The Landscape of Valaterra
By Tracey Williams, Valaterra Landscape Designer & Consultant
The process began over a year ago with the removal of old, unnecessary and cluttered fences, field posts and damaged trees to open up the views and remove obstacles to mowing and maintenance. Large piles of trash and construction debris were removed. Stockpiled soil that had became accumulations of invasive and noxious weeds were used to cap off construction roads and gravel parking areas and a Harley rake was used to smooth and prepare for the soil for seeding of cover crops.
Weed control during the past year has been ongoing and timely, with synthetic and organic herbicides chosen appropriately and applied by professionals with the correct equipment to minimize unnecessary applications and to maximize effectiveness. Every effort has been made to respect the soil, water and air of Valaterra. This commitment to the environment, along with the restraints and practicalities of time and budget, have driven every decision. Plant selections have been based on years of experience planting in the Kentucky climate, with careful thought given to adaptability, aesthetics and appropriateness to the natural landscape.
The autumn of 2015 brought the establishment of landscape beds around the house, including plantings of Geranium ‘Karmina’, Baptisia ‘Blue Towers’, Andropogon ‘Red October’ (broomsedge bluestem grass), perennial plumbago, Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Calamintha ‘Blue Cloud’ and the seasonal bulb, Tritelia ‘Queen Fabiola’. These beds have filled in beautifully and offer a pleasant view as one approaches the parking court. The beds on the west side of the house also have thrived with their plantings of Belamcanda, (Blackberry Lily) Rudbekia (Black-eyed Susan), Coreopsis, Russian Sage, Amsonia shrubs and Panicum “Dallas Blues’ (blue switch grass).
While the whole property and landscape are a tribute to Valerie Young and her ideals for a well-adapted, sustainable and beautiful landscape, the small nook garden, situated in the wooden deck as one approaches the entrance, is filled with plants that Valerie herself brought to her farm from friends, planted and saved. A special Girard’s Maple, with its lime green early spring leaves, red autumn colour and lovely winter bark, reminds us of the beauty of the passing seasons.
The spring of 2016 brought the addition of a parking court to accommodate many visitor vehicles safely and conveniently. Kentucky Tree pruned trees this spring, a company that worked for many years with Valerie and even provided the cranes to move and place the Overlook garden rocks. Trees were pruned for safety, removal of deadwood and to either open views or retain privacy.
The conversion of the three acres around the house to native warm-season grasses and forbes, pollinator friendly plantings and well adapted and low-maintenance long-term successful plantings was initialized. The large field to the east of the house, named ‘The Approach’, has successfully germinated a large number of new seedlings, including milkweed, coreopsis, rudbekia, side oats grama, partridge berry, coneflower, rattlesnake master, bergamot, aster, along with many other species. Occasional mowing of the field during the growing season and early in the spring of 2017 will help keep weeds in check and encourage the rapid establishment of the desirable species.
Along the Approach entrance drive, a Swamp White Oak has replaced a dying pine. Areas of wash between the Approach and the area around the house known as the Glade, has plantings of Symphoriocarpus (Coralberry), Cornus sericea (red-stemmed dogwood), Sambucus (Elderberry), Lindera (Spicebush), Ilex vericillata (Winterberry), Aruncus (Goatsbeard) and other selections chosen for their ability to stabilize the soil in this area prone to washout and walnut allelopathy. The Glade, the areas to the east and west of the house, have been successfully seeded in a Low-Mow Fescue, a fine leafed selection of Chewing’s, Sheep’s, Hard, Red and other bunch grasses which are exceptionally drought resistant, thrive in low nitrogen soils, and have tolerance to foot traffic. The establishment of this turf permits the area to be left essentially un-mown for a natural shaggy low-growing turf, or occasionally mown to a height of 5-6 inches for a more traditional ‘lawn’. While some difficult areas on the north slope below the house and overlook did not germinate as successfully as other areas, primarily due to very poor soil, temperatures that reached 100 degrees immediately after seeding, and storms whose hard, driving rain washed many areas of their seed, those areas will be addressed this autumn with timely overseeding in early September. The aforementioned areas are seeded in Buckwheat to offer a summer cover crop to further improve soil, compete with weeds and provide a quick and attractive cover in these difficult sites.
The overlook garden is thriving with many flowers and herbs and will continue to provide habitat and nectar for a wide variety of pollinators and a peaceful area to relax and view the woodland view below. Species include agastache, black-eyed susan, native grasses, mountain mint, calamintha, echinacea, aster, phlox, bee balm, sedum and many others. The slope to the west of the house has been successfully been seeded in a Monarch mix, which will offer a full acre of habitat and food for our monarch butterflies as they migrate across the continent. These seeds have germinated and are actively growing. While weeds are ever-present, and are to be expected on a site such as this, and down-wind of weed seedbanks in surrounding fields, they are being controlled effectively with strategic mowing and target herbicide applications. The weed pressure placed on many of these newly seeded areas will be drastically reduced in years to come as balance is re-established and achieved in the compromised soil.
A small island bed has been created to soften and obscure the view of the septic system covers and electrical boxes. An American Smoketree has been planted with native Physocarpus (Ninebark), Eragrostis (Purple Lovegrass), Achillea (Yarrow) and Solidago (Goldenrod). Below this bed, in areas of wash, are pockets of Ilex verticillata (Winterberry), Cornus sericea (Red-stemmed dogwood), Cercis (redbud) and Nyssa sylvatica(Blackgum), a tree prized for its autumn colour and sited to showcase this feature. The area behind and around the barn, the most recently graded and treated for invasive weeds, is currently being seeded with a summer cover of brown top millet before its autumn seeding of permanent native grasses. The area around the barn and surrounding viewshed has been planted with a variety of different native trees and shrubs, including Rhus (Staghorn Sumac), Viburnum trilobum (Cranberry Viburnum), Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum), Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood), Ptelea (Hop tree), Ostrya (Hop hornbeam). Many of these trees and shrubs have been selected and located for their ability to adapt to the incredibly difficult sites, which include full sun, poor soil and large amounts of gravel. They have been sited to naturalistically obscure and soften the views of the barn and parking court from approaches, windows and viewing areas. An empty shelf has been organized in the barn to store tools and other landscape items so they are easy to find and clean. Items have been purchased, recycled and repaired to effectively maintain, water and enhance the natural areas. Every effort has been made during this process to respond to the changes of weather and nurture the new installations with timely watering, while also respecting the privacy of guests.