Mary Lou McFarland is a Master Gardener specializing in self-sustaining bulb gardens. She is a sought-after speaker for her talks on daffodils. She and her husband, Marvin, are retired educators who live in Downsville, La.

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Problem or Opportunity
by Mary Lou McFarland    

Many gardeners tend to view landscaping problems first as a challenge, and then as an opportunity. The thought of transforming an uninviting eyesore into a functional and beautiful garden area causes a rush of excitement. Being able to also trade high maintenance for low maintenance puts many gardeners in a state of euphoria. Yes, gardeners tend to be “glass-half-full” kind of folks.


Problem #1:

The slope of elevation of the hillside leading to a driveway caused it to be far too steep for a riding mower. Both a push mower and a string trimmer were difficult, and the results were not satisfactory. 

This hillside by the drive presented a maintenance problem – a lawnmower or string trimmer could not easily trim it.

Native stone was dry stacked in front of the hillside. Even without the flowers, the native stone wall would be attractive.

After stacking the native stone, garden soil was placed in any openings between the stones and the hillside. Beginning with daffodils in the late winter and early spring, the area behind the wall has bulbs that bloom until freezing weather arrives.


Opportunity: Remove the need for mowing and establish a garden area with a self-sustaining garden wall containing plants that bloom from spring through fall.   


Solution: Construct a dry-stack wall around the hillside using native stones gathered from the property. Add soil to the space between the wall and the top of the hillside, forming a curved garden around the outer edge. Plant a variety of self-sustaining bulbs and perennials.   


Outcome:  Mowing the hillside is no longer needed because of the stone wall. Rather than the unkempt look of a poorly trimmed hillside, there is a tidy natural stone wall topped with a low-maintenance kaleidoscope of colorful blooms.


Problem #2:

Although the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) has attractive fall color, it can be very invasive causing the displacement of native species. A mature tree can produce as many as 100,000 seeds, which are carried and spread by many species of birds. If the tree is not killed when it is cut, new growth occurs from the cut stump or roots. 

The invasive Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) needed to be removed to prevent the displacement of native trees.

With a coat of green paint on the old gate and the planting of flowers in front, an attractive small garden vignette is created.


Opportunity: Create a whimsical garden area using the tree stumps.   


Solution: Cut the tree, leaving stumps of various heights. Apply an herbicide or stump killer to the freshly cut areas to kill the tree and prevent regrowth. Place birdhouses on the stumps and plant a variety of bulbs and perennials in front.   


Outcome: The threat of the spread of the invasive tree has been removed, homes are made available for birds, and a vertical focal point has been established for a delightful garden.


The next time you walk around your yard, look for problem areas. Then, think of the wonderful opportunities they offer, and feel the excitement grow as you dream, plan and create a solution to the problem.





Posted: 05/30/11   RSS | Print


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Elaine Knight (Troy, AL 36081) - 06/04/2011

Enjoyed your article since I have some of the same problems…......

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