yard progress

Friday morning I picked up four fruit trees that I had ordered through the Isabella Conservation District‘s annual tree sale:
– Methley plum
– Blake’s Pride pear
– Harrow Sweet pear
– Canadian Harmony peach

I was super excited to get these – the conservation district offers them at a really affordable price, and this means we’ll have that much more fresh fruit to enjoy (I hope!). They also only sell varieties that should do well in this climate. The trees spent the day and night in our garage – for bareroot trees a cool place out of the sun is usually a safe space to keep them if you only need to do so for a short time before planting.

Saturday morning we got out bright and early and started digging holes! We are also having some repairs to the outside of our home done, and the masons were out on the scaffolding working on the chimney while we were out planting. It’s nice to be getting so many things accomplished!

First off, we started with this Harrow Sweet Pear tree:

Harrow Sweet Pear Tree

Harrow Sweet Pears are supposed to be more productive than some other varieties, and the fruit should be slightly sweeter than, say, a Bartlett. The skin is less tasty than some other varieties, but I have an aversion to the texture of pear peel anyway, so I’ll for sure be peeling them regardless. This variety is supposed to be resistant to fire blight as well. It stores well and is recommended for baking, cooking, canning and freezing, so I’m excited about it!

Then we planted a Blake’s Pride Pear not too far away (so they can easily pollinate):

Blake's Pride Pear Tree

This pear is also supposed to be productive and is recommended for fresh eating, canning, and baking. It’s also resistant to fire blight and should ripen in September, about a month before the Harrow Sweet Pears. It is known for being juicy and having a smooth, buttery texture.

A little bit further toward the front of the yard, we planted this Canadian Harmony Peach tree:

Canadian Harmony Peach Tree

This peach should produce in mid to late August and is supposed to have a pleasing texture. The fruit are known to be on the larger side and should keep well. It is recommended for cooking, baking, canning, and freezing.

Finally, we planted this Methley Plum tree out front:

Methley Plum Tree

This fruit should ripen even earlier, somewhere from May to July. It is juicy, mildly sweet, and is good for fresh eating as well as making jelly. It should also be a good producer, though it will probably be a few growing seasons before we get a solid crop. The label that came on it says Italian Prune, but I’m not sure what the difference is between that and a Methley Plum. Anyone know more about this?

Sunday we tackled another big project: cutting back the lilacs. I had thought to do this last year but then wimped out. Both of these shrubs had been left to grow to enormous size – easily 20′ or more, and had a ton of dead limbs and a lot of insect damage. Here’s the bigger one last year near the end of May:

Lilac toward the back of the property

As you can see, there was quite a number of suckers and new growth underneath, but those bits didn’t get much if any sunshine so they didn’t really have a chance. I decided that the big limbs would have to go in the interest of encouraging the plant to be a manageable-sized shrub again.

Lilac toward the front of the property

This one, which is closer to the front of the yard, is smaller, but was still gigantically tall. It had an even higher percentage of not-good limbs.

The city is coming through to chip brush during this week and next, so we figured it was time to just rip the band-aid off and cut these down (since we knew it would generate quite a bit of chip-able material). It’s so difficult to do this sort of thing just when new green leaves are appearing, but it had to be done! If nothing else I wanted to get rid of the dead wood home that was hosting so many destructive insects.

Cut to a few hours later after lots of work with the bow saw and sawzall:

Lilacs cut back so they can become shrubs again


Lilacs cut back so they can become shrubs again


Fruits of our labor: lots of branches to be chipped

Lots of work! We were definitely feeling our muscles after that! It’s a good ache, though, knowing that we accomplished a lot. We also noticed on Sunday that there were already tiny buds emerging on three of the fruit trees we planted just the day before (the plum came just as one trunk – no limbs – so it did not)! All the water we gave them combined with the glorious sun on Saturday must have agreed with them. The Burning Bush and apple trees are also budding and leafing out. Yay! We also noticed that there are Grape Hyacinth ALL OVER and that we have some tulips that are almost ready to bloom (more pics on flickr). I’m excited to be finding things that are already established.

I also noticed this growing by the garage:

Probably a weed?

