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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Garden Design - Part 2

Sometimes when you are designing a garden you come across unsurmountable obstacles. In my own garden it's an area filled with jugulone poisoned soil from black walnut trees. Maple trees and other trees with large, shallow roots can make it almost impossible to plant a garden. This can be very frustrating if you don't have many spaces to choose from for your garden.

One solution would be to mass a bunch of containers in that area and fill them with all kinds of plant material. I really liked this solution in the top photo, cover the ground with mulch and put something there that will make you smile.

Accessories are an important part in garden design. Perhaps you just need a spot of color in an area that is waiting for seasonal bloom. Maybe you just inherited a cool bowling ball and want to show it off!

It's important to take into consideration the style of your house and gardens when you choose accessories. Since my garden is named "Old Country Gardens" and my house is an older colonial style, I like accessories that are old or appear old.

Seating is another important consideration. You might want to sit in your garden, or sit looking at your garden. But, one thing is for sure, there is going to be a time that you are out there working in your garden and you are going to want to sit down. Why not make the experience pleasant?

Nature plays a huge role in a gardeners life and should be a priority when designing a garden. If you plan on inviting creatures of the earth to your garden, you have to choose plants that they will appreciate. Many bird species need specific homes so you have to do a bit of homework to find out what is needed. Having lots of birds around is a good thing, especially here on Long Island where mosquitoes carry West Nile disease. I'd rather have something eating those mosquitoes than have them eating me.

Don't forget a drink of water for those lovely creatures. I find that many larger birds actually prefer this bird bath at ground level. They will line up in the area and wait their turn to take a mini spa treatment.

Having butterflies fly around in your garden is like having the blooms take wing and float around you in the air. Yet, so many people don't want those darn caterpillars chewing up their foliage. Well that's how it is, you need to feed those caterpillars if you want to enjoy the butterflies.

Pests abound and you are sure to find a few of them in your garden. Plan in advance so you have enough plant material for all. Another option is to find companion plants that will deter the pests. In my garden I have a large clump of Hellebores. The rabbits never nibble on the bulbs that grow at the edge of that clump.

Lots and lots of plants means that your chances of having something left for you to enjoy is going to be much greater. It also means diversity, the key to a healthy garden.

Plants such as Achillea (yarrow) actually invite tiny insects called minute pirate bugs. The larvae of those bugs eat thrips. So what? Well, thrips make holes in my daylilies and I don't want to spray any deadly chemicals so I grow yarrow by my daylilies.

Besides, don't they look nice together? The orange yarrow two photos above was 'Terra Cotta' and the yellow one in this photo is 'Moonshine'. As for this spectacular daylily, it's name is 'Big George' and it will stop you in your tracks.

Thats it for this part on garden design. Next I'll finally get around to things you need to consider when choosing your plant material.

Till then, stay safe my gardening friends.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Make your own Pots (easy as can bee)

Exactly one week ago I planted my peat pellets. I had brought them into my gardening class along with some seeds. We talked about the importance of reading the back of the seed packages. It's amazing what you'll learn if you actually read everything on the back.

I planted Swiss chard 'Bright Lights', Ruby Queen hybrid corn and Bi-licious Hybrid corn. By day two I had a problem, fuzzy mold growing on the tops of the peat pellets, oops, too much water!

I removed the clear top that came with the tray and the mold stopped growing although it seems to be inhibiting some seeds. By day 3 I saw germination on the Ruby corn.

Uh oh, last night after class I noticed that the roots of the corn were already coming out of those little peat pellets. Just think about all those kiddie seed kits they sell and this is about how big those pots are. Better do something quick!

Out came the newspaper. Lately it's been filled with so much fertilizer that I have full confidence it will do a great job feeding my babies.

Fold your newspaper in half (don't worry if the fertilizing posts are facing outwards)

Take a jar, a can, or something of this size that's round and clean.

Roll the jar along, bringing the newspaper around. Don't roll too tight or you won't be able to slip the jar out later.

See the bottom of the jar still inside?

Fold one flap of paper down on the bottom.

Fold a second flap down and squish it hard.

Fold the last piece down and hold it in place for a second. Smooth the bottom as flat as you can.

