Published On: Sat, Mar 4th, 2017

Review/Preview of Plant Life Around the Abode

Just when the weather was acting like it was time to put away our winter clothes, today was a reminder that it’s still winter.  And with the drop in temperature, with a howling wind to go with it, it’s not quite the time to start working on the yard.  But, it won’t be long, so I started making plans [in my head anyway] of what I plan to get done with everything I’ve been working on for the past three and a half years.

When we moved into our home, I had spent no more than an hour collectively doing anything remotely close to gardening, landscaping or even planting a flower.  My mom had me weed her modest flowerbed once.  And I did mow a lot of lawns in my teenage years.  But that was the extent of my green thumb.  Since then, I’ve learned a little about plants.  And soil and its acidity, and fertilizer and mulch, and sunlight, and perennials and annuals, and bloom schedules, and pruning and deadheading, and a bunch of other stuff that I had no intentions on learning.  Ever.

But now, I kind of relish in it.

With only a few more weeks to go before the weather starts to cooperate, I’m actually planning out how I’m going to finish up this little project of mine, landscaping around the house.  Which also means continuing to understand these plants because there’s no sense in doing all this work just for the plants to die, as they did when I first started planting plants.

So, to prep the ground [and my mind], I did a thorough review of everything I’m working on, everything I want to finish up this year, and what everything looks like today.


The first plant I planted was the rhododendron. And that first one promptly died on me. I since then learned how to properly plant one of these bushes, eventually got three more, and one, again, promptly died. But the other two, miraculously, are still hanging in there.

The first rhododendron bush I planted that actually survived,
unlike the one that was planted right next to it.
The other rhododendron bush, also hanging in there.

As if someone pressed pause, each stalk has signs of what’s to come.  You can see the new leaves/stems waiting for the weather to get right so they can continue their sprouting.  They’ve been like this for months now, and I’m kind of curious to see how much more this thing is going to grow.


I did a lot of reading but the “rusting” of leaves during the winter, and what causes damage to leaves.  And, I’m still unsure how to prevent it.  Fortunately, unlike last winter, the leaves aren’t showing as much damage.  Then again, this go round I plucked a lot of leaves that looked damaged.  Perhaps a hundred or so.  I’m thinking this is something that I should be doing on a regular considering how much better than rhododendron fared this winter.  Or maybe it was the milder temperatures?


On the smaller of the two rhododendron bushes, ever since last fall, there are these two flower buds waiting to bloom.  I was reading the other day different things that can be done to increase the number of blooms, but I don’t want to do anything drastic just yet.  The bushes are only a couple of years old and I’m still not sure what happens when you put the sheers to them too much.


Doublefile Viburnum

A year ago this month, I planted a Doublefile Viburnum (Shasta) shrub. Unlike most of the other plants planted, this one is deciduous. After watching a brutal winter punish the evergreens, I think I got this one to reduce my anxiety of spending so much money on plants to watch the winter freeze kill them off. When the leaves all fell off, it did look out of place with the other bushes tolerating the weather.

But now that most of that is over, the plant is making its annual debut.

Doublefile Viburnum Shasta
Doublefile Viburnum Shasta
Doublefile Viburnum Shasta

Girard Saybrook Glory Azalea

In the corner, where the original rhododendron died, I planted a cousin of the plant. This rhododendron hybrid is called a Girard Saybrook Glory azalea.

Last summer I coated it, along with all the other plants, with neem oil in what I thought was me taking initiative in organic pest control, but all the leaves of this azalea turned orange. It looked like it was exposed to radiation, and I didn’t think it would make it. Slowly, though, the old leaves either regained their green or fell off, replaced with new life. Thank. Goodness.

Girard Saybrook Glory Azalea

Ligustrum Japonicum

Generally I just get my plants from Home Depot or Lowe’s. The only issue, though, is I’m making my decisions based on what’s written on the little information cards [and Googling while in the store for more information] because no one seems to know much about anything other than the price.

So at the end of the summer, I stopped by Old City Farm & Guild off Rhode Island Ave NW, a true garden nursery, where they had people who knew plants. There’s this one cutout [I don’t know what else to call it] that seems to destroy plants. It gets the least amount of sun of anywhere around the house, and has already seen a couple other plants die in this location.

After explaining all this, it was suggested I give the ligustrum japonicum a shot, reassured it’s a hardy plant that will excel. It’s been less than a year, and already, this plant seems to be the most eager to grow.

ligustrum japonicum
ligustrum japonicum
ligustrum japonicum

Coral Bells

Almost two years ago I planted this smaller plant, really without a plan, just because I liked its color. With its smaller leaves, smaller everything, I didn’t think it would last, but surprisingly, it’s probably the hardiness of all the plants. Unlike the bigger bushes and shrubs, this one has more delicate leaves so I imagined it would have a harder time with the cold. But, even after being buried in snow, it’s still around.

Coral Bells Carnival Series

Along the side of the house where the Coral Bells plant is, there’s a place for more plants.  I planted some perennials with the Coral Bells but they didn’t make it.  And last year I just kind of left it alone.  An idea, though, is to fill in the space with more Coral Bells, since it’s proven itself to be very low maintenance, very hardy in a highly shaded area, and the space is really too narrow to plant much of anything else.

