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The New Front Garden, Year 4: The Big Push

October 8, 2018

When the new addition on the front of my house was completed in the spring of 2015, I embarked on a five-year project to create a whole new front garden.

new addition image

In the first year, I installed concrete pavers to create a patio and walkways (see Hardscape), and then I created several small flower beds around the hardscape (see First Flower Bed of the New Front Garden, The Porch Border, The Lavender Walk, and Mission Accomplished). In the second year, I completed the side slope garden, a major undertaking, and got most of the Fragrant Garden done. Year three (last year) was a bit of a slack year. I completed the planting for the Fragrant Garden, created a tiny rain garden nearby, and seeded clover on a wide grassy swath to connect the now-completed upper garden to the lower garden below the retaining wall (see New Front Garden: Year 3 Progress Report and My Mini Rain Garden). I had also intended to create a shrub planting at the curve in the clover path as part of my year three efforts; but when I realized that I would be taking a course in October at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on how to select native shrubs for the Maine garden, I thought it wise to postpone this project until after the course.

That decision was the right one; I was much better prepared to select plants and design the Shrubbery with the course completed. But the delay meant that I was behind schedule as I entered the fourth year of my five-year plan. To get back on track, I would need to complete the Shrubbery and turn the large weedy front slope (about 750 square feet) into garden. This was a very ambitious goal, and I was not sure I could get it all done in one short Maine garden season. But I decided to dig in (literally) and make a big push to get both plantings completed.

Shrubbery siteFirst up was the Shrubbery. I made a tentative planting plan over the winter (see The Shrubbery), and bought many of the shrubs from the New England Wildflower Society, a good source of New England native plants. I placed an order with them in April, was notified in mid-May that my plants were ready, and drove down about a week later to Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts (about three hours from my Maine home) to pick them up. By the time I brought the plants home, I had almost finished preparing the site, which involved clearing out unwanted growth and tilling in compost to amend the acid, sandy soil. I finally got all the plants in the ground the third week in June.

shrubbery plants

Even as I was planting the Shrubbery, I had already begun work on the big Front Slope project. I had decided to divide this slope into four horizontal bands with decreasing amounts of soil amendment from top to bottom (Thinking About the Front Slope). I began work on the bottom band in spring. front slope wildflowersThis was easy to prepare, requiring only that I weed out unwanted plants. I planted seeds of our native sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) before the last frost. Then, in late May, after the lupine seeds had germinated, I added plugs and plants of bluets (Houstonia caerulea), wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), a groundcover dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), and native stiff flax-leafed aster (Ionactis linarifolia). Except for the lupine, these were plants that were already growing in my unamended loamy sand.

By mid-June, I had moved on to the second horizontal band from the bottom, where I removed weeds and then amended the soil by tilling in compost. This went quickly, and the soil was ready for plants by the beginning of July. Some of these were plants I had grown before (including Phlox subulata, Geranium sanguineum, Rudbeckia hirta and Tradescantia virginiana). Many of the plants in this band, however, were new to my garden, chosen because they should do well in dry, sandy soil. Most were planted in repeated groups of three, and they included butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), two species of tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata and Coreopsis grandiflora), spotted bee-balm ( Monarda punctata), purple poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata), Echinacea pallida and Vernonia letermannii, a shorter, more feathery cousin of our New York ironweed. Many of the new-to-my-garden plants were purchased in a tray of plugs from Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota; others were bought in pots from local nurseries.

rudbeckia hirta with poppy mallows monarda punctata

front slope diggingThe idea behind this big planting was to move from wildflowers at the bottom of the slope to a more formal perennial garden at the top of the slope. This meant that the soil in the top two bands had to be amended much more heavily, using a modified double-digging approach (see To Dig or Not To Dig), a much more time-consuming process. It took about two months, working on it about fifteen hours per week, for me to prepare this soil for plants. I finally put plants in the ground shortly after Labor Day.

The plants on the upper parts of the slope are mostly familiar from other parts of my garden. There is a row of shrubs – including roses, spirea, and weigela – along the bottom of the retaining wall; the rest are perennials. Lavender and Coreopsis verticillata are planted along the walkway as a continuation of the Lavender Walk. Much of the upper slope is planted in daylilies, more than twenty different varieties. These are accompanied by Liatris, false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novi-angliae), purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), and two more species of beebalm (Monarda didyma and Monarda fistulosa). Here is the hot-colored planting design for this sunny slope.

image

Of course, like most new plantings, this one is looking a bit limp and sparse right now. But I am hoping for a glorious season of blooms next year.  And then, it will be on to the fifth and final year of my front garden project.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2018 10:18 pm

    Your effort makes my replanting of my front garden following removal of the lawn there look like a walk in the park, Jean (and I remember how exhausting, if also thrilling, that was). With the amount of planning and energy you put into this effort, I’ve no doubt the results will be glorious and I look forward to seeing your new garden as everything starts to fill in. I expect this is one winter you may appreciate the opportunity to put your feet up and enjoy the seasonal garden break!

  2. janesmudgeegarden permalink
    October 9, 2018 1:51 am

    It’s a long labour of love Jean, but so worth all the careful preparation and planning. I look forward to seeing some photos when your garden comes into bloom in your northern spring. I have never been patient enough to plan so carefully, so I often have to move my plants to better spots.

  3. October 9, 2018 8:06 am

    As always, I am so impressed by your thoughtfulness and thoroughness in planning the front garden. What an effort! and how exciting it will be in the spring, when plants begin to show their stuff. Congratulations.

  4. October 14, 2018 8:11 am

    I love this recap and progress report. I remember you planning the front sloping part of the garden and having the house extension done, from the initial garden sketch to the computer-drawn picture of the sloping bed. I’ve loved seeing the progress of the various new borders and I can’t believe we’re in year 4 already, soon to be 5. Doesn’t time fly when gardening!

  5. October 21, 2018 5:54 pm

    That first year of settled in growth is always the most exciting.

  6. November 6, 2018 1:14 am

    Very impressive article. you have such a thoughtful planning about the front garden as well.

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