Transition spaces; South Sideyard and South Alley Garden

South Sideyard and South Alley

This area consists of two spaces – the south-facing wall of the kitchen and dining rooms, and the narrow alley between the neighbor’s wooden fence and the pantry and office wall of the house.  The arbour and gate divides and links the two spaces.

In mid-late May this area has a colorful lilac-pink floral display consisting of a dwarf lilac (‘Palibin’ ?), ‘Nelly Moser’ (? – not 100% sure of the variety…)  clematis and a large lilac tree/shrub against the chimney South alley gate June 7 2013-1(not seen in this picture ).  If the previous winter has been mild, a pink Clematis montana  joins in the show.  In 2010 we did a major renovation of the vine plantings on the arbour.  Some other early flowering clematises are starting to join the show but have not yet reached maturity so are still small players.  The clematis in the picture grows into the mockorange under the kitchen window.  This clematis should not be cut back in spring.  When the mockorange needs pruning, ideally wait until after the clematis has finished flowering to avoid damaging the current year’s flower display – in late July we usually prune out the mockorange stems that have flowered in the current year, which keeps the mockorange in shape and minimizes damage to the clematis.

On the lattice that encloses the lift tower at the corner of the house, there was another showy clematis, The President’, that bloomed in June. (The color is a more deep blue than in the picture – blue is hard to get an accurate picture of!) It needed little to no pruning and is generally trouble-free.  In 2010, though, it suffered from clematis wilt for the first time ever. Several dry, almost snowless winters followed, causing great drought-stress for the vine.  Since this clematis’ roots are under the roof overhang it is growing in dry conditions at the best of times.  The clematis was barely hanging on by late summer 2013.  After the brutal winter of 2013/2014 only  one weak stem remained.  We replanted ‘The President’ and added ‘Saphyra Indigo’  to both the front and back panels around the front porch lift.  Due to the dry conditions there, these clematises need frequent watering..  It appears unlikely that the current clematises in this area are going to repeat the show of The President in this old picture to the right.  But I leave the picture here as inspiration and to show what is possible if conditions come together favorably – which they have not done for a long time now unfortunately!

The large lilac against the chimney wall produces several root suckers each year.  They are easily identified – they are very straight, bare sticks arising in the root zone.  Remove any you see by cutting them off at ground level.  The lilac is most attractive when kept to a tree form (two main trunks in this case.)  After it blooms in the spring, it should be deadheaded (the long-arm pruners are helpful for this!)  Since next year’s flowerbuds are set early, at the base of where the current year’s flowers are, be careful to not cut too far down the stem when deadheading.  In 2014 the lilac got a severe ‘haircut’ to shorten it as we were concerned that it might provide access to the attic space by raccoons that have been assaulting attic spaces in the neighbourhood!  Some reshaping pruning may need to be done in subsequent years.

The dwarf lilac usually doesn’t get as much deadheading as it should!  In addition to its Spring bloom, it will also produce a few flowers in late summer usually.  This lilac suckers freely and had become a crowed clump.  In late summer 2015 I pruned out under Koreah lilac Dec 14 2015-1many stems to give space for the ‘Beacon Silver’ lamium groundcover to recover, and I added a ‘Magnum’ heuchera for additional (foliage) color.  (see picture from Dec. 2015)

A chronic problem in this area is water from the eavestrough near the hydro meter washing out the path all the way through the alley.  We have tried several approaches to breaking the force/slowing it down/controlling it.  What had worked best initially was the rain barrel we installed in spring 2010.  The overflow pipe was directed into another pipe buried and running diagonally across the path, under the left (south) side of the arbour and exiting into an open trench running down the length of the alley between the wooden fence and the clematises on that side.  The drain tap for the rain barrel was attached to a garden hose that ran along the side of the house and connected to a soaker hose running down the house side of the alley.  Setting up and taking town the rain barrel each spring and fall became a bit of a PITA, plus it overflowed a lot.  So in 2015 we replaced the rain barrel by attaching a 4″ perforated drain pipe attached to the downspout with an elbow connector.  The pipe ran through the bed and down to the house site of the gate – so any remaining water could flow into the bed along the house in the alley section.  The pipe was visible when plant foliage has died back but it was quickly hidden when the plants start growing in spring.  In the winter we direct the large pipe across the path so the water drains to the grass.  However, it is unsightly and blocks easy access to the gate.  By 2017 rain had exposed the buried overflow pipe and the large black pipe was increasingly becoming an obstruction.  In 2018 I hope to remove the overflow pipe and bury the large pipe in a way that will direct the outflow of water from it towards the street and the ditch along the road.

There are a number of perennials in the bed along the house.  They do not need much care other than deadheading as the flowers fade.  There is a nice, deep red, hardy hibiscus that gets quite tall, so should either be pinched back in June or staked for support (there is likely a support stake in the ground…)   There is a Baptisia in the bed which is starting to encroach on the path.  We planned to remove it in 2016 but did not get around to it.  We kept it cut back to ground level to control the size and, hopefully, to weaken the roots.  I will probably continue to keep it cut down in 2018.  The path needs to have the bark mulch/sand topping refreshed every 3-4 years along with the rest of the paths.  And the path should have the intersection with the grass edged in spring as per the discussion under Paths, elsewhere in this manual.

