Monday, April 20, 2009

Our Front Yard – before and after

That's a spoiler 'after' picture above...

I come from a place where people water their lawn. A lot. To have a brown lawn in Spokane meant that you were, well, one of “them”. You know the type; parked on the lawn, couch on the front porch (missing a cushion) and trash containers still at the curb for 3 or 4 days after trash pick up. Oh and guaranteed they never, ever, mowed the lawn.

Growing up knowing that green grass = good and brown grass = bad, I find the golden crunchy lawns around Portland in summer hard to accept (for those of you not in Portland, folks don't water their lawns here in the summer time...my dad thinks it's laziness, but it's just being 'green'). I am not saying to dump loads of water on your lawn; rather I am encouraging lawn alternatives. The age of the large lawn is over! Be creative, do something that looks good year round not just for part of the year, do low maintenance if that’s your thing, just do something!
Okay so back to our project…even before we found our house we planned to tear out the majority of whatever lawn there might be, for the front yard that meant replacing it with gravel and plantings. Gravel may be to southwest for some but I love it, actually that is probably why I love it. The picture above was taken the day we made the offer on the house, we bought in 2005 when you were lucky to even find a house in inner NE Portland let alone have time to think about it, ours was 1 of 3 offers placed within hours of the house going on the market. Besides the lawn there were a few other things that had to go like the azalea mass, overgrown vinca vine, the hideous house number plaque, the cheap brass light fixture, those wrought iron railings and that paint job! A white house, how creative…yikes, we had a lot of work to do!
The one part of the front yard project we didn’t do ourselves was tearing out the sod. We hired someone to do it and haul it away. We then rented a rototiller and Andrew went to work loosening up the soil that had been compacted under the sod for 58 years (wow, is that even possible?…yep...our house was built in 1948…). Unfortunately it proceeded to rain hard while he was working making for a miserable and messy job, and I now know, probably destroying the structure of the soil. According to my Master Gardener training, (taken after the project was complete), we collapsed the tiny air pockets in the soil that the plants depend on for oxygen for their growing roots.
The gravel delivery came next. Since the truck just dropped the load in the street we had to get it out of the street the same night it was delivered. Our ‘fill the wheel barrel, dump, repeat’ motion resulted in this lovely piece of installation artwork which we enjoyed until the weekend when we had time to spread the gravel. You are probably thinking, "why didn't they plant before putting the gravel down?" Well that was the plan, the gravel delivery in the street changed up the order of things.

Then came the planting! I had worked up a planting plan with the idea that since we had no actual structure (retaining wall, fence), the plants would provide a sort of structure. I have read many times the admonition “Never plant in straight lines! Nature doesn’t work that way.” Well first off, rules are made to be broken, second I have a thing for straight lines and geometric plantings. My goal was to have a pattern that worked with our sloping yard. Grouping plants in a way that looked pleasing, had lots of texture, and responded to the shape of the yard...allowing your eye to flow from one end to the other.
So you might have guessed, the best part of this project was the plant shopping. I was buying with wild abandon, it was fabulous! That was my plant 'storage' area shown above. It felt like I was planting a jungle, however to look at these pictures now I see what everyone else must have seen at the time. We got several positive remarks along the lines of “it will look really good when it fills in” I was puzzled and a little saddened by this feedback. I somehow managed to see it already filled in and matured. Now of course I realize those plants were tiny! The ‘after’ pictures you see here are from 2006 and 2007. The computer with 2008 pictures on it is at the doctor, with an unknown and potentially fatal illness. I was putting off posting this project until I had those pictures but decided it was time. There have been changes: of course the flax is toast (although the ‘yellow wave’ is actually starting to show signs of life!) the 6ft tall cordy’s turned to slime and were chopped down, the kniphofia just got out of hand, looked bad and was taken out. The row of blue fescue made a lovely toilet for the neighbor’s cat, it died (the fescue not the cat), and was replaced with black mondo grass, one of my favorite ‘hard as nails’ plants that spreads nicely.

Lots of change…guess that means there is material for a future front yard ‘after-the-after’ post, eh? Oh, and the house is still white...that's gonna take another year or so, after the shade shack is complete!

21 comments:

  1. Great blog, love the name, lots of points for being in Portland... impressed with work being accomplished... and now I see you're on Blotanical. Great to connect. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with next! Alice
    http://BayAreaTendrils.blogspot.com

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  2. Thanks Alice...you are gardening in one of my fav places...oh what I dream I could grow in the Bay area!

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  3. It looks so good. I'm impressed you just went for it and implemented with your full vision all at once. I just chipped away for years, digging up little bits of sod at a time. It was grueling. I think your way is much better.

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  4. P.S. Woohoo! I was able to post a comment from Safari this time! I had been having to switch to Firefox.

