The Problem With Trees

May 07, 2015

Welcome to the least thriftiest month of the year for us. :) Other than December that is. Now that the weather is nice the wallet is emptying because I want to buy ALL THE FLOWERS. I do my best to use perennials in my garden and beds but sometimes you want some beautiful, flowing petunias, you know?

Our temps here went from the mid-50’s to the mid-80’s in a week, so I’ve been working outside every day for the past week. I like to try to get the clean up and most of the planting done for the season before the heat of the summer hits.

It seems we’re surprised every year when fall happens and we have an enormous amount of leaves to rake up, especially in the back. And every fall we say “we’ll do it this weekend” and then that weekend happens to be the first snow or first frigid weekend of the fall and then it never happens. It’s only gotten worse as we plant more trees in the back too.

So EVERY spring I spend a ton of time cleaning the leaves out of the flower beds and it takes EONS. So. many. leaves.

Thankfully I enjoy working outside -- I find it really rewarding. Sweating my butt off in early May, not as much.

While I was cleaning out the beds I worked on some pruning and other clean up as well so I thought I’d take you along for a spring tour of the garden and some of the latest additions. I’ll share it again this summer when everything is really blooming, but it’s fun to see the before and afters as the season goes on.

I have a few knock out bushes and they are so easy to take care of – you don’t really need to prune them but it helps to keep them pretty. You can see on the left that they get scraggily looking:

knock out rose pruning knock out rose pruning

I was so late pruning this year – it should really be done earlier if you want to manage the shape of them more, but I don’t care too much about that thankfully. :) You can see on the right that I just cut down the dead parts of the stems, careful not to cut off any blooms. (No big deal if you do though.)

I planted the lamb’s ears last summer (I think it was last summer) and the dead foliage needed to be cleaned up:

lamb's ear pruning lamb's ear

I find doing this (and clearing away the leaves at the base of the plants) does more than just make them look better – they can breathe better too. After doing this every year I swear the plants shoot up within days. You can even tell with this one – the photo on the right is just a couple days after I cleaned all that up.

I want to add some more evergreen bushes to our landscaping – so far these two small bushes and two boxwoods around the corner are all we have:

They are fairly new as well. I’d love to have more green during the winter months so eventually I’ll add more. We have new mulch coming next week – as you can see, it’s impossible to remove all the leaves!

I’m so excited about the lilac bush I planted last year – this variety is supposed to bloom all summer long:

reblooming lilac bush

I adore lilacs and am hoping one day this little guy is huge. So far it looks like there’s zero to little maintenance on this one – no pruning needed so far. Ignore the wasp spray by the way – we get a TON of nests every year on and around our deck and I’m constantly watching for them. Those stings are no fun.

The blooms smell delicious already and I can’t wait to cut a few and bring them inside!:

reblooming lilac bush

Around the corner from the new lilac are a couple peonies. I talked about my love of them and the care last year. They are unbelievably gorgeous. You can cut them all the way down to the ground in the fall, but again…I tend to forget. Or it gets cold. Or I find something else to do.

No worries though, because they will come back again just fine:

pruning peony

I just cut down the old stalks to make them look better. These varieties are a darker pink and they didn’t start blooming till last year. There are already a TON of blooms on them so I’m hopeful for a bigger crop:

peony plants

The bush in the back is a butterfly bush – I’m attempting to create a small butterfly garden in that area. It’s slow going. ;)

I went to my favorite nursery the other day and avoided buying another hydrangea plant (I now have 11 of them). I did come home with this beautiful hanging basket:

So pretty! These blooms will help tide me over for another month or so.

Years ago when we were apartment dwellers I dreamed of a house with one plant in the yard – the clematis. I researched it online and drooled over photos. I don’t know why it took me so long but I finally planted one last year. It was late in the season and it didn’t do great, but I have high hopes for it this year:


It’s already bigger now than it got last summer! Can’t wait!

Another climbing plant I’ve tried is the climbing hydrangea:

climbing hydrangea

See all the leaves in the mulch?? This is after I cleaned out the beds. Four lawn bags later!

I wanted something to trail up the back of the fireplace and tried ivy at first, but many of you warned me against that because it can be so invasive. I gave the ivy to my Dad and tried this climbing hydrangea instead. It is a bugger though. It will NOT bloom. I think this will be the fourth summer I’ve had it and it’s never produced one bloom. I hear that it takes them a few years, but dangit, this better be the year!

