Progress not perfection: Plans bloom for building garden's design

By Stacee Sledge
For the Bellingham Herald

ON THE FENCE: Dave and Teresa Anderson have been wondering what to do about the thick junipers growing along a fence in their backyard. They start out by thinning and shaping. If they choose to remove the evergreen shrubbery, they may plant fruit trees, ornamental trees or flowering shrubs in its place. Pete Kendall Herald photo

Note: The Herald will follow Dave and Teresa Anderson, winners of our Garden Makeover Contest, over the next four months as they redo the yard of their Bellingham home.

Dave and Teresa Anderson have taken the old adage to heart: Looks can be deceiving.

To look at their yard now, it doesn't appear that much has happened in the past month. "You can't see that we've done anything," says Teresa, "but we've spent a lot of time thinking and brainstorming and looking through books."

Tangible progress has been slow because the couple is taking time to make decisions and mull suggestions from Herald garden columnist George Kaas.

"It can be difficult to separate the garden from what it is, and see it for what it could be," says Kaas. He has spent many hours with the Andersons, throwing ideas at them and acting as their sounding board.

George sees three distinct areas or "rooms" in the Andersons design, including an entry way at the front of the yard; a utility room consisting of the walkway from front to back yard, which will include fresh herbs and a cutting garden; and a family room area in the back yard used for entertaining and yard games.

While it will be essential to connect these areas eventually through hardscaping of walkways and recurring themes in plant material, the details take some time to develop correctly. The group is working together to lay a strong base so everything built atop it will work properly as a whole.

Herald gardening columnist George Kaas, studying the squared-off rear lawn with Marine Drive residents Dave and Teresa Anderson, considers breaking up the grass with low-growing perennials and shrubs. Pete Kendall Herald photo

When last we checked in with the Andersons, they were ready to undertake changes to the front entrance. They have since decided to build a retaining wall made of the limestone that decorates the front of their house and two fireplaces inside. It's a beautiful stone, containing fossilized coral, that will effectively tie the inside to the outside.

But building a retaining wall means tracking down a mason to do the work, and that delayed the work at the front of the house.

Proper pruning

Follow these tips and watch your foliage flourish.

Inspect the area for possible hazards (power lines, broken limbs after a storm, etc.) and take appropriate actions to avert injury or accident.

Use sharp, well-maintained tools. A dull blade can result in a jagged cut, causing injury to the tree or shrub. A clean cutting edge is also a necessity. Using a solution of 1/2 cup bleach and 1 gallon water, rub shears lightly with a clean steel-wool pad. For some diseased trees, you may want to clean the blade after each cut.

Wear safety goggles to protect eyes from sawdust and other debris.

Never stand under the branch you are cutting.

Take your time in deciding which branches need to be lopped there's no turning back once the cut occurs.

Cut limbs smooth to the main branch; they'll heal more quickly when cut just above the branch collar.

Avoid overpruning, which can stunt growth.

"We weren't ready to start on the front and I was freaking," Teresa says with a laugh. "George said, 'Don't worry, we'll just start on the back.'"

So the Bellingham couple turned their attention to the rear, tackling and taming the overgrown cypress trees that screen their back yard from their neighbors. Dave and Teresa's first thought had been to remove the sprawling trees, but Kaas pointed out the important role they play in keeping erosion to a minimum. Their property sets atop a steep cliff and their neighbors have dealt with significant erosion in the past years.

Having limbed the trees and thinned them out substantially at the bottom, the sculpted trunks and curved branches become attention-grabbing architectural elements and open up the area for more plantings.

Teresa and Dave have also begun to remove a dense mass of junipers on the west side of the back yard that were functioning as a visual wall. Once they've been removed, the space will open up and allow a throng of flowering cherry to take center stage, creating interest with height, color and form, and increasing flow and movement through this area of the yard.

The open lawn area is important for summer games, such as croquet. Kaas plans to have the Andersons leave much of the lawn untouched. The edging between the lawn and the planting bed will pick up from the slope where the junipers were and sweep around to the east, opening up an expanse of land for a garden plot.

Dave has cleared this patch for the fruits and vegetables, but Teresa's concerned they might face an uphill battle. "That's highly experimental," she laughs, describing the scrap of land and the abundant deer and bunny tracks they've spied surrounding it. "We might have a little competition."

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.


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