Newbie from Baltimore Needs Your Advice!

Discussion in 'Garden Design and Plant Suggestions' started by hholli1, Aug 18, 2006.

  1. hholli1

    hholli1 Member

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    I am brand new (green) to this forum, and sooooo excited to see that there are enthusists here. I have two houses in the Baltimore area whose gardens are a MESS. Years ago, when my mother's health was better, she used to plant Heather plants in her front garden (it's one of her daughter's names) and she used to add alkaline (?) to change the ph of the bed in order for the Heather to grow. But...

    Now I want to redo the whole garden at her house, and at mine. (so I'm interested in buying plants in bulk, but that's not my question...yet)

    The heather is long gone, and there is a montrosity of weeds in its place. There is another garden that runs the length of the sunny side of her house. It used to have rose bushes there, but honestly, I never thought they did particularly well.

    I am interested to know what plants you guys would think I could use (without having to constantly worry about ph levels and the like). Evergreens, boxwoods, etc...I need foundation plant advice so that I can start to build something beautiful for my mom. (She's a cancer survivor and cares for my special needs nephew on top of that).

    I would appreciate any advice any of you could give me. I think we're in zone 6? 7? here in Baltimore, Maryland. If you know which plants do well, and you want to help a gal trying to help her mom, this'd be the place.

    :)

    Thank you in advance! I look forward to reading your responses (if I get any).
     
  2. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Holli, it sounds as if you do know a fair bit about plants and what they need, and maybe even have an idea of what you want the end product to look like. You also have a huge project in mind that will involve juggling a lot of variables, such as sun/shade, the look of the houses, time available for maintenance, budget, schedule, DIY vs hiring someone, and the site layout and topography, in addition to the soil ph and your zone. Speaking for myself, though others on the forum may feel different, I can't begin to give you any plant ideas, sketched layouts, or anything else specific without knowing a heck of a lot more about your project and your variables.

    What I can suggest is how you might approach this huge undertaking, and where you might go for good information.

    Most people will say you should have an overall plan in mind, and ideally this would be the way to go, but whether you have one or not you can work your way around the property and improve areas one at a time. It sounds as if your priority will be the parts of the property that your mom will see, maybe from inside, or as she comes and goes. Or perhaps it is a priority to establish a place where she can be outside, a patio or something.

    Whatever the case, the best order to do things is to start with any hardscape you need, such as pathways, seating areas, retaining walls, rock gardens, and establishing the shape and size of your flowerbeds. Then you work on the plant "bones" for each area; whatever you want in the way of evergreens and other trees and shrubs. Perennials and annuals (though it's late for those) and other accents such as pots or other decor are used to dress up the bones. You can also go far more into perennials and annuals, but that's a lot more maintenance, as well as a potential winter eyesore.

    For plant selection I honestly think your best bet is a local nursery, best if you can find a good one with knowledgeable people on staff. Because internet acquaintances can suggest all the plants they like, but if the point is for you to actually get them, they have to be available. Local nurseries will stock good plants for your area, and the staff will be able to tell you (if the plant tags don't) what plants are best for your shady, sunny, big, and small areas. They can help you select plants that go together, and discuss how much growth you can expect and how to manage it.

    Another thing I will mention is that heather is an unusual plant in that it is so fussy about pH. The vast majority of plants that you find at nurseries are much easier to manage, not requiring anywhere near the knowledge or the time to fuss with them.
     
  3. Rima

    Rima Active Member

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    How much room in feet do you have (and how far from the house), and do you want trees or not? How about shrubs, or only flowering perennials, or ...? And what is the soil like, clay, sandy, rich loam, boggy, dry? Don't fuss about pH anyway, very few plants really need a lot of lime added, and Miracid or bark mulch can generally help with acidic needs.
     
  4. M. D. Vaden

    M. D. Vaden Active Member 10 Years

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    Do you have an image album where you can put an image that can be linked to. It's fun to see and tell.

    I see that files can be attached in here, or if you put the URL as you type, it displays as a hyperlink.
     
  5. hholli1

    hholli1 Member

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    Ok, I don't really know how to describe the dirt except to say that it does not seem to be clay like. The front beds are about three and a half to four ft coming out from the house, about seven or eight feet wide (spanning the front of the house) with one of the beds wrapping along the entire side of the house. That bed is only about two ft coming out from the house. they are cemented beds, with a curb-like ledge running along its edge. I am mostly interested in planting boxwoods and the like, but that's mostly because I do not know a lot about gardening. I am interested in low maintenence foundation plants that would mature well in my area.

    I was thinking to plant boxwoods along the side garden after I remove the stumps of would be nut trees (I think they're nut trees...it's those pop up from outta nowhere trees that tend to do well in urban areas)

    I am just not sure, and I have no idea how to blend evergreens either. (Oh my, I hope I did not bite off more than I can chew). :)
     
  6. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    (two threads merged into this one)
     
  7. hholli1

    hholli1 Member

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    Karin (and everyone else really)

    Thank you so much for your insight! I am not really going to fuss with pathways and the like right now, I just want a presentable garden that would be low maintence. If Mom wants to plant some perrenials along the front of the garden (she was once a very avid gardener) that can be something she might like to do. I just want to get some foundation plants established so that they might start to mature a bit.

    Is there a grouping of bushes, or grasses? maybe, that go well together? Her house is a light creamy yellow vinyl siding and white shutters. I think green would look lovely (and cover some space!!!).

