Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Story Of 'The Forest'


We love 'the forest.'

'The forest' is one of our greatest gardening achievements.

'The forest' is consistent, dependable, beautiful, functional, supportive, sheltering.

Here is the story of 'the forest':

The little strip of property which contains 'the forest' is bordered by the cement of the city sidewalk, the cement of the driveway, the cement of our rain barrel station and the neighbor's lawn which we placed a landscaping barrier along to keep grass from creeping in under 'the forest.'

When we bought our house, this area was river rock. Every inch of it. There was also a rotting split rail fence along the neighbor's lawn. The fence came out easy. The rock took a bit more effort. Under the river rock, we found plastic. Not a surprise. However, under the plastic we found chet rock. Under the chet rock, we found pieces of plastic. Neighbors told us that the area was used by a previous owner to park an RV. We were enthusiastic. Just have someone take the rock and go.

We let a friend come with a front loader to take as much river rock as he wanted. He didn't take it all. We gathered the remaining river rock into a pile and sold it.

Then, we had all the plastic and chet rock to deal with. We started by the rain barrel station. We raked, dug, loaded a wheel barrel and made a rock platform that the composter now sits on. Then, we raked, dug, loaded a wheel barrel and hauled away the chet rock/dirt mixture. This continued...rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul, rake, dig, load, haul. Eventually, my wonderful husband had filled every hole and dip in the alley. We worked on this off and on through the summer of 1998. The area also became inundated with weeds during our lulls (like when it was 104 degrees). So, there was a lot of weed pulling too.

Finally, one day, we declared the area as rock free as it would get. We began to search for soil. We got compost from the city's free compost pile but that was still a new resource so we didn't get enough to fill the area. We got dirt from a cousin who had a pile from a project. We could have added more, but went with what we had.

We got some old straw bales from my parents' farm and tilled the straw into the soil. There was still enough chet rock in the mix that while my WH was running the tiller in the evening, the sun went down and he threw sparks. Then, we waited through winter.

The next spring, we measured our space. We knew we wanted Spartan Junipers. They stay relatively narrow and do well in our zone. On grid paper, we marked off our space. We drew circles along our neighbor's property line to represent each tree at its full grown width. The next row was nestled into the spaces between the first trees and so on until we filled the space with as many trees as possible without extending outside it. We needed 23 trees.

'the forest' is on the far right

the odd rectangle with a rod among the junipers is where a downspout lays on the ground and the splash block at the end of it

When the garden centers started getting their stock, we checked them on a regular basis. We wanted to get the trees as early as possible so they wouldn't bake on a parking lot for very long. We also wanted to buy the smallest ones we could find because they'd be less expensive. We rounded up 12 trees in our city. That was it. No other small spartan junipers to be had. We went out with a tape measure and carefully marked where every tree would be planted (all 23). We marked the places with straws. It sounds silly but we had straws. Neighbors asked how long it took to grow a straw tree. A funny group, our neighborhood. We planted the 12 trees using every other straw. Each one got a little mulch and we spent the summer watering them and weeding around them.


The next spring we were on the hunt for more Spartan Junipers. We found 10. We used all the other straws except one. One lonely straw. More mulch, more watering, more weeding.


We lost one juniper where the mailman kept cutting across from our neighbor's house to ours. I put up a "fence." The mailman started using the sidewalk, at least coming into the yard.

The third spring, we looked for two Spartan Junipers. One to replace the lonely straw and one to replace the juniper that died because the mailman kept walking “on” it. We figured we could get larger ones now so we broadened our search to more greenhouses. A lady at one of the greenhouses tried to tell us Spearmint Junipers were, "the same thing." Well, no. They would look odd with the Spartan Junipers. She didn't care about our garden plan. She only wanted to sell trees. We finally found a couple of Spartan Junipers. More mulch, more watering, more weeding.


Yes, we changed the roof line of the garage, and the siding and the trim on the house.

I divided a clump of purple irises we rescued from more rock in the back yard. We'd given them a nice space to recover and multiply. I planted just a few irises between each of the junipers. We ran soaker hoses between the trees, got a load of free mulch from the city mulch site to cover all the bare soil and let everything grow. The irises filled in some of the empty space and looked really nice blooming around the junipers in the spring.


For a couple of Christmases, I put a little red bow at the top of each juniper. It was too cute.

We battled a bag worm infestation for a couple of years. My WH got really good at spotting the bags hanging in the junipers and squishing the worms. [A rental property nearby had a shrub that just bred the bag worms because no one even tried to kill them and they spread to our little trees. Rental property has since been sold and renovated including removing the dying shrub with bag worms.] The trees are so large now that bag worms wouldn't hurt them much but we haven't seen any either. My WH still checks for bag worms. As the trees grew, he'd be out there checking for bag worms and I wouldn't see him when I looked out into the garden. After a while, I'd call his name and he'd answer, "I'm in the forest" which is how we came to calling it 'the forest.'




