The Grounds

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Overview

The grounds of the Longnecker House consist of a roughly 80 x 400 ft corner lot extending from a standard street front to a perennial creek that forms the border of the back yard on the edge of a city park, with an elevation change of about 20 feet from front to back.

Two established city bicycle routes pass by the property.

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Front Yard

Original Form

The grassy boulevard is interrupted by several street signs, and a fire hydrant. There is a granite plaque in the sidewalk marking the house's place on the Architectural Tour route.

The front sidewalk is 5 feet wide and generally in good condition apart from two sections with severe pitting near the fire hydrant.

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Lining the sidewalk are 4 evenly spaced medium-sized red cedars of similar age but not similar shape, having obviously been variously sculpted over the course of time. It is hard to see on the old overhead photos available at the Iowa Geographic Map Server, but it seems that 4 small trees are visible on the image from the 1930s. One of the trees lost a major branch and we counted about 80 growth rings, and the property was rented out after 1933, so the 4 trees must be almost 90 years old.

The sidewalk to the front door has a curved deflection revealing the past location of a very large tree just to the east, which is also revealed in the lean of the oaks that line the front drive. There is a depression in the yard to the west of the sidewalk closer to the house where there was, evidently, another large tree in the past.

The yard is lined by 3 burr oaks along the driveway to the east, and the neighbor's line of young spruce trees along the west. There is a cement base for a flag pole under one of the oaks.

Mature, slightly overgrown yews form a foundation planting at the base of the porch on either side of the cement front stairs (which replace original cracked stone steps visible in a c. 1908 photo) with wide, stone railing. On the west end of the yew plantings, the yew on the end has grown vertically higher than the front porch and has interesting, peeling red bark.

Changes so Far

Some over-shaded peonies have been transplanted to a happier spot around the flag pole base.

The overgrown yews are being gradually trimmed back into shape.

Large leaf hostas have been transplanted around the base of the tall yew at the west end of the porch. The foundation yews are being gradually trimmed back.

A forsythia, which suffers from deer, and a clump of transplanted lilacs now lie along the west side of the yard.

A cluster of 3 gingko sprouts was planted in the shadow of the lilacs, but the shade was not sufficient to protect two of them from the summer heat. And the last survivor was claimed by deer in the fall.

A common lilac that was crowding the Persian lilac and mock orange was split and a third of it moved to the west side of the yard.

The "triangle" of boulevard at the corner of the intersection was planted with flowers inspired by the plantings near the Frank Lloyd Wright house up the street and inside the park.

A hydrangea was planted to "account for" the curve of the sidewalk.


Future Plans

Consider a geometric Victorian flower bed with a sundial in front of the porch to the west of the sidewalk.

A ramp from the front steps to the west side of the porch would be nice for disabled access.

West Side Yard

Original Form

The yard along the west side of the house drops about 8 feet mostly from the dining room bay back. Upper level foundation plantings consist of a mature mock orange (which is a little too close to the porch and the tall yew) and a mature Persian lilac. A large standard lilac was crowded between the mock orange and Persian lilac.

Wild cucumber vines and Virginia Creeper and a few wild grapes volunteer along the foundation as well.

The downslope along the house is planted with common day lilies which struggle to bloom and suffer from deer and wild cucumber overgrowth. A mature burr oak grows among the day lilies and leans over the house to a fair extent. There are some pagoda dogwood samplings struggling also.

Along the west property line is the neighbors mature crabapple, a young mulberry (which always has bland berries and is crowding the neighbor's nice spruce tree), and a "mini" Virginia Creeper along a low rock retaining wall on the neighbor's property which confines a planting bed of river stones, hostas and a large mature spruce. Farther back along the west property line is a cluster of three young white pines on the neighbor's side, and a young-ish black cherry tree. The mossy, grassy yard between the house plantings and the property line plantings curves down the slope in a way to suggest that it is flowing down the hill.

Changes so Far

The large standard lilac that was between the mock orange and Persian lilac has been split into three clumps and one planted along the west property line in the front, and two moved to the east property line across from the tennis court drive, after first being planted along the west property line in too much shade.

A cluster of 3 gingko sprouts was planted in the shadow of the lilacs, but they have not survived the deer and the neighbor's wayward weed eater.

