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Her Shirley Farm Landscape Project, Part One February 6, 2022 by Juliet Silveri

When I first saw the land, its farm-like beauty had a feeling that I wanted to keep. To me, a farm is a home that is comforting, peaceful, and is full of fields, meadows, stone walls, birds and beasts, and has plenty of land. Now that I have the land--my desire for visual, audible, touchable, smellable, feelable, peaceful beauty has started me on this journey through a landscape development project.

When I moved into my new house last February, I knew a fair amount about plants, having been a busy gardener for thirty years. After a season of working with a landscape designer, I realized I knew very little about landscaping. In vague terms, I knew what I wanted to create, but it was difficult to visualize exactly how it would look. So my journey started.

My land is almost two acres, with most of the property in back of the house. Before I turned my attention to the back, I needed to improve the small front yard that borders on a busy road; it contained a dead cherry tree, an ungainly but healthy rhododendron, and a long equestrian-style fence in need of repair. There was also a five-foot tall weigela, with quite a bit of poison ivy, in the other front corner, next to the road. A large Norway maple is on town land, right outside the fence, bordering the street.

The front of the property runs 140 feet wide, and there wasn’t much appeal there when I

moved in.

Front of the property looking north from the south side

My landscape designer suggested the daring but exciting idea of transplanting three 15-foot-tall arborvitae to a corner where the cherry tree had been. I was skeptical whether they would live after the transplant, but decided to try it. In early September I had a tree company move them, and the results are imposing and stately. After the transplant, I insisted the tree company stake them with large stakes to hold them straight. Those arborvitae now define the feeling of that corner, which is up against the street. Too noisy to sit in, the 10 x 10-ish area will hold a small vegetable/cutting garden, at the suggestion of the designer. Pumpkins, nasturtiums, eggplants, and radishes will grow there, with enough southern and eastern sun. And I really needed a ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, so I planted one without my designer knowing, not far from the arborvitae. The corner now feels like a small formal and lovely room.

The corner, before the arborvitae were put there, with the rhododendron in bloom

The arborvitae after transplanting, with the pruned rhododendron and the hydrangea

I wanted two pure white lilacs to frame the sides of the driveway. “Are you sure? Asked my designer “Lilacs tend to defoliate and get powdery mildew.” I expect to regret my decision, because my designer is always right, but I have planted two old-fashioned white lilacs with country charm at each side of my driveway.

We fixed and painted the fence a light luminous gray, which will work with any landscape design.

As for my rhododendron, early on I revealed my plans to cut it down. (My main objection to this type of rhododendron is its large leathery leaves and the pink color of its blooms.) I whined to my designer: “It’s just a big, sprawling mess.” “I know,” she said sympathetically, “but it’s healthy, evergreen, does well here (under the shade of the Norway Maple), is a good privacy screen, and remember, it only blooms (a hideous shade of pink) for two weeks out of the year. Don’t murder it yet. You can always prune it back.” So I started by pruning it back, and found—quite an interesting, wavy shape to the trunk that I like looking at. Because of that, I have granted it a temporary stay of execution.

In a line along the front we planted eight aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic,” or black chokeberry shrubs, which are native to eastern North America. This line has softened and of course improved the front of the property. In full sun they bloom with white flowers covered in bees in spring. Walk along beside them and you will smell a thick cloud of honey, all the way down the line. Black berries replace those flowers, and bright orange/red foliage appears in the fall.

This is only a portion of the front yard. The rest is under development, as is the much larger back yard—a woodland front entrance garden, two stately Patriot Elms, an allee of trees, a large perennial garden…more to come, if you will accompany me on this journey.

Aronia melanocarpa, or Black Chokeberry

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