06 May 2008

Google Ogling

The other day, Pam at Digging posted a great piece on leaving a garden to strangers--either moving on from a garden that you've begun or inheriting a planned landscape from a previous owner.

I've had a post on a similar subject swirling around in my brain for the past few weeks, ever since I made the mistake of looking at my old garden and house via Google Maps Street View. If you've never done this before, Big Brother Google has photographed (in 360 degrees) many cities around the country. You can go to Google Maps, plug in an address and click on Street View. Or don't. You might not like what you see!

When John and I bought our first house together in Wisconsin, it looked like this:

So homely and bland our realtor discouraged us from buying it.

A year and a half later, here it is with a fresh coat of paint and the entire front yard converted to a native plant wilderness.

We removed all the grass, Japanese yews and the overgrown arbor vitae. This was my first yard, and it was rather frightening to do all of that. You can see the prairie phlox in bloom. Pale coneflower is stretching up through the green masses as well. If I were to do this over, I probably wouldn't have planted so many large woolly and wild things so close to the sidewalk, but gardening is a learning process, right?

When we sold the house, I made a comprehensive map of all the plants in the front yard and back. I hoped the new owner would appreciate the space. If not, I hoped he would at least call the Wild Ones and tell them to come dig up all the wonderful natives.

Recently, I checked on the old place for nostalgia sake (via Big Brother Google) and it revealed to me a horror. (Full disclosure: I was actually prepared for what I saw, since a neighbor friend had long ago told us the new owner was up to no good in our old garden).

Ack! The new owner pulled out all the wonderful natives and put back the grass lawn! My aching back groaned in memory when I saw this image.

And, though the resolution on this image isn't that great, it looks like he replaced the nice wildflowers around the entry walk with terrible annuals. Gone is the wild geranium, first to bloom in the spring, the butterfly weed attracting monarchs, and the phlox that filled the air with sweet scent. No more rattlesnake master, beebalm and prairie dropseed (which, by the way, I think is the most beautiful native grass ever. It smells like buttered popcorn in bloom).

Of course, I too change things when I move to a new house. There are probably old owners that cringe when they drive by (or Google ogle) and see my handiwork on the gardens they once tended with care. Alas! The lesson for me, I think, it to enjoy my garden while I have it and to be thankful for folks (like the young couple Pam consulted with) that appreciate the work that we gardeners do...


Pam/Digging said...

So you are one of those wonderful gardeners who leaves a treasure map behind for the next owners. Good for you! But I'm sorry that it wasn't appreciated. You really did create a beautiful---and ecologically beautiful---transformation at your old house. Well, even if that garden has been "lawned," you retain the experience and knowledge and can always create another garden, as you're doing now in Austin.

I'm off to Google ogle (love that phrase) my old house.

Mary Beth said...

I, too, stalk my old home - and have definite opinions of any chances the owners make. After all, they did purchase the perfect home and garden! I'll be checking it out on Google Earth this afternoon!

vertie said...

I find the google street view scary. The view of our house also includes a reminder of my sometimes lax gardening--it's got my bags of mulch sitting on the side of the driveway waiting to be used.

Your pictures also remind of my neighbor down the street who did the same thing. The previous owners, who just moved around the corner, had ripped our half the lawn in the front and filled it with natives. The new owners ripped out the natives and added back the lawn and nonative annuals. I bet the old owners cringe as you do.

sister*bluebird said...

Egads! That was a horrible final transition of that home. That color of gray is atrocious and the opposite of cheerful. It just screams out for some kind of architectural prozac.

How anyone could go from that lovely blue to that dismal grey on the wooden siding is beyond me. And putting the lawn back in the front? It was probably the product of a terrible accident.

Like over fertilizing with something too hot, or just never watering, and even natives will die, no matter how hardy they are.

I am glad I am anonymous. My property doesnt look great right now. We are still under construction. All the downed trees that we have had to cut up and will have to burn eventually...just the tip of our ugly iceberg. {big icestorm earlier in year}

We did replace the dirty white siding with maroon shudders {OU fans?} with neutral beige siding, no shutters, {looks silly on ranch style victory home} and black roof with white trim around windows and doors. Sounds boring, but it really tidied the look of this place up a lot.

