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, 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.