Pre-Spring Assessment

Mar
7

Now that it’s March, and spring, while yet a dream, peeks out from the horizon, I’ve been inspecting the beds around the house and studio, trying to talk myself into cleaning them out to prepare for the growing season. On the side of the studio between the driveway and the studio, there is something of a knoll.

I don’t know why, but until yesterday, it hadn’t hit me that there’s grass up there. GRASS. How are you supposed to mow that? Grass just seems like such a bad idea there. Seems like a better place for some low maintenance ground cover, but there’s all the grass in the way, so that doesn’t sound like an easy solution.


There’s a stump in there, so there used to be a tree, and there are some rocks scattered around, possibly scattered from age and neglect. It looks as if some of them were originally set up to be a little path/steps. There’s a rock-bordered bed at the base of the knoll where the previous owners grew pepper, tomatoes, and herbs. There’s actually still a rosemary plant in there that has dried over the winter, and there are several dead branchy pepper plants. Unless the chickens are completely locked up, I won’t have much luck growing anything in it.

There are a few flowers randomly tossed about on the knoll, and hark, there are even blooms!

At the far end of the knoll near the deck steps, there is a large viney rose bush.

All together, this area looks like a big challenge.

So let’s forget about it for a minute and look around at the other side of the studio! After all, I don’t even have a lawnmower!

Here around the other side, things look a little more manageable.

Except….wait…..that’s grass in there, too!

What is that about?!

I do, however, like the line of daffodils along the path.

There are also several rose bushes in here and two small trees.

And a slight mess left behind by running the public water line to the studio.

Coming around to the front of the cellar, which faces the back of the house, there’s some ivy that needs a haircut.

The beds around the front of the house really are more manageable. No grass! There are two short, matching trees (?) or bushes or something on either side of the front steps.

Whatever they are, they appear to have been pruned in the fall. There are also several more rose bushes in these gardens, along with some stalky dead annual plants.

I can spiff these beds up for spring pretty easily. Pull out the dead annuals, put down some new mulch, and scatter in some fresh annuals. Hang some baskets from the porch, and I’ll be good to go up front!

But back around the studio–ack. I’m unhappy with those inconvenient grassy patches–seems to me that is always going to look bad and be a hassle on upkeep–and it’s an area visitors will see the most. Suggestions are welcome! Got a weird spot like this? What do you do with it?

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on March 7, 2012  

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  1. 3-7
    2:52
    am

    I’m not sure if this helps any… but my favorite way to kill grass is pouring boiling water on it. (Said boiling water is generally left over from whatever I just finished canning.) I discovered this by pouring a whole potful onto my lawn, which inadvertently sterilized the ground for over a year. If I’d added in compost and tilled it up, I’m sure I would have been able to grow something new much sooner. It did kill the grass there just as effectively as Round-up.

    Another way to kill grass is black plastic. Or the old “apply several layers of newspaper and cover with bark” approach, which if left to its own devices for a couple years also has the following going for it: It looks good (although bland), and I’ve never had to rototill the dead grass under afterwards.

    A thought, anyway. I wish I had that much space to play with!

  2. 3-7
    5:06
    am

    8) A friend had/has a like situation at her camp on the lake. We couldn’t figure out the random stones. An old neighbor finally informed us they were for access when the ground was saturated from rain and to help lessen erosion. My friend has planted blueberry bushes in her planter, placed her rocks to form a low wall, actually single stone high, at mid point on the knoll. She planted a redbud tree at the top of the knoll, covered the rest of the top with roofing paper (tar paper) as that’s what she had on hand. She also used pebbles, a bit smaller than a quater size, for mulch as a couple of neighbors have cats. She uses her weedeater to “mow” the bottom of her little hill. Good luck.

  3. 3-7
    6:07
    am

    Lots of free rocks around there huh?
    I would begin collecting and stacking them into raised planting areas and fill them with soil.
    Then I would plant the planters with a variety of herbs to use in your new studio kitchen!

  4. 3-7
    6:18
    am

    Looks like a lot of work to me. :-)
    I think I would plant some invasive herbs and call it landscaped!When I see ground like that my back starts hurting.My grandmother would have every square inch of soil covered with some kind of flower or herb.My aunt called it an english garden…my uncle called it “The Jungle”…I called it beautiful.
    Could the shrubs by the front steps be Rose of Sharon?
    Enjoy!

