Thursday, January 17, 2008

Help: Redo This Garden!

Here's the challenge: This area of the backyard (I call it the "Birdbath Garden"...duh) goes from hot sun near sidewalk to deep shade under the trees. I've tried many different things with this area, including taking out most of the grass and putting down wood bark mulch -- HATED that!! I've planted just about everything I could think of around the birdbath: tulips for spring, thyme for ground cover, all sorts of perennials, you name it. NOTHING does well here except for the year I surrounded the birdbath with containers of geraniums (and those don't look real great until later in the summer). I always go into this project with beautiful visions of what it will look like and every time I end the season very discouraged.

This area looks good in grass because it breaks up the various areas. But... the grass under the shade needs to be replanted several times a year, and the grass around the sidewalk dries out, no matter how much water it has. Sooooo...... what do I do? My husband is thinking of planting buffalo grass in the area. I like that idea, but you need to make sure that it is a variety that will grow in shade. As the catalogs come in I put my virtual glasses on and envision many ideas. There are nice collections of wildflower seeds. Wouldn't it look good to "naturalize" this area with buffalo grass and wildflowers? I like that idea very much. But here we go again. Most wildflowers need a lot of sun. Another idea... ground cover. Maybe I should explore that more. The problem here is that this area does get a lot of traffic from maintaining the birdbath and flower beds. In the winter it is exposed and gets lots of cold snow and wind. I have zillions of vincas that we inherited next to the fence and I'm tired of them. They are also difficult to walk among without tripping.

How about a nice big water feature that would replace the birdbath (although I need to keep the heated part for the winter)? Don't think we have the energy or money to do that, but maybe I could do it on a smaller scale. I could place some rocks around the birdbath and build up around them? But we are finally making progress in removing tons of red rocks that used to cover this area, making it difficult to plant in areas. What to do? Right now I'm lost. But that's what winter is about, right? Dreaming and making plans. So, I'll be looking at more catalogs and doing some more planning, and I hope to come up with a solution that will work. Back to the drawing board!
If anyone reading this blog has any ideas, please let me know.


Valerie said...

If the water feature is in the sun all day, you might consider some solar fountains. I have these:
(got them cheaper from Plow and Hearth) and they've worked well for a couple of years. No sun, no water spray, though.
And you have to bring them in during the winter (Colorado)

lesliet said...

New England Wild Flower Society had an "idea garden" this past year where they had a sedge lawn (Carex pensylvania). This was a fairly low-growing fine-leafed sedge that can be mowed like grass or left to grow about 12' tall. It's supposed to grow well in shade and in dry conditions as well, so it might work for you. (I know I planted some plugs in the middle of a drought last summer and it seemed to survive, even newly-planted, without any watering. I was pretty surprised that it didn't die.) Go here and scroll down a bit to see a couple of pictures of the NEWFS exhibit.

vonlafin said...

If it were me the grass would go, the problem of replanting is only going to get worse as the tree grows. Have you tried pachysandra or lilyturf as a groundcover under the tree? It looks like this area has lots of potential. I am not sure about wild flowers, they tend to look really good for a short time, and the rest of the time like a weed patch. Maybe move your water feature closer to the sidewalk were nothing grow anyway because of the heat. Just my two cents.

Bev said...

Valarie, thanks so much. I'm going to look up the solar water features.

Leslie, that's a good idea. I will research it. I love any kind of carex because it looks so lovely in the fall with the sun backlighting.

Vonlafin, you know, you are so right about the wildflowers, now that I think about it. They do get pretty messy looking. I can just see it! I am going to research the groundcovers. Thanks so much for your suggestions.

Bev said...

I have started a sidebar for ideas on redoing this garden and have researched several of the good ideas so kindly given above. I would really like a new water feature, but won't be able to afford the ones I like. Sooo.. I'm going to see what we could do about building one our own. It will be fun thinking of ideas.

Dave said...

It sounds like you are looking for something you can walk on but if you just want some good shade plants to cover the area behind your birdbath you might try hostas. Mix them with some astilbe and bleeding hearts and you have a small woodland garden area. You could even put some smaller ornamental grasses along the sidewalk where it's sunny. Hope that helps!

I like the snow pictures on your other posts. We don't have much of the white stuff here in Tennessee.

Matthew said...

I think I would move the birdbath further back along the path towards the sitting area(s) and put a large shrub (viburnum perhaps) where the birdbath is now.

Bev said...

Dave, thank you so much for your comments. Your remarks came right after I had read about this same combination in a book and it really appeals to me. I LOVE hostas and I REALLY LOVE heucheras, so I will for sure include them. Wish I could grow some of the things that you can grow in Tennessee!

Matthew, I love the idea of a shrub, so will look at moving the birdbath. My only criteria is that I be able to see it through the livingroom windows. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I have been getting many excellent suggestions and ideas.

deb said...

A little food for winter thought.........
I like someones idea about getting rid of the grass. I can't tell what the whole backyard looks like, but if there's lots of shade, sounds like a great place for a brick patio. Surrounding the patio could be your flower beds.(raised if you can, with good rich soil, we lack that here in Co.Springs)I love my water fountain on my patio, makes my hot tea in the morning and my glass of wine in the evening taste so much better. there are lots of shade plants we can find. How about a circular bench around one of your trees? just found your blog, more later....

Bev said...

Deb, thanks for your comments. We do have a patio back in the corner... a great shady place! And I really want to have a larger water feature. We have a fountain on the patio. Those are all great ideas.

Kristina said...

An outdoor fountain can add life to any garden or outdoor landscaping project. As you may know, there are many styles to choose from. Some of my favorites are the Raku Basin Fountain, the Solar Fountains and the Outdoor Wall Fountains. Serenity Health has hundreds of outdoor fountains to choose from. There is also a great blog with many water fountains facts at

Anonymous said...

I've been putting together a little list of some shade loving plants for you, while my husband and I deal with the flu.

Brunnera w/ pink blooming bleeding hearts

Variegated Brunnera w/ white bleeding heart

Corydalis "blackberry Wine" w/ Hakonechloa


Hellebores, they like moist well drained soil



Heucherras( aren't they breeders going nuts with these, all the colors)


I've thought about your grass too. What variety is it, is it a cool season grass? How's the soil it's growing in? I can't see why a cool season can't take the shade as well as sun. I too have to have just a little turf in my yard.
hope some of these plants give something to think about on this brisk day.

Bev said...

Kristina, I love the site you mentioned. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous - thank you so VERY MUCH! You have lots of ideas, and most of them are favorites of mine. I've been thinking along the same lines. I will for sure have some Brunnera, ferns, hostas and the plants I really love - Heuchera! Hadn't thought of violets - easy to grow too, a great idea.

Anonymous said...

Bev, it's deb again (or anonymous till i locate my new past word, computers are not necessarily my friends)anyway..... I forgot to mention a japanese mountain maple. I was excited to get their catalog in the mail again this winter. They actually have some maples with a zone 5, I think it might be kind of fun to experiment with one, they are so beautiful. It's suppose to be 64 here in the springs on Sat. enjoy

Bev said...

Deb, thanks so much again for thinking of me. I would love to have a Japanese maple and will explore this idea. Yeah, the weatherpeople started out several days ago saying it would be 71 on sat. and everyday the temp gets revised down. Whatever, it will sure feel good. I hope you will be getting a blog so I can see your gardens.