One of the junipers was almost blown down during a storm. The wind gets really strong between our house and the neighbor's house. The juniper was precariously leaning toward the rain barrels. Our extension agent told us we could stake it back straight but we'd have to leave it for a few years to make sure it reestablished good roots. We found flat nylon "ropes" with triangle pieces on the ends that we could hook with a ratchedable nylon cable and hook that to T posts driven into the ground. It's still holding. I think the tree is probably good but we're making sure.





A few irises still bloom in the spring along the edge of 'the forest' but most of them have whithered away with no sunshine inside. Lamium grows in 'the forest' near the rain barrel station. Vinca vine is weaving its way along the driveway and salvia has started to claim some of the larger spaces along the driveway.

We hope 'the forest' has a long healthy life. It is a wind break (although it does cause some snow drifting in front of my side of the garage), and it screens the view so we don't have to look at a storage property on the other side of our neighbors' yards.

We love 'the forest.'


I scanned all the photos prior to 2008 and the landscaping plan to complete this post.

Thank you for reading this very long post.


  1. This was really interesting. I've always wondered about the forest when you mention it because from the front it's hard to imagine there are 23 trees there. I bet the birds love it too. It turned out really nice and sure sounds like it was a lot of work getting it to this point, but I'm guessing it's pretty low maintenance now.

  2. It is amazing the size they started out and what they look like now. All your hard work provides a great barrier between you and your neighbors.
    We have an open space behind our house with evergreens that hide the other houses. So nice to see trees rather than houses.

  3. AHA!! Now I get it. .Catherine is right. .from the pictures it always looks like 3-4 trees. .but WOW!! That's a lot of space and trees. .Thanks for sharing a really cool story. I sure like looking at how things used to be and what they eventually grow into! Enjoyed it!

  4. I have started to add more conifers to have green and structure in winter. I love the story of your forest. My efforts are small but seeing yours mature so nicely gives me hope I shall see the same.

  5. I too have always wondered about the story of the Forest. Love it. only 10 years to perfection!
    I often walk around my neighborhood and note "straw gardens" and wonder what their plan had been and when they abandoned it.. or whether they intended the outcome!

  6. I would've guessed a different kind of juniper for sure. I've actually used 'Spartan' junipers in a landscape plan and am surprised at how big yours got! They are beautiful and I've always liked this feature in your yard. I think it great your husband is up on those bagworms. I had them one year in an arborvitae (came from the nursery new with them) and spend a good part of July handpicking the bags, squeezing them then dropping them in soapy water just to be good and sure they were dead. Hate those things. I admire your perseverance with sticking to your guns on what type of juniper you wanted. Love it as a barrier!

  7. How nice to have your own forest! I always enjoy seeing transformations like these--amazing how much they have grown in such a short time.

    I can sympathize with your digging up of rocks before planting. When we first moved here, everywhere I wanted to plant something was not only covered with rock, but there must have been 6-10 inches of rock underneath. If I'd been smart, I would have started with a rock garden first:)

  8. It is good your forest survived the postal man's foot rage. It has grown a ton and I am sure you don't regret it one bit.

  9. A Forest 12 years in the making and good thing you took documenting photos to share with us! I remember my grandmother would pile up the collected bag worms, soak them with lighter fluid then set them on fire with a wooden match! I would not go to such extremes today but that was the Tennessee way in the 60’s I reckon.

  10. ~Catherine
    The birds do love 'the forest.' It is a great shelter for their nests. Even I forget there are 23 trees sometimes. They've grown together as we planned. Low maintenance indeed.

    They are pretty much the size they will be. As I rounded up and scanned the photos, I was amazed too. They were so tiny. When we measured out the placment of the trees, we checked our numbers a lot. We have a couple of trees that reach out a little more than we wished but overall, they filled in the space as we had hoped. Trees are more interesting than fences too.

    As I compared the photos, I could see how now people wouldn't realize how many trees are in the space. They've melded together. They really cut the cold wind from the northwest. I enjoyed digging out the old photos. I just wish I'd taken one at Christmas one year when I put all the little red bows on them. Oh well. I may do other posts about how we've changed an area of the garden in the future. Glad you liked it.

    Evergreens are really great to keep the garden interesting in the winter. Those first few years, they seem like they'll never grow but before you know it, you'll have great trees!

    Glad you liked our 'forest' story. Straw gardens are always fun. One wonders what the plan is. We've had plastic fork gardens become beautiful tulip and daffodil displays too.

    I think our Spartans are at their full size now. They're great trees. Our extension agent recommended them and told of properties in town where they were planted so we could check out how they looked before we bought any. Bag worms are bad. I think my husband gets a lot of glee out of squishing them.

    Transformation photos help so much to inspire and plan! Glad you enjoyed it. The rock digging was the worst. It took forever. Sounds like you have quite a bit.

    It took a little while to figure out what was happening until we were home one day when we saw the mail man walk through 'the forest.'

    Sounds like your grandmother got some satisfaction in killing the bag worms. Ha! A friend told me to document our trees so I have lots of photos which is cool to see the progress.

  11. It was interesting to see the birth of your forest. It's fun to look back on pictures of our babies!


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