Report from the Garden Coach…

Last night Frank from New York City Garden came by our place to check out the space, answer some questions, and give me some general advice and suggestions.

He’s a great guy and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to gardening / landscaping.  He was definitely a big help – thanks for coming out, Frank!

Here’s what we found out:

Frank identified several “mystery” trees on the property.  Surprise, surprise, several of them are “weed trees” that just went unchecked and have now become large, well-established trees.  Some of these trees are currently providing some privacy along our fence line, which is nice, but Frank reminded me that they will also provide competition for nutrients and water.  Perhaps I might like to have something else in their place?  Hmmm.

The yard also has one large sycamore tree and unfortunately it is not doing well.  The upper branches are dead and the tree appeared to be on the sick side.  If it continues this way it could present a danger in big windstorms, since it is so close to the house.  Hmm.  Tree removal is expensive, and would be up to our landlord.   This will be put on the back burner.

Rose of Sharon in the yard – sadly, this old tree is not doing well either.   The bark was dry and brittle and it’s producing very few flowers.  It’s also casting shade in a yard where sunlight is hard to come by.  Hmmm.  I do love this tree – it’s right outside of our bedroom, is nice to look at, and provides a bit of privacy.  But…I can tell that it is not in great shape.  I’m considering pruning it way back early next spring to see what, if anything, happens.  The other large Rose of Sharon in the driveway is doing much better.  It is also every old and very large, but it’s bark looks completely different and it is healthier in general.  I’m going to prune it back next spring too, and hopefully it will continue to do well.

It turns out the large, willowy, out-of-control trees along both sides of the driveway are untamed forsythias!  Who knew?  It sounds like they’ve been left to their own devices for a long time, and Frank wasn’t sure that they would bloom.  We’ll see if they do next spring, and if so, I’ll prune them back after flowering and see how they fare.  If they don’t bloom, maybe one day we’ll think about replacing them with something else we’d rather have there?  In the meantime, these old, established trees will be competition for my other plants.  Hmmm.

Soil.  It needs amending, which is no shocker.  Frank was able to dig into it pretty easily in a few places, a good foot deep.  He said it smelled alright, but overall it is pretty thin and very, very dry.  He was encouraged by seeing a few earthworm  holes, but we didn’t see any actual worms.  So it’s not horrible, but it does need help.  The good news is Frank says I can grow in this soil, so that makes me happy.  I’m having a hell of a time finding finished compost anywhere, though, which is a bummer.  I don’t need enough to qualify for delivery from some of the larger places who have it, and I probably need too much to buy it by the bag and haul it home.  Hmmm.   It’s not free, either.  I may have to decide between just amending one area, like the yard, and waiting on the driveway till next year (or just planting in the driveway without amending the soil and see what happens?)  Either that, or I’ll have to work fewer bags into all the areas….

The holly bush  – it’s a little out of control, and it’s providing direct competition to (and slightly overtaking) the sickly Rose of Sharon AND the hydrangea next to it.  I’m not a huge fan of the holly and it’s in one of the sunniest spots we have, so I’m in favor of removing it completely (which the landlords seemed okay with me doing) and taking advantage of that sunny spot to put in something else – a flowering quince?  A peony?  Another hydrangea?

The hydrangea – it is indeed an Annabelle variety, as I suspected based on the website / photos that Bev sent me.  That means it will most likely flower every year, no matter what I do to it.  Awesome.  Sound like I can prune it in Fall or Winter – just not in Spring or Summer when it’s preparing to bloom.

Frank thought the plants that Bev gave me were largely good candidates for the space, and he delivered the good news that a few others that I’ve had my eye on – Goats Beard and Astilbe in particular, should be great choices for our conditions.  He had a few other recommendations for me in the plant department, and he suggested a good nursery in Brooklyn that has decent prices and decent owners.  Good to know.

He had a great idea for this odd drainage pit under our kitchen window.  It’s about 4 feet deep and about 4 feet in diameter as well.  In order to take advantage of that space and yet not interfere with its purpose, Frank suggested eventually building a tiny “deck” or table – like a platform on legs, basically, over the pit so that we could put potted plants or bird feeders or whatever we want on the raised platform, which would be level with the ground so that we could step onto it.  I love this idea – it would be nice to have something right out our kitchen window, plants or birds or both.

