Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Personal-ish: House

Yesterday the husband closed on a house in another town (not Iowa City, though relatively nearby), which we will be moving into at some point. I've never owned a house before,1 which was, I thought, a pretty good reason not to be into outdoor plants, so now we're going to find out if I really think tropical plants are superior, or if I was only saying that because I couldn't have any temperate-zone plants.

Obviously the blog is going to suffer a little bit in the short term; although the husband has already rented a storage unit in said town, and has been moving stuff into it for about a month now (he's a glass-half-full kind of person; he's thought the deal was going to go through for a lot longer than I have), there's an awful lot to move, and of course I've been busy enough with work and the plants and the blog and whatever else it is I do, so my stuff is a lot less, er, dealt with than his.

Sempervivum 'Red Beauty.'

Exactly how much the blog is going to suffer is yet to be determined; I'll let you know.

As for the gardening: as best as I can tell (I've only actually seen the place once, and that was at night), the yard is mostly sun. It's basically a long thin strip that extends west from the house. There's a tree at the far end, and there will be a fence on the north and south sides of the property, but there's not really anything else for shade.

Portulaca 'Tequila Mix.' It's only just getting started now; it'll be more awe-inspiring later.

I've already bought some plants for the yard (The glass is occasionally half-full for me, too -- particularly when optimism means I can buy plants): so far we have a whole flat of Portulaca grandiflora 'Tequila Mix' (moss rose), because it's the best annual ever,2 a Lantana camara 'Rose Glow Improved,' because I have positive associations with it now, a smallish pot of strawberries (Fragaria 'Fort Laramie'),3 a Sempervivum 'Red Beauty,'4 Lysimachia 'Goldilocks,' and I have some 'Quarterback' coleus5 from last spring that I kept as a houseplant, as well as brand-new-this-year 'Kingswood Torch,' 'Glennis,' 'Peter Wonder,' 'Splish Splash,' and possibly others I'm failing to remember. I like coleus. The coleus won't necessarily end up outside. In fact, I have no idea what I'm going to be doing with most of this stuff. To begin with, I'm just buying the plants I like, and we'll see how that goes, and we'll worry about having some kind of coherent plan next year. This year, we're just trying out the outdoor gardening thing to see if it's any fun. I've been told it is, but I remain skeptical.

There are perennials I like too (Lysimachia is supposed to be a perennial here.), but I don't know any of them terribly well, and most of the ones I do know somewhat and like okay are shade-lovers that I don't think will work that well for this situation. Shrubs I know basically not at all, and trees are not a good idea, I think, because we may want to put up a greenhouse in the back someday, and planting trees and shading the whole back yard could make a greenhouse kinda useless. Also it's not that big of a yard anyway.

Lysimachia 'Goldilocks,' in extra-dramatic lighting.

I'd also really like to find something for the lawn besides grass. I mean, the grass that's there already is fine and all, but mowing, weeding, spraying, watering, etc. all seem like really dumb ways to spend one's time. I hear there are other things that can be used instead, but I've seen very little about what, specifically, or how one goes about replacing grass. Anybody know any good references?

Pictures of house and lawn to follow . . . when I get around to it. The husband reports that there are Hostas.


1 Technically, I still don't, since the whole deal has gone through under the husband's name, but I think he's going to let me live there anyway.
2 So long as the rabbits don't eat it, which Kim tells me they like to do. I believe her exact words were "rabbit candy." Worrisome, but I'm still going to try.
3 (We had NOID strawberries in the back yard when I was a kid. I went ahead and bought the 'Fort Laramies' already because it looked like we were in danger of selling out of strawberries before the house thing went through. Strawberries are all but flying out the door this year.)
4 My good grandmother had Sempervivums outside her front door. (Like some people, I had a good grandmother and an evil grandmother, both of whom were into plants. Evil grandma went for ornamentals, irises and clematis and snapdragons and tulips and so forth, with only a few vegetables. Good grandma had less time on her hands, so she went more for vegetables, with only a few ornamentals. Both of them had houseplants: evil grandma probably deserves most of the credit -- or blame -- for my interest in them. By most measures, I take more after evil grandma than after good grandma.)
5 (Solenostemon scutellarioides)


our friend Ben said...