Ann Tulip Magnolia Tree

The most recently planted plant along the side of the house is a tree. And I ordered it from Amazon. Imagine that, ordering a tree through the mail!

When I first got the Ann Tulip Magnolia Tree, it was maybe a foot long in length. It has since doubled in size, and for the first time, it’s about to bloom some flowers.

Ann Tulip Magnolia Tree
Ann Tulip Magnolia Tree

Unfinished Business

There’s still a lot of work to do on the side of the house. When I started building a retainer wall, I didn’t realize how labor intensive it was. Nor expensive. But it’s coming along and I’m planning on at least finishing all the brick work this spring, and maybe even add some new plants along the way.

Between the rhododendrons and ligustrum japonicum

I just recently poured a bunch of gardening soil in this stretch of of the retainer wall.  I’m still not sure what I want to plant there, more specifically perennials or annuals.  Annuals tend to have more colorful options, but I prefer not to have to replant something new every year.  I thought about small rose bushes, or hedges, or something flowering, but maybe I’ll do annuals this season while I figure it out.

On the side of the house, there’s three sections.  One is mentioned above where I’m thinking a row of Coral Bells.  The other two, though, are still in need of bricks so nothing may come of them this year.

Between the doublefile viburnum and the Ann Tulip Magnolia tree.
A really small area between the Magnolia tree and the end of the house.

And then there’s this section where the gutter spills out, partially beneath the back deck.  I’m really not sure what to do with it.  Nduku wants to put concrete under the deck and these bricks might make that a bit challenging.  I don’t disagree with the concrete, but I need all sides to be the same height, meaning oddly shaped bricks to work with.

I was thinking bushes, something with strong roots with a huge thirst for water, to help suck up rainfall to keep it from seeping into the ground where we occasionally have water seeping into the basement.  Not sure if that, along with the concrete, will solve it, but that’s the thinking.  It’s a low sunlight area, being under the deck, so there’s a limited number of plants to go here.  Ideally I’d want something to grows pretty tall, 10 feet or higher, to reach the deck, but that might be asking too much.

And then there’s this rather large area where I really don’t know what to do with.  It’s going to take a number of bricks and a bunch of bags of soil before it’s ready.  I was thinking of capping off the length of fencing with more rhododendrons, but they gave me a hard time at first and I’m not sure if they’re ideal for where I’m doing all this planting.  I thought about hydrangeas because of their large and colorful flowers, but I don’t know how fickle they are.

This section is under a massive oak tree, it does get some morning sun and lots of water when it runs off the neighbor’s yard, but it’s such a huge area that I don’t want to underutilize the space.  Because of its size, it might be one of the last areas that I fill in, so I have time to think about it.

Double Knockout Rose Bush

Where we keep the trash cans I planted a small rose bush. The label said all you had to do was dig a hole, plant it and watch it grow. Because I planted it in July, in the middle of some intense heat, it struggled. I mean, it struggled mightily, but surprisingly, it came through and it’s still around. And I planted this one directly into some iffy soil, unlike the other plants in raised areas with bags of fertile gardening soil.

Along the sidewalk in the backyard, there’s a huge area that needs some serious work. Since I already planted one rose bush, I might as well finish off the area with more rose bushes, but we’ll see. This area gets tons of light, a lot of direct heat, so whatever’s planted there better be able to hold its own when not watered as often as the other plants where I have them on a timer.

The edging for this area has spaces to put small annuals. Last year, the flowers planted here did very well, even with a one a day watering, sometimes once every few days. I’ll do that again, though it’s a bit more manual labor than I prefer.

Serotina Belgica Honeysuckle Vine

The only other plant planted so far in the backyard is the Serotina Belgica Honeysuckle Vine. I ordered this from Amazon as well, coming in looking like a twig. I have no idea how long it’l take before it wraps itself around the fence and start producing fragrant honeysuckle flowers, but so far, it has retreated into the ground and I have no idea if it’s going to make a comeback. I did a little growing and wrapping last year, making it to the top of the fence, but it’s hard to tell that anything was planted there so we’ll see what happens this season.

Somewhere buried beneath all those leaves and ivy plants, there’s a Serotina Belgica Honeysuckle Vine.

There’s more plants in front of the house, including the two trees planted a couple of years ago. There are several potted plants, and pots waiting on plants. On the deck is a Persian Lilac that I pruned [more like mowed down] down to a few inches from the soil. And a Panama Orange Tree (Calamondin) that’s chilling in the dining room because it can’t handle the Mid-Atlantic winter freezes. Maybe it’ll produce some fruit this year.

I’ll review/preview those another day and the flower bed in the front yard another day. Not to mention the plant I got for the basement, which I plan on getting more if this one proves that indoor plants that don’t require much if any sunlight can actual survive in the basement where it’s usually dark for most of the time.

Washington, DC, weather is unforgiving. One minute it’s in the 30s, and the next it’s pushing 90s with high humidity. I’m going to have my work cut out for me this spring, but I’m looking forward to it.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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