The Back Ornamental Garden – The Beginning

I’m always trying to start something new, usually I bite off more than I can chew but in this case I’m taking our back ornamental garden at a casual pace. In other words I’m not pushing myself to get it done but just doing what I can when I can.  It fits a general long range goal I have at creating a quiet garden in the backyard for growing shade loving plants. Most of our landscape is full sun so I have to take a few steps before I can really get things going. This corner of the yard gets shade through the late morning then full sun for several hours followed by evening shade. Pretty much the opposite of what you want for growing hostas and hydrangeas. The first step to creating a shady sanctuary is to put in trees that will one day provide relief from that big orange ball in the sky.  I picked maple trees to begin this area in particular red maples (Acer rubrum).  Red maples grow relatively quickly, have great fall color, and are easy to find. There are all kinds of varieties out there like ‘Sunset’ and ‘October Glory’ but I just went with the species. The two small maples in the picture came from the Arbor Day Society while the larger one was purchased locally. The Arbor Day trees should be the same height as the other one by now but unfortunately the deer like them in a much different way than I do!

The next step is creating the actual planting beds. I have a simple technique for making these beds fairly quickly.  First I take our push mower (which has a bag for collecting grass) and put the wheels on the absolute lowest setting or one notch above that. Mark the area you want to mow with landscaping paint if you want (I didn’t since I’m not worried about the exact boundaries of the garden yet, if at all). With the wheels on the lowest setting the mower will scrape the ground and pull up the grass and dirt on the top layer of the area I want cleared of turf. Then I dump the collected grass on top of that area. After I clear the area I readjust the wheels to raise the mower back to normal grass cutting height and collect clippings from other areas of the yard and dump the grass on the newly cleared areas. The grass clippings combined with the severely scalped turf is usually all that is needed to prevent grass and weeds from growing up but if you want to (and I have done this some) you can add a layer of newspaper underneath to insure there are no weeds emerging. The newspaper degrades over time, just make sure to not use the glossy colored pages. 

Since this summer has been so wet the grass is still green and actively growing, even the cool season fescue is doing well in the middle of July! I’ll add additional clippings and expand the area as I mow which will gradually reduce the area I need to mow a little at a time.

This fall I will be moving those little maples to new spots nearby.  The two branched on on the left of the picture needs one branch removed to establish a central leader. It will get moved onto the right side of the picture (garden) to balance the large red maple. The little maple that is currently on the right will get moved onto the left side of the large tree to further delineate the back garden from the rest of the yard by creating a tree line.

You’ll notice in the picture that there are two ornamental grasses front and center. They are a form of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) called ‘Shenandoah’ which boasts some really nice foliage and red seed heads in late summer and fall. It’s also a native and a great replacement for potentially invasive grasses like miscanthus. I’m using the two grasses to mark the pathway entry to the back garden.  They are set apart about 7-8 feet to allow for plenty of space to move through with mowers and wheelbarrows.

I’ve added a couple of rabbit and deer resistant plants to these garden areas as well: Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). Caryopteris blooms blue as its common name Blue Mist Shrub indicates and of course if you’ve followed this blog much you know of my fondness for Russian sage! Caryopteris is extremely easy to propagate and will be on my new list at the beginning of next week of easy plants to propagate. Both the Russian sage and caryopteris like the sun and will help to anchor the new gardens. Until the maples grow larger and begin to cast shade the sunny plants will have to do!

6 thoughts on “The Back Ornamental Garden – The Beginning”

  1. What an interesting project Dave. I created a shade garden by taking the corner of our fence and planting trumpet vine. trimmed to a tree=like shape it shades hosta, coleus,ferns and cransbill. Every year the shade garden gets a little bigger. Hopefully your deer will stay away long enough for your trees to get a good hold. You should get a dog 🙂

  2. By the time you are really ready to get going the beds should be nice and workable with all the grass you are adding.

  3. That's the way I have done it also. I also used the cut grass to put around trees & larger plants as mulch. It's great.
    I have the Shenandoah but I have it in a Whiskey barrel with a mum & an Echanacae {sp}. I just stuck the mum in last fall & it grew & bloomed this Spring. I'm glad you said the Shenandoah is not invasive.

  4. Dave your future garden is going to be beautiful .. I have Pacific Sunset Maple, that is utterly beautiful in the Autumn .. and by odd similarity ? I just planted Shenandoah panicum yesterday too ! .. I am creating a new bed and focal points on a much smaller scale .. but it is odd we are thinking alike ! : )

  5. Cherie,

    I wouldn't mind having a border collie around, just need a fence first! I bet the trumpet vine gave you some quick shade!


    I've noticed that it only takes a couple weeks for the grass to have the effect I want. Maybe this fall I'll have the time to do more with the bed.


    The switch grass is very cool. They are talking about farming it up here in TN for use in alternative fuels like ethanol. I bet it looks great in the whiskey barrel.


    It's not so odd, great minds think alike don't you think? 😉 Maybe you can show us your maple in the Fall Color Project?

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