Hardscaping for the Future

In my yard I have a lot of trees. At the current count, which is going to change soon as I add a few more in various spots to finish my mini arboretum, I have thirteen trees representing six different species of tree. The downside is that all of the trees “required” some form of hardscaping around the base to provide protection from lawn mowers or string trimmers and to break up the monotony of the grass carpet called a lawn. I know that it is un-American to suggest this but vast landscapes of green grass are just boring.

Building planting beds around a tree also gave me an opportunity to bring some color into my yard and increase the water storage capacity of the soil through amendments. It’s not sexy, but if your soil can hold more water you will be thankful when the late summer temperatures start creeping up and nary a rain cloud is on the horizon.

Not long after we moved into our new house I moved the original street tree, so named because it is a required tree planted between the sidewalk and street, to the backyard. It was a boring autumn blaze elm that had been planted on every other house lot on the street. As if we had not learned from the over reliance on single species of trees with the onset of Dutch elm disease and the invasion of the emerald ash borer.

The maple just kind of got stuck in the backyard:

Tree Ring BeforeBoring. After about four hours of hacking through turfgrass, which had me questioning the logic of mowing my grass so high since the roots extend an equidistant amount below the surface making easy removal impossible, I was able to finally place the heavy rocks that formed the tree ring seen below:

Tree Ring AfterThe soil, which in my backyard is as sandy as a beach when you dig past the layer of top soil, was amended with coconut coir. A lot of people in eastern Iowa use peat moss as a soil amendment, but that comes with a whole host of environmental concerns related to the destruction of peat bogs for our gardens. Not gonna’ happen. Coconut coir is a byproduct of coconut production so it has fewer concerns about sustainability outside of the transportation costs. Regardless, it is a great way to increase the moisture carrying capability of sandy soils.

The real difference maker is the plants. I wanted to create a puzzle of color with low maintenance and drought tolerant plants. In a world potentially impacted by climate change—e.g. hotter and drier summers for those of us in eastern Iowa—we need to be very conscious about what we plant in our landscapes to ensure long term viability and resiliency.

I went with nine plants—three of each variety—to fill in the space. The plants are a “Purrsian Blue” catmint, dianthus “Kahori,” and “Desert Eve” yarrow.

The other benefit of all of these plants is that the pollinators seem to already love the little garden. Just the other day I saw at least three bees buzzing around. Gotta’ help the pollinators.

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