  5. 3-7
    6:27
    am

    You are lucky to have so many previously gardened areas to play with! You might want to wait a bit to see what comes up there, then cover the unwanted grassy areas with layers of newspaper or cardboard, add mulch, compost, soil, etc. and plant away!
    Garden Gate magazine, http://www.GardenGateMagazine.com, has lots of ideas for container gardening and rejuvenating old gardens.
    Those square blocks in the first picture look like they might have been part of an old foundation at one time. The old house perhaps?

  6. 3-7
    6:30
    am

    Let the goats be your lawn mower. Put them to work.

    sam

  7. 3-7
    6:31
    am

    If you have any money left over from “KickStarter”, hire a landscaper to come out and “fix” it for you. Something hassle free, but easy to maintain….

  8. 3-7
    6:33
    am

    By the way…love seeing your crocuses all blossomed already! Mine are still covered with snow and ice. It’s certainly not spring here in Maine yet!

  9. 3-7
    6:42
    am

    I would either take black plastic or landscape fabric down over the grass and cover it with mulch or stones. You can poke holes in it to plant flowers. You will still have to watch for wondering weeds around flowers but better than having to weed wack the little hilly area.

    This would take more time but you can dig up all the grass and prepare the area for flowers or bushes. Put down mulch or some kind of weed barrier to weeds from growing up. A bird bath and or feeders would look nice in there.

    Have fun planning!

  10. 3-7
    6:48
    am

    I was going to ask if you had anything like portable fencing and if so? Put the sheep/goat mower to work. Barring that, I’d probably do the invasive plant thing. I suggest chives and/or spearmint [both of which have invaded my lawn so well we “mow” them in the late summer].

    teacup

  11. 3-7
    6:49
    am

    Lasagna Gardening would work great there… cover with cardboard or newspapers, add mulch, etc. and plant what you want… and no grass!

  12. 3-7
    7:18
    am

    Since you have lots of rocks and a slope, why not make a rock garden? To get rid of the grass you have good suggestions already. You could also dig or hoe it up too.

  13. 3-7
    7:19
    am

    I am NOT a gardener. My yard, especially the back, consists of bare dirt paths where the dogs run around. :) But if I were taking on a project like that I would contact the high school and see if they have a horticulture class that might take it on as a project. Or if there is a Garden Club in your community they might like a challenge?????

  14. 3-7
    7:31
    am

    I agree with a lot of people about planting more there and then putting down thick layer of newspapers and mulch it. The problem I have with landscape cloth is when the bark mulch breaks down then grass will start to grow on top. I clean for a lady who works for landscape business and she said every one there hates landscape cloth. When mulch breaks down then I will newspaper it again and then mulch it again. I thought I saw on a post that someone fence in chickens to dig up the area before planting. Just a thought. If I lived closer I would love to help. I have beds all over my yard too many.I decide I have too many perennial beds and that bushes are going in less up keep with those. A tip from the landscape person is plant in 3’s. group 3 plants the same in groups. Good luck with all your projects. :wave:

  15. 3-7
    7:36
    am

    If you want to let your chickens dig up that area just put out scratch or kitchen scraps several times a day in the area you want dug up. Do this for about a week in a concentrated area and they’ll have all the digging done for you.

    We use raised beds to garden in and we just set the frame down on the grass. I throw in a couple of handfulls of scratch and they start to dig. After that I’ll give them some kitchen treats in the same area. Within days, no more grass and lots of nice soil. The girls have dug my last 4 garden beds.

  16. 3-7
    8:08
    am

    Make a maintenance free area by putting down a good layer of river gravel, the larger sizes. It’s very pretty and effective for alleviating an area too hard to mow and keep tidy plus it’s great for a slope stabilizer. You could dress it up by adding interesting flower containers of useful herbs or whatever you like by nestling them down into the rocks. Use the random rocks already there as a border for the river gravel. Back years ago, farmers used to clean up rocks out of their pasture fields stacking them into a fence line. It’s very pretty and lasts forever.

  17. 3-7
    8:24
    am

    I second the chicken suggestion. Let the Fluffy Butts dig up the areas. After that then you can choose what you want them to be. I’d seriously consider some raised garden beds. They’d be close by and it’d be easy to pick what you want for dinner!

  18. 3-7
    9:05
    am

    There are lots of really pretty groundcover plants that are very hardy. They have lovely flowers in season, and you can even walk on them! Look at Stepables.com to see what they look like. This would be great if you’re looking for a low-maintenance solution.

