Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The New Potager: The Big Reveal!

I'm so happy to finally share pics of the garden! However, we're not quite finished (always the gardener's lament)! We are still researching what material to use for the "floor."  I'm so glad we did not go with decomposed granite, as it surely would have washed away in the heavy rains we had early in the season. I need a larger stone with more staying power, and will post when we decide and lay it down. Anyhow, here is how it looks today. 

This is the walk from our existing deck to the garden. We used the bluestone from the old patio to make this temporary walkway. We will probably just mulch the sides until we finalize the plans for the new patio. 

There are 11 beds, 8 of them raised. My husband came up with the design which includes trim on top for a more finished look. They are 12 inches tall and the length and width vary. 

We are growing tomatoes, basil, eggplant, herbs, beans, tomatillos, carrots, and beans. 

I was gifted raspberry canes, rhubarb, sage, mint, and Egyptian walking onions by gardening friends (thanks again!). 

Seating, compost, an arbor, and a water source were important to the design. We made the pathways wide enough to accommodate our yard cart, about 2.5 feet wide. 

These photos were taken in early evening after a rain shower, so things usually look a bit sunnier! We are thinking about taking off a large oak limb to allow for more sun, but the garden is producing! I thought we would be overwhelmed with tomatoes by now, but we planted late (I was afraid to plant anything before the fence was installed in mid-June - deer) and the weather hasn't been ideal this year. We're getting lots of kale, lettuce, beans, spinach, and herbs so far, and more kale, chard and squash from the front yard where veggies are incorporated into the perennial beds where I get more sun. 

So tell me, how is your garden doing?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The New Potager - Preparing the Space

The first order of business was to remove the existing shrubs, a million and a half daylilies, about 975 square feet of grass, and an entire bluestone patio. Whew. I'm exhausted just thinking about those long hours of labor. Luckily, the hubby was able to use some vacation days to knock most of this out, along with a couple of lingering inside projects. 

We considered renting a sod cutter for the grass removal, but found that it came up really easily with a square-edged shovel. Getting those daylilies out was much more difficult. Each job was made a little easier due to things still being a bit dormant. 

Here's a pic of the patio-from-hell turned instant sandbox once we removed the bluestone pavers on top. The patio was such a mess, with pavers that had sunk, creating a very uneven and hazardous surface. Once we moved the (extremely heavy) pavers, we found out why. Whoever built the patio laid the pavers atop 8 inches of sand, not compacted gravel, which would have stabilized the pavers better. However, all of that sand worked to our advantage, because we spread it over the area where we had removed the grass for the garden. It will form a base for the decomposed granite we plan to use between the cedar raised beds. Disposing of all of that material would have been difficult and expensive, so we were happy to reuse it. 

We were also pleased to find some treasure back in the corner of the lot. 

We unearthed a set of clay bricks that are in perfect condition, and will be using them to create curved beds. All of the straight lines of the raised beds can get a little boring, so I try to include some curves in my potager designs, even if it means a lumber is not an option. A change of materials adds some interest, and these clay bricks keep us wondering what the original owner used them for. 

We removed the sand from inside these beds to allow for the free movement of earthworms. 

Joe is building 12" tall cedar raised beds with 1x4s on top for a finished look. He is using two stacked 1x6s for the sides and 2x2s at the corners. 

A white picket fence will surround the garden, with a gate at either end and an arbor at the gate that can be seen from the front of the house. We planned to build the fence ourselves, but we are running out of time before planting season, so we're leaving that to the professionals. 

All that's left is to finish the decorative tops to all of the beds, spread the granite, fill the beds, and plant! If our sore muscles can handle it. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The New Potager - Design Complete

I've completed the design of the new potager, and my husband is hard at work building the beds.

We are installing a 4 foot picket fence around the garden to keep the deer out. Nearly everyone I talk to about the fence thinks 4 feet is too short, but there are a few different factors that went into my decision to keep it short. I don't want to block my views of the forest with a tall fence, and a tall fence would look plain tacky so close to the house. From what I've read, deer don't like to jump into contained areas, and with all of the raised beds inside, they will not have a clear landing area. I just don't think they will attempt it. Also, the deer have stayed away from areas close to the house recently. Whether it's because the snow finally melted and they have access to food in the forest, or because we now have a dog, I'm not sure. 