Slid the jar out of your paper and holding the folded bottom against your belly (I knew it would come in handy some day) fold a collar down on the open top piece. It doesn't fold flat and pretty but it folds enough to hold the circle together.

Fill with potting soil. My paper was strong enough to scoop right into a bag of potting soil and then I added some more by hand. Sorry, my hands were too dirty to photograph that step.

Put your filled pots into a water proof container. My daughter had used this aluminum pan at school for a demonstration but it still has a purpose.

Now take your seedling and plant it. Uh Oh! Some of these babies have roots that grew right into the next peat pellet! Hope I didn't break any off.

Here's the finished project. Nice corn babies planted in recycled newspaper pots. I feel so proud that I'm going to sit down and have a treat. Guess what it is?

P.S. I wanted to add the link to the site where I originally read about these newspaper pots. I saw it at The Cheap Vegetable Gardener and it's not the only good tip I've picked up at his site. Right now he's writing about worm bins and earlier this month he wrote an awesome post on making your own soil sifter.

Garden Design - Part 1

Last night we held our second gardening class at Walt Whitman High school. I've promised to cover the class material here at Old Country Gardens so that students that miss a class can keep up to date. This is also for the many people who told me they'd like to attend but could not.

Our topic is Garden Design which I consider different from Landscape Design. By garden design, I'm talking about a specific garden, not your entire plot of land (which will be covered next week).

Before you begin choosing actual plant material for your garden you need to consider a number of factors. Here's some things you should think about before sticking your shovel in the ground.

What kind of garden do you want? ___________________ (Fill in the blank, it could be a tropical garden, a cottage garden, an edible garden, herb garden or so on.)

Are you sharing your garden with other household members? Children or pets in the garden will determine much about what you should or should not do.

How much work do you want to do? There's no such thing as a "no-work" garden but the type of garden and plant material you choose will determine the amount of work involved in keeping that garden in good shape. Ask a farmer how easy it is to keep plain farm rows planted, weeded and harvested.

What kind of soil do you have? Now is a great time to get your soil tested. Take the time (and money) to amend your soil before you begin to plant. Incorporate compost and manure. Pay attention to the results of your soil test. Rather than choosing plants that have you amending your soil yearly, look for plants that grow well in the conditions you already have.

Water is a huge consideration when planning a garden. Do you live in an area with water restrictions? Have you suffered drought conditions or flooding conditions lately? What kind of drainage do you have?

How do you get water to your gardens? Do you have to drag a hose to get there? Are there underground sprinklers in that area and do you know where they are so you don't hit them when digging?
Do you have a budget for your garden plan? Hiring somebody to come help in the garden can drastically change the cost of any garden plan.

Be realistic in what will grow in your weather zone. If you keep choosing plants that struggle to bloom or survive through the winter you will soon be very frustrated with your garden.

How are you going to get to/around/through your garden? Do you want to install hard-scape such as concrete walkways or are free wood-chips in line with your budget?

How do you plan on edging your garden? No edge (just lawn up to the bed) is fine but you will need to maintain that edge every time you mow the lawn. Edging can be fancy stone, plastic strips or simple wooden logs (see the bottom of the photo above). Choose edging that suits your house and landscape.

Is there a specific feature you want to include in your garden? For instance, do you want to design a garden around a water feature such as a pond or swimming pool? You will need to have access to the workings of that feature for seasonal maintenance.

There are still more things to consider before beginning to chose your plant material. Stay tuned as this will be continued...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cosmetic Surgery

The Patient

Prepped for Surgery

Surgeon's Tools
Mmmm, minty fresh breath!

For redrahde - Aaargh Designs 2000

The Story:

About five years ago my family went on a ski trip to New Hampshire (I think). I'm not much of a skier, I went shopping and saw this crazy looking thing. It reminded me of my childhood as I sat for hours every Friday and watched my Mom get her hair piled up high on her head at the local beauty parlor. Even though I couldn't figure out if this was supposed to be a bird house or a feeder I just had to buy it for my garden.

The reason I'm not sure where we were when I bought this is that during that trip my daughter (in the fourth grade then) was struck in the back by a young man on a snowboard. The impact of the board to her small body lifted her out of her ski's and landed her head first many feet away. Her kidney was shattered into multiple pieces, the first hospital she was rushed to had to turn her away as they did not have the facilities needed to treat her. We finally ended up at Dartmouth Children's Hospital in the hands of a bunch of miracle workers. So to keep this story short, I just don't remember where we were at the beginning of that trip.