Some lilies of the valley and day lilies have been transplanted along the neighbor's stone retaining wall and down the slope to the black cherry to define the flowing path down the hill.

The young "bland" mulberry tree is being replaced by mountain ash a little farther from the neighbor's spruce, hopefully.

Future Plans

Shifting the mock orange a little away from the porch and the tall yew

Rock garden with shade-loving woodland flowers and pond on the slope next to the house.

Improve the ground covers

Pulley bird feeder set up from the porch

East Side Yard

Original Form

The east side yard starts with the 5 foot-wide planting area between the front drive and the retaining wall along the street into the park. Currently, the strip contains the regrown hedge that the previous owners tried to remove c. 2015, some wild flowers, and lilies of the valley.

The hedge strip widens under the basketball hoop at the end of the driveway next to the front porch. This area was planted with day lilies and some over-shaded peonies..

On the east side of the house, the area between the side path and the house is thickly planted with lilies of the valley with a few jack-in-the-pulpits and a couple of volunteer gooseberries. Virginia Creeper climbs the sandstone foundation.

The area between the side path and the retaining wall was previously a giant wildflower patch with a large covered sandbox. The flowers include yucca, columbine, "bluebells", milkweed, chives, tulips, etc.

The north border has a clump of trailing junipers draped down the retaining wall.

Changes so Far

Some rescued hostas and peonies have been located along the driveway. Snow-on-the-mountain has also been moved there.

The area between the side path and the retaining wall is now a rectangular yard with a wildflower border (although some yuccas keep poking up through the grass).

A couple of Autumn Joy sedum, iris, and rescued peonies have been added to the wildflower border.

Transplanted some day lilies along the base of the retaining wall, along with a few annuals left over from the boulevard triangle planting.

Future Plans

Roses, lilies, columnar juniper, bridal wreath spirea, pink spirea - on top of the retaining wall

Transplant the remnant peony to a more visible spot

Plant some ornamental heirloom vegetables in the wildflower border, maybe some prickly pear cactus, hens & chicks.

Need to do something with the corner of the back stairs/retaining wall - columnar juniper? rhododendron?

Upper Back Yard

Original Form

From the garage to to the park gate.

This area was dominated by a large, overgrown fenced dog run that had been roughly pulled out prior to sale of the property. Otherwise, it was a rough yard with various trees growing in the fence lines.

On the west side, there was a large black cherry tree, a large and small mulberry tree, and a black walnut. On the neighbor's side, there was a shaded honeysuckle, a couple of blue spruce, a burr oak, and the edge of the silver poplar grove.

On the east side, there were 3 burr oaks in a diagonal 20 ft north of the corner of the garage to the property line, then a large ash, a "half" crab apple, a linden, then another burr oak next to the post of the park gate. There was a large tractor tire sandbox next to the first burr oak.

Changes so Far

Leveled the ground where the dog run was pulled out, removed stumps, planted grass seed.

Transplanted day lilies and ferns along the west property line to continue defining the flow of the path down the hill. Had the neighbor's landscapers lay down a thick edge of mulch along the west property line when they put in their arbor vitae hedge (in repayment for using my property for ease of access).

Installed a cedar fence along the east property line to stop people thinking our back yards are extensions of the adjacent city park.

Planted a couple of forsythia between two of the diagonal oaks on the eastern upper yard to screen the few from the street. Transplanted some rescued peonies there, too. Planted a pink hydrangea, volunteer pagoda dogwood, and three yews along the fence between the burr oak and the ash to screen the view from the tennis court driveway. After a couple of years, it was clear that none of these plants were happy, so the hydrangea and the yews were transplanted elsewhere.

Planted a cluster of large tiger lilies under the crab apple, and transplanted rescued peonies around it's base.

Moved the tractor tire to the slope of the west yard and dug it in, by hand, to form a small pond in the future rock garden.

Future Plans

Plant sumacs around the western mulberry? Replace the small mulberry with a serviceberry?

Plant small grove of fruit trees in the middle of the yard

Add a couple of flowering trees to the half-crab apple along the eastern yard

Lower Back Yard

Original Form

From the park gate to the creek. Tends to flood a bit...

Changes so Far

Future Plans