It’s so robust I assume it must be a weed – anyone recognize it?

The last bit of yard work we did was to hang up two new mason bee houses (a steal at Aldi!):

Mason bee house

Mason bee house

They’re so cute! I don’t know that I love the cord that they came with for hanging, but for now it’s easy so I’ll go with it. Hopefully they will provide homes for some pollinators!


garden! garden! garden!

We have reached the time of year where I really don’t want to do anything else but be in the garden or be planning for the garden.

Firefly Cottage pathways

We are hoping to have some new pathways installed pretty soon – these will replace the existing pathways that are in various states of disrepair. The front walkway (marked in red above) is, right now, made of pavers that aren’t super well-installed, or at least their installation has degraded over time. They’re fairly uneven side to side, and the steps that are about halfway up to the house are really wonky. We’ve put in more soil underneath to support them, but it seems to wash out pretty quickly. We’d like to do a stamped concrete for this front path – something that will go well with the brick of the house. Stamped concrete is pricey, though, so we will likely not do it for everything. The paths marked in blue above we’ll do in regular poured concrete to save some bucks. I’m not sure if we could have the regular non-stamped concrete the same color as the stamped or if that would jack up the cost? If we could keep it the same color but without the added cost of stamping, that’d be great – but if necessary we’ll just go with regular concrete for the blue paths. All of these are currently already concrete or stone (along the side of the house it’s a mixture of really old stone and newer poured concrete – not all of which is at the same level anymore, so it’s really kind of a hazard). We want them all to be uniform and to be at least 3′ wide.

Firefly Cottage - lavender along front path

I’d then like to plant lavender along both sides of the front path. I had it growing along the front walkway at our house downstate, and it was really lovely to have the scent wafting like a greeting as you walked toward the front door.

Firefly Cottage - perimeter hedge

I’d also like to install a hedge around the edge of the yard. It will help give us some definition and in some areas, more privacy. Along the front of the yard, I’m thinking of something that will grow to be about 3′ tall, and I’ll likely use a combination of a few types of evergreens to accomplish this. Cottage gardens often used four or five types of plants to form a hedge, so this will be in keeping with that style. Along the sides, I’m open to using a taller evergreen, but I’d like to keep it to something that will grow no taller than 8′ or so. Definitely on the alley side I’d like to do a taller hedge, but I’m still deciding about the street side of the yard. I may go for a combination, with the front part of that street side being the same rough height as the front hedge, and moving to taller further back? I’m not decided on this yet, nor have I figured out which varieties I want to use. I’m interested in using mostly female plants if possible, so that there will be plenty of berries and flowers for birds and pollinators and so those female plants can act as a pollen filter. I also haven’t decided yet what should happen on the back part of the yard along the alley and along the property line with the neighbors behind us. We have talked about expanding the fenced-in area to go further back toward the neighbors, so I’ll probably try to decide that before figuring out the plant situation there.

I’ll be trimming back both the lilacs this spring. Both are on the street side – the front one, which is white, is sort of covered by the hedge in this drawing. That one appeared to be almost dead last year, so I’m not sure if it will survive anyway. Both of the lilacs are super way taller than they should be and have a lot of dead limbs, so I’m going to try to trim them down significantly. That’s enough for this post! I’m still working on the plans for the gardens within the yard, so that’ll be coming soon!


lilac-king in proportion

We have two lovely but less-than-shapely lilac bushes that are really beyond the scope of what can be called a bush or a shrub. Here’s the first:
Lilac toward the front of the property

and the more robust second:
Lilac toward the back of the property

Don’t let the tall tree behind the second one fool you! Both have been allowed to get super leggy – the blossoms and foliage on both of these start far, far over my head (K can reach up to them, and he’s 6’6″). I don’t love the look of the trunks and they cast enough shade that there’s a scrabbly dirt ring around each of them where grass won’t grow (not that I’m asking for more grass – it’s just that currently patchy weeds are taking advantage).

My thought is that, as there’s a decent amount of foliage growing at the base of the trunks, maybe I could just cut the trunks down (after it’s finished blooming) and let the short bits become a shrub of proportional size.

Lilac toward the back of the property

Any words of wisdom regarding lilacs?