The Natural Garden Coach

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Art in the Garden


I'm talking about LARGE art in a LARGE garden. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI to be exact. Wherever I travel I try to go to local public gardens. It gives me a good feel for the area's topography and climate and I always learn something. And of course, some public gardens can be really beautiful and inspiring. Last summer while in Grand Rapids I went to this garden, which has a lovely prairie area with tons of flowers. But as I continued to explore I came across their sculpture park, a very loose and natural area with some really BIG sculptures. Don't you just love this large and loud trowel?



They did a great job of siting the large sculptures. Below is a really interesting one that must be seen from a variety of angles. As you walk around the hill that the sculpture is on top of, the sculpture changes. Can you see it?





Here are the sculpture titles and artists, top to bottom.

"Plantoir" by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje Van Bruggen

"Introspective" by Sophie Ryder

"Cabin Creek" by Deborah Butterfield

"Male/Female" by Jonathan Borofsky

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Power of People


On this historic day it's only fitting that I digress from pure gardening topics to talk about something dear to my heart and somewhat in keeping with the gardening theme. I'm talking about the power of community and people. Despite getting laid off last summer, I have some very fond memories of the summer. This comes from my involvement with our local farmers' market. When a people really want something, they will make it happen.


Just a little over a year ago I had a discussion with a couple of women at our book club. Each of us had moved to our town (or moved back in the case of one) in the last few years and we were wondering why there was no farmers' market, especially since we lived in such a rural community. And then the discussion led to..."I wonder if we could start one ourselves?". Hmm, none of us really knew anything about what it would take. But then again, hmm, what if we just asked the community to help us? So we set about putting up flyers, setting up a Yahoo group, and then inviting those folks who signed up to a meeting. And thus our farmers' market was born.







In a short couple of months we opened the market. At our peak we had maybe 10 vendors. Not huge but they were happy and the customers were happy. In no time it became a real gathering place - kids, dogs, friends, just catching up and enjoying the sense of community. Make no mistake, it took a lot of work by a lot of people. But we were lucky to have the right mix of know-how in our volunteers (we're an all volunteer driven market right now). And this year's market should be better than last years.


So what does this say about the power of people? Yes, we can.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2009



It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for the month and what fun to see what's blooming in January! GBBD was started by Carol of May Dreams Gardens and you can get links to everyone's post on her blog.

I'm starting off with Quince, usually a reliable bloom for January here. Right now there's only about two blooms but I'm hoping the bush will be covered in a month.

Next comes my old reliable Marie Pavie rose. This is an OGR, "old garden rose". It's classified as a polyantha rose and was bred in France in 1888. Marie Pavie is rarely out of bloom. This time of year the old leaves are covered with blackspot but many new leaves are forming. I grow this in a pot and leave the pot close to where I pass each day, for its wonderful fragrance.



Last GBBD I included a shot of a Lizard Lips bloom. Here's another one. It's a little difficult to see because it's in my storeroom against a window. For those who don't know, this is the bloom of an aloe plant. The photo after the bloom shows the whole plant. It blooms constantly but they're small delicate blooms.





I've also got some calendula and pansies blooming but my favorite photo is of some blooms to come - daffodils!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Bird Friends


My friends, the American Goldfinches, finally arrived a scant two weeks ago. This time they brought their friends, the Pine Siskins (see photo below for a close up of the pine siskin).

These guys are ravenous and I'm quickly running out of seed. This morning when I went to break up the ice in the bird baths, I noticed I need to move my teak bench and table. They're close to the bird baths and covered with bird poop!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beds and Stones and Lawns

After the initial landscape makeover occurred in 2006, we still had lots of areas to work on. But my patience for dealing with contractors, as well as my funds, was low. So in the fall and winter of that year my husband and I rented a tiller, tilled up the area along the back fence, and then shoveled a lot of nice (though not cheap) compost-y soil into a series of small to medium size beds. We also brought in stones to a couple of the areas.

The first area below shows our hillside bed at the end of the walkway. We added some soil and some medium size stones that our local garden and feed store gets from Arkansas. Plus I planted some irises left over from the big backyard dig as well as ferns and a mock orange. This planting area is another tricky one. The issue there is that at the top of the little hill is the remains of an alleyway. So it has broken up asphalt up there, as well as broken bottles, etc. since that's where folks used to put their garbage cans. I've been slowly cleaning it up but it sometimes feels like a never ending battle (or maybe an arduous archaeological dig!). Being on a hillside it gets lots of good drainage. But it also dries out very quickly.


