Renovating the Slope Garden

As I posted earlier, when I bought this house I inherited a sloping garden in the back yard that was so filled with rocks and gravel that it was virtually impossible to add any new plants. It was even hard to dig out existing plants. The very top, which was less gravelly, was blocked by old landscape fabric. In short, the whole thing was a mess.

What a MESS!

What a MESS! – April 2012. I had laboriously dug out ONE stepping stone.

This year, armed with a home equity line of credit, I was determined to have this garden entirely renovated. I hired a landscaper who was recommended to me by someone I trust, and in late April, once all the existing, surviving plants had come up, they got to work.

Their plan:

  • Remove all the plants I wanted to save and compost the rest
  • Dig out all existing rocks
  • Shape the slope
  • Use as many rocks as necessary to redesign the slope (I expected a rock garden)
  • Add rich black dirt over the top
  • Replant those things I wanted to put back.

The number of plants I actually wanted to save turned out to be very small. I had lost some treasures over the winter: sedum ‘Postman’s Pride,’ lespedeza thunbergii ‘White Fountain,’ all but one of several small to medium sized hostas. The garden was filled with ladybells (adenophora confusa), a very invasive plant, phlox that had all reverted to boring pink, and lilies of the valley. The first two overwhelm other plants while spreading like mad, and while the latter is lovely in spring, after that it’s just a sea of leaves spreading and spreading by runners. There was also a rosebush I’d been trying to get rid of for years, as it was in sad shape and didn’t bloom.

Surviving plants I did want to save were:

  1. 3 red daylilies – 3 years old, but still very small due to poor soil. They had never bloomed.
  2. Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’
  3. A number of Siberian irises (blue, yellow and white)
  4. A number of yellow daylilies
  5. 1 variegated hosta
  6. A lot of brunnera macrophylla
  7. Artemisia ‘Seafoam’
  8. All the peonies
  9. One group of lilies of the valley, to be grown permanently in a container
  10. Native cornflower (centaurea montana)

Before the landscapers arrived, Joey and I took out and potted the ‘Seafoam’ Artemisia because it was so spindly and I wanted to coax it into better health before replanting. Then I marked the plants to save with red flags.

It was necessary to remove weeds and grass from the root balls of all of these as they were dug up and placed on a tarp. Joey and I then potted up the ones I didn’t intend to put back into this particular garden immediately or at all – the Siberian irises, the yellow daylilies, lilies of the valley, and brunnera.

Plants to be saved

Plants to be saved – only some of these turned out to be garbage, too.

Plant "waterfall" plan

“Waterfall” created by plants – plan

I had had a special plan for the now-deceased bush clover (lespedeza) and the Artemisia. At my old house, a lespedeza would grow 6 feet tall or more in a single season before cascading over like a waterfall. I planned to use this as a living waterfall, flowing down from the top of the garden to the lower level. At the bottom would be the curly ‘Seafoam’ artemisia (I’d probably need more than one), representing the foam at the base of the waterfall, and below that, a spreading pool of annual pale blue lobelia as water.

The landscapers, John and Juan, were stunned by the number of small boulders, medium-sized rocks and flagstones they found in the slope. So was I:

On the first day they did, however, get everything good saved, all the garbage plants removed (including a stand that was nothing but quackgrass, dug out all the buried rocks and stepping stones (they found seven (7) more stepping stones buried!!), tilled in two bales of dry peat moss I had bought by mistake, redesigned the slope with reclaimed boulders, then spread good black dirt on top.

After taking the last picture above, I ran out of steam and took a nap. I was in for a shock when I woke up.

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