In the next post, I'll share our progress. Until then, we have been enjoying the spring ephemerals that have been popping up in our yard and the forest. We didn't live here last spring, so each new plant that emerges is a nice surprise. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spring Break Birding

Posts are coming few and far between. Despite the cold weather, folks have their eye on summer and my landscape design clients are picking up. The GardenWorks Project is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode for spring garden builds. Life has been full and good, even more so with the addition of our new family member, Ivy.

We adopted her from Casey's Safe Haven in Elburn, IL, and could not be happier. We weren't interested in a puppy, and so many adult dogs need homes. Ivy is a few months over one-year-old, and is said to be a beagle/shepherd mix. And no, her name has nothing to do with Wrigley Field; I couldn't care less about baseball, and hubby is a diehard Sox fan.

It's Spring Break here in our school district, and the kids and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather yesterday to give a few gifts to the birds. First, we used a mesh bag that previously held onions to fill with yarn and hang in our Viburnum. It's our hope that birds will take the yarn to use in their nests.

Then, we spread peanut butter on toilet paper rolls, and rolled them in birdseed to make a few birdfeeders.

The black-capped chickadees found them right away and had a bit of a party.

And today, it's cold again. But the daffodils and daylilies are pushing through, and things are coming back to life. We are making plans for the new vegetable garden, and can't wait to build it. Life is full, and good.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Too nice! A review of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden

I ripped through this book the first night after receiving it in the mail. Think this will be a positive review?

The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden ($34.95, Timber Press, 2014) by Roy Diblik is the follow up to his book, Small Perennial Gardens: The Know Maintenance™ Approach (out of print, American Nurseryman Publishing Co., 2008). Both books outline his Know Maintenance approach to landscape design - basically, if you know your plants and the conditions they thrive in, you'll be able to select the plants best suited to grow in the space where you wish to plant. This can reduce (not eliminate) a lot of the work that goes into maintaining a stunning four-season landscape. Common practices that increase maintenance include annually mulching perennial beds with wood chips, siting plants too far apart, and adding too much organic matter. You'll have to get the book to find out why these are bad, bad, bad things to do in the perennial garden.

The book highlights many of my favorite plants! Lucky me! Well, they are most likely my favorite because I took a few of Roy's plant communities classes in school and he taught many of these same plants because of their virtuous qualities. Allium angulosum 'Summer Beauty,' Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia, Baptisia sphaerocarpa, Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire,' Geranium sanguineum 'Max Frei,' Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo,' - they are all there, in brilliant color, and often shown in combination with other plants.

Lots of garden plans are included, based on a 140 square foot space. The plans can easily be modified for larger or smaller spaces, making the useful for any designer or homeowner. Diblik wraps up the book with a discussion on plant communities, and how to create a plant composition based on your personal style and site conditions. Full color pictures of individual plants, and of these gorgeous plant compositions appear throughout, along with Roy's signature exclamations of, "Too nice!" and "Too easy!" Note - shrubs and trees are not addressed, other than to say that they are not addressed!

In short, buy the book. A must for midwest gardeners and landscape designers looking to make bold statements in our plantings. To order, call Northwind Perennial Farm at 262-248-8229.  Roy will autograph it for you!

My other posts about Roy Diblik and Northwind Perennial Farm:
Wordless Wednesday: Garden Art at Northwind Perennial Farm
The Gardens of the Grand Geneva Resort
My Day with Roy Diblik
Roy Diblik's Northwind Perennial Farm

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The New Potager - Gathering Ideas

As winter keeps dragging on, my thoughts turn to spring and growing fresh, organic produce at home. These cold, gray days are perfect for dragging out the gardening books and putting a plan together. You might remember my potager (kitchen garden) at the old house...

...which I loved. But this time I want to try something different. Our location, with its high deer population, means that a fence is necessary. And I'd like to try crushed granite for the paths, and wood timber raised beds. But first, I needed to sketch out some ideas. After pulling out my plat of survey and taking a quick tracing of the house, I mapped out approximately where I wanted the new garden to go. I'll draw it to scale at a later time.

My garden will wrap around the south and west sides of the house to take advantage of the only spot on the property that receives full sun for 6 hours or so. I also wanted it in a location very close to my kitchen, since I know I'll be visiting it throughout the day to harvest, water, and deliver kitchen scraps to the compost tumbler. We are also building a new deck that will be more functional than the existing one. Now it's time to hit the books.

I flipped through my garden books, looking for ideas for structural items that would add to the aesthetics and functionality. I also referred to one of my first blog posts from 2011 on the standard elements that define a potager, and got to work listing selections.

