May 16, 2015

Falling In Love With Our Backyard ( Again )

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

When I was a young woman, autumn was my favorite season.  Halloween is my favorite holiday.  All Saint's Day is my wedding anniversary(1997).  Michael was born on Veteran's Day (1972) and Benjamin, the week of Thanksgiving (2004).  I  have always felt a special fondness toward autumn.  Until more recent years.

As a stay-at-home mom I have been fortunate in so many ways.  I have had the pleasure of raising and educating our son in our home, instead of ferrying him back and forth every day to daycare, preschool and eventually, the primary grades.  And because we are together at home, we experience the seasons.  I did not really notice this when he was younger - because I was ferrying him back and forth to the occasional play date, homeschool field trip and library Story Time.  

It wasn't until I was diagnosed with breast cancer (2009) that I stopped and quite literally, smelled the roses.  I was diagnosed August 17, but by the time the chemo ended and I was healing from my major surgeries, it was late February of the following year.  By March we were re-designing our patio.  After months of being cooped up inside the infusion room, I craved sunshine.  I, who was emerging from my own sort of cocoon, excitedly took note of every living thing coming alive around me - it was in springtime, I developed my obsession with nature photography.  I was blooming, too!

Since deciding to remain in our beloved home, Michael and I have redesigned our backyard. Simple, relatively inexpensive changes have begun to make it into a private retreat.  Where we originally moved the patio in 2010, just outside the back door of our kitchen, we began planting a cottage garden-inspired border around its perimeter.  And we've added to our woodland garden, too!

Patio Garden

Next to our patio (which is home to our picnic table), we have retained a pie slice-shaped section of lawn, where we placed our fire pit and three chairs.  To provide a natural privacy screen (between us and the neighbors behind us), Michael planted 'the patio garden.'  We bought foxglove and lupine (which we are hoping will self-sow) and a weigela shrub.  The weigela will grow to 4-5' tall and 3-4' wide, will have dark red-pink reblooming flowers and has deciduous leaves.  It is exactly what we imagined for the space.  Irises and hostas are also calling the 'pation garden' home.

Woodland Garden

We have a large Japanese Maple tree in our backyard.  It is beautiful -- the varying shades of red, orange and green it provides each year are striking.  

Between our property and the next-door neighbor to the west, grows a tall deciduous (here in the north) privet hedge that runs the entire length of our backyard.  In the summer, it is a wonderful privacy screen but in late November, early December it loses its leaves.  Because of the maple tree, we call this shady corner of our backyard, the woodland garden.    

To add another layer of privacy to this area of our property, Michael tore up sod and created an entirely new section of partial sun/partial shade-tolerating plants. First, we bought a hybrid broom called Cytisus 'Lena.'  Although a deciduous shrub, it will grow to be 5-8' tall and it is beautiful!  We also bought an evergreen Juniper which will eventually grow to 20' tall and 6-8' wide.  This will take some time, I know...but in the few days it has been there it already serves to provide a screen between us and them.  In the same garden we planted a pyramidal yew.  I wanted a yew the most -- my life-saving chemotherapy drug, Taxol, was originally derived from the yew tree (Taxus brevifolia).  Our sweet little yew tree will grow to 6' or so with yearly trimming.  It is so cute, Benjamin and I want to hug it every time we walk near it.

Also, in our shady woodland garden, we planted an evergreen rhododendron that will grow to 6' tall with a 6' wide/spread!  It exhibits pretty red-purple blooms in early summer and dark green foliage the rest of the year.  Michael split our Soloman's Seal and Barrenwort and relocated some hostas to our 'Patio Garden.'

My mom divided her bleeding heart and gave a us a nice big plant -- she gave us two lilac trees, too!  We moved some ferns (my parents had given us years ago) into the woodland garden, too...they'd been in the north-facing front of the house, so we moved them to the 'woodland garden.'  So far everything looks great!

Trellis Garden   

A couple of years ago Michael built a huge trellis for our trumpet vine.  Well, we re-located the trellis.  The trumpet vine is happily growing onto our garden shed and now, the trellis is part of our patio privacy screen.  We planted a honeysuckle at the base of it and already it has begun to take hold - I am anxious to soon smell honeysuckle on summer evenings!  We planted my mom's lilac trees in the trellis garden too.  As businesses continue to populate the area, so do parking lot lights. Re-locating the trellis and planting trees has already blocked a good bit of the unwanted artificial light that had been shining in our backyard.  Our trellis garden is also home to the coneflowers and black hollyhocks Michael planted this week as well as our original 'cottage garden' which is blooming with poppies, bearded iris, allium, columbine and (soon) peonies and roses.  The peonies on the west side of the house have already begun to bloom!

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

Wildlife Habitat

Our bird bath is a central fixture in the cottage/trellis garden.  Now we've added a nyger sock for the finches and it has made the area a whole new birdwatching experience.  Last year we'd taken down all of our feeders -- in our preparation to move -- and it was incredibly depressing.  This spring we hung MORE feeders.

We have two feeders in our woodland garden, one at the current location of our pond, two outside my kitchen window (at the entrance to our backyard) and now, the nyger sock.  We also relocated the hummingbird feeder (it now hangs on the trellis).  Every day we see dozens of birds -- goldfinches, purple finches, robins, catbirds, cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, mourning doves, a mockingbird, and most recently, a brown thrasher.  Earlier in the spring, a Great Egret landed in our yard -- to our regret, considering he ate two of our fish.  Nonetheless, our backyard is once again legitimately earning its NWF recognition as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  And that reminds me...we also re-located our plaque.  Now, everyone sitting in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic can see our National Wildlife Federation wildlife habitat recognition plaque -- maybe it will inspire them to slow down and enjoy nature!