The arbour, and the swag chains down the alley, used to be covered with ‘New Dawn’ roses.  The roses were beautiful but VERY thorny and vigorous!  In 2010 we removed most of the roses and replaced them with clematises.  There may be some growth return from the rose roots still in the ground, so any rose growth that appears should be removed.

In 2010 a number of clematises were planted in the alley with the intent that they will grow up and onto the swag chains.  They were planted with the intention that the color scheme should be pale pink and pale blue on the arbourSouth alley gate July 18 2014-1 in spring to coordinate with the lilac bloom, then to be dark purple and dark red on the arbour, South gate arbour July 18 2014-1shading through pink to white, then shades of blue to dark purple at the far end of the alley.  Gillian Blades south alley June 18 2014-1For specific varieties planted, see list in the south alley section of the plant tag binders.  I have found clematises to be frequently mislabeled.  A number of the clematises turned out to be not what they were supposed to be, but most – fortunately – turned out to be in more-or-less the right color range for their location!

The clematises include all three pruning groups in order to provide a longer season of color.  While it is generally recommended NOT to mix pruning groups, in my experience they all do quite nicely if left more or less unpruned.  I only prune unruly growth or winterkilled bits.  So the maintenance of the clematises in the alley is a bit of a continuing south alley wall July 17 2014-1experiment.  The priority now is to get them tall enough to reach the swag chains – some are still too short.  There are several bamboo canes placed along the alley to give them something to latch onto to climb to the chains.  By 2013 some of the clematises were struggling after a couple of dry winters and hot, dry summers.  But some were doing well – especially ‘Galore’ which lives up to its name by producing flowers galore, making for a very purple alley in July!

At the end of the south alley, on the fence side there has been a VERY vigorous small-flowered clematis – ‘Paul Farges’ a.k.a. ‘Summer Snow’ that blooms in July.  There are conflicting opinions in reputable horticultural sources as to how this one should be pruned to maximize flowers – a lot of sources say to cut it down hard, but some say it blooms best on ‘old wood’.  My experience is that it needs some of the old wood but blooms on both new and old wood.  What I did is in late April, strip off all the small stems, leaving a few of the thicker old stems to provide a framework for the new growth to get started.  I also cut some of the older stems down, either to the ground or to the top of the chainlink fence.  Since the stems grow up and over the fences, in Spring you need to pull a lot of the stems back from the neighbour’s side.  “In 2017 I decided to severly limit the growth of this clematis so cut and dug out as much as possible.  Some of the stems come up on the neighbour’s side of the fence now and they seem to like them as they don’t cut them back and did not want us to remove them.


There had also been a ‘Ramona’Ramona June 4 2010-1 clematis that grows on the chainlink fence just past where the ‘Paul Farges’ ends.  That one needed little to no pruning.  The brutal winter of 2013/2014 hit both the clematises hard – much of the old growth died and neither flowered.  Ramona has not flowered since and we’re not sure if it is alive or not!  .

On the house side at the end of the south alley is a ‘Tricolor’ Rose of Sharon.  (Tricolor because it is one that had three different colors grafted onto one plant.)  The double purple-pink has mostly taken over.Since Rose of Sharon can get to be a large shrub, it would be too big for the space unless it is kept pruned to be a more-or-less 2-dimensional thing grown flat to the house.  Since Rose of Sharon is a ‘new wood’ bloomer, it is easy to prune it in Spring without worrying about loss of flowers.  In Spring, prune out any stems that are growing out towards the path.  Since it is growing near the last support post for the swag chains, and because the flowers look a lot like roses, in 2010 I flipped the long branches of the Rose of Sharon onto the swag chains.  I thought it looked quite attractive so will continue to do that.   The Galore clematis has been using the Rose of Sharon as a climbing frame and overwhelming it the past few summers.  Galore needs to be cut back from the RoS in 2018 to see if that will help the RoS perform like it used to do!

The rest of the plantings in the south alley are easy-care.  There are some potentilla shrubs on the house side that should have 1/3 of the stems removed in spring.  The ferns on the fence side need little to no care other than perhaps tidying up the previous year’s dead foliage in spring.  Deadhead the coneflowers on the house side in summer as the flowers fade.  In spring when the oak tree sheds the leaves it has carried through the winter, the fallen leaves tend to collect in the south alley.  Chop them with a mulching leaf blower and spread the chopped leaves on the beds in the alley.  (If you don’t have a leaf blower, rake the leaves up and chop them with the lawn mower…)  The neighbour grows evergreen ivy on the fence and it grows through to our side.  Regularly remove all ivy that appears on this side of the fence!

As mentioned in the north alley section of this document, the local coyotes have become a concern re entering the garden.  A friend’s large collie mix that we dog-sit often also started jumping the south fence to play with the dog in the neighbours’ yard.  She also jumped the through the south alley gate to exit our yard!  The combination of those two concerns led us to do two things:

  • we used copper pipes to build an insert into the gate to prevent Inky from jumping out – and coyotes from jumping in!south gate Inky-proofed-1gate insert July 18 2015-1







  • we used chicken wire and poles to raise the height of the fence to deter Inky from jumping into the next yard.  That had worked well .  In 2016 when we used hardware cloth and plastic plumbing pipes to raise the height of the fence around the rest of the yard, the height of the south side fence was also raised in the same way.