1. Enclosure - We are going with a low, white, maintenance free fence (probably aluminum). I'd also like a moon gate and arbor for the front yard entry. For additional deer resistance, I'll plant shrubs on the outside of the fence.

2. Paths - We are going to try crushed granite instead of brick pavers this time. I've used crushed granite in designs I've done for a couple of clients, and love the way it sounds when you walk on it.

3. Borders - Wood timbers for the raised bed, and landscaping stone for the ground-level beds.

4. Structure - In addition to the fence and gate/arbor, we may include a corner arbor with built-in bench (like the one below from projectplans2000.com), trellises on the west side of the house, and a small tool cabinet for shovels and rakes and such, so I don't have to go to the garage each time. I'll also have a few tuteurs for the tomatoes.

5. Order - This refers to the shape of the beds and how they relate to each other and the house. I'll work on this when I start drawing the design to scale.

6. Focal Point(s) - Since I'll have two points of entry, one at each end of an "L" shape, I plan to have two focal points. This will work because the focal points will not both be visible upon entry at either end, you'll only be able to see one at a time. I loved the circular bed in my first potager, with the weeping cherry underplanted with herbs, but may do a narrow evergreen this time for some winter interest.

I hope I've given you some inspiration to start thinking about your new garden. In the next post in this series, I'll share the design at scale. Until then, you can check out my Pinterest boards for lots of ideas that you may want to incorporate in your own garden.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Enough Already! Preparing Your Landscape for Spring

I'm not going to complain about the weather. Too much.

Enough snow. Enough cold! Enough with the hats and gloves and boots! I've had it, and am officially over this winter.

I'm trying to stay positive and think Spring. Things are hopping with The GardenWorks Project, and that has me thinking, and talking, a lot about summer gardening. Some folks in my new neighborhood are already yearning for new landscapes, and that's been keeping me busy with garden design. But the day to day dealings with this weather are wearing on me, and you too, I'm sure.

So there. I'll stop complaining and focus this post on how to start thinking about, and planning your garden so you can be ready when all this snow finally melts and you can get your hands in the dirt.

Spring Cleanup
Walk your garden and pick up branches, and clip off remnants of last year's perennial growth, but don't go crazy with the cleanup. Every last leaf does not need to be plucked and bagged. Last year's leaves and perennials can be left in the garden and used for mulch. Their breakdown provides organic matter that improves the health of the soil and your plants. Just clip off old perennial growth at the base of the plant, break it into smaller pieces, and use it as mulch in perennial beds. Depending on what plants you've got, you can even set your lawnmower to it's highest setting and mow right over the plants, creating an instantly mulched bed that new growth will have no problem pushing through. This will damage your plants, though, if you have lots with crowns that protrude from the ground, like heuchera (coral bells) and my favorite ornamental grass, sesleria autumnalis (autumn moor grass).

Planning the Veggie Garden
Now is the time to think about what foods you might want to grow in the vegetable garden. Think about trying a new veggie that you've never grown before, and maybe have never eaten before (kohlrabi, anyone?). It's also a good time to consider adding some perennial vegetables and fruits to your garden, like asparagus, strawberries, and rhubarb. Plant these once, and they'll get bigger and more prolific each year.

After you've done your planning, it's time to order seeds and plants. There is nothing better in the dead of winter than holding those seed packets in your hands - with all their promise of warm days and fresh foods. If you live in the west suburbs of Chicago, consider ordering your vegetable seedlings from Sweet Home Organics. They are organically grown, right in Villa Park, and can be ordered and picked up at a number of locations and dates. Select "The GardenWorks Project" from the drop down box at checkout, and a portion of your purchase will go toward proving home vegetable gardens to local families who are in need of food pantry assistance. Online orders are due April 29.

Add Garden Seating
Take a look around your yard and think about adding a place to sit and enjoy what you've created. Maybe a bench by the front door, or a cafe table in the vegetable garden. Create a path that leads to the are of your property furthest from your house, and place some chairs there. Nature has such a calming effect, and we should all have a special place to just sit. To just be, and enjoy our surroundings. If you need help planning a private garden space, a vegetable garden, or any part of a sustainable landscape, and you live in the St. Charles area, feel free to take a look at my website.

Okay. We can do this. We can tough out these last few weeks of winter, for there are warm, green, sunshiny days ahead. I hope.