I have to thank Mother Nature that we completed our planned garden design changes during the spring’s “Silly Season” ~ long before the relentless, blistering temperatures and water shortages we’ve endured this summer.
Remember my last post introduced my garden design plan to “do less.” Well, we shuttered the garden changes not a moment too soon.
They say war is hell. So is trying to garden in an extraordinary, inhospitable climate.
Still, like any great matriarch, Mother Nature teaches us many things. Here are a few I took to heart this growing season….
Picking up from my previous post about having to do more to get to less, I needed to practice Perseverance and Patience.
We had to put in the effort. Overcome obstacles, and face some challenges ~ if not downright hardship, if you ask Bill ^:^
New, Downsized Farmette & Prepping for the Greenhouse
One of the bigger projects we undertook was to rather dramatically downsize our farmette. We had marked off the space for the greenhouse last year so we figured that into the new design.
While we love the harvest of just-picked, farm-to-table vegetables and fruits, we just didn’t want to weed and care for so many plants. Over the years, the Farmette had become more work than we wanted to invest.
That “less is more, please” whispering in my ear had become a bit of a cheer if not a cry.
We reduced the space by perhaps two-thirds.
Bill measured off and installed a new, clean, black aluminum fencing that didn’t require cement post installations. It looked fabulous in short order.
In terms of the edibles, we retained the asparagus, of course. After the asparagus is harvested in spring, the plants become, in my eyes, a kind of thicket of sensual ornamental grass that is tall, wispy, and at the same time, a happy haven for birds who especially seem to love the berries. (However, beware, they are toxic to humans and animals.)
By this time in late spring, our much beloved garlic was already on its way to harvest so in deference to all those tasty bulbs that were soon to be dug up, we needed to plant some of the tomato plants outside the new black fencing. Otherwise, we just added the peppers, tomato, eggplant, zucchini, nasturtiums, basil; revived the arugula and the ornamental Russian Sage in two corners.
I moved one of the roses to the far side of the farmette front to create a symmetrical balance in a kind of trompe l'oeil. And added the oh-so-pretty mini allium, Allium lusitanicum, in front of the hydrangeas.
I could readily loop the flag bunting on either side of the new black metal fencing and voila ~ we were good to go.
And so far, the critters seem to respect the new fencing.
I also planted some edibles in the top of the rain barrel and in pots now in the new, cleaned-up area next to the new compost bin. I like it.
The Lilac Garden
I joke that this could be christened the “carpal tunnel” garden room because removing the English ivy and the lilacs’ roots was so very tedious.
For this task, Mother Nature “taught” me Resilience, Strength and also, Optimism. I had to keep looking at what would be the final design.
And know that I’d get there. Eventually! (Perhaps she also taught me anger management. Ha!)
Previously, we used this space to store wheelbarrows in and to revitalize and nurture clients’ sick plants. Essentially, there was no design there.
It’s on a side of the house that we rarely visited so once the lilacs bloomed, I looked the other way. Don’t judge me! I had other priorities. (smile)
Over time the lilacs and hollies in front were merging ever closer to the air conditioner unit. Bill voiced his desire to be able to get into the area in case the AC needed servicing. Especially given the severe summer weather conditions we now experience…
Me? I just wanted a neat, clean area.
The space was soooo riddled with ivy roots that in order to save my sanity, I set out to remove the invasive roots in quadrants.
This strategy works for any challenging horticulture work. For example, when working for clients, especially for large areas and forested ones, I’d tell my team the same advice. This way you get to appreciate the results in small “wins or triumphs” rather than feeling you’re not getting anywhere because the terrain and task is so overwhelming.
Once the roots were out (and I’m under no illusion that I got them all) ~ I laid in newspapers to help prevent any growth until I could super mulch the space.
I continued to work my way down the rather steep hill behind the compost. I used the leftover cinder blocks as a wall.
I laid in landscape fabric on the incline.
All the stages were performed in an effort to contain the roots and fulfill a clean, modern design.
At the same time, I put in a walkway into the space to the AC, using metal tile designs I had. I also filled two planters with heuchera and placed them strategically to add some extra pretty there.
I so loved my little Robin Mama who kept me company throughout the project. She was very sweet and I was delighted to have her on my team…
Here are a few photos of the finished project.
I purchased rocks, stones, decomposed granite (DG), and cor-ten steel edging. For the stepping stones, slate that I already had.
The project here used a mix of repurposed materials and some new, along with lots of hard work.
I then worked my way down to the adjacent compost area.
Redesigned Compost Cabana
I wanted the look to be more rustic, natural. Especially because we replaced the white fence around the farmette with the black one. The previous white-match didn’t resonate any longer.
Originally, Bill created the good-sized compost bin using pallets.
For the new look, Bill interpreted the design using wood we had left over from, something..
It was a lot more difficult to pull off than it looks. But in the end, I love the natural, rustic look. And it still allows for good air flow while keeping critters at bay.