VERY exciting, Mr. S.! Congratulations!!! I think you're going to have a lot of fun researching what you want to plant outside. (Don't forget to cruise the neighborhoods around there and see what's obviously doing well for other people.) My Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' has survived and thrived in the dry shade under (shudder) Norway maples with minimal help from me, to my extreme delight. As for replacing the lawn, I'd advise against it. Most substitutions have real drawbacks---either they die down completely in winter, leaving bare ground, or (as in the case of creeping thymes, chamomile and the like) can't hold up under foot traffic. Instead, I'd recommend replacing parts of the lawn with island beds. You can continue to expand and connect these beds over time until the lawn is nothing more than a broad green path around them, if you wish, though again, especially with a full-sun property, you may find that some expanses of simple green provide rest for the eyes. Note that if you put your mower blades on their highest setting, the grass will shade its roots and you shouldn't have to water or fertilize unless the previous owners planted a blatantly unsuitable grass for your conditions. At my family home and here, the grass grows lush and thick with no pest or disease problems and no care whatever from us apart from mowing every couple of weeks during the season. However, we enjoy the diversity of a mixed lawn and welcome clover, violets, and other so-called weeds rather than attempting to eradicate them. Thank you so much for talking about your grandmas! I had one who had a huge vegetable garden, fruit trees, and cottage-garden flowers, but the other was widowed and living in an apartment by the time I knew her. It has not occurred to me until now to ask my father if she had been an enthusiastic gardener like her sisters, who lived together in a Tudor-style house and had extensive Edwardian-style gardens that were right out of Gertrude Jekyll. Thanks to you, I'll ask Father this very day!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Mr.S and Husband! You are going to have so much fun!! I'm not sure if you've had a lawn before , I know it can be intimidating for first-timers, but really there's nothing to worry about.

Lawn services are reasonable, in Nashville it cost us $35 to have our lawn mowed, out here the landlords do it for $25. Of course there are drawbacks to the lawn service, e.g., mowing plants.

Don't bother watering, when the grass goes dormant in the summer-heat you will be glad for the lawn mowing break.

Really, I don't add anything to my lawn ever, no fert, no lime, nothing. I do use boiling water to kill those pesky thistle plants, but I like the dandelions, etc., and so do the bees. HTH.

I'm so excited for you!

ScottE. said...

Congrats. Have fun with the yard...every time I go to our local nursery, I come home with about $100 worth of new stuff for the's addicting!

CelticRose said...

Congrats on the house!

I'm glad to see that you're thinking about getting rid of the grass -- I don't see the point of mowing all the time either.

Kenneth Moore said...

I prefer rocks over grass. I just hate grass that much! I didn't get a rock lawn when I owned a townhouse, but I did hire a guy to come cut the jungle every two weeks for $25.

You are going to have a wicked amount of fun looking for things to do, both inside and out! I envy you the opportunity to decorate a dwelling with plants!

Karen715 said...

Congratulations, Mr. S and Husband! I think you'll come to really like outdoor gardening. I did, after 30 years of being a strictly houseplant person. (The houseplants are still my favorites, though.)

In some ways it can be easier: You don't always have to water, because sometimes nature takes over, and in climates like ours, you get a 4-5 month break where you don't have to do anything at all. In some ways it is harder: There are weeds to deal with, and digging in the earth is more challenging than working with potting soil.

I'm in favor of the expanding-the beds-approach for dealing with lawn, rather than working with ground covers in full sun areas. Between my expanded beds, mulched areas, and stepping stones, I only have a small patch of lawn in my front yard, which takes no time at all to mow--with an old-fashioned reel mower! I don't feed my lawn, and seldom weed it; as long as it is green, I'm happy.

Don't forget shrubs; both evergreens and deciduous shrubs provide winter interest, and provide a permanent focal point for ever-changeable flower beds.

Outdoor container gardening is loads of fun, too. It's a good transitional approach for a houseplant person.

Lance said...

I miss having a yard - I loved planting outside. (I live in a townhouse now - no yard). I do agree with grass though - pointless waste of space and water. I hope to move to New Mexico some day - an area where people just landscape with plants, and usually don't bother with grass or mowing.

Anonymous said...