Another challenging area of the yard where we put a bed is in the former dog pen/alley area. I spent a whole lot of time cleaning up long buried dog toys, torn apart dog pillows, broken asphalt, and other garbage. We brought in some larger rocks (slowly) and soil and planted some shade plants like hosta, ferns, inland sea oats, etc. To my surprise, a white Salvia gregii has done fairly well there this year. And the little oakleaf hydrangea is hanging on, the last of three that bit the dust early on. My friend thinks this coming year will be its year to shine. :-) One of the things I'd like to do with this in the future is expand it out into the lawn. Create sort of a woodland garden there (inspired by C. Colston Burrell's talk I saw in Hot Springs). And get rid of some of the lawn, yay!



In fact, getting rid of more lawn is the current plan. I've never been a real fan of it. Back in Austin we had no grass whatsoever! But we put it in here because at the time it was the easiest and cheapest thing to do. We still need to add more beds along the side fence. That'll get rid of some grass as well. But all in good time!

It's Finally Done, For Now


In my continuing series of the backyard landscape makeover, I've arrived to the point where things are almost done (you know how that goes in gardening). This panoramic shot shows the backyard from way back. (Click on the photo to see it enlarged. My first attempt to upload larger photos failed. Sigh.) You can see the nicely sculpted lawn behind the rock wall on the right (the original lawn there used to be more angular). The bluestone patio is up against the house. The bluestone also wraps around the covered deck and is part of a large walkway along the carport. The four square boxes sit in front of the deck and the new fence can be seen to the left, along with one of my bird feeders.

The photo below shows the stairs I talked about in a previous post. The bottom step allows for drainage to go to the right. The other steps are gravel with wood sides. I like how natural it looks and also the fact that I now have an easier way to get up there!


This last photo has a closer view of the fence, which I love, especially because I don't have to look at what was there before! I had to talk my trusty carpenters into building it for me (they normally build interior cabinets, not fences, decks, or outside stairs like they did for me here). In front of the fence is an old Egyptian gate and in front of that is a new-ish bed containing clematis (my first try at it), daylilies, hosta, and a few other things. It's also in direct line of sight from the gravel path that goes between the boxes and down from or up to the deck.

My only issue with the fence is that I did not have them finish it. I.e., it doesn't wrap completely around the whole backyard and there's still a gate to put in on one side. And now my carpenters have other full time jobs. Good for them but not so much for me!


I'm thinking in my next post I'll show you a few other beds we also built and talk about the plans for the rest of the backyard. And maybe at some point I'll show you the front yard and how we exposed the front of the house. But it's still very much a work in progress.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Beginnings of the Real Garden


The longer the landscape makeover dragged on, the hotter the season got (wouldn't you know that the previous spring was long and lovely but this one was short and progressively hotter). I was starting to panic - it was soon going to be too hot to plant! How could I put a bunch of young plants in the ground in summertime? I wasn't used to that, having always tried to get all planting done before the swelter season started. In the photo above you can see the bones of the deck, an edge of the rock wall to the left and then nothing except my forlorn and falling down portable greenhouse.

In the photo below you can see the four 8'x8' square beds, the gravel paths between them, and the area where the lawn was not yet in. It's now late April of 2006 when this photo was taken. Although the irrigation system was not yet in and lots of things were still to be done, I couldn't wait any longer. I went to the nursery, bought lots of small flowers and herbs and placed them around the beds to mull the placements over.


The photo below shows the plants in place along with the lawn. I was so happy to experience a really easy planting experience since the "brown gold" was so nice and fluffy. You can also see a peek of the bluestone in front of the deck. Note also the truly ugly fence and falling down garage of my neighbors'. I suppose you could consider the garage a rather quaint country artifact except for the blue plastic that was holding the backend together! You also might detect that there are far fewer plants along the back than in the first picture. I wanted a few dead and/or invasive plants taken out of the back so I tagged what to remove for the contractor. Lo and behold his crew went ahead and removed EVERYTHING except the trees. This view is from our kitchen door.

I mentioned in my last blog how one of the goals of the makeover was to reveal the house. Below you can see how that was accomplished. All the plants around the foundation were removed and a gravel area bordered by 2x6's (I think) was installed. I really like this look and the gravel area near the porch and water faucet has become a nice area for potted fragrant plants.


