Beautify Your Lawn

In this excerpt from the new book Suzy Bales' "Down-to-Earth Gardener", you'll find smart strategies for scaling back your lawn and making your landscape more trouble-free.

By Suzy Bales


Simple Embellishments
Most trees on my lawn got simple skirts of a single species. A purple beech and an ornamental cherry have been livened up with a hoop skirt of St. John's wort, which is my old dependable, the perfect companion. I rely on him often. He never complains the soil is too heavy, doesn't care if it's sunny or shady, and is not invasive. Like hostas, St. John's wort can be divided yearly and is most cooperative when sent to the far reaches of the property to start a new colony.

Adorning the Landscape with Fall Flowers
Elsewhere on the shrinking lawn, we planted leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), which wove its way between and around the shrubs to produce bloom in late summer and long into fall. After that, it departs in a blaze of glorious bronze red foliage. An assortment of colchicum cultivars rise through the blue leadwort from September into October.

Confusingly, colchicums are commonly called autumn crocuses. Colchicums (Colchicum spp.) and autumn-flowering crocuses (Crocus speciosus) do look similar, and both bloom in fall, but up close they are very different. Colchicum flowers and bulbs are generally larger, with six stamens in the centers of the blooms. Crocuses have only three stamens. The flowering stems of colchicums are naked of any leaves, while multiple blooms, 6 to 12 per corm, open one after another.

Combining three different cultivars of colchicums extends the bloom in the bed. 'Lilac Wonder' is the most prolific bloomer, with smaller vase-shaped, rosy purple flowers. 'The Giant' has larger goblets of lilac-pink flowers, and 'Waterlily' resembles its name, blooming last with large, double, rosy lilac flowers.

A Blooming Lawn
If it weren't for the family pastimes of croquet, badminton, and soccer, I'd do away with even more of our lawn than I already have. As it is, I've invited bulbs and wildflowers in. In early spring, snowdrops, crocuses, and scillas bloom in the lawn, followed by dandelions that complement the daffodils in the meadow. For some reason, gardeners usually cherish the kind of blue offered by creeping speedwell (Veronica spp.) but disdain this little creeper. I love its blue puddles scattered across the lawn. Clover, especially four-leaf types, brings us more than luck: In bloom, it's the snow-on-the-grass of summer. The only reason I remove it from the places we walk is to protect the bees. In summer, a member of my barefoot family always steps on one.

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