Taming Our Thorny, Overgrown, and Bland Wilds

We have accomplished some of the things from our list of juggling, but have done a really really poor job of keeping you all up to date. If you have seen our instagram photos you probably know about our bathroom rehab, garage progress (new roof going on last week), and our newest fuzziest addition to the family, but this post is about our landscaping progress thus far.

Although this summer has been especially dry and hot, we were able to make some considerable progress this spring and during last year on slowly but surely crafting our garden oasis. I could care less about a grassy lawn, but I have always desired that “may I a small house and large garden have.” My parents instilled in me a deep appreciation for gardening and Kit’s family has had a long history of tending large vegetable gardens. Combining our two passions we have made considerable strides with eliminating large swaths of grass from our lot. Maybe we will eventually achieve something like this:

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This is my parents house…photos are unable to do it justice. This is only about 25% of the gardens

We began our planning process soon after closing on the house. The rough sketch for the “grounds” that we came up with looked like this:

Landscape Plan

We have been roughly following this master plan with minor adjustments along the way due to getting a better feel for the lot and its micro-climates, as well as getting free plants from my favorite nursery…my parents house!



The first major act was to plant a tree…well actually three. After a lot of research we settled on the spectacular (and native) Nyssa Sylvatica (Tupelo Tree) for our large full sized specimen. Its great for pollinators, makes little to no mess, has very showy fall color, and our specific cultivar “Wild-Fire” tops out at 40′-50′ tall. I could go on about this nearly perfect tree, but won’t bore you. Although I felt a bit guilty being one of the few houses on the street that interrupted a nearly continuous block long front lawn, I valued the need for shade with our house facing due south, and our original street tree having succumb to disease five years ago. The other two trees were necessary due to my family’s collective obsession with Japanese Maples. Rochester has the good fortune of having a world class japanese plant and rare conifer nursery, Oriental Garden Supply. Their collection of 10,000+ individual maples is truly astounding. I chose one of my long time favorite cultivars “Acer Palmatum Toyama Nishiki” for the backyard beneath the existing magnolia trees. It is an exquisitely variegated lace-leaf weeping dwarf that needs protection from harsh sun and wind. Up front I was excited to get my hands a very recent and rare cultivar “Acer Palmatum Rainbow” which has shockingly bright pink variegation against dark maroon leaves and spectacular color in fall.

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Soon after the trees were planted we began tearing out all of the damned yews from the front of the house…only a few now survive on the side of the house, but all will eventually go the way of the dodo. After the tear out of the yews, we started with planting the long perennial bed that would run along the driveway to the public sidewalk, as well as planting a few things along the edge of the stoop. We didn’t want to carry the bed further until our planned front facade restoration was completed. We expanded the foundation planting bed this spring and incorporated an adopted japanese maple from my parents that has been hanging on for dear life for the past four years. Due to our drought this summer, the bed extension has remained mostly bare, with hopefully some new additions this September.

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Nearly the same time as the planting of the trees, Kit and I with the help of her parents planned out and tilled our vegetable garden. The garden runs along the side of the garage where we have a great concrete sidewalk that allow access to both sides of the garden. The garden is roughly 24’x6′ and is lined with some left over pavers from the rear patio to give it a nice hard edge. The first year was successful, except for our tomatoes and over abundance of kale. This year we scaled back on the kale, and have had great success despite the drought on everything except for a few pea plants.

Starting last year and going into this year we have been doing a lot of corrective pruning on the magnolia trees.For years they were butchered with someone coming in and “trimming” them like a box wood hedge. This has created branches that split into a million sports with large ugly “knuckles” at these junctures. We feel like we’ve made a lot of progress, but unfortunately its hard to convey in photographs. This spring we also began the process of removing the weed maple hedge that lines our west lot line. In all there were 30+ stumps to be removed, not to mention the huge brush pile created by the limbs we cut. We still have three large stumps yet to be removed, but it was hugely rewarding to begin the process of cleaning up that edge of our property.

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Just before the drought began we outlined the planting beds along the back portion of the lot and planted a beautiful pink japanese (kousa) dogwood. We got a fantastic deal on it, but getting set it in the hole I dug proved to be a bit difficult, luckily our fantastic housemates helped with the heavy lift and turn.


I will make sure to do a brief update this fall to show everything a bit more grown in. Maybe by then I will have finally placed all of the mulch we ordered this spring in the planting beds instead of the driveway.


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