Thankfully it’s still pretty just as it is, but some flowers would be real nice. :)

Last week I added some more hanging flowers – someday these beds will be full of flowering plants, but until I figure out exactly how I want to fill them, I add in color with hanging baskets:

pee gee tree

You can see one of my beloved pee gee trees there as well. Another plant that doesn’t need much care at all and it produces TONS of big, beautiful blooms.

Around the other side of the deck I have a few more hydrangeas and then my prized peony. Peonies like full sun but I’ve determined from my plants that they love morning sun best. This one gets absolutely HUGE every year and now produces a ton of blooms:

peony plant

Peony watch 2015 has started:

peony care

One of my other favorite plants is this limelight hydrangea. This one is zero maintenance as well:

limelight hydrangea

Well, I take that back. I did remove the old blooms from last year, but it grows fine even if you don’t do that. I just snap them right off:

limelight hydrangea care limelight hydrangea care

This one took a year or so to start blooming as well, but now it’s absolutely covered in blooms every year. It’s getting HUGE too. The limelight produces beautiful, white cone-shaped blooms.

While I wait on the plants to start blooming, I went ahead and planted in some urns by the fireplace:

black urns for flowers

That’s coleus in the middle and then petunias around it. As you can see, I use a lot of purple and red back here – it goes well with the outdoor furniture and cushions. :)

Our urns from last year absolutely fell apart – it was a mess. I grabbed some more at Lowe’s after looking everywhere (even though they were more than I wanted to spend). Thankfully the sweetest woman stopped me in the garden section and told me about the urns she had just picked up at Target on sale. I went and got these instead and they are a little shorter but well worth it for $30-something cheaper! Thank you friendly woman at Lowe’s! ;)

In a month or so the pee gee trees behind the planters will start blooming and this view will get even prettier!:

fireplace on patio

Goodness, we LOVE our backyard! We had the patio and fireplace added four years ago – it was our first big purchase after we paid off our debt. I have so much I still want to do out here but it is an absolute dream come true to have this space!

It’s a ton of work to keep up with the landscaping, not gonna lie. But I love this work. It’s good get your hands in the ground and get dirty. :) And I love taking care of the plants – looking after them, watering them – that’s my “me” time in the summer. I find it to be very relaxing.

I’ll share these spaces again later this summer for my annual garden tour. Until then you can check out last year’s here. Have you tried any of these plants at your house? Any advice for me on my newbies – the clematis and the lilac? And I welcome thoughts on the climbing hydrangea if any of you have had success with it!

Here’s to cleaning up the leaves this fall! Sure.

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  1. I love Lilac! What kind is that? I wanted to invest in one, but I hate when you only get to enjoy them for just a couple short weeks!

  2. A girl after my own heart! Lover of gardening AND hydrangeas and has a money problem at the nursery? I'm 100% with you girlfriend, let's form a club! I too have a limelight that refused to bloom last year, although it tripled in size, so glad to hear there's hope for me this year! I've been mooning over pee gee trees and I vow this year will be the year of the pee gee! I unfortunately have a gazillion deer and lots of shade but I have made it work somehow :) I have a clematis that I originally potted then replanted when I moved. The poor thing has been a real trooper and contrary to all I've read, it has bloomed without getting full sun. I'm so excited cause it looks to have doubled in buds this year so my advice to you is don't lose hope and talk to it! I used to have beautiful lilacs at my old house, the classic ones though, and frankly I didn't do anything and they bloomed but if you prune them immediately after blooming they come back stronger. May not be the case with a reblooming lilac but my guess is you won't be able to kill it if you tried!

  3. I've heard that clematis are heavy feeders so you may want to fertilize it. Good luck!

  4. Your yard looks gorgeous! I want to start growing stuff in our yard but we don't even have grass yet so I don't know where to begin!

    Kimberly |

  5. I love gardening as well. I have a lilac bush and it is full of blooms this year. Pruning is your friend with the lilac. I also have a clematis - depending on what kind you have you either cut it back or leave it. I've had mine for 2 years and it has grown each year but not bloomed yet. I also have a honeysuckle - crazy easy to grow and after a year I've got tons of blooms! I also like annuals that are self-seeders - they produce their own seeds and come back each year. Think of Marigolds or sunflowers. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Your yard is lovely. It's easy to see all the love and effort you put into it. Hopefully the climbing hydrangeas will take off this year, but I wanted to suggest jasmine as a fast-growing climber. Plus the scent... OMG!

