The Front Garden Evolving

[Updated 2007.02.20: Added links to Related Posts at the end of this one.]

Here’s a series of photos showing how the front garden has evolved so far, from when we closed on our house in Spring of 2005, to this past fall. This is one of the four gardens – one for each side of the house – I’ve written about previously. This will be the heirloom garden. The house was built in 1900. I’ll be relying as much as possible on plants which were available in 1905 or earlier.

Front Garden, April 2005This is what the front yard looked like when we closed on the house. Half the depth is devoted to a small lawn. The planting bed held a boxwood, two yews, a few hostas, and nothing else. There was not even a single daffodil bulb.

There was also a full-grown white cedar at the corner of the front porch. You can see its foliage at the upper-right of this photo. The cedar was beautiful, and huge – taller than the house – but it was in the wrong place. The trunk was pressing against the porch roof, so it had to go. It was obviously planted as a foundation plant decades ago, without regard for how tall it would get.

Front Porch, Brick Detail, April 2005Here’s a detail of the brickwork to the left of the front steps, in front of the mud room. Note the built-in planter on the porch wall. Another is visible in the photo above, and there’s a third hidden behind the boxwood. One of my initial goals was to open up the plantings along the front of the house to expose and highlight the brickwork.

Front Garden, Spring 2005Here’s the garden a month later. The boxwood and yews have been removed, as well as the cedar. You can now see the other planter, and the beautiful brickwork along the front of the house. The repetition in the windows and the horizontal lines of the brick details are more typical of Arts&Crafts than Victorian architecture. This is one of the reasons why I believe the front porch was enclosed early in the life of the house, and worth preserving.

On the right, the mulch on the ground is part of what’s left of the cedar. I also kept four logs from the lowest section of the trunk. I’m using these now as seating in the backyard, which gives you some idea of the trunk this tree had. I hope to eventually incorporate the wood into something else for the garden.

Front Garden, June 2005And another month later, in June of 2005. There’s some more plants which I moved from Garden . I put up the rainbow of silks to mark Gay Pride month.

Front and South Side Gardens, January 2006Winter of 2006. I had started playing around with some containers in the front yard. You can also see the south side of the house, which doesn’t have too much going on yet. And of course the old-school big-bulb Christmas lights and garland.

Front Garden, May 2006May of 2006. More planters, especially on and around the steps. You can see the last of the heirloom Tulips to the right of the steps. The silks have faded a lot from the previous year.

I started putting in some stepping stones to edge the lawn and planting area, both as a shortcut path across the lawn, and to guide my push mower.

Front Garden, September 2006September of 2006. Lots of containers now. I’ve finished the path across the front lawn, and put in some hose guides. The red and yellow flowers in the large terra-cotta pot to the right of the front steps is Canna “Cleopatra”. The Hosta are blooming. The tall pink and purple flowers are Cleome, Spider Flower, I grew from seed given to me by a gardener from Long Island.

I’m still working my way across the front yard. One reason I haven’t finished more is that we have to replace the roof this year. A complete tear-down, which means lots of debris on all sides of the house. Which means lots of smushed plants. Hopefully we can get the roof replaced early enough in the year that I can still get a good growing season in, and finish the front garden.

Related Posts:

Heirloom Plant Profile: Canna “Cleopatra”

While last week I was obsessed with Amorphophallus titanum at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I’ve also been having my own plant watch here at home.

A month ago I blogged about ordering bulbs for next year. I noted that I had ordered Canna “Cleopatra” from Select Seeds this Spring, but I doubted whether that was what I had received. The leaves are supposed to be variegated green and bronze, but the leaves at that writing still showed only green.

July 16, 2006

Thinking I didn’t get what I wanted, I ordered replacement bulbs from Old House Gardens for next Spring. I just needed to be more patient. The sequence of photographs shows how quickly it transformed. I think the heat wave we had really got it going. I planted three bulbs in a large pot in the front yard. I’ve now got three flowering stalks. It’s attracting comments from all the neighbors.

August 4, 2006

August 6, 2006

August 10, 2006

August 11, 2006

August 12, 2006

“Cleopatra” was introduced in 1895. It’s also known as the “Harlequin Canna” for its variegated leaves and flowers. The variegation is unstable and unpredictable; you can see from the photos of my plant that the flowers appear different even on the same stalk of blooms. It seems to me it might be a chimera of two different varieties fused together. In other words, it’s a freak, and a Victorian freak at that. That’s why it will always have a place of honor in the heirloom garden at the front of our 105-year old Victorian house.


