A few years ago a neighbor of mine did something brave. She and her husband bought a house for her brother and, with the brother’s blessing, demolished it.
The house was not an architectural gem, not by far. It derives its status among conservatives from the fact that it is old and surrounded by great houses of the same vintage.
The houses are anything but similar in their architecture. The district is as eclectic as the rest of the “historic Saint-Paul”. The historic main thoroughfare, Summit Avenue, is a marvel of contrasting aesthetics. English Tudor sits comfortably between Queen Anne and Greek Revival, with Georgian across from Italian and a few 1950s hikers parked here and there as well.
The resilience of the oldest and greatest of the lot – those closest to the cathedral – eclipses that of the fortunes that built them.
They survived the wrecking ball well beyond the Golden Age by sheltering the rich and the poor. They served as brothels and boarding houses (when times were tough), condos, clubs and universities, and even hotels.
My friend won over the Conservatives. The new house she and her husband built is as stylish as the old one was an awkward hodgepodge of styles representing updates whose best feature was a large fenced garden (invisible from the street).
The new house is resolutely modern. Unlike its predecessor, which turned its back to the street for a panoramic cliff-side view, it runs lengthwise along the street and has a welcoming glass entrance.
The shape and size of the house correspond to those of the large old houses that surround it, so as not to disturb the general balance of the neighborhood. The same is true of the steep slope of its gable roof and beige limestone cladding. It might be a nod to the limestone mansion one block away. Or not. The new house has a cool, smooth facade (the second floor is clad in copper), while the one down the street is warmer and rough in texture, with much smaller windows.
The new house sparkles. Overall, the print is light and airy, as opposed to heavy and dull like the house it replaced.
The landscaping, too, is perfectly 21st-century – eco-friendly and low-maintenance, anything but the swarm of pollinator-friendly natives whose messy behavior is tamed by the surrounding lawn and a row of Evenly spaced “Whitespire” paper birches that hug the south side of both houses, perpendicular to a long Korean reed feather border that also connects the houses visually.
Hardy and extremely heat tolerant Zone 4, Calamafrostis x acutiflora “Karl Foerster ‘” is a tuft-style ornamental grass that grows to about 3 feet in height and up to 4 or even 5 feet in full bloom.
The hedge is tidy and silvery green in spring and summer. Then, in late summer and fall, profuse showers of pinkish plumes emerge.
The horizontal line of the hedge is interrupted at 10 foot intervals with acacia trees. They are roughly the same size as birch trees.
Both provide privacy for the owner and a lesson in landscaping for passers-by.
Congratulations to landscape designer Travis Van Liere. And to Landscape Renovation, who did the planting. (The firm headed by award-winning architect Julie Snow designed the main house as well as the smaller house next door where my friends’ disabled son lives.)
Not all acacias are the same, or even the same species.
A popular Desert Locust cultivar that makes the most of the species’ slender foliage and graceful habit is called ‘Sunburst’. This is due to the bright lime green color of the new foliage, the new leaves, which turn a darker green over the summer.
The Latin name for the desert locust is Gleditsia tracanthus.
The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) adapts to a wider variety of harsh conditions, including drought.
This is the good news.
An unpopular trait is that while almost all locusts have some sort of thorny outgrowth, black locusts produce true spikes.
Imagine a rose thorn magnified 100 times. I still have scars from battles I lost against black locusts, the thorns of which can dig a golf club-sized divot into your scalp.
They are also relentless in their determination to go forward and multiply, from seed and root. They are banned in certain regions of the South because of their invasive nature. Yes, natives can behave badly too, even species that are only resistant to USDA Zone 5.
I told you about my crush on a cultivar called “Twisty Baby”.
Monrovia introduced it a few years ago. I fell hard. The key to its irresistibility (for me) is twofold: the hanging white floral racemes specific to its clan, and its “twisted” stems and branches resulting from crossing its locust relative with another species to make it resemble the walking stick of Harry Lauder. , a twisted hazelnut.
Like some locusts, its foliage presents itself as a chartreuse, and as it always produces new leaves, it always looks “sunny”. The pinnate leaves curl like a ribbon when you run scissors along them, and the stems curl at the ends.
In my backyard, what was once a single 40ft tall Twisty Baby turned into at least a dozen meandering grandchildren when the mother tree was cut down. (The upper half died during the winter of the polar vortex. The Twisty Baby black locust is only hardy in zone 5.)
I thought I said goodbye when the last part went up in smoke (in my wood stove) the following winter.
It didn’t take long for the tree to stand up again. And even. And even. A bit like rabbits, whose soft fur is well camouflaged by the gray-brown bark of trees and the dappled light of their fern foliage, in which my rabbits love to hide.
I’m not sure if I should refer to the locust saplings that now clutter my garden as a first generation, second or third. Maybe I should call those who grew from the roots Siamese sextuplets and the rest the seedlings.
So cut them off, you say?
The problem is, I love them. They are funny.
Think of Dr. Seuss and you get the idea. None are taller than me… yet. They cast incredibly long shadows and cast their hair like Rapunzel.
Speaking of gardens in transition, I gave a talk last week. My PowerPoint showed how a garden can turn into a farm without the gardener knowing about the change until it is too late.
Where there used to be a tidy nasturtium border, now there are raging gourds. Where roses have bloomed along an east-facing slope, dead nettle has taken over because it’s catnip for a hen.
The henhouse and the course fill the part of the garden which housed mayflies from the woods.
The hostas are in tatters. The hop vines flooded the clematis.
What will next summer bring? My first grandson arrives in October. I may be thinking of a pony.