Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sometimes things go according to plan (mostly)

The rain garden install did start on Monday as scheduled. Sean took a photo last year of where the utilities were marked in the yard, and he felt confident that their digging would be safe. And he was right.

He was not so right about the "Dingo" being able to scoop up the earth. My clay soil is so hard and compacted that the crew had to break it up by hand before the Dingo could scoop anything. It was useful for moving the dirt (and tearing up the lawn a bit).

So instead of being completely done in one day, only the digging was finished by the end of Monday. Sean calculated the size by estimating the runoff from the roof over the den.

Tuesday it rained off and on all day, so no work was accomplished. The moisture did make it easier to install the plants - Carex bromides, a.k.a. brome sedge - as did a mechanical hand auger. They didn't use all the plants ordered, so that reduced my bill some.

Originally, they were going to mulch with river rock, but Sean mentioned using mulch instead. I liked the *idea* of river rock, but he said that by next year, the river rock would not be visible. So we went with mulch, another money saver.

And then it rained, an inch over the past two days. The rain garden appears to be doing its job, as not only is there standing water inside it, there is NO standing water outside of it. Whoo-hoo!

Besides the rain garden, the crew installed three ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Jefam', a.k.a. Amber Jubilee. These shrubs should grow to be 4' wide and 6' tall, a better fit for that space than the arborvitae. Also, more sun for the 'Limelight' hydrangea. I'm eager to see how that pans out.

Sadly, I was right about the pagoda dogwood meeting its demise from the soggy lawn. The crew went to cut it down, but it basically pulled right out of the ground as there were no roots to speak of. I thought about replacing it, but my yard and soil and moisture conditions are not really right for it. Why torture an innocent plant?

New plants that should thrive in my yard have been arriving. On the left in this photo are a dozen coneflower, destined for the last remainng raised bed where they should be protected from the perennial thugs. On the right are a bunch of catmint plants, ten Calamintha Nepeta Nepeta (I don't know why "nepeta" is repeated) and four Nepeta 'Cat's Pajamas'. Most of them are destined for the beds around the trees in the front yard, but the extras will go into a container for the deck.

Here is this year's messy robin's nest.

Last Monday, an oriole landed on the feeder, complained bitterly about all the commotion in the backyard, flew off, and has not returned. Yet. Some house finches have been sampling the grape jelly in the orioles' absence. And lately I have heard wrens, although no nest building has occurred yet. A bluebird tried to squeeze into one of the wren houses, which I mentioned to my son. I think I will be getting a bluebird box for Mother's Day. He's looking for one that is sparrow-resistant.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

No Mow Maybe Not

I don't know who started the No-Mow May meme, but in general, it is not a good idea. My lawn is treated, mostly organically, so if I didn't mow, I would have foot-tall grass by now, as I have mowed four times already this season. And the non-grass spring plants that grew there before were mostly dandelions, which as you can read below, are not a good thing. (These quotes came to me via the Riverview Native Nursery newsletter that I receive by email.)

Rewilding Magazine: "’s what the little research done to date on dandelions tells us. Dandelion has allelopathic pollen, a scientific term that basically means the pollen of dandelions can reduce reproductive success in native wildflowers, disrupting the native plant communities it invades. Another study showed that queen bumblebees (some of the early emerging wild bees that pro-dandelion campaigns say dandelions help) resorted to eating their own eggs when fed a diet of protein-deficient dandelion pollen."
Benjamin Vogt of Monarch Gardens: "What you WILL get are a host of plants with marginal to little benefit to wildlife, and several that will be terribly aggressive: crabgrass, creeping charlie, barnyard grass. And of course invasive species placed on most city’s noxious weed list, like musk thistle or garlic mustard."
The Garden Professors: " Even better yet, you can reduce the amount of space in your landscape that is dedicated to a traditional turfgrass lawn and incorporate a flowering groundcover and/or a pollinator garden that hosts an abundant array of diverse floral resources that provide food for bees all season long!"
Iowa State: "Consider eliminating the lawn altogether and replacing it with plants or garden spaces that don’t require frequent maintenance and support native insects and wildlife. Replacing turf with perennials, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees can reduce water consumption, pesticides, and fertilizers while increasing soil organic matter, building soil quality, and helping to retain and infiltrate stormwater"

While I have a nice bit of lawn front and back, I also try to provide natives for the pollinators. The only problem is I don't see very many pollinators these days, which I presume is due to neighbors treating their lawns with insecticide. I'm hoping my yard becomes a pollinator oasis.

My yard does seem to be an avian oasis. A pair of robins has built a nest in the same spot as last year: under the eave on top of a bend in the downspout behind the Japanese maple by the dining room window. I'm tempted to place a ladder there and take a weekly photograph.

And here is a photo of the mallards that stopped by last week. I'm surprised they don't pop in when the standing water is at its worst. It's hard to see, but the female is behind the fence in the photo below. They took off shortly after this pic was taken.

The 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab seems particularly laden with blossoms this year. The low branch on the right will have to be pruned, as it threatens my eyesight every time I mow.

Up close and personal.

