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The Garden, Year Two

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Last summer was the season of curb appeal for us. After the worst winter of all time in 2013 (well, we think so anyway), our manageable, short to-do for 2014 quickly spiraled, and like most Chicagoans, we were eager to make the most of the warm summer months. We poured new concrete, built new stairs, painted and stained the front porch, furnished the front porch, gave the door a new color, made a doggie pee pit and started a garden! When it became cold again, we turned towards hibernation – or kitchen mode, your call – and we’ve only recently began peeking our heads outdoors once again.

We still have a few things we didn’t finish last year – painting the new stairs comes to mind – but we’ve been the most excited about turning our attention back to the garden. Last year, we started small with a trio of boxwoods, two trees and a row of blue fescue and lavender. Our intention has always been to come back for Round Two, gather ideas for what else we like, and fill in the bare areas this year – a suggestion by the staff at a local nursery. In early April, we trimmed back the dead fescue and lavender, and as a result, our garden looked like this:

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The fluffy fescue has been growing back fiercely and easily, but I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous about the lavender! You can barely see that baby stumps remain, although there is some bright green poking through. Fellow lavender lovers, is this normal? (Hi, we’re new to the garden club.)

We took a few photos of our garden before heading to Christy Webber, a nursery we frequent often and cannot recommend highly enough! We must have looked confused (guilty), because we were immediately scooped up by Friendly Guy. He inspected our photos, listened to what we like and what we don’t, and we began our tour around the nursery. As we explained that this is year two for our garden and we were omg so worried about the lavender!, he promised us that we were on the right path and pointed us towards these plants: Dianthus “Firewitch” (grassy), Catmint (leafy) and a climbing Hydrangea (branchy).

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Both the Dianthus and Catmint have a blue-green tint (which we love), and they’ll sprout purple and pink flowers throughout the summer season, growing taller but mostly wider. When Friendly Guy noticed the lattice behind our garden, he suggested we try something vine-like to grow upwards, which, of course! The hydrangea was our wedding flower, so it was an easy decision for us to go with that, although the blooms on the climbing hydrangea look slightly different than the traditional flower (but still very, very beautiful!). As soon as we got home, we dived right in, digging holes, fertilizing and planting!

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Although it looks super twiggy right now, FG assured us that the hydrangea will take hold easily, and within a few years, we’ll be stunned at the results. In his words (or as they say?), first it sleeps, then it creeps, then it leaps. He encouraged us by explaining that our Round One garden will be stronger next year, and a couple years from now, we should see substantial improvement overall. As the least patient person in the world, I do appreciate the slow gardening game, but come on, is it 2018 yet?

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To finish, we spread a fresh layer of mulch over the entire garden bed and re-seeded the parts of our lawn that are more stubborn than the rest.

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Our starting point doesn’t look terribly different than where we are now, but it does feel good knowing that we’re making strides in the right direction!

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It’s so heartwarming when our neighbors stop by and take the time to point out our growing grass and our fuller garden; they ask us what projects are next on the agenda or what we’ve just finished up. If it weren’t strange to kiss our friendly neighbors or every fellow dog-walker on the street, I’d totally do it. Being able to live in this house, on this street and in our favorite part of Chicago will often times hit us like a wave of gratitude. You guys, is that what gardening does to people?

Garden therapy; I’ll take it!

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  • Kathryn5.7.15 - 7:40 AM

    Lovely. Be careful with the catmint though, it will quickly take over.ReplyCancel

  • erica5.7.15 - 8:04 AM

    hi! looks great! im curious what the two small trees on each side are? thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:04 AM

      Hi Erica! They’re called Juniper Wichita Evergreens.ReplyCancel

  • Phyllis5.7.15 - 8:15 AM

    You’re off to a great start! It’s good that you’re planning your garden in phases as you’ll be able to see how it transforms and matures over the years. And gardening always brings the community together (plant swap anyone?)!

    FG sounds like a great resource for you guys, he’s pointing you in the right direction with your plant selections (he’s a keeper!). I love working with smaller, local nurseries because you can find someone who is knowledgeable and fun to work with.

    Super jealous that you have a climbing hydrangea!:) I had one in my previous yard “climbing” up a tree. (Can’t grow them that successfully in TX.) And FG is right, by year 3 it will look spectacular.

    Good luck and have fun with your garden!

    Ps- I echo Kathryn…careful with the catnip, it can take over. When needed, just divide it and give to neighbors or plant elsewhere in your yard.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:04 AM

      Thanks so much, Phyllis! We cannot WAIT for the hydrangea to grow, grow, grow! AH. Also, who knew we might be the people who could split up our garden and pass it along? Gardening is something I never thought I’d get into, but now that we have this home, it’s such a great way to spend a Saturday, haha.ReplyCancel

  • Emily5.7.15 - 8:24 AM

    It looks great! I love dianthus. Keep an eye on that catmint, though; it spreads aggressively.ReplyCancel

  • Helen5.7.15 - 8:46 AM

    I love the dianthus, but only like 4 out of the 8 we planted last year appear to be coming back after the winter (we’re in Evanston.) We have really great luck with the Sedum we planted though, and it comes in lots of greenish colors – there is a purple variety (Matronum maybe?) that’s awesome.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:02 AM

