No grass: No fuss, no muss
Shrubs add late summer zest
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 01, 2012 06:00 am
Theresia and Glenn Williams’ backyard garden is at its seasonal peak right now, thanks to a number of colourful shrubs and an absence of lawn.
What’s even more striking is that the couple accomplished this grass-less yard despite having two large dogs. In fact, the yard was actually landscaped with the pets in mind.
“It was an experiment. If we didn’t like it, we could always put grass in,” said Glenn, as he recalled the fall day seven years ago when he and Theresia plotted the layout of their yard by laying a hose on the ground.
Their Erin Ridge house was brand new and landscaping the yard was a family project that involved getting help from their adult daughters. For a time their enthusiasm was curbed because the builder didn’t finish grading the lot.
“We’d already purchased trees but we couldn’t plant them. So we dug a big pit and stuck the trees in there and then in the spring we planted them properly,” Glenn said.
The hose was used to outline where the path would go and where the vegetable garden could be placed in this east-facing yard that backs onto a ravine. That first winter the dogs were trained to treat the yard as an extension of their home.
“We knew we would always have dogs and we wanted access to the ravine so there is a gate in the back fence. The dogs know to go straight along the path through the yard and out to the ravine, even in winter,” said Theresia.
The ravine is an open grassed area, and with the City of St. Albert’s permission, the couple has also landscaped the portion behind their yard. The view of the trees they added there can be seen from their own yard but their neighbours can also enjoy them and watch them grow.
The Williams’ yard slopes sharply from the house towards the ravine but it was landscaped in a series of plateaus that allow space for a rock garden on one side and a level 12-vegetable garden on the other. The diagonal path meanders through the yard and widens out slightly near a bench where Glenn and Theresia can rest when they aren’t tending the vegetables.
Instead of grass, a number of ground covers spread like a carpet over most of the rocks.
“In spring it was covered with yellow flowers. The ground cover has covered most of the rocks now,” said Glenn.
This summer the couple harvested a good crop of carrots, peas and beans. They are still enjoying the cucumbers, which were planted in pots. Tomatoes are planted on the hot south side of the yard next to the house.
“I wanted something different in my pots this year instead of flowers so I planted the cucumbers with strawberries and it worked very well. We put a trellis for the cucumbers to grow on,” Theresia said.
An apple tree, sour-cherry tree and a Viscount grape provide a bountiful harvest of fruit. There’s even a kiwi plant that produces berry-sized fruit.
Without a back lawn, the couple was able to use every inch of space to grow shrubs and perennials, many of which were planted in the fall.
“Fall is a good time to plant perennials,” said Glenn as Theresia added, “Our only problem sometimes is finding space for one more shrub.”
One of their prized possessions is a Young Lady smoke bush, which at this time of year is covered with a froth of white fluffy flowers. The smoke bush is in a sheltered spot on the west side of the house and it’s protected from the wind by other shrubs.
“Smoke bushes are rare to survive here. We saw them growing in New York so when we saw them for sale here, we wanted to try growing them ourselves. It’s green in spring and later in the season the ‘smoke’ appears,” Theresia said.
A partial list of some of their shrubs and trees includes a black walnut, pear-shaped Alberta spruce, weeping spruce, several kinds of clematis, columnar crab trees, Canadian maple, hydrangea bushes, weeping juniper, creeping pine, golden cedar and black-lace elder.
Together these shrubs add patches of gold, burgundy and green throughout the yard. Though there are some potted mums and a number of hardy pink roses, there are scarcely any annual flowers growing and that too cuts down on the gardening chores because there is less watering.
There is one small patch of grass in the front yard but other than tending to that, the gardening work is minimal and something they both enjoy.
“We both work full time so in the evening we enjoy coming out here and working and enjoying the yard. It’s a joint hobby for us,” said Theresia, who estimated that together they spend about an hour a week weeding and tidying.
“The cedar bark mulch keeps the weeds down, and in the fall there is almost no work to be done because most of our perennials and shrubs are hardy,” she said. “Having no lawn was an experiment but it paid off. I’ll never have a lawn again.”