  19. 3-7
    9:14
    am

    I agree with Miss Judy–invasive herbs. My favorite solution for hard-to-deal-with areas is day lilies. The leaves look nice, the flowers are pretty and they’re tough enough to handle anything from drought to road salt! Or horseradish…

  20. 3-7
    9:34
    am

    REMEMBER YOU HAVE AN ESTABLISHED LANDSCAPE. GIVE IT A YEAR SO YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP. GET YOURSELF A GOOD WEEDEATER (WITH A STURDY STRING OR BLADES) ABOUT TWO 50″ EXTENSION CORDS AND YOU WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP THE PLACE NEAT. THE GOATS SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO A LOT FOR YOU. LOCATE YOUR GARDEN AND GO FOR THE RAISED BEDS. LESS WORK AND EASY TO CARE FOR. YOU HAVE BIG YEAR AHEAD OF YOU SO TAKE TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES. yOU ARE MAKING MEMORIES..LET THEM BE GOOD ONES

  21. 3-7
    9:40
    am

    Chickens and goats both sound like good ideas to use what you have on hand. It’s too bad Ross is gone already, there are great places along the river at Seneca Rocks where you can get large, beautiful stones. You can haul them in a car, but a truck’s suspension handles the weight better.

  22. 3-7
    10:36
    am

    Goats! Goats will clean up anything you don’t want there. Put a stake down tie the critters to the stake and let them make waste!

  23. 3-7
    10:40
    am

    I vote for the chicken and goats idea-let them do the cultivating :) Also, I liked the planting herbs idea-ground covers like mint-love mint, but it will take over! Happy gardening!

  24. 3-7
    10:55
    am

    What do you mean you don’t have a lawn mower??? You have SHEEP! lol But seriously, I would worry about erosion if you took out the grass. The stones are a God send! I have strained my back numerous times hunting for, digging up and carrying home stones for my garden borders. The old saying “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” comes to mind!

  25. 3-7
    11:01
    am

    I agree with CityKid — there’s a lot to be done and you will NOT get it all done in one year unless you have unlimited resources! So, where’s your list of things to be done? Then you can prioritize them. The grass in those locations can easily be taken care of with a weed whacker. You’ll likely wind up with a lawn mower of some sort for the rest of the yard but take the chores as they come. I think waiting for a while to see what comes up in the yard is a fabulous idea.

    Just wish I had decent dirt to grow anything in, instead of this pure sand.

  26. 3-7
    11:25
    am

    The week whacker will be your best friend. It’s what I use for trimming “odd” areas, trimming against buildings and under fencelines, etc. I have a gas-powered one, though, because I sometimes use it a very long way from a power source.
    I like the idea of some kind of spreading ground cover or invasive herbs!

  27. 3-7
    12:28
    pm

    What we did in our yard out of necessity (due to our son’s severe grass allergy) was we rented a sod cutter, cut up all the sod in front and back yard (left some for the animals in the far back yard) and layed down cloth weed block then filled it up with wood chips, gardens and statuaries. It looks great now and no grass upkeep! Perfect solution for us.

  28. 3-7
    2:14
    pm

    I agree with chicken and goats as ‘forced labor’ to do the initial clean-up. And, I agree in principle only, with the use of invasive herbs. Problem is, if you change your mind, you’ve got the invasive herbs to deal with. They may eventually be a problem. We had an abused and abandoned city lot that looked a lot like your forlorn hillside. I planted it with clover.

    Although it can be invasive, clover is a valuable soil-improvment plant. (Sorry, your hillside looks like it could use some improvement). It is also soil-conserving. Clover adds about 50–150 pounds per acre of nitrogen to the soil and increases availability of other nutrients for following crops. This clover scheme will buy you time to decide just what you might want or need there. Or how to do herbs there. Or to save a few $$ until you can get a professional landscape consultation.

    Red clover a biennial, or short-lived perennial, bears an oval, purplish flower head about 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter.
    White clover, a low, creeping perennial, is often used in lawn-grass mixtures and bears a white flower head often tinged with pink.
    Alsike clover, a perennial species sometimes called Swedish clover, or Alsatian clover, bears globular, rosy-pink flower heads.

    Of course, I had no livestock to contend with. This scheme will probably only work if the area to be rehabilitated is fenced from your farm critters.

    Oh, and if you plan to do any aggressive or invasive planting in that area, check with the WV extension so that you do not accidentally plant any greenstock that is on the state’s ‘criminal’ plant list.

