Home & Design

Green Acre #197: Curb Your Plants

Tree boxes along this Capitol Hill street are The Prince’s domain. Note how he has expanded his territory to neighboring tree boxes. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

‘WHEN YOU get dressed, could you come outside and help me with some plants?” My Prince asked. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I was still in my sleeping ensemble.

“I was just thinking about it,” I said. I’d been up since 6am and hadn’t quite got myself together.

“You could, I suppose, go out like that,” he said, looking dubiously at my gray-and-white polka-dot pajama bottoms and the black-watch-plaid flannel top, missing all but one button.

“No, no, “ I said. “I’ll get dressed.” Scurrying upstairs, I tossed on gray sweat pants and one of his black-and-white plaid shirts. I really need to do laundry. Also, find buttons.

The new normal.

My Prince wanted help with the street tree boxes, his gardening space; he’s barred from the front and back gardens, which are MINE. There have been incidents that we won’t get into.

Technically only one of these curb side plots is ours, but the neighbors seem perfectly happy to watch him sweat, and our box is already full.

Several decades ago, My Prince built a large rectangular wooden planter that a long-deceased neighbor once called a “coffin,” an accurate description. This is under the hundred-and-some-year-old elm we fear for each year—I can’t imagine this place without its mammoth trunk and the green canopy so vast it mingles with the tree on the other side of the street. The coffin is planted with ivy and a pinkish-red knockout rose, which has no scent but blooms on and on with boring reliability. At least it’s not dead.

When we bought this starter home, 37 years ago, there was just a large patch of hard-packed dirt beneath the tree. At the time I had thoughts about what to do, but these were derailed when a neighborhood group working with children came up with a . . . project. They sawed old tires in half, like slicing a bagel, producing two shallow, round “planters,” and then cut jagged teeth along the top edge, which made them look like shark maws, or castle fortifications at a low-rent theme park.

Block after block they marched on. The tires were filled with soil, and our neighborhood kiddies filled them with burnt-orange marigolds, a most unpleasant little flower. A community improvement project, we were told.

How dare they foist such an egregious idea on us of tender aesthetic sensibilities, I thought.

Oh, the children took such ghastly pride in this hideous effort, pointing out their wee efforts to whoever would stop to listen, leaving us stuck with them for the year. Thankfully, by the next summer they had taken their enthusiasm elsewhere, and we ditched the tire.

Since digging under the gnarly tree roots was impossible, My Prince built the coffin. Ivy was planted around the edges, and over the years a succession of interesting plants lived and died in the center. The rose is in its third summer, a record.

With nothing to expend his gardening efforts on, he eyed a neighbor’s patch, which was bare but for two giant elms (this street is known for them), some rocks and a smattering of weeds. He put in liriope, portulaca, various grasses and creeping this and that, building upon it each summer until he ran out of space and moved to the box on our other side.

On this day we were examining a plot three doors up, which is a little overgrown and not pleasantly wild. He’s wondering if he should split a bunched-up caucus of hostas and move them about and uproot a nice little mock orange he discovered hiding under them. Yes, I decided for him, and suggested he move these bits to the tree box around the corner, which is his latest project.

It’s a good week for messing about in the garden. Cool with a threat of drizzle, maybe a downpour or two, makes it a fine time to uproot and divide and replant. The roots will wriggle about with the worms, and settle in nicely before the summer blasts forth its heat.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

When not attacking her front or rear garden, LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” helps her Prince decorate the street-side tree boxes in a neighborhood version of Manifest Destiny.



3 thoughts on “Green Acre #197: Curb Your Plants

  1. Mary Lou — he made a list of natives and took it to Ginkgos, our local gardening center, last week, and spoke to the owner – Mark Holler — who worked on the garden beside the conservatory at the base of the Capitol. Mark loaded him down with plants – but he, like me, discarded the tags so I haven’t a clue. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Mary Lou Weaver Houser says:

    I applaud your prince’s gardening instincts and desire to beautify.
    Might you entice him also to consider putting in some native plants which the local insects so critically depend upon? Beauty and nutrition!
    Build it and they will come . . .

  3. Jean B. Glordon says:

    What lovely tree boxes….like the shot of red flowers poking out from the rich greens
    reminds me of the redwood flower boxes with geraniums and ivy that I loved to plant up North. all you need is a little shot of blue and you’re ready for Memorial Day Weekend with the red white and blue. Stay safe, Stephanie , and keep writing ………………….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.