Curb Un-Appeal

A few weeks ago I was next door talking to my neighbor.  The iris were in bloom and he’s got a few clumps of a rich purple iris in his front yard (‘Lent A Williamson’ is the ID I gave them although I’m sure he doesn’t care) which were putting on an excellent display.  A car slowly pulled by and after a polite wave the driver opened the window to say “I love your iris, I drive this way just to see them”.  I bit my tongue.  After a couple seconds passed, my neighbor realized the compliment was directed towards him, and said thanks.  He looked at me.  It just about killed me, I have iris too.

front street border

The house from the street.  I believe one of the first rules of curb appeal is to compliment, not block, the house.  Also large thistles should not become focal points.

We got a good laugh about it once she left.  I do like to show off my most exciting plants, but I realize they’re not to everyone’s taste, and the “overflowing” look of the plantings is focused more on the plants than the setting of the house.  Even the 12 year old said she doesn’t like it when it all gets so big, but when I mentioned moving out she gave me her pre-teen eye-roll of disgust… which I’m sure will only develop more as she finishes up middle school.

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

More thistles around the corner.  Cirsium eriophorum is the European woolly thistle, and I just came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a few coneflowers out from along the street and planting the newest batch of seedlings there.

Before selling our previous house I spent a few weeks ripping things out and simplifying plantings.  If I ever cared to impress the neighbors or list this property I’d surely repeat the process here.  Lots of mulch, a clear view of the house, and sheared foundation shrubbery would put an appropriately sterile stamp of conformity onto the real estate head shot, and I’m sure it would scare fewer people away.

foundation perennials

Look at that mullein, it’s a keeper!  Eight feet tall and counting, the blooms are opening nice and large and I’m hoping it keeps going all summer.  The mullein, along with poorly trimmed and poorly placed trees and shrubbery, all add to the screen that blocks the curb view of our house.  

Just to be clear there is no talk of moving.  We have to stay at least 30 more years in order to reach the point of break-even on all the lumber purchased for the potager re-do.  For the accountants out there we finally went over the hump and added about $6.75 to the plus column for the salads we’ve picked in the last few days, and $6 worth of cauliflower as well.  Those were some exciting first harvests, so obviously we’re not going to dwell on the $89 which went into the liability column for a new hose and additional lumber.

drying daffodil bulbs

Delphinium in bloom are often enough of a distraction to keep people from noticing the bags of drying colchicum and narcissus bulbs lined out along the front porch.  **please note the snow shovel was just put there recently and hasn’t been sitting there since last winter**

So even if you can look past the unpruned, questionable design, and overlook the stray bags of bulbs and garden tools, there’s still always that massive pile of sand blocking the driveway.  “You’re always busy doing something” was the polite way another neighbor dealt with that topic.

common milkweed syriaca

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by the front door is in full bloom.  I’ll cut it back by half once it’s done flowering, not just to keep it neat, but also to invite the Monarchs to lay their eggs on the new growth that sprouts up.

A myopic view of things lets me enjoy things anyway, and in my opinion when everything else is going to heck there’s always plenty of little things to be thrilled with.  Like milkweeds.  They’re much more interesting than people give them credit for, and far more useful in the garden than just caterpillar fodder.  This week I have a new one in bloom… finally… after years of trying seeds and nursing seedlings.

purple milkweed purpurascens

Asclesias purpurascens, the descriptively named ‘purple milkweed’.  This one’s been tricky for me and maybe that’s just because it refuses to put up with the abuse and neglect which I leave it to.  I love the dark color though, and did water a little after seeing its leaves curling up from the dry.

I hope the purple milkweed continues to grow in spite of this shift to drier summer weather.  There was brief consideration given to trying it out in a new spot but after reading online that it can be hard to get established it’s staying put.  I’ve killed it in other spots already so why rush.

verbena bonariensis

The first of the Verbena bonariensis filling in.  The verbena is a great drought tolerant filler for years like this, and I might transplant a few out for color in August.  

There are plenty of other things to do rather than kill off new milkweeds.  I spent Friday night weeding and “editing” the front border and was planning on finishing today but surprisingly enough there’s been some rain and it’s now too humid and sticky to work.  The rain only took the edge off the dry soil and refueled the gnats but it was a good excuse to go for icecream instead.  I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff.

Have a great weekend!