    I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions about that. The garden along the side of the house gets the most sun while the two in front are partially shaded (because of the house, not because of any trees). The front yard is not very large at all so the gardens need to be more stately (if that makes sense). Oh, and there is a sidewalk along the other side of the house (the shady side) that is in perfect condition.

    I wish I could post pictures, but I just don't have any...
     
  8. 3DogsinMyGarden

    3DogsinMyGarden Member

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    In the states, the University Extensions run programs for Master Gardeners which are designed to provide answers to homeowners and locals about their gardening questions. I don't believe that Canadian universities run these type of extension programs. I am not sure of the history of the programs but I kind of think they are federally mandated so it is the tax payers dollars to provide these services.
    I would suggest that you investigate the university extension programs as they will have information on your area, and plants that do well there, potential pests etc.

    Also I would suggest a soil test. The extension programs can give you more information on which companies in your area do these and the results will tell you if there is a need for fertilizers or what the soil is like, pH etc.

    If there is an arboretum or botanical garden in your area, visit there as well and they may have more objective information about plants than the local nurseries. I find the nurseries around here want to sell what they have in stock so will push those and not suggest other plants.
     
  9. hholli1

    hholli1 Member

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    It didn't even occur to me to contact the local universities! (pardon me while I deal with my cognitive dissonance) I'll check for aboretums as well as botanical gardens. DC is only thirty minutes away, so there's bound to be something between here and there.

    And you're right about nurseries. If they happen to have an overflow of some particular plant, that will be what does well in your garden.

    Thanks!
     
  10. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    It is true that botanical gardens and ag extension offices may be good sources of information, but it may not be what you need. You want the answer to a specific question, not an overall course on gardening. These agencies are probably quite careful (and if they aren't they should be) not to compete with landscapers and nurseries directly in terms of the information that they offer; in other words, they won't offer you consultation on your specific needs. In short, I wouldn't discount the value of a good nursery. Usually they have at least hundreds, if not thousands, of plants in stock so the three or seven that you want are not going to make such a difference to their stock situation that it will influence their advice. Also, they want you to come back, so they want you happy. The key is to find a nursery where the personnel are knowledgeable AND they have a good selection of plants. To find them, visit them, wander, read plant tags, and ask questions. If you find a good resource person, it's sometimes even good to know what days they work so you can find them again!
     
  11. digital flower

    digital flower Member

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    This is very good advice and an excellent place to get started.
     
  12. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    While I can appreciate the value of a soil test for cultivating rare, fussy plants, I think it is overrated in importance for newbies in most areas. The test is only of value if your soil is so extreme in one direction or the other that you have trouble finding plants that thrive there. Otherwise, the plants commonly available in the trade tend to tolerate a wide variety of soil types. By far the more important variables to get right are sun/shade and moisture. Plant tags will usually warn if a plant is fussy enough to REQUIRE acid soil, for example. Unless you are going to go into the nursery and ask for plants based on the type of soil you have, the soil test is a waste of time.

    Once you've selected your plants, and are trying to decide whether you need to fertilize, then again there might be some value in a soil test. But again, only if you have trouble getting plants to thrive.
     
  13. digital flower

    digital flower Member

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    KarinL Normally I would agree about the soil test however in case like the one hholli1 is speaking of a soil test is a prudent course of action. They are not sure what or how much was dumped to change the pH. While I cultivate many rare and fussy plants I do plenty of 'regular' plantings too. Simplistically stated my garden philosophy is there are three basic elements; soil, light and water. What you can't see in landscaping is very important and that includes the soil. If they are just starting out why not get a soil test? It is easy cheap and a good way to go forward IMHO.

    This is why I recommended a soil test:
     
  14. easygardeningsecrets.blogspot.

    easygardeningsecrets.blogspot. Member

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    Hello,
    What a beautiful gift to give your mom! I'm sure that she will appreciate her beutiful new garden. It sounds like you both deserve a beautiful and inspiring place to relax and enjoy.

    When I first started gardening I felt like I needed to be a scientist to figure out all of the information that was available to me. Gardening can really be as simple or as intense as you would like to make it. I personally enjoy easy gardening myself.

    Because of your soil having had alkaline added you may want to do a soil test before planting. Just check with your local nursery for this. Alkalinity refers to the pH of the soil. A pH of 7 is neutral. Anything greater than 7 is considered alkaline.

    There are some plants that prefer an alkaline soil, such as lilacs and clematis and of course heather. If you have alkaline soil and want to plant something that does not prefer a high pH, you can amend your soil with a sulfur product or even peat moss or evergreen needles, which tend to lower the pH of soil. You may even consider planting in raised beds by adding topsoil.

    Comosting can also help to normalize the pH of your soil. I recommend a very easy method of composting which creates a colloidal humus compost which will give even a newbie phenomenal results and a stunning garden.

    If you prefer not to test your soil and want to keep things really simple I would suggest just sticking with plants that are known to do well in an alkaline soil. Juniper is a great and easy to grow ground covering that should do well. Rhododenderon are a sturdy flowering plant that should do nicely as well. Trees that you might consider for alikaline soil are American Holly, Pin Oak or Sweet Bay.

    I hope that you find these suggestions helpful. I also have a website at www.easygardeningsecrets.blogspot.com where I feature really easy and successful gardening advise if you would like further information on easy gardening. Best of luck to you and Happy Gardening!
     

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