For those of you who read the comments on posts, redrahde has been looking for another one of these thingies. I went out yesterday to see if there was something printed on the bottom but I saw nothing there. Since it was so dirty, I decided to bring it in for a face lift. I was shocked to find an inscription on the bottom but so far I've had no luck getting a hit on-line. If anybody can help, please post a comment here!

Today is Thursday and tonight is our second Adult Education Gardening program. We are going to be doing Basic Design so I will be putting many of those concepts on-line here in the next days.

Off we go...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Times of the Thyme Garden

(Photo taken April 17, 2006)

Trying to design gardens for our 1.3+ acre lot was quite a challenge for me. At first I treated this place like a farm, planting things in rows out in the backyard. Rows were easy but not very pretty. Still, I liked sitting in the middle of those rows and imagining I was on my own mini-farm.

Over the years, as I toured gardens in other states, I tried hard to pay attention to how people managed larger plots of land. The books I read kept talking about "garden rooms" but our property felt like one big room, kind of like a convention hall, all blah and no oomph.

During a tour out west (well, everything is west, even if it's north west or south west), I saw a cool feature. It was a garden that was shaped like a square, set in a large expanse of lawn. While the outside perimeter was a square, the inside path was a circle. I was hooked. When I came home I looked at the 25' X 25' area I had planted in rows and decided to start all over. Thus began the Thyme Garden.

(May 2, 2006)

Once a year I designed a children's garden for the annual flower and garden show at Hofstra Arboretum (on the campus of Hofstra University). This flower show had lots of potential but fizzled out due to lack of advertisement. After the first year I learned that many props were thrown out so I began to take things home rather than toss them in a dumpster.

That year my garden design was a life sized board game for the children to play on. I brought home the stepping stones which my daughters had painted for the show, they are featured in a past post here. We also had a hopscotch board but instead of standard numbers, we painted clock faces with the time 1:00 through 8:00. They now form one of the entrances to the thyme garden.(May 17, 2006)

The circle in the center of the garden is lined with Sedum 'Matrona' and Sedum telephaeum 'Ruprectii'. I started them all from cuttings and in one year we had a nice formal border from them.

Lots of containers went in the back corner. Unfortunately I left those containers out this winter so I hope they're still in one piece come spring.

Another corner in the thyme garden has a large planting of Lysimachia clethroides (Goose neck loose strife). These concrete blocks were found on our property and I'm using them as a barrier to keep the Lysimachia in place (ok, who's snickering out there?).

This beautiful black iron gate was given to me by my friends Gianna and Richard, they live up the road from me and I've written about their many wonderful garden gifts in other postings. I still get a thrill walking through that charming gate. It is the beginning of our garden board game.

Finding the right material to cover our walkway was a tough one. I had seen a walkway of crushed shells out at the Peconic river herb farm on Eastern Long Island. My mom gathered shells for me for two years before the circle was fully covered. Today if you went out there you'd hardly find one shell now, they need to be constantly refreshed with a new layer or dirt and debris quickly cover them up again.

This is a bad shot of my daughter Emily who was getting paid that day to cut back the Sedum, I think that after that day she decided to be poor instead.

This photo was taken in 2004, the first year of the Thyme garden. Back then the stepping stones were newly installed and they were mulched with straight horse manure. I actually think this looks nicer than the Sedum acre that has now over-run that area.

Here's a photo of the hop-scotch entrance right after a fresh layer of seashells were put down. That arbor is no longer there as the grape vines were too vigorous and kept pulling it down.

This final shot is taken of the fall plant material in that garden. Funny thing, I don't remember that Butterfly bush at all and I know it's not there today...hmmm...must have been a "plants on wheels" day.

The sad news is this garden is really struggling now. My neighbor has let her yard run wild and there are now 5 black Walnut trees just on the other side of the fence. Most of the plants in this garden are succumbing to the poison emitted by those awful trees. I really have to trial lots of plants to see what will grow there now. Even the daylilies and the Valerian are struggling just to stay alive.

These photos aren't eye candy, those will come soon.