27 comments on “Curb Un-Appeal

  1. It’s a fact, not everyone appreciates a well-developed, mature garden the way they should. I’m glad you don’t let that stop you.

    • bittster says:

      I like to imagine I’m gifted with a foresight that will be appreciated someday in the future! Or I just like being selfish and doing my own thing and having a whole lot of planting fun 😉
      My new pond is kind of gross and filled with some nasty, predatory water beetles (which totally eliminated the mosquito larvae and I believe the tadpoles as well) but I sat for almost an hour just watching things swimming around and doing their own business. I guess I have a “different” level of appreciation on many things.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Personally, I like a wild look to a garden, neat and trim (outside or inside) makes me nervous. 😉
    After seemingly weeks of dry, sunny and sometimes HOT weather, it seems strange to have a rainy day requiring me to stay in and address things I’ve neglected when it was too nice to be inside.
    Enjoy your weekend, ice cream included!

    • bittster says:

      I almost didn’t know what to do yesterday being “trapped” inside! Maybe that’s what the non-gardeners are all complaining about when it comes to covid restrictions…
      I pulled a bunch of daisies last week even though there was still a few days of life left to the flowers. So many people want flowers-all-summer, doesn’t get taller than 8 inches, no weeds in the lawn kinds of plantings. I want a garden racing along and exploding into the next great thing, full of life, and I’m just lucky enough to be part of it plantings 🙂

  3. Dorothy Swift says:

    How do you get such great delphiniums?

    • bittster says:

      I wish I knew! They might be from the ‘New Millennium’ strain which is supposed to handle heat and humidity better, but I’m not sure. Other than that I think it’s mostly luck and location. They’re in a well drained sloped spot which I try to give water to every now and then. Morning sun but shaded from about 11 on. They just need staking and I thin out about half the shoots early on.

  4. I love your garden. More and more I like plants that tower over me. The wife of the director of horticulture at our botanical garden is a realtor. I keep thinking I should have her come over and look at our property and tell me it can never be sold!

    • bittster says:

      For some reason I just found your comment on hold and had to approve it! Who knows?
      I bet you would be surprised by the interest in your house if word got out it was going on to the market. Your realtor would call the dense plantings low maintenance and I’m sure the driveway would win over the first person to come look!

  5. March Picker says:

    We often get that same “You’re always busy…” when people drive up our driveway and see piles of mulch, compost, etc.(some having been in the same place for months…) I think it’s politeness speaking! Frank, I love your mix of easy care and demanding plants. Also, eye rolls and exasperated sighs are expected with kiddos that age!

    • bittster says:

      I have to admit that when I have a pile of something in the driveway it always feels like my plate is full and I don’t have to feel guilty about not starting other projects. It doesn’t matter if it sits for weeks, it’s the though that counts, right?
      I can only imagine how those eye rolls will develop as the kiddos age!

  6. Cathy says:

    The mullein is amazing! We had a thistle that tall last year but after so many thistle seedlings turned up in my flower beds I decided thistles are ‘out’ this year! I really love the last photo. What a pretty combination! Have a great Sunday!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I did cut back on some of the common thistles that blow in and do their thing. They seem especially anxious to seed into my newer plantings or anyplace I haven’t mulched…. and I haven’t done much mulching so far this year. There are plenty of weedy fringes where they can grow happily, and they shouldn’t have to come up all over a primula planting lol

  7. That mullein is quite something. People should drive by your house just to see THAT! I know I would if I lived closer or were still going to Wilkes Barre regularly. I do have to agree with the rule about thistles not being focus points, though, LOL! Not my taste. We had an inch of rain here this morning. I should take advantage of the damp soil and go pull some weeds, but instead I’m perusing Blogdom. Are your daisies cultivated or volunteer wild ox-eyes? I leave the wild ones in the garden and pull them after they bloom. I can always count on a good supply again next year.
    Your delphiniums are to die for! You clearly do not spend your mornings watching three fawns gambol about the lawn!

    • bittster says:

      If you knew just how much time I spend just sitting and watching you would laugh. No fawns, but plenty of bunnies and birds with the occasional woodchuck… who was finally trapped after he discovered a taste for lettuce and broccoli.
      I’m spreading daisy seeds in the lawn out back now that some of it is going to seed. They bloom early enough that I don’t feel bad mowing in July to neaten things up. The rudbeckia are later and a little more trouble as far as cutting them all down in full bloom… which I usually don’t have the heart to do…

  8. johnvic8 says:

    I like the overflowing look. Keep it up.

