Transition spaces; North Alley

North Alley

The north alley garden includes the plants  on and near the copper fence; the vines on the chainlink fence; the beds that run down either side of the path down the center of the alley; and the dogwood tree that marks the end of the north alley beds..  Note that both the south and north alley gates are ‘see through’.  North alley July 4 2014-1The alley gardens are transition spaces between the sunny front garden and the shady back garden.  I wanted the spaces to have a smooth transition.  The gates serve as barriers to keep the dogs confined to the backyard, but allow the visual flow of the garden to continue without too much interruption.  The plantings in the alleys consist of both sun and shade plants, repeating some of the plants that appear in both the larger gardens that they connect.

The bed against the house has very difficult conditions since it is in the ‘rain shadow’ of the roof overhang and is very dry.  The ’Beacon Silver’ Lamium that was the original primary groundcover for that side suffered badly during the dry winter of 2009-2010.  north alley May 25 2013-1White corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) has seeded into the area and has taken over as the primary groundcover.  Columbine seeds freely in the bed.  Other perennials include ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera, Solomon’s Seal, and Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ (which is late to come up in spring but blooms in October for a nice show as the garden season ends.)  Deadhead the ‘Jack Frost’ to limit seeding; deadhead and cut back columbine as described elsewhere in this manual; cut down the old foliage of the Eupatorium in spring along with general clean-up of any tough old foliage stems in the area; the Solomon’s Seal used to need little to no care other than cutting down in spring (or fall if you prefer).  Unfortunately, beginning in 2014 a sawfly pest started attacking the leaves of Solomon’s Seal throughout the garden, starting in this area.  If this continues to be a problem, the Solomon’s Seal may need to be removed – at this point I have been cutting down and discarding into the garbage all the foliage at the first signs of damage.  By the back porch there is a clump of Dwarf Korrean goatsbeard.  It has spikes of white flowers in early summer.  It will seed prolifically if not deadheaded, so be sure to deadhead that one!

The screen air conditioner front view-1around the air conditioner is sufficiently transparent to air flow that it does not interfere with the functioning of the air conditioner.  The screen is resting on 4 paving stones and can be easily lifted and moved out of the way when access to the air conditioner is required.  The original finish north alley June 7 2014-1– stain and several coats of exterior grade verathane – cracked and peeled.  In 2011, we sanded the wooden supports for the screen, and painted them  in the ‘Bonsai’ dark olive green color to match the shed door and window trim.  In 2016 we replaced the air conditioner – and forgot to check the dimensions of the new one before committing to buy it – it is taller than the old one!  taller-ac-oct-6-2016-1So, we need to modify the screen to make it taller….  a winter chore for 2017!


The dogwood tree at the end of the alley appeared to be in a bit too much shade from the ash to bloom really well.  It bloomed best on the side facing the neighbor presumably because it gets more light on that side.  The amount of flowering wood has been increasing each year though.  In 2015 it bloomed really well and we finally realized that the tree just had to reach a degree of maturity before it hit its stride with respect to blooming!patio and dogwood June 22 2015-1  Fall color is a nice purple-red.  As the tree has matured, it has started developing peeling bark – don’t assume peeling bark means the tree is in trouble!  Because there is not much room at the end of the alley, the tree needs to have branches pruned off from time to time to prevent it from blocking passage down the lower end of the alley path.

The narrow bed against the chainlink fence is dominated by columbines, with a mix of other perennials.  Near the patio, the downspout from the eavestrough runs under the path and resurfaces  at the fence.  Since the neighbour’s eavestrough also discharges near there, the area has good moisture so water-loving Astilboides tabularis, looking up the north alley June 11 2013-1which has enormous round leaves (Shieldleaf is its common name…) and spires of fluffy white flowers in July (although the leaves are the main reason to grow it…), thrives there. Since the neighbour’s grass grows right up to the fence, grass can easily invade this bed.  An important part of spring clean-up is to check for grass that has grown under the fence.  Dig out any you see.  Periodically check for grass invasion during the summer and fall as well.  The columbine should be cut down after it has had a chance to ripen and drop some seeds to keep the population of columbine going.  Other than a general clean-up of old stems in the spring, the rest of perennials in this area do not need much care.

The copper fence and chainlink fence have been north alley fence outside July 9 2014-1clothed in clematis and honeysuckle vines.  Until the clematis got established, there were annual  Morning Glories on the copper fence and east end of the chainlink fence.  Now that the clematis are well established, I have been trying to eliminate the Morning glories so have been removing as many seedlings as possible in spring.  The clematises on the fences are all of the Group 3 – hard prune type which can be cut down to 12” or so in the spring – but I just cut them down to the top of the chainlink fence if I cut them down at all.  Originally, ‘Jackmani Superba’ was the primary clematis on the copper fence.  ‘Huldine’ and ‘Betty Corning’ were added over the years.  Both are very vigorous so the three varieties now compete for the space!

north alley clematis July 16 2015-1

Until 2014 there had been a beautiful, very vigorous, white-flowered, ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis on the section of the fence near the patio.  The brutal winter of 2013/2014 killed it completely!  Some stems of the ‘Harlequin’ honeysuckle that had been smothered by the clematis were still alive so I’m waiting to see how they do before deciding what to plant in the place of the dead clematis.

The other honeysuckle growing on the chainlink fence is a Late Dutch honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) which coordinates nicely with the neighbours’ roses across the fence!.  late Ductch honeysuckle and Becky's roses-1The Dutch honeysuckle is doing well and we added ‘Issai’ kiwi and a male pollinator kiwi in spring 2014.  At this point the maintenance requirement for those are uncertain – I’m waiting to see how well they survive and, how vigorous they will be.

In February 2016 a coyote came over the fence and had a confrontation with our miniature poodle – luckily DH chased it off before any damage was done.  But that prompted us to raise the height of the chainlink fences to 6′ by adding hardware cloth supported by black plastic plumbing pipes.  They may need replacing by something sturdier by – so far at least – have acted as a deterrent to the coyotes as well as supporting the vines that grow on the fence.   An unexpected clematis unknown-clematis-north-alley-july-11-2016-1
popped up on the fence in the summer of 2016 – we assume it is a seedling that reverted to an ancestor, since we didn’t plant it!  The color will work better further down the fence, paired with the honeysuckle, so it is scheduled to be moved in spring 2017.  kiwi-pink-leaves-june-18-2016-1The male pollinator kiwi plant
had nice variegated leaves in 2016.  Maintenance for the kiwis (no fruit produced yet…) is still an open issue.

The path surface in the alley should be refreshed every 3-4 years as with all the garden paths.



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