Garden Notes: The Bulbs of Spring

I was going to rake and mow the front lawn, but it just started raining. So instead I’m sitting in my tree fort (second floor back porch) and blogging again. Ordinarily a risky prospect, blogging in the rain, but it’s a gentle summer shower instead of our usual thunderous downpours, and there’s the slightest of breezes instead of the gales. And no hail this time. There’s a male cardinal high in the neighbor’s dogwood – brilliant red against the dark green summer foliage – cheeping and ruffling his feathers in the rain.

Of course, I’m thinking about February.

The spring bulbs! The spring bulb catalogs! How can I garden in the here and now when I already need to start worrying about how it will all look next year?

A couple of categories of bulbs I’m looking for to plant this fall for next year’s gardens:

  • Heirloom/Antique, available before 1905.
  • Variegated foliage (I have a thing for freaks).
  • Native plants.
  • Shady path and border.
  • Cut flowers.

There are a handful of bulb vendors I’ve come to know and trust:

  • McClure & Zimmerman. My all-time favorite. Great selection. Mainly just a listing of varieties. The catalog has no color photographs, just a scattering of botanical illustrations. I’ve been ordering from them since pre-Web days; their Web site now provides color photographs. Unfortunately, I’ve already missed their 10% discount cutoff date of June 30.
  • Van Engelen. The “wholesale” catalog of John Scheepers, they offer the same varieties to retail customers, but with minimum quantities of 25, 50 and more. The best source when you want to consume mass quantities for large drifts, bedding schemes and other instant garden effects. Or team up with neighbors and friends and buy in bulk and divide the spoils amongst yourselves. I like to order from them for large amounts of the smaller bulbs, such as Crocus.
  • Old House Gardens. One of my new favorites. A small, “boutique” outfit specializing in heirloom and antique bulbs. Personalized service. Emphasizes U.S. sources where available. Offers many varieties available from no other source.

So, by researching their catalogs, I’ve come up with the following wish lists. Mind you, I have not the money, the time, nor the space to plant all of these. We’ll see what I end up ordering, and planting.


  • Allium atropurpureum, introduced 1800.
  • Allium sphaerocephalon, introduced 1594.
  • Anemone nemorosa var. Robinsiniana, circa 1870, also suitable for the shady path and border.
  • Canna “Cleopatra”, introduced 1895. Some leaves are striped with bronze, so it’s one of those freaks I covet. I ordered some from Select Seeds this year, but I don’t think it’s what I got: I won’t know for sure until they bloom, but the foliage shows no hint of bronze. Spring-planted. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Canna “Mme. Caseneuve”, introduced 1902. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Crocus angustifolius, Cloth of Gold Crocus, introduced 1587. (Ordered from OHG
  • Dahlia “Kaiser Wilhelm” (Ordered from OHG)
  • Gladiolus byzantinus, aka G. communis var. byzantinus “Cruentus”, Byzantine gladiolus, introduced 1629. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Gladiolus dalenii, aka G. psittacinus, G. natalensis, Parrot Glad, introduced 1830. Spring-planted, but hardy to zone 7, so it may winter over here. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Hyacinth “City of Haarlem”, primrose-yellow, introduced 1893.
  • Hyacinth “King of the Blues”, indigo-blue, introduced 1863.
  • Hyacinth “Lady Derby”, rose-pink, introduced 1883.
  • Hyacinth “Marie”, dark navy-purple, introduced 1860.
  • Hyacinth “Queen of the Blues”, introduced 1870. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Lilium auratum platyphyllum, Gold-band Lily, introduced 1862.
  • Lilium martagon “Album”, White Martagon Lily, introduced 1601.
  • Lilium pumilum, Coral Lily, introduced 1844, self-sows, so also suitable for the “wild” garden.
  • Lilium speciosum, introduced 1832.
  • Double Daffodil “Albus Poeticus Plenus, aka “Double Pheasant Eye”, introduced pre-1861.
  • Double Daffodil “Double Campernelle”, introduced prior to 1900.
  • Daffodil “Golden Spur”, introduced 1885.
  • Trumpet Daffodil “King Alfred”, introduced 1899.
  • Trumpet Daffodil “W. P. Milner”, introduced 1869.
  • Double Late Tulip “Blue Flag”, introduced 1750.
  • Tulip “Clara Butt”, introduced 1889. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Tulipa clusiana, introduced 1607. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Double Early Tulip “Kreoskop” (“frizzy-head”), introduced 1830.
  • Double Early Tulip “Peach Blossom”: Soft rose, honey scented, introduced 1890.
  • Single Late Tulip “Phillipe de Comines”: maroon-black, claret, introduced 1891.
  • Single Early Tulip “Prince of Austria”, scarlet maturing to almost-orange, fragrant, introduced 1860.
  • Single Early Tulip “Van der Neer”, violet-purple, introduced 1860.