  7. Ohh I love what you are doing with your yard! So many things to talk about.
    1. That spray? I thought I was doing something wrong because we too have to fight wasps and even carpenter bees every year. They are quite active right now.
    2. Your lilacs are coming along nicely!
    3. I love, love, peonies and read your trick to get rid of the ants. Very helpful and your peonies are so luscious! Peonies are missing from my yard, will keep an eye out for them.
    4. Are these bushes mini roses or "multiflora roses"? If it's the later, perhaps you should get rid of them. Yes, they flower and birds love them, but they are invasive and spread like mad. They bring down whole tress and I am speaking from experience.
    Your boxwoods are another cute addition and perfect for winter months as they are evergreen. I need a few of those, too.

    I just made my very first flower bed last weekend, you are welcome to check it out @ It is my first but turned out pretty.

    I will be checking to see how your clematis does this year. :)

  8. A lilac that blooms in the summer??? PLEASE tell us the details.

  9. I have several clematis in my landscaping. The first year is always underwhelming. They should take off the second year. My newest clematis was planted last spring, and by fall it was only 4" tall. Already this year, it's quickly approaching 3 feet! Keep the faith!

  10. Thank you for this! We recently (less than two years ago) purchased our first home. We opted to spend the first summer fixing up the inside and now this summer I get to landscape. My boyfriend would turf the whole yard if I'd let him, that clearly is NEVER going to happen. Seeing some of your new to me plant options is helpful. I will be heading to the nursery this week to pick some goodies out.

  11. What perfect timing! After cleaning out an overgrown ivy in our yard I found a tiny hidden plant with one pretty flower...I moved to a better spot and it's come back this year! Now thanks to your pictures I know it's a peony! So excited!!!

  12. Oh, where to start? We bought our house last November and are having a lot of fun finding out what is planted in the yard. We are on 4 acres (a couple small fields will have horses in them soon) and there are plantings everywhere. Much of the landscaping is very overgrown so I have a lot of work ahead of me. All those plants you mentioned? My favorites. Numbers 1 and 2 being peonies and lilacs, with hydrangea coming in a close third.. I have discovered 7 peony bushes, two huge lilac bushes, and we have hydrangeas EVERYWHERE. Seriously. Amazing. And this morning a friend stopped by and dropped off another lilac bush for me. The two big ones are white so I'm excited to get this purple one in the ground. Luckily all those things are pretty low-maintenance because when I am outside working (which I also love), I need to be in the orchard or the vegetable garden. I'm seriously considering just ripping out all the other more overgrown stuff. I was going to wait for a whole growing season, but I think I'm ready for things to go.

  13. Great yard. I can relate to the leaves issue. I have small oak trees (scrub and black jack) in my yard - so one type sheds in the fall and the other sheds in the spring. We're getting over the pollen and catkins now and need to attack the branch sprouts. I don't mind the ones that are on the tree, it's the ones sprouting up from the roots that are frustrating! But, they are native trees and have lasted so trim and rake. I'm not cutting them down.

    Since I am in the south, I plant daffys for the spring. Then, I have creeping phloxs and azaleas for late spring. For summer, the chaste tree blooms, it looks like a lilac, but not with the sweet smell that I remember. Add crepe myrtles and hostas by the dozens.

    Concerning insects - I have the carpenter/mason bees that love to lay eggs in the siding that I have on my porch. My goal this year is to caulk those spots and put up mason bee nest options. Hey, they don't sting and they do pollinate. Territorial wasps, on the other hand, attack. These are the cicada killers which nest in the ground. When a dirt mound appears, I am out there with the spray down the hole. Only the females sting - like I am going to try to look up their wings?? There is a new foam spray for wasp nests that I armed myself with for this year.

    And. may I suggest that every family get a script for an Epi-pen or its generic formula. If you have kids, get the size for their weight. You may not have a known allergy to something, but the next time you get stung or take that antibiotic, you may have a life-threatening reaction. It happened to me.

    Oh, and a ditty in honor of perennials. First, they sleep. Then, they creep. And then, they leap!
    In other words, give them time and you'll be pulling them out and giving them to everyone you know.

