Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

YARD|Teamwork has made upkeep an easier task

Large properties are difficult to landscape, and they take a lot of time to maintain.

Judy and Jim Pennington’s house sits on a 5-acre lot. Three acres make up the front, back and side yards. The remainder has been left in a natural state of woods, with hills and gullies that require only minor upkeep. Sharing responsibilities and creating maintenance solutions are the strategies that have worked for this Master Gardener couple.

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“Our lot is so big. We can’t have a lot of fussy stuff,” Judy Pennington explained.

The Penningtons have concentrated their efforts on planting trees, shrubs and perennials in defined areas near the house. Annual plantings add extra color around the patio and pool deck and can be seen from the sun room and breakfast room.

A strip of wooden fence extends behind the deck. Black wrought iron fencing attached to the wood fence encloses a broad area that the Penningtons have defined as their backyard. Large crepe myrtles grow directly in front of the wooden fence. They are under-planted with the old-fashioned orange single and double day lilies. For a little color, the Penningtons have added named day lilies, hostas and hydrangeas. New Guinea impatiens, annuals with not only bright blooms but also colorful foliage, enhance this bed during the summer months. A mature Japanese magnolia and Brown Turkey fig tree add additional vertical interest to the predominately grassy lawn.

Clematis twines on the gate. Holly ferns, narcissus, native deciduous azaleas —azalea canescens, commonly known as piedmont azalea or the pink bush honeysuckle — and lantanas grow at the edge of the natural wooded area along the iron fence. A huge sago palm claims a space nearby. A former container plant, it got too big for its pot and Jim Pennington moved it to this shady spot where it is thriving. Nearby is a young Indian Cherry, one of our native trees. Pennington noticed this colorful berried tree during a visit to the Iowa Monument in the Vicksburg National Military Park and obtained several seedlings from a Jackson-area Master Gardener.

Flower beds, window boxes and groupings of pots on or near the patio and deck are dedicated to plantings of bright, colorful annuals. Five hundred tulips in beds and containers will soon be in bloom alongside pots brimming with pansies, violas and yellow gerbera daisies, which Pennington says have bloomed quite well in the window boxes all winter. The construction of a hanging water feature attached to the brick wall of the house is a project planned for this summer. 

Not only has the size of their property been a challenge, but the Penningtons have also been besieged by deer.

Acorns from several large oak trees in the front yard have been a favorite food source for the deer in their area. Deer have eaten, trampled and destroyed plants in the side and front yards. They munch on the iris and liriope all winter, but leave the mondo grass that grows nearby. They nibble on loropetalum, smaller azaleas and camellias. They particularly liked and almost destroyed a Japanese magnolia and a patch of variegated liriope.

The Penningtons have tried an assortment of deterrents.

That was one of the reasons they added the wrought iron fence in the back. They have used liquid treatments and placed fragrant soaps with limited success. So far, fishing line strung waist high has thwarted deer from nibbling the clematis on the back fence. An electrified fence that encircles a bed of camellias, early spring phlox, Tete-a-tete daffodils, English Belles, miniature yapon holly, rosemary and amaryllis is working well.

Judy Pennington says an electric fence can teach the deer to avoid that area. She learned to bait the fence with foil pieces smeared with peanut butter, folded and clipped to the electric fence by paper clips. Deer smell the peanut butter, try to lick it from the foil and get zapped. She recommends reading “Deerproofing Your Yard and Garden” by Rhonda Massingham Hart to learn more about this technique and others.

Each of the Penningtons has focused on specific gardening activities.

Jim takes care of the mowing, tilling, bed preparation, construction projects and the maintenance of certain beds and areas that are of special  interest to him. Judy is more of the designer, her husband says. She designs and plants the annual beds and containers, deadheads, prunes and helps with routine maintenance of the large garden area.

Many of us would find just maintenance of this property to be an overwhelming responsibility. But, with teamwork, the Penningtons have created an attractive and manageable landscape.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.