The redbud trees seem to be underperforming this year, but it is early. They hit their peak in early May. And despite my wishing, it is not yet May. (The chair is an experiment, to see if I like sitting there, for a different view of the yard.)

Up close.

I've seen exhortations here and there that it is time to set up hummingbird feeders. Not so around here, as I rarely see them before June. The oriole feeder has not been visited yet, but from last year's blog, I see they did not show up until May.

Meanwhile, I've attended to a few spring chores, like cleaning the deck, some of the siding (until I ran out of cleaning solution), and renewing the stone mulch. What I love about this photo is the lack of crapola. There used to be a stack of cedar planks on the deck, plus some stray ones on the table. Things look a lot tidier now.

The installation of the rain garden is supposed to happen tomorrow, BUT one underground utility has yet to be marked: Frontier and their fiber optic cable. Ordinarily, I would not be too worried about this, BUT the cable is just a few inches below the surface and easy to damage. Will they show up today, a Sunday? Somehow, I doubt it.

Sunday, April 16, 2023


The spring weather continues to come and go. I actually ran the AC for a couple of days this past week, but today the furnace is on again, plus April showers. At least I mowed before the rains came.

Insects seem to come and go as well. Last week I saw a red admiral on the creeping Charlie, yesterday a fat bumble bee in the serviceberry. (I was not quick enough to capture either with my macro lens.) Other than the ants that have invaded my kitchen, not much else six-legged activity.

Creeping Charlie sans red admiral

Serviceberry sans bumble bee

Something new I am trying this year is dripping water from milk jugs. I hung one over the birdbath, but I think it spooked the birds. There is another one over a tray of dirt and stones, to keep it moist for bugs like butterflies and mason bees. We'll see how that works out.

I'm enjoying the serviceberry which has really popped the past few days. A hard freeze at the wrong time can interrupt fruit production, but I'm hopeful there will be a bumper crop for the robins.

The flower stems of the ragwort have a weedy look to them, but the blossoms are lovely. (Can you tell I'm enjoying the macro lens on my camera phone?) Once they are done blooming, I'll cut back the stems to tidy things up a bit.

While I am enjoying all the newbies in the yard, let's not forget the stand-bys. The new leaves emerging on the elm tree show why it is such a great shade tree.

The Crimson King maple produces flowers of a sort, but it seems to be sterile, unlike its cousin the silver maple.

I put out the oriole feeder, but so far, no visitors. An acquaintance who lives in the country has seen an oriole, plus wild turkeys. I doubt I will ever have the latter in my backyard, but today there was a pair of mallards. (I *told* you it was wet out there.)

While all this beauty comes to life with no help from me, other parts of the yards require my attention. I gathered up most the cedar planks from the disassembled raised beds and put them at the end of the driveway (free!), but no takers. My neighbor across the street has been tearing out his deck, so he took the planks (and more) to the landfill for me. I would have like to see them reused, but they weren't in very good condition, plus sometimes you just have to let go.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Ex caliper

In the past, I have judged tree growth by how tall the said tree grows. Another way to determine how well one's trees are faring is to measure the diameter of the trunk. So today, using a not-very-sufficient caliper, I measured the oak (1 3/4") and the hickory (9/16") trunks. Hopefully, I will remember to do this every year.

What makes it feel like spring to you? For me, it is daffodils, forsythia, magnolias, and the greening of the grass. The lawn looked a bit raggedy, so I mowed today. I'm also still messing around with the arborvitae detritus.

A trip around the yard reveals more signs of spring.

Prairie Fire Crabapple


Blue Star

I had to look up that last plant, as it is new and something I am unfamiliar with. The new growth is black, which is a surprise.

Some sad news: One of my garden blogger friends passed away, Jason of gardeninacity. I'm not sure how I came to follow his informative and enlightening blog, but through that venue I was able to visit his garden during a tour in that area. He and his wife Judy were also frequent attendees of the Garden Bloggers Fling, which inspired me to attend when it was in Minneapolis. Jason and his blog will be sorely missed.

Sunday, April 02, 2023


The day after my last post, I realized the photo I identified as buds from the Prairie Fire crabapple was actually buds from the elm tree. I corrected that, but I certainly hope no one takes anything I say on this blog as gospel. I blog primarily to document the yard and garden for my own use, but I also enjoy sharing it with others.

I can tell spring is here because. while there isn't that much to do outside yet, there are more photos to post. My SO came over and helped me move the container plants from the garage to the backyard. Besides the rhubarb and penstemon below, there were two butterfly bushes and a clematis.

I bought some plastic drain pipe from the Home Depot. Stretching it out is a two-person job, so my SO helped with that as well. We had quite a bit of rain the other night, and I already notice that the sump pump under the four-season room runs less frequently now that the runoff from the roof is directed farther away from the house. Once the rain garden is installed, I'll half-bury the pipe in the mulch.

And my SO helped hang the metal sculpture I purchased at the home and garden show.

There is so much on my to-do list, once the weather warms a bit more, that it feels a bit overwhelming. While I love living alone and I'm grateful for the help from my SO, sometimes I wish I didn't have to do everything myself. I'd like to offload cleaning and cooking and TAXES!