Thursday, 18 October 2012

Getting Started Outdoors

Gardens. I like gardens. I like them full of plants and bugs and critters – but I don’t want the plants to be weeds, and I don’t want bugs that eat my plants, and I don’t want the critters to make a mess. I want my garden to look like it was taken from a magazine, but not quite, and I want my flowers to look like nature put them there, not me, only a little better than nature. So I want gardens that are someplace between wildflower meadow and a Better Homes and Gardens photoshoot.

Apparently the folks who lived here 2 owners ago – the ones who commissioned a painting of the house – also loved beautiful gardens because the house was featured by local garden tours at one time. Sadly the owners we bought from had transformed those gardens to a dog run, and let things go. A lot.

Here is what the yard looked like when we bought the house:

Possibly the roughest lawn I have ever had. Don't break an ankle!

Hardly ready for a garden tour or magazine shoot. The lawn is very torn up, and the gardens are all trampled. The wooden retaining wall is completely rotted, and most of the plants are dead. The trees haven’t been trimmed in ages, and are overhanging the pool, dropping needles in the water every time you try to get past them. Basically the whole yard needs a redo to get it back in shape.

Note the goldenrods - provided by nature.
We waited for things to get worse before we set in to make them better. Basically we neglected the yard for most of the summer, focusing on tasks inside the house. But with late summer approaching, it was finally time to set to work.
Before doing anything to the back garden I had to "prune" the junipers a little. First I pruned them to ground level. Then I pruned the roots out of the ground and into the trailer. Next I’ll take them to the dump too. There is something satisfying about removing a misbehaving tree, but at the same time, those trees would have been quite nice had they been maintained over the past few years.

Well that opens things up a bunch!
We have laid in cardboardto start killing off the weeds where the garden will be expanded.

With the junipers out of the way I was able to turn the soil and get the garden in workable condition.

At some point in the middle of all this, I removed the rotted lumber across the front of the pool. The chainsaw cut the timbers into manageable pieces which were then pried out of the earth with a long bar before being carted to the trailer and off to the dump. The garden was turned and the earth sifted to remove weeds. I heeled in a bunch of rescues from our old house including some daylilies, Hardy Hydrangea, hostas, and a few other bits.

Half-way done - I like using a hand fork and going slowly to pull all the living material out of the soil that I can. No roots, no leafs, and no seeds if I can help it. I did rescue some grasses and Stella D'oro Daylily and other stuff as I went though.

In the back garden, we have now heeled in all the rest of the plants we brought with us from our last house, including Madonna Lilies, more daylilies, a rose, more hostas, rhubarb, and other perennials. In the spring we will re-evaluate the gardens and re-plant evertything in its permanent home. This fall I plan to set up an espalier along the fence, and I already have a bunch of Apple Trees on order to plant along it. I want to try a Belgian Fence pattern back there, but am a little nervous. My goal right now is to continue to maintain things back there until the apple trees are ready for delivery. Just keeping the soil barren and disturbing any weeds that get started is the goal.

We have saved all our moving boxes to use as our barrier layer for weeds once the trees come in and we figure out what the future holds for the garden in front of the pool. We have always used plain cardboard rather than landscape fabric under our mulch for a couple reasons.

  1. It works better. Nothing grows through the cardboard for at least 3 seasons.
  2. It easier to pull what weeds do get started. Since the cardboard blocks anything growing from rootstock, only seed-weeds can start, and they can’t reach soil, so they never get a hold on anything.
  3. Its biodegradeable. 10 years from now I won’t still be finding shreds of cardboard wrapped around my tools. I can’t say the same about landscape fabric.
  4. You can always add to the plantstock. 2 years from now I can add plants by simply poking through the cardboard with a trowel. With landscape fabric you need to cut the fabric, and that means extra tools.
  5. You can “lasagna garden” If you put in a layer of manure or a different mulch, you can just add another layer of cardboard to prevent mixing colours/textures, or to be sure weeds in the manure don’t grow.
I could go on. I really don’t understand why folks love landscape fabric so much. To me it is one of the worst gardening inventions ever. For mulch we tend to use wood chips, or even hot shredded wood from tree trimmers a lot. With the cardboard barrier under it we have never lost a plant to nitrogen burns or seen a huge depletion of soil nitrogen before the chips started to decay. We have also been fortunate not to have trouble with disease transmission this way, but it is a concern, especially when you consider that much of a tree trimmer's business is removing diseased limbs/trees. Sadly, we don't know any tree trimmers here who could supply us with the shredded chips.

Of immediate concern is washout of the garden in front of the pool. The wood was holding everything in place, and it has started to erode. I need to get something happening there before we loose all the soil!

Anyway, enough for now. Watch for Apple-tree planting in an update soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please take a minute to share your thoughts!