green Men and Women" plaques from other posts. The deck has really become a "Garden Room". (This view is looking toward my patio door into the kitchen.)

This view is looking out toward the back yard, where you can see the new fence that Marcus and his partner built. Next year I plan to hang my larger Green Men and Women on the fence. Holly no longer barks at the kids who live behind me, and they no longer shriek in fear when they see her (as if Holly would harm a fly). The white arbor over the statue was secured so it won't fall over every time the wind blows a bit.

This is one view of my courtyard garden, all filled up! It has a new black metal fence this year. Purchased at Lowe's, it was quite inexpensive and went up quickly. It is a huge success in fulfilling the purpose it was added for, to keep the dogs (mainly Holly) from digging up the dirt squares and knocking over pots.

This is another view of the courtyard garden, and unfortunately of my neighbor's driveway. However, when I am down in the courtyard , I have perfect privacy due to the grapevine. I also have privacy on the other side of the yard, from my neighbor's ivy. Both are excellent for hiding chain link fences. However, you will note that I said I have privacy. Holly can still see through the chain links, and barks excessively at the neighbors, and especially rabbits, cats, and children, whom she appears to have never seen before.
So that problem still needs to be resolved. And my hugest disappointment to date is the 2014 re-seeding of the back yard. It cost a lot, and did not take. Last year, it was half grass covered with plaintain weeds and half bare dirt. This year it is an explosion of weeds of all sorts and great height. I have had two helpers hack away at the weeds over the summer, and recently had a go at them myself. I am half wishing for fall so that the weeds will die!
It is clear that next year's project is seeding the lawn again - but making it smaller, by carving out more perennial beds to replace a lot of the grass. Ah, there will be a lot of dreaming over the long, cold winter.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


This is a picture of my house in Bismarck, ND. It isn't a recent photo - I've since installed a new door that isn't blue, and a new arbor. These days, a massive William Baffin rose climbs over the arbor. But aside from those changes, it looks about the same as it always has. At least it did, until a few days ago.
I have to admit I shed a few tears when I came home that afternoon, all because of a tree. When I pulled into  my driveway, I could see a huge gap behind my house that used to be filled by that giant American elm tree you see in the picture. I knew it was no longer there, but it upset me just the same.
You may remember that in October I posted about a giant limb from that tree falling on my house during a hurricane-force  windstorm. How it frightened  my dogs and me, and how I had to have the limb removed and my roof repaired due to the two big holes it caused.
The owner of the tree service that removed the limb advised me that the tree was irreparably damaged, and that it would have to come down. Realistically, I knew he was right. But when I saw the blank canvas left by the tree's removal, I felt like I was the executioner and that I had held the axe.
This tree, I'm sure, was about as old as my house, built in 1929. It had weathered so much, through at least three different owners. In our time alone, it made it through two microbursts and a catastrophic wind and rainstorm last June. (In that storm, a lot of live and dead limbs came down, but the strength of the tree was not affected.)  But by signing the contract to have the tree taken down, I feel like I signed its death warrant. I had thought for sure nothing would harm this tree, except Dutch elm disease.
One of the reasons that Dan and I bought this house, other than that it was a neat stucco cottage and was located in an old Bismarck neighborhood, was the fact that it had such wonderful trees. Yes, the boulevard trees were already gone, and we saw evidence of three threes that had once lived in a row at the back of our property. But there was a gorgeous weeping birch out front, an ancient  - and prolific - apple tree in the back, and that elm, probably one of the largest in town.
But one by one, we lost them. The weeping birch fell victim to a tiny insect, the bronze birch borer. The tree was already dead when we had it removed. The apple tree, a victim of all sorts of blights,  just plain fell over after a violent storm. And then the elm.
It's true, sometimes I had a love-hate relationship with the tree. In drought years, it produced millions of elm seeds, causing drifts of light green along the curbs, the seeds sprouting anywhere and everywhere they found a speck of dirt. Some year, it had aphids, whose sticky black sap was so hard to remove from cars and deck furniture. Other years, we had to deal with little green worms that spun down on nearly-invisible threads to unceremoniously land on our heads and in our dinner plates. The elm provided so much shade that grass would not grow under its canopy, and not many flowers either.
Some of the branches were already dead. Val, our foreign exchange student, was always afraid that one particular branch would fall on her head when she sat out on our deck. Val, it was an entirely different branch that fell on the house. "Your" branch stayed intact until the end.
But what wonderful shade that old tree provided. The deck was almost always cool and comfortable. There, I was able to grow my orchids, begonias and impatiens, and summer over my houseplants.  When the breeze was gentle, the branches swayed gracefully. Sometimes when it rained we could stay outside on the deck for a long time because the leaves protected us from the drops. I could tell when fall first arrived when the branch closest to the deck turned yellow overnight. And in the spring, it was the first branch to bud out.
Many summer evenings, after dinner, I would just lean back in my deck chair and stare up at the leaves, watching as they changed in color from light green to dark green to black as dusk descended. And after dark, I would seek out the moon and the brightest stars among the branches.
But now, the tree is  - simply - no more. Gone too are the squirrels who scolded our dogs from a safe vantage point. Gone are the chickadees and nut hatches who scrambled up and down the trunk in the wintertime.
I cannot believe how the landscape of my backyard has changed. That first afternoon afternoon I walked around the yard, stunned at the difference. I will never be able to garden the same again. Yes, maybe I can now have an actual lawn, and flower beds too. But will it have been worth it, after all?