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Spring Garden Consultations for GHI Members

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Volunteer garden consultants in Greenbelt Homes
From left: Annie Shaw, Amber Crowley and Nancy Newton, Valentina and Josh.

Greenbelt’s historic housing coop has a new Gardening Subcommittee, which I’m part of, and we recently visited the yards of the three members who won our random drawing for a garden consultation. It was fun and we thank the winners for letting us share their problems and possible solutions here, in hopes that others will learn from them, too.

Valentina Aquila and Josh Kiner kept trying to get grass to grow in their back yard, but the grass seeds just washed downhill every time. They want a small grass area for their young daughter to play on and another spot close to the porch for their grill.

We suggested they look into having the yard graded so that there are two level areas – one covered with pavers for the outdoor kitchen, with a very short retaining wall and then a lower level for grass seed that might actually succeed, thanks to the flat area and a few inches of decent topsoil.

Another suggestion was to install a rain barrel to help prevent some of the erosion. An oakleaf hydranga could be planted in front of the A/C.

More shrubs could be planted along one of the fences. The native Ninebark grows fast, is nice and full, and its purple leaves are a nice contrast in most gardens.

Advice sought for this yard in Greenbelt Homes

For the front yard (service-side), we were asked for possible replacements for the Liriope and the weeds around this old tree.


Above, two evergreen groundcovers for shade that we suggested are both blooming right now (April). On the left, Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) is a native and spreads quickly. The groundcover Comfrey on the right is not native but also spreads well and has many uses as an herb.

Advice sought for this yard in Greenbelt Homes


Up against the house (above) we suggested evergreens to hide the foundation and lower siding, then moving the existing perennials in front of them.

Cherry laurels suggested for shady foundation plantings.


The ‘Otto Luyken’ cherry laurel, shown in front of my former home in Takoma Park, is short enough to stay under windows, is evergreen, and pretty fool-proof even in shade. No wonder it’s so popular with landscapers.

Next we visited Lisa, whose tiny, shady service-side yard was similarly dominated by one large trees, so she asked about groundcovers that would do well around it:. We talked about where she could get more of the Liriope that’s there now (often available as a give-away from neighbors), ferns, and hostas that are growing in quantity on  the garden side and would do well here. For color she liked the idea of adding some shade-loving annuals and spring bulbs. All of those are shallow-rooted enough to not harm the tree’s roots.

Here Lisa already has some plants in containers, where they have better growing conditions than in the dry shade and tree roots around the tree.


Advice sought for this yard in Greenbelt Homes


On the garden side Lisa already has a terrific deck built by the prior member, but needed suggestions for plants that do well in shade or partial shade. She wants to start by replacing the euonymus behind her shed, and sometime down the road adding food crops, too.

Here are some Shrubs for Shade and Perennials for Shade that do well in this area.

Lisa also had standing water, possibly caused by a sump pump, and we suggested she contact GHI about that.


Advice sought for this yard in Greenbelt Homes

Last, we visited Cara Powell, who’d just found out the bid she and her husband put in on a house had been accepted, so they only needed help with problems in their veg garden, especially the 4-lined bug/beetle Here’s a good reference on the subject. .

There was no talk of long-range improvements, just ideas for making the yard look pretty for potential buyers – annuals in pots at the front door!

The Subcommittee was officially gobsmacked by their lovely, expansive back yard – could this really be in GHI? If dying for a great back yard, this one will be on the market soon!

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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