The Good, the Bad, and the Mystifying

AT TWILIGHT YESTERDAY, I surveyed my 4/10 of an acre. Now that the bulk of the wisteria and weeds have been cleared away, I can see what I’ve got here, though I can’t identify all of it.

Love those rhodies

Love those rhodies

There’s a lot of damage; what the wisteria didn’t strangle, the deer ate.

You were so generous with your cottage color suggestions, I thought I’d pick your collective brains once more. If anyone has thoughts on what I can do about these garden challenges (on a shoestring budget, remember), please let ’em rip.

Got a $2600 quote for an 80' gravel driveway lined with Belgian block but i'm in no great hurry

Got a $2600 quote for an 80' gravel driveway lined with Belgian block but i'm in no great hurry

Normally I avoid photographing unsightly automobiles, wires, disarray or ugliness of any sort. But in this post I’m going to show you the crappiest areas of my garden, just begging to be transformed.

Arborvitae (?) with a large chunk taken out of it - can it be pruned?

Arborvitae(?) with a large chunk taken out of it. Anyone know if it can it be pruned into something more shapely?

And if anyone can ID any of the many plants I can’t (plain English is fine), I’d be very grateful.

Close-up of the foregoing for ID purposes

Close-up of the foregoing for ID purposes

Sad hinoki cypress - bottom half gobbled up by deer - and right outside the back door. What to do?

Sad hinoki cypress, bottom half gobbled up by deer - and right outside the back door. What to do?

Something more elegant is definitely called for in the way of a path

Something more elegant is definitely called for in the way of a path

The circle around the cherry tree in the area where the demolished shed used to be, is 30 feet wide. How to transform bare dirt into a circular garden room on a mini budget? Wood chips for starters?

The circle around the cherry tree in the area where the demolished shed used to be is 30 feet wide. How to transform bare dirt into a circular garden room on a mini budget? Wood chips for starters?

I'm sure I can do better for edging

I'm sure I can do better for edging

A rustic arbor on its way down, with a vine I cannot ID - no sign of flowers

A rustic arbor on its way down, with a vine I cannot ID - no sign of flowers

Love this "picnic area" with a bit of scrubby lawn and a backdrop of juniper, a tall droopy evergreen, a blue spruce, and a couple of specimen conifers gone wrong

Love this "picnic area" with a bit of scrubby lawn and a backdrop of juniper, a tall droopy evergreen, a blue spruce, and a couple of specimen conifers gone wrong

This one looks like something out of Dr. Seuss

This one looks like something out of Dr. Seuss

Big-leaved something (anyone?) amidst lily of the valley

Big-leaved something (what?) amidst lily of the valley

Talk about unsightly: crook of the amputee cherry tree - a cozy reading nook, perhaps?

Talk about unsightly: crook of the amputee cherry tree. Could become a....?

Nothing like an electric meter to add class to the front porch

Nothing like an electric meter to add class to the front deck

This one confounds me most - there's lots of it, it's a perennial (brown remnant from last year). Dnphlox...anyone?

This one confounds me most - there's lots of it, it's a perennial (brown remnant from last year). Don't think it's phlox - help!

About cara

I blog for fun here at casaCARA, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
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18 Responses to The Good, the Bad, and the Mystifying

  1. Redwing says:

    Get one of those Field Guides to Trees from your local library.

    Or, if you have an iPhone…I just read an article in the Times that there is an app that will identify tree leaves! Tech! From last week.

  2. sara says:

    what fun!! the big leaved somethings are May Apples, appear in the woods in May June to signify summer. always so bright and pretty to look for. the brown dried one looks like columbine possibly.

    found your site searching for a replacement for cottage living. live in an 1840 log home on 1 acre.

  3. Astor C. says:

    My down and dirty two cents: Pea gravel for the driveway; Cobblestone circle for beneath the cherry (find someone on Craig’s list selling them) or underplanting it with those giant leaved things like astilboides and groundcover; Move the cypress and surround the base with a temporary cage; Cover the electric meter with an overgrown, tall container planting or perhaps a Jap. Maple in a tall container; Broken slate for the walk. (Well you asked for advice…)

  4. Tracy says:

    [The large-leaved thing] looks like a mayapple. If you flip up the leaves, you may see remnants of the bloom.

  5. sally says:

    That`s not an Arborvitae, that`s a “False Cypress” There are many varieties and I think yours is called “Goat`s Beard” They are attractive as short shrubs. I would lop off the top half, forcing the bottom to fill out. Also, I wouldn`t put wood chips around the tree. That would create a spongy mulchy surface in time. Instead I would buy a few bags of blond pea gravel, just like the kind in Tuilleries and Bryant Park, and I would spread it evenly around and set out some wood slat cafe chairs. Then I would plant Clamatis under that funky tree and keep going in that Grey Gardens vein of overgrown decadence mixed with elegant touches here and there.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, I’m the delft blue paint recommender and with it, I’d try a crushed seashell driveway. They get very white if there’s sun; I think it would lighten up the place. You can buy crushed shells at any ag supply place — it’s commonly used as chicken grit and can be very cheap. Even better than cheap, i’ve gotten shells for free (you can use clams or oysters or .. other?). Try Doxsee at Point Lookout. They’ll smell like the ocean/fish for a few days, but will bleach out nicely.