Oh what fun you have ahead of you. Congratulations to both of you, and since I believe I'm still entitled to one more wish from my good fairy, I will wish you the skills of my good/evil granny, who could make a broomstick bloom if she put it in the ground. Outdoor gardening opens all kinds of opportunities. One hint: don't forget to build in some sort of design or "bones" that will give you pleasure all winter as well. Now go dig and enjoy.

Zach said...

This is exciting! I just read a bit about lawn alternatives in a book about gardening in my area (Oklahoma Gardener's Guide by Steve Hobbs). The advice would apply pretty well to Iowa, I would imagine, but I bet there is an even better book focused on your area. Look around at the library a bit.

Outdoor temperate plants aren't all that bad. Give 'em a shot! :) I find the outdoor garden to be especially rewarding when you see your plants come back each year after surviving a harsh winter.

Water Roots said...

Congratulations! This is great news. You'll have a wonderful time in the garden; it's so relaxing. Enjoy!

Donna said...

Only one Granny survived into my childhood--and she was a phenomenal gardener! She was widowed young and supported 3 kids through the depression by taking in laundry. The Clotheslines ran between the vegetable rows. There were raspberries and strawberries and the entire back yard was under cultivation one way or the other. She had great houseplants too--including a rex begonia that seemed at the time to be taller than I was (well, I was small. You just have a great time with the new house and yard--we will all be waiting to read how it goes

MrBrownThumb said...

Congrats on the house.

Think of all the new plants (bulbs, tubers, corms) that you probably couldn't grow indoors before that you can now grow outdoors and store in the basement or somewhere else during the winter.

Lucy Corrander said...

So many exciting things happening!

I think lawns are boring - much over-rated and often a waste of very good gardening / growing space.

(I haven't read the other comments here because I am in a hurry so I hope I'm not treading on too many toes!)


J said...

Congratulations, Mr. S! The outdoor gardening bug will bite you, and I bet it will bite HARD. Regarding lawn, I suppose you COULD fertilize and weed and all of that, but dandelions in the spring are beautiful, clover in the summer attracts bees, and crabgrass is, well, very strong, so if you have some of that, I don't consider it a bad thing. We have a ton of lawn that we pay someone to mow, but I did the mowing one summer, and it was meditative, I thought. At least for that one summer. We don't water the lawn either. It goes tan in the summer in spots, but then it always greens back up. I don't think you have to pay any attention to it at all, except for mowing. There should be lots of species of plants in it: We have what I mentioned above and then some thyme and some minty-smelling stuff that I can't identify and yarrow and milkweed and Queen Ann's Lace and goldenrod that never get a chance to grow, but would in a second if we stopped mowing. And let the clippings fall back on the lawn: that's your fertilizer.

Outside gardening, for some reason, for me is when I come up with the best ideas about EVERYTHING, so I bet you'll enjoy it.

And I imagine it's quite a luxury to have a sunny yard in the city, so you are lucky. A lot of city yards are mostly shade. Grow some vegetables! I bet you have an amazing time planning and planting.

Yay for the Mr.s S! Or it sounds like maybe he's Mr. F (future tense) as he lined up the storage space well in advance of the closing.

Paul said...

Congrats, Jas!

I will be interested in hearing what you think of outdoor gardening a time goes. A friend of mine could never understand what I saw in gardening. Then she got a house. For the first year or so her opinion of gardening remained the same. Then one day, while chatting on the phone, she said "You know I finally understand what it is you see about gardening --- it really is relaxing and rather satisfying to see results of my labor." I find it a good time to let my mind wander or even just 'zone out'.

I, personally, am a tree shrub person. (But then too, living in MI, I am more at home with trees/shrubs than wide open 'plains'. Plains are rather boring, IMO.) If you DO add some trees or shrubbery, personally I would advise against silver maples. While their fast growing nature is a plus, they produce sooo many seeds which sprout with wild abandon that they can be quite an annoying pain in the butt.

Also, depending on just how ecology oriented you are, you might look at avoiding or minimizing plantings of nonnative species -- especially those with invasive tendencies. I'm planning on starting some milkweed plants this year and sneaking them into my parents' and sister's yards (I live in an apt). Yes they do look a bit weedy but I like the idea of hopefully providing monarch butterflies some food sources for their young.

Like several other folks here, I am not a big lawn person. One of the neatest solutions I've seen used is killing off the grass and replacing it with ivy or periwinkle. No mowing necessary and periwinkle stays green all year.