  • Multi-flowered Tulip “Antoinette”: Pale lemon-yellow with pink edges, finishing salmon-pink, creamy-white margined foliage.
  • Double Late Tulip “Carnaval de Nice”: White blooms with swirling deep red stripes, white-edged foliage.
  • Viridflora Tulip “China Town”: Phlox pink with carmine-rose accents, moss-green flames, and a canary-yellow base, white-edged foliage.
  • Darwin Hybrid Tulip “Silverstream”: Variable, creamy-yellow diffused with rose and red, pink-and-white-margined foliage. I’ve grown this variety before, and it’s lovely.
  • Tulipa praestans “Unicum”, flowers orange-red, white-edged foliage. I grew this in the East Village garden. It’s very sweet, looking like a Hosta when the foliage first emerges.


  • Lilium superbum, American Turk’s cap lily, introduced 1665, so also suitable for heirloom garden. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells, pink buds open to blue flowers, ephemeral, dying back for the summer. I don’t that this is really a “bulb,” but M&Z offers it in their catalog. I grew this in the wildflower section of the East Village garden, and it was always beautiful in the spring.
  • Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot. A native relative of the invasive Celandine. Yet another wildflower I grew in the East Village garden, but, if I recall, in its double-flowered form. It looked like a small white water-lily emerging from the earth just before the leaves. I’d really like to find the double again. Another non-bulb M&Z offering.


  • Cardiocrinum giganteum. Some day, I will have a place to grow this. I need to build my soil up for a few years, I think, before I try and tackle this monster.
  • Frtillaria meleagris var. alba, White-flowering Snake’s Head Fritillary. I’ve grown both the regular species, and this variety. The species is lovely, the white, sublime.

While I’ve been typing out here on the porch, I’ve also been visited by Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and Monk Parakeets. Oh, and so-called “Rock Doves,” ie: Pigeons, the rats with wings.

The sun is out now, and it’s cooled off deliciously. Time to take the cat out for a walk and rake and mow the front lawn …

Garden Diary: Mowing the lawn

Today I mowed the lawn.

It’s incredible that I have a lawn to mow. I suppose the novelty will wear off. In the heat of summer, the delight of raking, and walking my push-reel mower back and forth across the width of the house, and gathering up the precious green clippings for the compost … In the heat of summer, all this will be more of a chore, will require me to get up earlier in the morning, before it gets into the 80s, and 90s. But for now, when it’s still possible to catch a cool day without rain, it’s still a pleasure.

And I got to use my new toy: The cordless weed whacker. The grass in the median strip between the sidewalk and the street was heavy and wet from lack of mowing and the rain of the past few days. It’s too choppy and trashy to use the push-reel. The heavy grass drained the battery of the whacker, but I got it done. I just didn’t get to finish edging with it before the juice ran out. Another day for that.

Mowing the lawn puts me out with my neighbors. Across the street, some neighbors were doing the same with their lawn: whack, push, rake. Then I saw them trying to get a plastic bag out of a tree in their front yard. First the rake. Then standing on a plastic deck chair with the rake. Then a step ladder and the rake. Increasingly precarious. When one of them left to find another tool, I stopped my mowing, went to the garage, and got my pole-pruner. As I crossed the street toward them, they practically cheered me on. Standing on the ground, I extended the pole completely, snipped the small branch snagging the bag and brought it, and the bag, down. They told me the bag had been there for over a year! Introductions all around …

Then there was my elderly neighbor down the block who walks the dogs who “don’t like men.” I think they would like me, if we were given the chance. I walked her through the gardens and showed her what was blooming, answering her numerous questions about what things were. I showed her what’s coming up, what weeds there are I need to deal with, what’s going to bloom later in the year. I gave her some Hosta and bachelor’s button from my garden for her to plant in her yard. I’ll give her some Iris when it finishes blooming.

All this from mowing the lawn. And more. On March 28th, during a difficult day, I wrote:

… I sat on the front steps, in the sun, trying to calm myself … As I sat I saw a woman and three children walking up our block. The woman and one child walked on the sidewalk. The other two children alternately walked and ran across the lawns between the houses and the sidewalk. Children running on grass …

I thought that, when they saw me sitting on my front steps, the might move to the sidewalk, and I would invite them to continue running across our lawn as well. I needn’t have bothered. When they got to our yard, they continued across our lawn without visible pause or hesitation. The older barely regarded me. And on to the next lawn.

After they passed, I came to tears.

And so I weed, and mow, and rake, with gratitude.