  29. 3-7
    3:30
    pm

    Yeah, white clover like bonita said. It smells lovely when it’s in bloom, and the bees love it too. AND sometimes if you’re very lucky you can find a four-leaf clover in there!

  30. 3-7
    4:11
    pm

    I don’t know the geology of your land very well, but I’m assuming it’s too rocky to dig sod. Having extra sod to patch up bare areas is nice!

    For groundcovers why not try thyme? There are some varieties suited for ground cover that drape over rocks in a lovely way; other varieties of thyme still work well as groundcover but may make a little mound. Of course can be used in cooking. Strawberries are also a nice choice for edible landscaping, as long as it gets good sun. And you don’t mind keeping them under control.

  31. 3-7
    4:36
    pm

    Re the grass: We know you have 3 methods of controlling it–the string trimmer in your barn (and a teenager), the chickens, the goats. I wouldn’t worry about the grass since you’ve got three methods of controlling it and a teenager with a weed whacker can do wonders.

    I’m particularly intrigued by your knoll between the driveway and the studio. All those rocks, the mysterious foundation,the tree stump…ummm. Are the rocks brought in to outline something or as a wall or as part of the foundation? What is in the middle of that foundation–an old well, a barbeque, what? It’s like a mystery novel. I’ve noticed that they outline beds around the house with stones so maybe these have been scattered from some bed there.

    Personally, I’d map out all these areas and the sun patterns. How much sun does it get now and at the peak of summer. Then I’d start looking at what I already have planted around the house and what I WANT to have planted. What will grow best where? Most garden books and gardening experts tell you to plan your garden first, then revise as you see what thrives and what doesn’t and what it looks like. You’ve got a lot land and don’t have to get everything done right away. Cleaning up from last fall will be a big enough chore for now. And who knows what you’ve got growing elsewhere on the farm that you might want to transplant around the house. Also, do you LIKE gardening? If not, think low maintenance bushes & trees, ground covers like clovers within borders to keep it under control. I’d concentrate my gardening for food to one location and keep the rest to a minimum for now.

  32. 3-7
    5:24
    pm

    Well, until you get a lawn mower & a trimmer – I think you’ll need both – you can let the goats mow it for you. They would be very efficient. We usually just trim areas like the rocky knoll with a gas powered trimmer.

  33. 3-7
    7:13
    pm

    I really don’t have any ideas. I’m in shock with my own “new” landscape disasters. I have so many of these areas at the house we just bought that I’m just about to cry. And it probably doesn’t help that I joined the garden club and now I’m embarrassed to go to meetings. :cry:

  34. 3-7
    7:21
    pm

    I like both suggestions of clover or day lilies. Day lilies can sometimes be had for free from a generous gardener dividing theirs. As for mr…I would seed it with wildflowers.
    Here’s a link: http://www.wildseedfarms.com/

  35. 3-7
    8:12
    pm

    I would use the stone to build dry stack walls and terrace the hill with some paths inbetween the levels. Ofcourse I really like making walls- I know not everyone has the time or interest. Maybe plant small fruits like blueberry, strawberry, gooseberry, currants, beach plums…an american hazelnut would be nice. Also big patches of herbs. Calendula is really pretty and reseeds itself well.

  36. 3-7
    8:16
    pm

    Ive read strawberries and blueberries like alot of drainage and work well on hills also in raised beds of just pine mulch. I’m going to try this myself this year. For the rest of the knoll I use to have a big hill and I covered it in wet newspaper to hold it down and as much grass clippings and if you call a tree service place some can be talked into leaving you the mulch from trees and brnches they have cut down. Its alot of work moving it all and it likes to run down the hill so plant it quickly and stay on top of it for a few years and once the plants are established its alot of less work than mowing. I used ivy which takes a few years to get going, lilies the same and mint which grows like cazey here. Just dont plant it near anything you dont want it taking over, it can be invasive. You’ll need those rocks to keep the newspaper down! Good luck!
    :pinkbunny: :snuggle:

  37. 3-7
    8:45
    pm

    I would use what is called Roundup on the grass in the areas you don’t want it. That is gonna be very difficult to mow. wood mulch or pine needles make a great ground cover. Some nice low maintenance plants. Day lilies are great. don’t need much water, bloom every year, and are just a great plant. Here in Co. we use lots of Russian sage, and yarrow, but probably too wet for them in WV. Roses need lots of care so I would X them. Don’t know what kind of plants you can grow in your part of the country.