    Enjoy spring everyone!

  14. Hang in there with the clematis, mine is 3 years old and finally solid with buds!

  15. Pretty yard! I love hydrangea's too and seem to add at least one every year, can't help myself. If you love peonies, you have to get a tree peony! They are spectacular, bigger than a normal peony and a great bush after the flowers fade. They don't like being moved so you need to pick your spot well but you will be rewarded year after year with the most luscious peonies ever in the spring. The pink is my favorite. A little tip for your clematis, they like their feet cool, meaning extra mulch or planting a few annuals at the base to shade the bottom. Can't wait to see the summer yard!

  16. The outside of your home is equally as beautiful as the inside. Love everything you have done, I wish I could have your vision to create such warm and inviting spaces

  17. How beautiful. Trying to get to the point where I have nothing but the ones that will come back and greet me every year! Love a yard full of color! Great job

  18. Beautiful yard! I *love* peonies but wish they weren't poisonous for cats--I wish I could grow them and then put the cut flowers all over the house! Unfortunately not only are they not good for cats, but our cat eats anything plant-like, including our fake Christmas tree.

    I can't wait to start landscaping when our house is done in a couple months. On my wish list: peonies (maybe I'll grow some outside anyway), lilacs, herb garden, veggie garden, crab apple tree, tulips, irises.

  19. A word or two on clematis... Yes they can be slow bloomers, one of ours took 8 years to bloom! The difference came when a friend told me to keep the roots cool. He said the tops like sun but to plant some small bushes, taller ground cover, something of that sort that will provide constant shade to the roots. No hot sun on the mulch around her base. Tried it and magic... have used that trick every since and my trellis between the neighbors back door and my back porch is beautifully covered and private ever since. Good Luck!

  20. You're garden is beautiful. I love your patio and fireplace. We have a lot of the same plants as me. I removed my butterfly bush earlier in the Spring as it had been damaged by the winds over Winter. Re. the clematis (I grow them too), they like to be planted deep with the base of the plant a hand's width beneath the soil. They like their roots to be cool and their blooms in the sun. They are greedy feeders and like lots of good stuff. Keep up the good work! Jen

  21. Hi .I came upon your blog today browsing old houses frugal ideas and gardens.We recently bought an old 1847 home and I brought 200 perrenials from our old place.The effort was worth it as some are very special gifted plants or acquired by me through mail order and were pricey then.I also was trying to save money in every way I could, and as anyone who gardens knows, it can really add up quickly.We have lots of trees as you do and our first fall here last year we raked them up into manageable piles and then used our mulching lawnmower with the bag attachment and spread the mulched leaves onto the perennial beds.This saved bagging up and was free except for labour and gas for mower.Eventually the shredded leaves break down and add rich humous to the soil and helps with moisture.It is now spring and I will spread well rotted manure over the beds, then will cultivate, then cover with bark mulch.Because these are new beds and not established I will cultivate once now,and then that's it.The mulching makes any weeds easy to pull, next spring I will only add more mulch and not cultivate any more.I have gardened like this for decades and though labour intensive initially it becomes VERY low maintenance in time.A tip for clematis a English gardener in Canada told me (he specializes in clematis and breeding his own)was to put one cup of Epson salts into a quart of water and the spray on the vines when in leaf or just add around the roots.They like their roots to be cool and do best shaded with another plant in front,ground cover,or at least three plus inches of mulch and they should be happy and prolific.They are very heavy feeders he says and need fertilizing regularly to get the blooms hoped for.Thank you for sharing the lovely photos and info on your garden,regards,Destemona Poole

  22. I feel your pain about raking up the leaves. I have two oaks, two maples, and two crape myrtles since I have redone my yard. I love the trees, but I don't think I realized how many leaves would drop as they have grown! I can't get them all up either, and I always intend to clear them in the fall, but never get it done. It's okay, it's just a little natural fertilizer for the yard, right! I don't have any advice for the new plants but I do love the peonies and hydrangeas. I just got my first hydrangea 2 years ago. I want to get a few more because several areas of my yard have become more full shade now that my trees are growing in.

  23. I can't wait to see everything when It's in full bloom! I don't have a green thumb, but thankfully whoever lived in our home before my fiance' and I did and planted several things that bloom each year :)

    xoxo, SS


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