LARGE overgrown garden... what and when and how?

ScarlettAnneAugust 3, 2014

I saw a few posts similar to mine... bought a house, it belonged to a little old lady who loved to garden until her health wouldn't let her, it's run wild for about 5 years. Lots and lots of garden. It was all either a.) completely overgrown with weeds and the hardier flowers, or b.) completely overgrown with English Ivy 3 inches thick.

Most of them, I can manage given enough time and labor, it's just a matter of thinning and moving things. I'm a garden newbie (I'd say my thumb is yellow, on the green to black scale) and the parts I have cleared this year bounced back nicely. Her preference for flowers seemed to be hardy, spreads like a champion, and attracts hummingbirds. Bonus points if it's purple.

The back yard is the problem. I have drawn a map, green I have gotten up to snuff, yellow is waiting. I have hill, about 10 feet deep, that runs the property line on the back. At the top are some trees for a natural fence (which they mangled right before they put the house on the market) overrun by ivy. I'll put pics in another post, since I seem to be able to only add one right now.

We needed to see what was there, so we let it grow this summer. It made a nice little jungle for the dogs, but it's a LOT of real estate to just let go. There's a lot of pretty virulent stuff in there, there's not even a hint as to what the original design was. I'm also not sure I have the time to maintain that much garden even if I get it back. We're talking about getting rid of everything but the fence, and getting it back to grass. I have to assume the roots are ferocious though.

It's a big garden to smother. Do we have to weed whack, and mow, first? Will doing it in sections work, or will things just creep back over since the garden is so large? Should I do it in the fall, or the spring? I have seriously considered the "kill it with fire" approach. Any thoughts on garden vs. lawn? A well maintained garden would be pretty but she supposedly spent 8 hours a day maintaining everything in the yard, and I... will not be retiring for a while.

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ScarlettAnne

One view.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:12AM
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ScarlettAnne

Another.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:14AM
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ScarlettAnne

One more.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:17AM
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pomona_MA

Yes, it looks like quite a project. I know you are asking about strategies for dealing with what's already there, and people can certainly help you with this. But I think you should first concentrate on what you would LIKE to be there. I'm not sure you want to "restore" as much as you want to "change" the garden. Don't assume the lady ever made a design. Lots of people just keep adding plants to their yard over the years without any overall vision -- they just like working in the garden and they like particular plants. You should feel free to change everything if you wish. That said, I would want to know what kinds of elements you would like to have in your space--shade, privacy, color, vegetables, recreation, etc.--before tackling the present overgrown hillside. What would make YOU happy with this space given your time and budget? In my experience having a positive goal makes the hard work of digging out, pulling out, and transplanting a lot more doable. Once you formulate a vision (even if it's a general one), I'd recommend identifying the worst weeds and the biggest plantings. You can post close-ups if you can't identify them yourself. This will help posters advise you on overall strategy and give you specific tips. Also, what region and zone are you located in? Yard orientation? Good luck!
P.S. I've found Sara Jane von Trapp's The Landscape Makeover Book: How to Bring New Life to an Old Yard (Taunton Press, 2000) helpful for such projects.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 8:42PM
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jim_1 Zone 5B Illinois(5b)

I agree. Where is north? Is that chain link fence yours?

There was a person whose knowledge was great when it involved landscape issues. His comment was that a weed is something that grows where you don't want it.

There are probably lots of weeds there. You need to decide how many you want gone. Close up photos would help us to help you.

Jim

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 10:22PM
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eibren(z6PA)

Your most usable perennials seem to be shown in the photo that accompanies your third post.

One immediate fall strategy might be to simply mow the better perennial areas and see what they look like next spring.

Few gardens look good in all seasons unless constantly worked at, but mowing the areas that can be mowed instantly, by contrast, makes a garden look better.

Additionally, you would be amazed what a bit of judicious pruning can do to improve the appearance of neglected shrubs.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 10:39PM
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