Below is a photo of the bluestone patio and walkway just after it was completed. At the end of that walkway we tried to solve the drainage problem by installing a french drain under a gravel area as well as installing new gutters off the carport roof. In fact, we had to install gutters around the deck roof as well since we didn't want tons of rain hitting the bluestone in front of the deck. In front of the rock wall I transplanted some of the older daylilies and other flowers I thought would do well. This area has proved to be a tricky one though. That's because it stays much wetter than I'd like because of the drainage from the land above it. The tree you see is an old gnarly crepe myrtle. I don't mean gnarly in a disparaging way but rather that it has tons of knots on it. I believe it received some rather crude pruning at some point in it's life and that's why it's full of knots.

In my next post I'll show the garden in its more mature form as well as the fence and stairs we installed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Rock Wall

Now here is when things started really getting messy. Basically at this point in the makeover we lived in a sea of mud, dirt, and/or sand. And it lasted 3 long months because of rain delays. In the photo above the wood wall has been removed and it is now curving instead of at a 90 degree angle. The first row of rocks are going down. Also to the left, the dirt has been cut out for future stairs. If you look real close in the background you can see my plumber working to reconfigure the location of the water faucet (and you can see my portable greenhouse kind of falling down).

Here's another shot of the beginning of the rock wall. About 1/3rd of the wall went up and then the principle wall builder quit to work in the oil fields of east Texas! So the guy managing the landscaping crew built all the rest of it (and did a fine job).




Below is the finished rock wall and the bluestone starting to go down for the patio and walkway. Above the wall new topsoil has been spread and shaped in order to give a softer, more rounded appearance to the lawn. The stairs up to the lawn are still unfinished in this picture. The landscaper tried to create stairs with the bluestone and some of the rocks but it looked too fussy. Several months later I was able to get my trusty carpenters to build the stairs out of wood and gravel (my landscape architect friend's idea). You might be wondering about that large wall to the left of the future stairs. That's a large concrete pad for a garage that was never built. It backs up to a former alley so I guess former owners planned to drive through the alley to the garage. Note all the plants in black pots on the pad that I had dug up and prayed would survive until I could plant them again. Most of them are daylilies and bearded irises.


There were many frustrations at this point. Early in the project we had lots of rain. (No one's fault of course.) But at this point there were lots of communication issues between my friend and the contractor. I think he couldn't understand why she was asking for certain things to be done. Or maybe he wanted to do them his way and was balking. Regardless, it led to her spending many hours managing the whole project. My frustrations ran to having to watch most of the crew standing around while only 1 or 2 of them worked. And I was paying for all of them. (In the end the project cost more than twice what was estimated!)

In my next blog I'll show and talk about the flower boxes and the real beginnings of my garden - the plants!

New Beginnings

Since it's a new year and not much is happening in the garden (except for the return of the American Goldfinches at last and the first blooms of the Quince), I thought I'd do a little historical retrospective on how my garden came to be. In fact, what I want to show is the nitty gritty of landscape makeovers.

These pictures are the before pics. You'll have to come back to see the after pics later. :-) We moved into the house exactly four years ago. I spent a year watching the backyard and trying to determine how best to change it. The deck and brick walkway, seen below, were very old. I know for a fact that the deck had been put in in the 70's. It was dangerously falling apart. And the brick walkway was another danger where you could trip on bricks that were heaving up.

It also had a big drainage problem. Towards the end of the walkway near those pots, water and mud would collect every time it rained. There was a lot of "goo" down there.

Below is the wood retaining wall behind a very small planting bed. Not very special, is it? Plus, there was no way to go from the walkway to the lawn without having to cross the deck.


And this last picture shows half of the deck ripped off plus the only other planting bed in the backyard. As you can see, the bed was full of Aspidistra, weeds, and some daffodils (which I was thrilled with since I didn't grow them in my old yard). But underneath that old deck...... a concrete driveway! That was very unexpected and required some rethinking of the original plan.


So what was the plan? I worked with a landscape architect who is now a great friend. She spent some time just sitting in the backyard, observing the house and it's relationship to the backyard and the neighborhood. Because the house was part of a once grand neighborhood on the edge of a small rural downtown, she thought that it should evoke a little of the old grandeur but stay true to its country roots. So the plan was to create a rather simple backyard, with a bluestone walkway and patio, a smaller deck, a rock retaining wall, and some square beds for flowers, herbs, and veggies. She wanted to reveal the house instead of hiding it with foundation plantings. In a subsequent post, I'll show some more photos of the makeover process and discuss some of the frustrations (and necessities) of working with contractors.