In his talk the other night about designing your garden with maintenance in mind, Jeff Epping mentioned Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) as a good low maintenance tree suitable for our climate. We have four of them in our garden for that reason. They are beautiful in every season from bud (below) to snow-covered. The only time we've ever had to do anything with them was to prune broken branches after a bad snow storm.
At the opposite end of the maintenance spectrum are all the evergreen trees that Mark "candles" annually to control their size. This has to be done when the growth is soft and new and thus there is a time constraint for getting finished before new growth hardens off. Mark usually fills a few contractor's garbage bags with evergreen tips.
This pair of 60-year-old apple trees demand annual attention as well. They look beautiful in the spring when they bloom. But we discovered that falling apples meant that hanging a hammock between the two trees was not a smart idea. All that money for a top quality hammock that we barely used! First lesson learned.
Apple trees require an annual pruning at this time of year to keep them healthy. We don't care about edible apples so we don't spray the tree (more work!). But Mark has been pruning them each March for 20 years to control the size and shape of the tree. Removing water sprouts is the main chore these days; but it's a chore that's on the gardener's mind from New Year's until the job gets done.
Mark usually picks up most of the clipped branches when he's done pruning but there are always a surprising number that need to be gathered once the snow melts. And don't forget money spent on pruning tools and a special orchard ladder. More lessons learned.
I started my moss garden under the apple trees when we were doing our initial garden construction as I could not plant or do much else in the garden for those first few years. It was a relaxing project to sit in the shade and pull out the grass.
It was only years later that I realized that I should have ignored the moss, not encouraged it. Moss doesn't like anything on top of it. Apple blossoms, leaves or falling fruit — all will kill the moss if they sit on it too long. Endless maintenance to keep the moss looking good. Now the apple trees are dying of old age and disease. The one in the rear is almost gone. No big shade trees = no moss garden.
Luckily Mark, the trees and I are all ready to throw in the towel together. This area is the focus of much conversation and a new, lower maintenance garden will likely get started here this summer.
This planting (below) at Olbrich suggests one solution: more boxwood and yew balls interspersed with ground cover. Replace the trees with something that won't require annual pruning.
Even as I say that, all I can think about is the sensation of coming down the gravel path as it curves past the moss and you walk under the sweep of the apple tree branches. It is a moment of quiet and shade whose loss will irrevocably change the garden.
LAUGHABLY LOW MAINTENANCE
You've seen the pictures below a number of times as they include some of my favorite plants: daffodils, daylilies and true Geraniums. And they are my big success story. They get snow and salt and grit dumped on them each winter with no apparent trouble. They have not been bothered by pests. They solve the problem of dealing with a slope that ends in a curb at the street that many folks keep planted in grass and mow. Our maintenance for this area? Every few years in the late fall we mow it all down — if we think of it.
I think this fits the definition of a mixed border in that it has trees (along the back edge), shrubs (Spirea, Burning Bush), bulbs, perennials, and sometimes annuals. You can see daylilies coming up which will replace the daffs. Bronze fennel, Alchemilla, Nepeta are also in the mix. Just out of sight to the right of the image above is the red fire hydrant.
As the daffs fade the Geraniums are in full flower. Then the daylilies grab the attention as the Geraniums transition into foliage plants. The only maintenance I do out here is deadheading and only if I feel like it. This garden is really for the walkers and runners and the slow drivers who pass by on their way to somewhere. I love knowing it always looks good — without my help.