Tag Archives: Organic gardening

Secret Garden

Hidden behind our six-foot privacy fence, our garden really is a well-kept secret. The only hint of its existence is the occasional tomato plant stretching above the top of the fence. The bulk of my plantings still lie beyond the metal fence at the back of the yard, but I’m slowly expanding my planting areas beyond that, and I think in a couple more seasons, I’ll have something worthy of a Frances Hodgson Burnett story.

Here’s a quick update on the back garden, which is primarily vegetables and herbs, with a few zinnias thrown in for fun:

My wisteria-laden arbor makes exactly the welcoming entrance I had in mind when I installed it behind the garden gate.
My wisteria-laden arbor makes exactly the welcoming entrance I had in mind when I installed it behind the garden gate.
I planted beans along the fence last year. They planted themselves at the end of the season and came up on their own this spring.
I planted beans along the fence last year. They planted themselves at the end of the season and came up on their own this spring.
Those zinnias the neighbor boys helped plant this spring are blooming nicely. I need to gather a bouquet and give it to their mom.
Those zinnias the neighbor boys helped plant this spring are blooming nicely. I need to gather a bouquet and give it to their mom.
Couple more zinnias.
Couple more zinnias.

garden

I’m a little frustrated with my cucumber plants; they’re blooming like mad, but they’ve yet to set fruit. The garden is feeling the absence of the apiary this year. Our last hive crashed last winter, and instead of buying more bees this spring, Ron put our names on the swarm list and hoped for the best. We didn’t get any calls, so we don’t have anybody living in the bee yard this season. Next year, I’m ordering two packages of Italians and maybe one of Russians. I miss having fuzzy little six-legged friends working alongside me in the garden, and I can think of way better ways to spend my time than standing out in the garden with a paintbrush, hand-pollinating cucumber blossoms.

I’ll have to do it within the next week or so if I want them this season, but I’m half-tempted to order some leafcutters just to bridge the gap until we can re-establish a proper apiary next spring. Leafcutters are, like orchard mason bees, a gentle, solitary species that won’t produce honey but will work their little butts off in the garden without giving me any static. In the absence of my beloved A. mellifera, I’m not against hiring a few temps in the interest of getting a decent cucumber crop.

Emily

How my garden grows

I’m slowly but surely turning my backyard into the sort of enchanted garden I’ve always wanted. I’m still several hundred pounds of Sackrete, ten lawn gnomes and a couple more growing seasons away, but it’s really taking shape this summer.

A few photos:

Here is the view from the little bench next to the pond. You can see the spots where my Darwin approach is taking off and making magic.
Here is the view from the little bench next to the pond. I love my mermaid.

From the bench by the pond, you can kind of see what I’m trying to do. The raised beds behind the little black fence are full of compost and have vegetables coming up in them. So far, I’m delighted with them, as they’re super easy to weed, and most of the plants are thriving. I’m still figuring out the ideal spots for various species based on light conditions back there. In the foreground is the pond, barely visible behind the perennials I’ve planted around and in it, and at left is the Darwin Garden, so named because it’s an exercise in survival of the fittest: I’ve planted it entirely with perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals and let them live or die as they will. It’s thriving, as I expected it to, and I intend to expand it into the rest of the yard as time goes by.

Now for a few details:

I cleaned the pond filter today. I still can't believe my $12 homemade filter is working as well as it is.
I cleaned the pond filter today. I still can’t believe that $12 homemade filter is working as well as it is.
Tomatoes and cucumbers. The tomatoes are Tigerellas -- a tasty, wonderfully reliable variety in this area.
Tomatoes and cucumbers. The tomatoes are Tigerellas — a tasty, wonderfully reliable variety in this area.
Darwin Garden residents: last year's chives came back; this year's cilantro and marjoram are doing nicely, and the collards are coming up around the strawberries. Arugula is reseeding itself just outside the frame.
Darwin Garden residents: last year’s chives came back; this year’s cilantro, marjoram and parsley are doing nicely, and the collards are coming up around the strawberries. Arugula is reseeding itself in the upper left.
Trail of Tears beans coming up along the vegetable garden fence.
Trail of Tears beans coming up along the vegetable garden fence. The ground is covered with commercial-grade mulch cloth and a thick layer of leaf mold, so weeds are minimal and easily pulled. In the background, a lawn gnome cosplays the Tenth Doctor between the beehives.
I love my chooks. That pail in the corner is actually the best-designed water dispenser I've ever used.
Buff Orpington hens. That pail in the corner is actually the best-designed water dispenser I’ve ever used.
The water irises I planted in the pond last spring started blooming in May. I am madly in love with them.
The water irises bloomed in May. I am madly in love with them. Dig that mint that decided to be an aquatic plant.

I have a lawn gnome I bought last spring that I’m going to paint this week to look like the Ninth Doctor. I’m hoping to make a pilgrimage to East Alton in a few weeks to score some more gnomes. Eventually, I want gnomes cosplaying each of the Doctor’s regenerations, sprinkled randomly around the yard.

Yay for finally going gray like I mean to accomplish something!
Hooray for gray!

While I was taking pictures, I accidentally set the phone to selfie mode, so I took this totally egocentric photo of my new haircut, which I got last week. I don’t like it, but I never like my hair short. I do like having it healthy, and I’m really going to like it when all this salt and pepper is down to my shoulders and looking all Judy-Collins-circa-1993.

Hope your weekend was productive and pleasant.

 

Eco-Saturday: Darwin gardening

darwin8

In the Southwest, xeriscaping is popular, as it involves planting only native and/or drought-tolerant species in your garden so you don’t end up draining every aquifer west of Amarillo in a misguided effort to keep some delicate green thing alive.

Here in the Midwest, I practice a variant I developed by accident, which I call “Darwin gardening.”

Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.
Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.

The original Darwin Garden was located in our backyard in Belleville, Illinois, and it happened by accident: I started with a neat garden divided into four-foot squares delineated with old bricks I’d found in the garage, with neat mulched paths between them, and by the time we left, my laziness and absolute refusal to coddle weak plants left me with an unruly but outrageously productive tangle of perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals that included echinacea, parsley, Roman chamomile, chives, dill, sage, spinach, cilantro, mint, marjoram, oregano, carrots, blackberries, and waist-high collards that thought they were perennials.

The Darwin Garden wasn’t neatly manicured, but it was healthy, low-maintenance, and completely organic. When you let natural selection dictate your landscaping design, you don’t need pesticides, heavy watering or other environmentally questionable practices to keep your garden thriving. You also don’t need huge blocks of time to take care of your garden, because your plants will be sturdy enough to survive without constant coddling.

Arugula -- a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt -- has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.
Arugula — a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt — has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.

We have a similar garden here. When we moved in last year, I planted a small garden, watered it occasionally, and otherwise ignored it, knowing the fastest way to find out which plants were suited to the local growing conditions was to neglect them and see whether they survived.

That's not a yellow Easter egg. It's an overripe cucumber I'm leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.
That’s not a yellow Easter egg. It’s an overripe cucumber I’m leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.

A year into that experiment, I’ve got sage, strawberries, mint, basil and Shasta daisies that came up with no help from me, and next year’s arugula and cucumbers have already planted themselves.

Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I've had any luck growing it.
Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I’ve had any luck growing it.

If you’re a little bit concerned about the environment and a lot lazy, consider planting your own Darwin Garden. If you can tolerate the frustrations of that first year, you’ll find it pays big dividends in subsequent seasons.

Emily