Once upon a time I created a mini orchard with six dwarf trees.
Turned out, some weren’t so “dwarfy.”
While the apricot was always a spring star with its lovely flowers and fragrance, it just pooped out every year with half-ripe, shrivled fruit.
We cut it down two years ago.
On the other hand, our peach harvest was abundant, filling bushels and aluminum bins. I made pies, ice cream and peach panna cotta and more…
This year, though, the tree just looked, well, sad. I couldn’t bear it.
We cut it down in late spring..
The cherry tree that was to have been a dwarf, got waaay too big the second year and had some issues so we had to take it down, too.
That was also in the era when we weren’t in residence all the time ~ we were working in town/Gotham so by the time we’d return on the weekends, the birds were smacking their cherry-stained beaks. Harumph…
The male apple is all that remains of the orchard. I need it for the espaliered female apple tree in the front, near the front door~ bordering the driveway.
I’ll just add that we loved having fruit trees. We wanted to add nut trees. But at this stage of our lifestyle, unless the trees are guaranteed dwarf or are potted patio growers, it’s not in the cards for us to grow fruit trees in an orchard.
Remember, we are aiming to do less maintenance in our garden.
The egress to the Arbor had always just been turf. Just because…
Over time, the good turf got compromised with the rat-weed “grass” that the “mow, blow, & go guys” use to clear out the neighbor’s yard. And into ours :(
Consequently, it took too much work for Bill to mow the smallish space; or to use the edger.
I moved the slate from inside the arbor to the entrance front, removed the “weed grass,” interplanted with creeping thyme and added stacked brick borders on either side in a swooping, welcoming shape.
The arbor is a lovely gateway to the back and looks beautiful in every season.
Day or night.
Yet, as the Coral Bark, Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ the main plant element in the design grew in and shaded the walk so much, the turf was struggling, even the little bit that framed the slate steps.
Change was in order.
We invested in faux turf for under the arbor.
I have no problem using faux. We have enjoyed the look on our water garden steps for years.
It looks natural, and because there is no need for all that water or mowing, it’s much more environmentally beneficial.
Our beloved cherry laurels border the water garden, providing a deep green backdrop that is beautiful all year long. They are especially loved in the spring when their candelabras create fragrant, sweet-smelling flowers.
The birds, butterflies, and praying mantis love them too.
But our laurels “suffer” from too much love! They have thrived so well that they were over eight feet tall before we knew it. You can see above that they were a mere three feet or so when I planted them. You can see the arbor and the roses beyond the “teenage” laurels.
Now, it’s a room with no view out or over.
Bill trimmed it by three feet or so this year in late spring. I removed all the leaves and branches from the inside. This is key to healthy laurels. It helps them breath and grow.
Still, next year we will trim the laurel walls another four feet.
Another lesson Mother Nature teaches me is Respect. Respect for the interaction of the plants and their pollinators. Respect for the climate and the interaction on our environment and life….
It's been an all-too-tough summer for us with the double whammy of blistering heat and a drought.
We've managed to water under the guidelines of the every other day drought restrictions imposed in our area.
The only plants that got extra water rations TLC are the newbie plants I'm trialing for The Michigan Bulb Company They are coming along albeit slowly, thanks to the climate challenges... More on that to come.
I think Mother Nature tells us that we can’t just plant and let things go. We need to nurture. Plants are living things...
On the other hand, while we shouldn’t continue to move plants too frequently like so much furniture in the living room; gardens are dynamic and change is the name of the game.
Not just change within or because of the seasons; but also change over the years.
Note the changes in your garden journal and with images in your journal and/or look book/mood boards.
A calendar is a companion to the journal. Plan ahead for horticulture maintenance, including pruning at the right time for the plant’s health (vs. getting it to look “neat” for a family party!).
And yes, removing trees or plants that the birds have unwittingly sown. Before they get too big for the space, your neighbors’ consideration, and storm management.
We all need to be good plant parents.
We all need to respect and care for our plants and gardens.
Just think of the plant love they give to us!
If you don’t do the garden work yourself, please hire a trained horticulturist or master gardener. And a trained arborist.
Making a garden neat is not the same thing as caring for the plants.
Gardens inspire us. They foster our moods and help determine our wellness and good health.
Plus, if you're more into the money metrics, you can figure that landscaping adds anywhere from 15 to 20% to the value of your home.
Garden art is all about change. Gardens are living art.
Francis Bacon: "Nature to be commanded must by obeyed."
So, “Yes Maam.”
Follow her lead.
Observe. Persevere. Be Patient. Be Resilient. Embrace Optimism. Practice Respect for her world that she so generously shares with us..
I continue to learn so much from Mother Nature.
And I hope my lessons learned and not to back away from change inspires you as well.
Whether your gardens are ornamental or edible or a combination, gardens are a true luxury.