Opening salvo: Three small trees

by The Design of Things


Since I last wrote, the yard came back to life. We didn’t have an entirely barren rectangle to start and so various plants reappeared, including weeds wherever they could. I planted the vegetable garden, pulled the weeds, composted and mulched, set up the sprinkler to water. We’ve mowed the grass that’s there, trimmed some bushes.

I spent the spring months noticing the basic composition of the yard and how I might anchor it to begin the transformation to lush oasis. The space divides essentially into three triangles, from the deeply shady and barren slope on the left, to the middle where there is mostly grass and a fair amount of sun, to the much sunnier right side that is close to the vegetable garden.

I also considered all the functions I wanted: A tranquil setting for our patio; somewhere to play with our dogs; habitat, hatchery, and corridor for mammals, birds, bees, butterflies, and other life; and a place to grow food and flowers for us to enjoy. On a trip to Vermont, when I saw this book, The Nourishing Homestead, I was inspired to think about how to get the most out of every square inch of our small patch in town.

Ambitious, right? Not really — if you give Nature an inch she will take a mile. We know this is true when battling weeds. But when we introduce just a few new biotic aspects, it is really incredible the variety of life they attract, and how quickly. IMG_0747

I knew I wanted smaller trees interspersed through the body of the yard, but I also didn’t want “ornamental.” I wanted functional, to serve all the purposes above. I was inspired by a Martha Stewart Living magazine to try dwarf fruit trees – I didn’t know that apricots and plums would grow in Massachusetts! Hooray! I had already planted a serviceberry – a wild version of a crabapple – that would host butterfly caterpillars in its bark.

We bought the two fruit trees – $45 each – from a local nursery, and planted them as two points at either end of the line shared by the sunny triangle and the middle triangle. We moved the serviceberry upslope and to the left, to make the third triangle point. Next I’ll work on rhododendrons and/or mountain laurel to fill in the understory in the shady dry slope section. My hope is that these trees and bushes will serve as the infrastructure to anchor the design of the space, attract more biota, and begin to offer shade and shelter to us all.



top right: apricot tree.

middle right: plum tree.

bottom left: serviceberry.