    You’ll regret wood chips I think. I’ve made that mistake.

    Can’t help with plant ideas

  7. Anonymous says:

    this is off topic, but does anyone know a “boutique” real estate agency for Buck County? Love the real estate offices featured in your sidebar and wondering if you knew of office with similar vibe in the bucks county area?

  8. cara says:

    I’m loving this! Thanks for all your creative suggestions. Never thought of crushed seashells! I do love pea gravel but would need more than a few bags – the circle is 30′ in diameter. A cobblestone circle is tempting too, but that would take a LOT of cobblestones. And thanks for your IDs. That IS a mayapple, the flowers are right there underneath. Who knew?

  9. cara says:

    Anonymous, see this post: https://casacara.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/down-by-the-old-mill-stream/
    At the bottom, there’s a name and contact info for a Bucks County realtor – I think she’s the kind of person you’re looking for.

  10. Redwing says:

    How does one deal with crushed seashell, or gravel even, when it snows? I mean, how do you shovel the driveway without getting crushed seashell all over the lawn (which then gets chopped into bits by the lawnmower come spring)?

    It’s a great idea, though, and looks so good. And salty!

  11. cara says:

    I would imagine that crushed seashell eventually gets more crushed over time and becomes very fine. I can see using it as mulch in a garden bed, or for decorative purposes, but probably not as a driveway or in a place where people walk a lot. We used pea gravel as a driveway upstate. Itl works wonderfully (also as a terrace or patio) if it is confined by a curb or rim of some sort, either steel, concrete, cobblestone, brick or whatever. Otherwise it “migrates” into surrounding areas. When you shovel snow off it in winter, you have to take care not to scrape up the gravel, but leave an inch or so to melt. I also used it in a garden in Philadelphia, which was slightly less successful because I actually ordered and poured too much; more than a 2″ depth makes it hard to walk on.

  12. Astor C. says:

    Re: the pea gravel and snow… Not a problem with the two-stage snowblower (which does hurl bits of the gravel with deadly force like some medieval catapult) designed for rough surfaces

  13. Anonymous says:

    ditto about the snow blower/thrower, but snow is an issue with any loose driveway material and I really think it works best for weekend houses or for people who, like me, consider driveways self-shoveling (ie, eventually it will melt). I shovel in the city, not in the country. but it’s not good if you live up a hill and really need to get up there and can’t just leave the car on the street.

  14. Lori says:

    You have a beautiful blank “canvas” to work with. Since I live in a deer invested area also, Deer will not touch herbs, which are very affordable. I also have lots of varieties of boxwood – deer won’t go near them. If you have planter boxes with flowers in them add some herbs like rosemary, russian sage, cat mint or any others with strong scent and the deer will stay away.
    My last suggestion, if you travel to the nurserys a little west you will save tons of money. I go to Wading River, everything is MUCH cheaper than out east. Homedepot in Riverhead is another place to save big.
    I am always looking forward to your posts! Lori

  15. cara says:

    Wading River, here I come! Thanks Lori, and everyone else for your intriguing suggestions!

  16. patrick says:

    Hi, Cara. Just came across your weblog and found it quite interesting and enjoyable. I think the vine on the dilapidated arbor is called a trumpet vine. If it were to bloom, it would be in mid-summer, and have orange, bell-like blossoms. But it might not bloom, depending on factors that elude me. Oh, and for a walkway/edging on a budget, you could get a couple of pallets of the flat stone that is commonly used for retaining walls (it might be called Pennsylvania ledge rock) and use the big pieces for a pathway and the smaller pieces for edging. I did that, and out of 3 or 4 pallets of stone (at about $150 per) I had enough to edge both sides of a 100 foot driveway, lay about 60 square feet of path and build two retaining walls, one about 1 foot high and 40 feet long and the other about 2 feet high and 30 feet long. Also, I know this might be a bit tacky but for edging, but especially if you have fairly straight runs, you can use the spilt rails that are usually used for split rail fences (about $15 per), or even the broken ones (the ends rot off after a couple of years). You could also cut up posts into three pieces and run a low “fence” using a post with one hole and a horizontal rail. Or, you could put logs in the ground vertically and make raised beds or a retaining wall for a low area. (When I was growing up my friend’s father was a telephone repairman and he made all sorts of planted and stone beds on their property using cut up pieces of old telephone polls in this manner, which looked very nice. Anyway, good luck with the place! -Patrick

  17. cara says:

    Excellent low-budget suggestions, Patrick, thanks for the detail! I’m going to look into that Pennsylvania ledge rock – I discovered a stone yard not 3 miles away from here.

  18. patrick says:

    You’re welcome. You might want to price-comparison shop the stone yard in East Hampton with the one in Southampton (on County Rd. 39, near that horrible statue place). Either way it will be delivered, so one might have different selection or better pricing.

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