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Back at Swallowtail Cottage, landscape projects are happening. Monday I awoke with the message, “remove those Nandina and transplant the six young Buxus to the back foundation!” I immediately concurred, yet these subliminal projects are 1% inspiration, and 99% implementation. Conception is the easy part; there is a disconnect with the follow through. Somehow the subconscious fails to understand reality.
I humbly admit, the execution of this project nearly slew me on day three.

During dormant months (November-March) here in Virginia zone 7A, I do my best garden work; most biting insects are absent, and cool/dry temperatures permit invigorating days outside.

This week: Following breakfast Monday, I began making phone calls. This project required man/muscle power. The photos below capture the efforts of four men over three partial days.


Before view of Nandina in the rear foundation planting…really sad after 18 years. FYI: Do not plant this Heavenly Bamboo, as the berries contain cyanide and will kill any wild bird who eats it. I did not know this when I planted them, and for years I removed the berries in the fall. Eventually, this plant became too needy and leggy so OUT they went to a local burn pile.

If you don’t know what Nandina flowers/berries look like, here you go:

snake sunning in the nandina

Yikes! During late spring, Heavenly Bamboo create white blooms. This particular day, I had a black snake sleeping amoungst the blossoms, just below my bedroom window. In the last few years, the Nandina flowers became infested with thrips…a sucking insect not welcome in any garden.

Nandina berries

Pretty but deadly. If these Nandina berries are left on the plants during winter months, wild birds often mistake them for food and when consumed, birds will die a cyanide death. Another reason NOT to have this plant in any garden. Unfortunately, since they are inexpensive plant material, many property developers use them copiously.


The discard pile grows: As my enthusiastic neighbor dug with his wicked serrated shovel, the tarp rapidly filled with stems and roots. What a tough job; not one for the weak, fragile or moi.


Monster roots on eighteen year-old Nandina. Removing the heavy clumps of soil was another laborious task.


Day Two: On a very overcast winter day following removal of the blasted Nandina, the rear of the house is now dull and became my very own Tabula Rasa. Gosh, no curb appeal here! The turf appears especially pathetic.


Meanwhile, the baby Buxus (Green Velvet) await their transplant from the rear border. I propagated these beauties from tiny cuttings about eight years ago. They provide good material for boxwood wreaths come November and benefit from hand trimming. When I asked the landscaper what he thought each plant would cost in a nursery he answered $350! What a fine example of home propagation savings!


Day Three: Bare ground awaits the family duo of landscapers. Yes, only two men and three hours later, the bed was transformed. Of course the landscaper has been in digging commercially for over 20 years, and they did not stop the entire time. Hurrah! I phoned at the right time when he had an opening! Normally he is booked for months.


With the Buxus installed, I watered them in after finding a hose that was not frozen. Around 3 PM, I headed to the home store and toted twelve bags of pine bark mulch and five bags of pea gravel back in Baby 5. The gravel was added over the larger stone next to the terrace wall and at the foundation, to keep mulch/mud from traveling/splashing on the house. Nice and tidy. By dark I was knee-walking exhausted! Soon to bed with the heating pad, Tylenol, and mugs of  hot herbal tea!


Today: Once again, Baby 5 comes to my rescue. Loaded and backed up to the rear turf and my wheelbarrow, this auto has seen me through many a rock/mulch/dirt project. The edge of the rear border now resembles a mine field, and six holes need filling today. I scored ten partially open bags of topsoil for 1/2 price (that I spotted yesterday). The only caveat…get to the home center before 7AM before other frugal gardeners descend. So it goes.


Rock is the solution at the foundation. It keeps termites from migrating to the foundation, and holds back the mulch.  IF any debris drifts onto the gravel, a quick blower pass, and voila! spotless. Today it looks great.


PS: Before the landscape pair departed, I had them relocate this young arborvitae to a sunnier location.


This small Buxus (propagated here) was also relocated to a brighter location. Its former location is now home for the arborvitae. One man accomplished both transplants in twenty minutes. Geeze! Since all material is now dormant, I hope they quietly settle in and wake to spring full of vigor! Me too for that matter! 😉

Now left is to find an area for the adopted/uprooted iris.


The length of their roots surprised me when I dug them on Friday. For now, they will reside in paper bags in the basement fridge at 40F. I will make an effort, as both varieties are beautiful and sweetly scented.


My ongoing dilemma is to find a way to raise the right side of this stoop/boulder. Following fifteen years of stepping on one side to enter the back door, the massive rock has settled enough that I have nearly twice fallen off . Who knew, little old moi could cause a mammoth boulder to settle? So far one pry-bar was put to the test, and the only result was a bent pry-bar. The area is too small for a Bobcat. Any ideas?

The 17F reading this morning has given way to sunny a 52F. I must go have lunch, get out of YouTube mode, and get that frozen topsoil down if thawed. Ah, a gardener’s job is never complete.


The new view from inside the house. Calm and uncluttered.


Now to await spring and warmer soil, so masses of wildflowers can be seeded in the distant herbaceous perennial border.

Finally, I added two vintage tuteurs to the Buxus bed. The largest one is in the rear border where a Nelly Moser resides and climbs with abandon throughout the Oakleaf Hydrangea during the growing season.

Job well done? Have I inspired you to get out in your gardens and tackle a big project?

I enjoy comments placed on this blog…not in an email as this blog is intended to inspire all followers. Cheers!


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