  9. Tim C says:

    It all looks good to me — and I’m growing both mullein and cardoon as a statement of vigorous support!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Tim. Two out of three cardoon are looking good so I’m pleased with that, one of course is in a spot I don’t like anymore… of course it’s the most robust one.
      I’m thinking of clearing out respectable swaths of perennials in order to pant more mullein and a few thistles. Plant obsessions are a strange thing.

  10. Indie says:

    Ha, my husband and I always say that our neighbors must think we are absolutely nuts! And we always seem to have pile of something sitting in our driveway (currently mulch). But I like to think we also inspire some more out-of-the-box behavior in some our neighbors – in our last neighborhood several added (more sedate) gardening beds, and all of our current neighbors added solar panels after we installed ours. On the other hand, sometimes I think that not even other gardeners get my rather… boisterous.. planting scheme. But I like it! I absolutely love your bed with the mullein in it and all those blues and golds. Congratulations on growing the Purple Milkweed! It’s gorgeous!

    • bittster says:

      I think you’re right, someone has to take the lead and blaze the way for a whole neighborhood of gardeners! I’m sure your streetside plantings have inspired a few people, and I know your gazebo garden has inspired me… although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do poppies and delphinium as nicely…
      Gardens bring people outside and bring neighbors together. I think only small children and pet walking come close to doing similar, but you can only take on so many of those at one time!

  11. I have had so many comments about my house not being very open to the street. I always say thanks because I live on a busy street and I intentionally grew shrubs, trees etc to hide the house. ha… Like you IF the house was ever to be sold I would probably be so old I wouldn’t care if they bought the house cheap and ripped everything out, plowed it up and planted grass again. I just keep on doing what I want, just as you should. Neighbors always talk about how much I am out there. It must be just the few times they look into the garden. Not that much to me goes on. Of course I look industrious from time to time. Just enough to keep em talking no doubt. Love that verbascum. I have tried to get one going before, no deal for me. BAH… No thistle wanted in my garden though. I don’t like dealing with all their progeny. Saying that I am trying out Rattlesnake Master as a prickly interesting plant. Some say it is quite prolific but so far this has not been. I think they are quite a handsome plant. Enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

    • bittster says:

      Whenever I get jabbed by a sharp thistle spine I realize what a silly idea they are, and whenever I’m innocently weeding and get jabbed by a seedling I didn’t see I know I’m my worst enemy out there. Maybe someday I’ll learn. In the meantime I just try to make sure they don’t seed out from here and I’m the only one who suffers from this poor judgement… as I sit here thinking about just how amazing they looked yesterday evening 🙂
      I’m not sure how often I look industrious out there. Even if I was I’m sure the neighbors are likely to only remember the other four times they saw me out there doing nothing! People only see what they want to anyway. You could spend thousands redoing a landscape and all some people would notice is the unwanted clover in the lawn or the fact the mulch is fading.
      We shall just keep doing what we want together!

  12. Annette says:

    It just looks splendid, Frank, so showy and well maintained. The other day I was invited by a future client to see the site were he’ll build his house and was completely thrilled by the vegetation there (thistles, nasella…), you’d have loved it. The older I get, the wilder I love it and I can’t wait to do his garden! Hope all is well with you and that you get through these crazy times alright. Happy summer days xx

    • bittster says:

      Annette it’s so good to hear from you!
      Wild is awesome. I think it’s more common on your side of the Atlantic but in some areas here you’ll see it as well. Just plant the right plants and they form their own community with just a little input from the gardener.
      Yes, things are bizarre over here. I never realized how many of my neighbors were stuck in adolescence.

      • Annette says:

        I don’t know if we think the same way but if we do, I’d say “adolescence” is a polite way of putting it! 😉 Hope you’re not affected byall that’s been happening, Frank, keep your chin up and yes, let’s cherish our gardens 🙂

  13. Oh, you have purple milkweed! I used to have that, but it died out. Very sad. I love your mullein, and your delphiniums! I’m willing to bet you have neighbors who love your wild garden style. Give them time, you may find you have imitators in the neighborhood.

    • bittster says:

      I’m very excited to have the purple milkweed, I hope it sets seed and multiplies a little!
      One of the neighbors put in a new mulch bed this weekend. I didn’t even know you could buy purple mulch. Needless to say I don’t know if the wild style is spreading at all…

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