  38. 3-7
    10:26
    pm

    LOL! Great minds…yesterday I walked around my yard and snapped (bad) photos of my garden areas for a blog post, mostly to just publicly embarrass myself into actually doing something with them.

    I want to chime in in favor of clover and day lilies and herbs. My favorite ground cover that I don’t have to buy and plant (besides clover) is wild strawberries. What about planting ramps there among the stones? Is it an appropriately sunny/shady area for those?

  39. 3-7
    11:34
    pm

    ooh, ooh, ooh Another idea: Take these pis & suggestions to Master Gardener class…see if you can gently cadge some MG-informed suggestions. . .

  40. 3-8
    12:33
    am

    Suzanne, please be really careful about removing your rocks and grass right away. It appears the house is on a pier and beam foundation(?) and I noticed that some of the rocks are placed in a way to suggest they are used to terrace the soil and the grass helps to keep it all in. You certainly wouldn’t want to remove the rocks and grass and then watch all of the soil wash away, especially from your foundation, during a particularly rainy season. Maybe just watch it til next year or so. If you really don’t like the grass, maybe some native wildflower seeds might just take. Then you could call it your “rustic/natural” area till you figure out what to do with it. Morning glory vines will spread on the ground and are very pretty. I’m making a fairy garden this year to cover an area we lost last summer due to our drought in South Texas so that our topsoil doesn’t end up in the neighbors yard again. MySeedNeeds.com has a great selection of seeds as does WildSeedFarm.com, which is near us in Fredricksburg, Texas. :)

  41. 3-8
    2:05
    am

    I agree with SanAntonioSue as far as the placement of some of those rocks. If you really don’t want to see grass there, you can toss some straw, hay, and a good sprinkle of bonemeal and whatever soil amendment your soil tests show you need, add some compost, and plant a nice groundcover, wild flowers, or add some extra rocks and moss … maybe some of the ornamental grasses that don’t need mowing.

    If I had the time to play with it, I’d build myself one of those fairy gardens, add a little door to that stump, add some whimsical bird houses and a birdbath, lots of moss and a couple of butterfly bushes. It’s such an appealing little knoll …

  42. 3-8
    8:42
    am

    My dad covers his round hay bales with black plastic “sleeves” – it’s a very durable plastic (some farmers use white) that is reused from year to year if you can slip it off the round bales easily. Sometimes if the plastic is too tight or frozen on a bale, it has to be cut – which turns it into a long sheet of durable plastic. He uses those cut strips on his garden rows, cutting evenly spaced holes in the length of plastic. His garden is absolutely void of weeds with this method.

    I used some of that plastic as well in my front landscaping that is planted with Hostas, rose bushes and some trees – added mulch on top and the weeds and grass are no longer an issue.

    If you have surrounding farmers with round bales I’m sure they would be willing to GIVE you some of the plastic – it’s heavier than regular landscaping material.

  43. 3-8
    12:35
    pm

    I don’t know much, but
    WHY HAVE GOATS IF YOU CAN’T USE ‘EM?!
    Perhaps string up some electric “guides” and let the goats “mow” the tricky areas…?

    If not, then try white vinegar instead of commercial weed killer.

    Good luck with it all!

  44. 3-10
    9:59
    am

    I second who ever said to wait a year. You might find some plants in there that you want to save. Not only that but I guarantee that whoever your contractor for the studio is, as soon as you get your yarrows and hosta and herbs planted, they will need to run a big pipe or dig for an electric line or even just randomly pour a concrete bed right in the middle of your newest planting. Oh, and probably cut down a tree, as well. “That don’t matter much to you, does it, lady? ‘Cause it’s gotta go.” Yeah. *sigh*

    You can always plant bulbs in the fall.

  45. 3-27
    4:26
    pm

    You seem to have plenty of stones. Put them to good use. Terrace the knoll. Build dry stack stone walls down the knoll and fill with soil behind the walls, some of the terraces could be small and use as planting beds for as others have suggested herbs ect. Use more stone as paths on each level to your steps. Fill some of the larger areas with dwarf Azalea’s if they grow there and can survive the winters, other wize use substitutes.
    places that you want to get rid of grass, plant Iris’s, they spread into large circular clumps WHICH CAN BE DEVIDED giving you free plants. Plant clumps close enough to choke out grass and weeds but seperate enough to look like seperate plantings and you don’t need much mulch.

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