Q: A friend of mine has just bought a house in Bangor with a neglected yard on a standard house lot. He wants to make it as presentable as possible with as little maintenance as possible. What are some general principles and specific suggestions for the homeowner who wants a garden that requires a minimum of work? – D.H., Newburg
A: Although there is really no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape, there certainly are some ideas your friend can implement. Landscape design is an art, one that is very difficult to condense into a few paragraphs, at that. I’ll offer these quick tips, but a visit to the library or bookstore will probably have some excellent resources for your friend to peruse over the winter.
The first step in the landscape design process is to define landscape areas. Grouping together the public, recreational and service uses of the landscape will go a long way in determining the higher- and lower-use and maintenance areas of the landscape. Once these areas are defined, the homeowner makes a physical and mental note of which activities and pieces should be placed in each area.
Generally speaking, nonliving landscape elements are lower maintenance than living landscape elements. This may seem like an obvious statement, but keeping it in mind will again help define where the most energy should be directed. Think about it for a moment: If you’re installing a patio, nonliving material such as paving stone requires a lot less care than, say, turf grass. Determine which elements should be nonliving and which should be cultivated. The use of fences, paved walks and patios, stone walls, trellises and other nonliving elements can significantly cut down on the time spent on maintenance.
Other ideas include defining areas around trees to reduce handwork after mowing; planting in beds, rather than installing individual plants here and there; group plants with similar needs together; eliminate hand work and weeding by mulching and edging beds.
Q: Do you have any tips for keeping cats and other pests away from bird boxes and feeders? – G.B., Lincoln
A: Protect your birds by using the following techniques: Sheath wooden posts with pliable metal sheeting or PVC. Alternatively, mount bird boxes directly on PVC or metal tubing.
The idea here is that cats and squirrels won’t have any digging power to climb the post and upset the bird’s home or feeding.
Place feeders and houses at least 8 feet from any predator’s potential launch pad, such as fences, trees or buildings. Cats and squirrels both have remarkable leaping abilities. Careful placement of bird feeders and houses is crucial in protecting a winged critter’s safety.
For each feeder or house, shape a metal cone underneath feeders to prevent animals from climbing within reach of birds.
Q: I grew a bunch of California poppies and fell in love with them. I heard once that they have some therapeutic use. Do you know what it is? – R.H., Searsport
A: According to Anne McIntyre’s compendium on flower remedies for healing called “Flower Power,” California poppy is used “in tincture form for insomnia, slowness of circulation and general weakness.”
The charming golden yellow flowers, known botanically as Eschscholizia californica, are easy to adore. They grace the top of finely cut silvery-green foliage of the plant and offer cheerful blooms throughout summer. The plant is an annual, yet, when it finds an agreeable environment, it often self-sows, producing seedlings and flowers throughout the summer and into coming years.
McIntyre writes, “[The California poppy] was first introduced to Europe as an ornamental and medicinal plant in the last century and rapidly gained a reputation as a nonaddictive alternative to the opium poppy. It was used for colicky pains and toothache by the native Americans and early settlers.”
“California poppy is a cousin to the opium poppy but far less powerful, making it a safe remedy to calm excitability, restlessness, anxiety, tension and insomnia,” McIntyre continues.
If you’re considering using any plant material medically, always consult a proper reference, plant identification key and an herbalist before treating yourself.
Diana George Chapin is the NEWS garden columnist. Send horticulture questions to Gardening Questions, RR1, Box 2120, Montville 04941, or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Selected questions will be answered in future columns. Include name, address and telephone number.