I first experimented with gardening in Montana nearly 10 years ago, when I designed the landscaping for the house my parents built in the fall of 2000. We moved in the first weekend in November, with only sod down in the front yard. I borrowed books about gardening and landscaping from the library, and tried to guide my parents about what plants to install and how to landscape the yard.
My folks have always landscaped their own yard, rather than paying someone else. This time they paid someone else to lay sod in the front and seed the back grass, and install a sprinkler system. Maybe to also install the black rubber edging, I can't remember. But the rest we did ourselves. My parents are farm kids; they know how to plant things.
Ten years later, the yard looks like something planted by farm kids. I say that lovingly. After we built our house, the neighborhood suddenly got a lot fancier than we thought it would be. Prices suddenly shot to double what my parents paid, and people don't purchase homes for that price without the property being professionally landscaped.
The lots are pretty big too, about 7,500-9,000 square feet, or 150% of the 5,000 square foot lot my house is on. All of the neighbors have big landscaping beds, raised hills with trees on them, and a lot of bushes and shrubs. My folks? Grass. lots of it. Cheap to install. Easy to maintain, even if it meant taking over an hour to mow the lawn.
My mom put the house on the market in June 2007, within three weeks of my dad being fired. For various reasons, the house hasn't sold. They're putting it back on the market this summer though. Maybe the fates are telling my parents to keep it and retire back to Bozeman? It's a great house in a great neighborhood, and I wish we could afford to buy it from them...
Either way, as the house has been rented for the last two and a half years, what little landscaping there is could be spiffied up. I volunteered to handle the front flower bed, a spot reserved for my mom to experiment in gardening. My mom is a busy lady, and between two kids, a husband who wants to spend every waking minute at the lake and a very demanding job, she didn't have the time she wished to garden. So now I get to, and I'm really excited about it. I have a $150 budget for the roughly 15' X 15' space.
My first purchase will be 10-15 bags of soil pep as a mulch. I realized where my mom gets the "do not mulch" thing from when visiting Whitman County last week; no one there mulches. They all just hoe out weeds from their flower beds. Um, who has time for that? And furthermore, a good layer of mulch will keep weeds from getting started. And retain moisture, thus requiring less water. And soil pep works to amend soil, breaking up clay soils and making gardening easier over time. We use it in our flower beds, and I'm obviously a huge fan.
The flower bed isn't totally bare right now. Well... let me amend that. My dad "trimmed", aka scalped, the bushes when he was here last weekend. Mike is not a man of finesse when it comes to landscaping. To his credit, the bushes were terribly overgrown and they will grow back, eventually.
There are three spirea bushes against the porch, and three barberry bushes arced against the curving sidewalk. And some other kind of ground cover that the tennant put in. And some kind of grassy thing in a circle that the tenant put in. A few spring bulbs, which never really got going, are scattered through the space. So that's about what I've got to work with.
My first order of business will be to pull up the spring bulbs. I believe the crocus, which I've never actually seen bloom at my parent's house, has been a delicious source of nutrition for deer in the neighborhood. They're also right where I want to plant something else. Ditto for the single bulbs of tulips scattered around. I'll relocate both bulbs to just beside the porch step, where they might get munched but at least won't be in the way.
As for new plants in the space, I'll install a mix of perennials for long-term effect, and annuals for show this summer.
First will be two clumps of feather reed grass against the bare garage wall. This perennial grass grows 3-5' in height and offers green grass in the summer, and great yellow grass heads in the fall. They add good winter interest too, if left untrimmed.
I'll leave the little circle of grass (whatever it is), for now. Within it I'll plant additional perennials. Possibly three pink or red daylillies, as they survive despite being ignored. They also bloom in mid-summer, which will add nice color interest to the center of the garden.
As for annuals, and where to plant them, I'll probably stick with the Kramer favorite petunias. They're indestructible, and bloom brightly until the first frost. Can't compete with that! Probably in white or pinks to give the area some bright color.