      When we were at the nursery, both Scott and I were drawn to the sedum, but it’s mostly a full sun plant, correct? We have mostly shade, with sun in the afternoon!ReplyCancel

  • Trilby5.7.15 - 8:59 AM

    I’ll third that the catmint will take over if you let it. However, Phyllis has a great suggestion – when it gets too big, just divide it up & gift your friends, family members, etc with your leftovers. I got my plants from my mom when she divided hers up, and every few years I give some to anyone willing to take it! The good news is, you cannot kill it!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:06 AM

      Thanks, all, for the catnip warning! We’ll definitely keep an eye on it. Right now, we want these plants to start spreading, so the thought of getting to the point where we’re dividing it up sounds dreamy – ha! How fun to be able to pass the overgrowth along.ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ RatherSquare.com5.7.15 - 9:01 AM

    Love it! We’re slowly working on our front yard landscaping too, but we’re “borrowing” plants from our backyard (where the previous owner installed a huge varied ornamental garden) to use instead of buying new ones. I love boxwoods – we’re eventually planning to put a few in front of our house too. Have you thought about hostas? There are about a million varieties and they are low-maintenance. We’ve got them everywhere around our house (and our neighborhood – they’re popular!).ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:09 AM

      Awesome – free garden!

      We have a foot wide ugly strip of dirt/mulch along our fence to the right of our house, and we’ll definitely be planting hostas there… eventually!ReplyCancel

  • susan5.7.15 - 9:17 AM

    i love catmint. it has lovely foliage and flowers! however, my cat loves it too; she climbs right into the clumps and rolls all over it. i have to admit it’s kind of cute…
    ^..^ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 9:20 AM

      Oh, geez, I’d pay to see that. Cute kitty!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Z5.7.15 - 9:49 AM

    Oh man, I love when home decor/improvement bloggers blog about their yards and their “yardening” as I call it. Because of your post, I now know that the plants in the yard of our new-to-us house is catmint! So good to learn these things, ya know? :) PS: your garden looks great!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 10:36 AM

      LOL – we’re totally yardening! I’m going to adopt that phrase.ReplyCancel

  • Julia at Home on 129 Acres5.7.15 - 9:50 AM

    My garden turns three this year, and I can attest that you will see a huge improvement in just a few years–and it won’t seem that long once you’re there! Every night when I get home I amble along the edge of the garden to see what else is growing, so I totally understand where you’re coming from in your new found love of gardening. For hostas and other plants, you might be able to find people who want to split plants and pass them along for cheap or even free. I’ve actually bought very few plants, but my gardens are filling up nicely.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.7.15 - 12:03 PM

      I think we’ll get some hostas from Scott’s mom. There just aren’t many homes in Chicago with big gardens, so I think finding people locally is a little harder than some places… Actually, I wonder if anyone ever uses Craigslist for splitting their gardens?!ReplyCancel

      • Phyllis5.7.15 - 5:20 PM

        CL is a good start. Also try your local Master Gardeners chapter for plant swaps throughout the growing season. If you have a community newspaper, there may be some plant swaps listed in there. And finally, the Chicago Botanic Garden may host some swaps too (our local Arboretum does it a couple times a year). In most cases they’re usually free to attend and swap. :)ReplyCancel

  • jenn aka the picky girl5.7.15 - 9:51 AM

    Ah, gardening. The one part of owning a home I’d gladly pass off to someone. I love the planting phase. I hate the weeding phase.

    The first year I moved into my home, the front flowerbeds only had really bad, twiggy rosebushes. I dug them all up (my neighbor freaked) and gave them away. It’s taken me a good long while to get those beds to where I’m halfway pleased, but I do feel more confident making choices now.

    Your yard is so clean! I’m jealous. The beds look great.ReplyCancel

  • Sage @ Plaster&Disaster5.7.15 - 9:58 AM

    Looks fantastic! We are similarly taking on our yard after what we think was the worst winter of all time (we live in Boston…I swear it really was the worst), and there’s a long to-do list! It’s our first spring in our new house, too. But your progress gives me hope for how things may look for us next year!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda5.7.15 - 10:03 AM

    Looks like a great start! We had some landscaping done last year and my husband and I have been surprised/excited about how much fuller the plants are this year. Everything is blooming at least twice as much as last year. I never thought I’d get this excited about flowers (ha), but it’s fun to see our flower beds come to life in the spring. Enjoy!ReplyCancel

  • The Kentucky Gent5.7.15 - 11:16 AM

    Garden therapy is great, seriously. I used to hate it as a kid (mostly because my parents would force me to do it ), but now that I’m older it’s definitely something I enjoy doing. While it’s never easy to wait for it to take root, it’s well worth the wait!

    Josh – The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.comReplyCancel

  • Crystal5.7.15 - 1:09 PM

    I don’t know about your area really, but here, Vinca is a wonderful flower to add to open spaces you want to fill with green and color.ReplyCancel

  • KathleenC5.7.15 - 6:17 PM

    The gardening is one of my favorite things about owning our house… we’ve been adding small trees and shrubs, and we’re doing a veggie garden this summer… I can’t wait!
    The phrase as I learned it is “First year sleep, Second year creep, third year leap”. Perennials spend a lot of their energy setting out root systems and developing that first year and some of the second years, then they go go go! If the open spaces bother you then that’s why lots of folk buy annuals. Fill it up until the perennials come into their own!ReplyCancel

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