Another great suggestion – planting a tree peony in a pot so that I can move it to another location if it doesn’t like where it’s been placed – as a way to decide on a more permanent location for it or another peony.  Sounds like a good way to see if there’s a place with enough sun, or what the plant will do with the amount of sunlight it can get in our yard.

We talked about ground cover possibilities to help cover the areas where grass doesn’t want to grow, and Frank talked to me about considering structure and function in our yard…how we want to be able to use it, etc.

It was all very helpful and I sure have a lot to think about.  Frank really stressed that it’s an ever-changing, ongoing process, forever!  He reminded me that you don’t have to try and do everything at once, nor should you.  So, I have a few things that will be longer-term projects to think on (some of the trees, removal of some existing plants, creating more privacy, etc.) and some things that will be on a more immediate “to-do” list – amending the soil being at the top of his list, if possible.

I’m going to do some digging / turning over the soil this weekend and just do some thinking. …or rather what I like to call “non-thinking.”  Repetitive actions like digging tend to “zen” me out and sometimes my better ideas come out of this combination of physical work and “non-thinking.”  We’ll see if I have any inspirations!

I will also try to track down at least a couple of bags of an organic, finished compost to start so that I can get some of Bev’s plants in the ground.  Very exciting!  I’ve drawn a few “maps” on graph paper – rough drafts, I’m sure, with possible locations for various plants and seeds.  Once I put things in, I’ll have to make a “finished” map so that I can remember what went where and keep track of whether seeds come up or not next year.

This weekend will be the first real step forward in the the creation of our garden!  I can hardly stand the suspense.


4 thoughts on “Report from the Garden Coach…

  1. Hiyah! How fortunate Frank could make a personal visit and offer his opinions, also helping with the tricky business of plant ID.

    Unruly, aging forsythias can sometimes be tamed. The “rule of thumb” there is removing one third of the oldest wood TO THE GROUND each season for three consecutive seasons, then you have a completely rejuvenated plant. (This rule applies to many other shrubs, too, although to preserve the most blooms it should happen right after flowering finishes.) But if you have the time and energy now to prune the gigantic forsythia, I would try it, especially if you can get more planting space by doing so. You’ll still have some spring flowers on the remaining 2/3 of the bush (or should I say tree?). Pruning saw or lopping shears are probably needed. Possibly a chain saw. New thinner branches will sprout from the base of the plant.

    Frank’s platform idea for the drainage pit sound genius!

    I was thinking of you yesterday as there was a Craigslist Ad for a free wheelbarrow in the Lehigh Valley.

    Composted cow manure would be a second choice for soil amendment if regular compost cannot be found.

    No one will accuse you of being a lazy gardener!

  2. I didn’t know you had a blog! Great Idea!
    It sounds like you have a good and helpful friend in Bev. I think your forsythia can be pruned with a good bypass pruner or at worst, a bypass lopper.

    By the way, I went over to J&L nursery to see what they have after our session, and I found his quart/gallon perennials lacking. Apparently he ordered very little because sales were down and the weather was hot and dry in June. He has a couple of things in gallons on sale at 5.99 each, but little in the way of astilbe or even dicentras. He does have fafard “seafood” compost for 6.99 a bag though -that’s for 40lbs and quadruples your LES compost investment. Do you have a car?


  3. Hey! Thanks, Frank!
    Yeah, I have a blog but it’s a blog no one reads – ha! Really I started it so that my family and my friend Bev out in PA could keep up with what I’m doing without me clogging everyone’s inboxes with photos.

    That’s a bummer about the perennial selection at J&L…but great news about the compost! We don’t have a car, but occasionally we rent a zipcar for a couple of hours if we have bigger things we need to pick up – or a car service. I will definitely put J&L on my list for next time we’ve got wheels – thanks for the tip!

    Pruners are on the list too…the pruners and the lopper in the gargage have seen better days – the loppers are completely rusted open, and the pruner is so hard to squeeze it’s painful! I made an attempt at that holly bush with it and had to stop. Time to start investing in some of my own tools, huh?

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