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  5. Wow Ms.Danger! What a yard!!! I feel better about lining up everything in our front yard on a diagonal now! :)

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  6. What a fun post to read. I love how you went for it (I did the same thing to my former front-yard garden, ripping everything out and starting from scratch). Your burgundy and chartreuse color scheme is to die for; it really says Pacific NW to me, based on the gardens I've seen in magazines that use that sophisticated color scheme. What is that wine-colored, fan-like plant in a trio near the street and driveway?

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  7. Denise SchreiberApril 21, 2009

    'The row of blue fescue made a lovely toilet for the neighbor’s cat, it died (the fescue not the cat).'

    We could arrange for the latter, should that cat come back anytime soon. You'd think that cat would know better than to mess with a 'Danger Garden'.

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  8. Thanks Megan! 'Chipping away' is exactly what I was doing at my former yard in Spokane..it was huge and WAY over whelming. This one was small enough that it was easier to just go for it. And the husband was behind the project which helped! Glad posting was easier for you...I didn't change anything, wonder what's up with that?

    Andrea - go diagonal, you won't regret it!

    Pam - thanks! Sophisticated color scheme, eh? I like it! The plant you ask about is flax. I got lucky and found the perfect fan shaped ones on sale buy 2 get 1 free! Love that. Unfortunately I spent last Saturday digging the dead stumps out and planting new ones. Part of my flax die off of last winter. Very sad. They had really gotten big.

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  9. Mrs Schreiber! I thought you were a friend to kittys!? What if Maverick hears you talking like that!

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  10. Your front garden is absolutely inspiring and I am so impressed! Thank you for posting the progress pictures: they give me real hope for my nascent garden and tiny plants. You can be justly proud of your progress. I love the tall cannas between the windows and the overall effect of the plants you used. It looks like you've even planted the parking strip....great!

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  11. Thank you so much Jane! Good eye - I was wishing I had a picture that showed the parking strip when I posted. There were the 2 Japanese Snow Bells already there when we moved in and I added a couple varieties of Yucca. I figured it's a tough plant that will stand up to abuse. There is a park at the end of our street and in soccer season our parking strip sees a lot of action!

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  12. looks great! i love nontraditional lawns. what do the neighbors say?

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  13. Thank you Josie...

    So far the neighbors have been totally positive...Portland is pretty good that way. It would probably not go over as good in Spokane though..

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  14. GORGEOUS!!!
    That is a fantastic garden, Loree! Your taste in plants is impeccable. I'm so glad your neighbors responded positively - when I took out my lawn I was almost kicked off my block...
    They like the garden now ... but I have a long memory and ! hold grudges!
    I hope the computer gets better so we can see 2008 - I'm sure it is a sight to behold.

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  15. Thank you! Reports are good as far as the computer...the doc seems to have worked some magic, I am holding my breath!

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  16. Wow, that is the way to do it. Rip it out and go for it. It has "filled in" rather nice. Love the color scheme. It always helps when the muscle half of the team takes an interest in the project.

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  17. This is a wonderful post. All I did was enlarge a bed or two in front, I certainly didn't try ripping out all that grass that is out there. It is very inspirational to see what can happen if you do. But then I take a reality check. I judge by your pictures that our "front lawn" is approximately five times the size of yours. Maybe sometime when I have a lot more time and money.

    Around here lawns start to turn brown in August when it is just too hot for grass. I don't water ours at all, but since it is far from a monoculture the plantain and other weeds keep it looking nice and green even during the dog days of summer.

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  18. Okay, I thought "them" only lived in Alabama, LOL I enjoyed your post which I found through the Gardening Gone Wild blog. I am contemplating doing my front lawn like this because it is so shady, I can't get any grass to grow there.

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  19. It's looking good! Did you put anything under the gravel (like weed barrier?)

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  20. Lisa, I agree! I'm lucky, my muscle half is pretty darn willing to jump in.

    hmh, your project looks great! (I took a peek at your post)

    Phillip, ah yes! My husband (from Nebraska) has alluded to these qualities in Alabama, and Iowa too. You should do it! I really think you won't regret it.

    Mom Taxi Julie, thank you! Nope we didn't. I was against the landscape cloth because I just don't like it and since there is a gradual slope, and we get a lot of rain, I was afraid the gravel would slide right off. It really hasn't been difficult pulling the few weeds that show up.

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  21. AnonymousJuly 20, 2012

    I just found your blog through Apartment Therapy and I have to say that your gardening is giving me hope for our house. I love the kind of plants you've picked and like you, love "danger plants". I'm from California and love the look they give, but it's hard to visit nurseries here in Seattle and get recommendations on great rhody plants instead...sigh. I hate rhodies! Thanks for the inspiration!!

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