Tackling a Problem Side Yard
My good friends Jean and Jim have asked for my help figuring out what to do with the side yard to the south of their home. Right now this area has a U-shaped flower bed. The northern arm of the U lies along the house, and receives lots of sun. It is mostly empty, though it has some peonies, a rose bush, Calico Asters (Aster lateriflorus), and Cream False Indigo (Baptisia bracteata).
The southern arm lies along a chain link fence (marking the border with the neighbors). It gets some morning sun but is mostly shady and the soil is moist. There’s a golden alexander (Zizia aurea) and an oak leaf hydrangea in the southwest corner. Otherwise this area is pretty much overrun by Creeping Buttercup (Ranuculus repens).
The far end of the U faces west and backs against the chain link fence. Some conifers about 30′ tall stand on the other side of the fence. Down the middle of this side yard is a peninsula of lawn with large square pavers for stepping stones. The whole property had been professionally landscaped by the prior owner and the garden designer had surrounded the stepping stones with Buttercups, which went on to rampage through the moist part of the yard. Oops.
So there are two challenges. First, fill the empty spaces on the northern arm with perennials adapted to a dryish sunny spot, particularly ones which will shine after the peonies are done blooming. Second, come up with some tough plants that like moisture and shade – and that can compete with and even shade out the Creeping Buttercups. (My feeling is that trying to remove the Buttercups is a fool’s errand, unless Jean wants to use some very heavy duty herbicides, which she doesn’t.)
Preference is for plants that are mat-forming or otherwise dense enough to inhibit weeds. Filling in quickly would also be a good thing.
I’m trying to come up with a list of plants for this project. Some initial thoughts …
For the north/sunny arm:
Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
The above have the advantage of being free, as I have to remove some from my beds.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) ‘Paprika’
False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
Bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis)
Pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii)
Shining coneflower (Rudbeckia nitida) ‘Herbstsonne’
Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) ‘Katherine’
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) ‘Northwind’
Obviously, this list will have to be narrowed down, but I’m thinking of a basically blue/yellow border with something tall to stand in front of the gas meter.
For the south/moist/shady arm:
Variegated sedge (Carex morrowii) ‘Ice Dance’
Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis)
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) ‘Raspberry Wine’
Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Wall Iris (Iris tectorum)
Dwarf Goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius)
Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila)
Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum) ‘Variegatum’
Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllum)
OK, once again, this list needs to be narrowed down.
So which would you choose? Which would you reject? What suggestions do you have that aren’t listed?
All ideas are welcome. I’m waiting. My friends Jean and Jim are waiting. Help!