Landscaping has been an issue. We need a back hoe, dump loads of dirt and to install french drains. slowly but surely we are getting there.

Lori said...

Wow, you guys really did improve that place. It's too bad the new owners suck. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

As for the "google ogle," I found that I was lucky enough to have my house photographed with the sun right in front of the lens. You can see my garage and then a large lens flare. This makes me very, very happy. ;D

Bonnie said...

Agh! That was awful. I'm totally going to google-stalk my old places of residence right now.

bill/prairie point said...

*gasp* I guess there really is no accounting for taste! What is it about a grass lawn anyway?

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Lee - just catching up with your last few posts - this one with its three contrasting photos was very interesting and my sympathies for your hurt feelings!

The native & adapted landscape I installed at our previous Austin house is only a few miles from here so I don't need Google to tell me that it's still intact.
Google can't help me see the three houses we owned in Illinois - none were filmed for street view, but a couple of summers ago, we drove past our old IL house with the big front garden and it was also barely changed.

Were you in a fairly conservative area? Although I personally find it much more attractive than the grey, Lee, that bright blue paint would never have been accepted in any of my 3 Illinois neighborhoods or in either of the 2 Austin ones. My neighbors would have hated it and probably transferred their dislike to the garden.

I think one reason the big front garden was allowed to stay at our last IL house is that it combined hardscape, small flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and dwarf evergreens to give some structure to the incorporated grasses and native forbs. A native garden in Austin can look good all year, but looking at a strictly native landscape through a long Illinois winter would have depressed the heck out of me.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Lee said...

Annie -

You make some really great points there. Surprisingly, the old 'hood was pretty progressive and lots of people had funky yards. Plus, just around the corner was an old rails-to-trails area that had been converted back to a tall grass prairie.

I think we all just have different ideas of what is beautiful.

And, you're totally right about the evergreen thing. If I were to do that garden again, I would've definitely anchored it with some more evergreen shrubs and plants with simple forms, letting some of the wildflowers and prairie plants fill in the spaces over the summer.

Winters, as you know, are not pretty up there after the romance of the white snow has passed. The scraggly brown seed heads can only be fulfilling for so many weeks...

Annie in Austin said...

Thank you for answering, Lee - I thought maybe your house was the only colorful one on the street and the pressure of being a trendsetter was too much for the new owners.

I think you're right and people have different ideas of what is beautiful.


Lee17 said...

Oh, I feel your pain. At my parents old house that was sold a couple years ago, the back yard was full of huge fir trees, cedar trees, mountain ash trees, and had an entire half of the yard devoted to a natural landscape for the critters. The other half was a beautiful garden. Right after the new owners moved in, they brought in the loggers and large machinery and they removed EVERY SINGLE TREE from the yard. My heart still hurts to think of what they had done. I cannot bear to Google it, I would just die of heartache.

stephanie said...

i don't care about anything in that post (not really, but i'm kinda freaked out at the moment) cause there's a picture of my house on Google Street View, with J's car in the front! Who the f&*K is taking these pics???

p.s You rocked the Madison house...it's a shame what happened.

Vivé said...

Lee -- I gotta say this is priceless, though I know for you it stings. We're kind of guilty of just the opposite, however. The lovely old couple we bought this house from kept impeccable care of their lawn. It was green and lush, lined with monkey grass, regularly watered with a fancy sprinkler system.

We moved in and immediately solarized a huge area of the front of the lawn to make a bed, and even worse, we stopped watering the lawn. We figured eventually we wanted to be rid of it anyway. And we were busy renovating inside.

The old couple came by to visit from Alabama and we weren't home. So we couldn't show them the work we'd done inside. They just saw the lawn -- yellow and sad, with the monkey grass shorn back and the first 10 feet full of new plants and decomposed granite. I know their hearts hurt.

It all ends up being about what's important to us, right? And letting our homes go, belonging to us only as long as they do...

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...


I think I feel lucky that most of the places I've lived I can't go back to. I prefer to have them remain in memory, untouched by time or other people.

john said...

To the owner of this blog, how far youve come?