Sunday, June 08, 2008

How does your garden grow?

If you visit this site often, you'll realize that I am kind of an accidental gardener. I try things out that I see on TV or read on the web. I am very interested in plants and organic gardening so I am always trying to learn something new to try out at home. I see gardening as a kind of therapy. I am usually out getting dirty early in the morning or after work if it isn't too hot.

I realized that up until now, I usually post about the garden without including a lot of info - mostly pictures. I figured it was about time I departed from that and shared some of my successes and some of my problems (usually occurring simultaneously).

I don't use chemicals in the yard. I have started putting down blood meal and I use my own compost but that's about it. I hand weed, use a push mower, and get water from my rain barrels. Most people think I'm crazy. I don't consider myself to be on the forefront of anything "green" and frankly, I think it is laziness that keeps me gardening this way. I would loose track of chemicals and fertilizer and such and probably end up killing myself or my plants. Same with the motorized gardening equipment. Shovels are dangerous enough for me. I am guessing that the folks before me did something magical to the soil in this place because it doesn't seem that I need to do much for the plants to do well.

My yard has about four main areas where I garden. The easiest (and most rewarding) part is the raspberry border along our back fence. I cut this flush to the ground in November and then in the following year, I get two crops of raspberries. One will come in another week or so and then a second will arrive in early September. Besides embellishing the fence this year, I don't do much in this area of the garden.
I also have a vegetable garden and then two flower garden areas (one in the back and one in the front). The vegetable area is usually not too exciting: squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and this year we have peas and will soon be harvesting garlic. I pulled up our first garlic today and it still isn't ready but I'll use it in pesto tonight. You allow the garlic to flower but fold the flowers back so that energy can be diverted to the bulb. The flowers are also tasty in pasta dishes. I use a red variety (see how the stem is kind of pink) of garlic and plant cloves about 9" apart. Each clove will produce a full head of garlic.
Next to the veggie garden, I tried something new this year: potted lettuce. I have bib, romaine, kale, and chard all growing in pots. The optimistic side of me said that this would help keep it away from the rabbits. I'll let you know how it all does. So far, after two weeks, it all seems happy.

Across the yard is a small herb garden: basil, rosemary, and nasturtium. We have a mint patch that we are letting go crazy as well. Basil does extremely well in our yard. These 12 plants will produce more than enough pesto for the summer.

I compost. I am starting to think that I am not a very good composter. I put all my yard waste and all of my veggie waste from the home as well as coffee grounds and egg shells into the compost heap. I layer this and then turn it every week or so. The reason that I am calling my compost skills into question is that I am starting to get some odd (nice, but odd) plants around the garden. Most notably, I have squash plants sprouting in every area of the yard. I also have a few strawberry plants popping up and now tomatoes. I was told that seeds would not survive in the compost but I must be doing something wrong because they are obviously surviving. I am going to pull most of this stuff out but I am going to let the squash in the front yard go to see what happens - it might even look nice up there. If anyone has any idea what I'm doing wrong, please let me know. Oddly enough, no weeds have started sprouting up this way - only fruits and veggies. So far, I consider this a minor nuisance but maybe it will have it's own rewards later on.The back yard flowers are primarily perennials that I planted last year and the year before. I am particularly proud of the hollyhocks. They were started from seed and got about 2 feet high last year but never flowered. This year, they will top out above 4 feet and are about to flower. The anticipation is killing me. I moved the lilac next to them but today I dug it out and moved it away because the hollyhocks were getting too big and stunting the lilac. I hope to eventually transplant a clump of these out front. When they bloom, I'm sure I'll be bragging about them on the site.

I also have two trellis with clematis on it and hanging baskets. A funny thing happened this year: one of the clematis got blown off it's stem in the spring. A brand new plant came up but it seems healthier than the one that was there before and fuller than the one that did not get damaged. These are starting to flower. This is a pic of the one that got no damage. The one above is the other. Should I cut these back every year? I need to do some research.The front yard saw a big transformation this year. I designed it to be like a woodland path. I know, there's no woodlands but hopefully it will eventually grow up and feel more "wild". Many of the plants are left-overs from wildflower seeds and perennials (blue bells, forget-me-nots, lilac, black eyed susans, etc.) I put in last year. I am still trying to identify everything. If anyone knows what those pink phlox-like flowers are, please let me know. They have kind of a furry top with great flowers. These and the forget-me-nots are everywhere but I would like to control them a little better so they look a little more deliberate.
This year, I also started five new patches of flowers. They are all doing well and if the hollyhocks are any indication, these will look great in another year. One patch is echinacea, another foxgloves, another is lupins, one sunflowers, and finally (and I know I will catch hell for this from some of the housebloggers) I planted a patch of morning glories up front to grow up one of my columns on the porch. For background on the morning glories, just click the keyword in the sidebar and you can read the controversy. I saved seeds from the ones in the back. I still maintain that these morning glories are pretty spectacular and unlike any I've seen - they should look great out front. If anyone wants some morning glory seeds, let me know.

The intent of the front yard design was to have it expandable to the entire front yard and to create a fun place for my daughter to play and an easy way for me to tend the garden. It is fun and hopefully will continue to grow along these lines striking that odd balance of "wild" and "planned". I hope that I can do this without buying any more plants though. Between the front and the back, I think I have over 20 different varieties of perennials - plenty to fill the yard, I think. Right now, it is not very photogenic but it looks good in person and I bet it will look great in a few months.


Jenni said...

Is the pink flower Sweet William?

Everything looks beautiful. I really like the surprise veggies.

Tiny Oak Park Bungalow said...

Thanks Jenni, I checked google image and that's precisely what it is. You learn something new every day! I've become pretty good at identifying most common plants but have never come across this before.

Jennifer said...

I was going to guess Dianthus, too! I have lots of it growing in my wildflower bed.

Great garden!

Mom Woodworth said...

Gary Gasparini would be so proud!

Andy said...

Everything looks very promising, and like you say, I'm sure it's awesome in person. Here's my "pot o' chard" as of May 31:

It's sits in full sun from about 11 a.m. on. Obviously, when I return from my trip, I'm going to have to harvest some of's even bigger now.

TopVeg said...

Your veg patch looks exciting to me! Productive too!

erin said...

i have a theory on the surprise vegetables:

from i've read, you need an equal amount of green matter and brown matter to make the pile get as hot as it needs to to destroy weeds and other types of seeds. there's not much brown matter available in the midwest in the summer - i live in iowa and have a hard time as well.

coffee grounds count as brown matter. but other than that - shredded leaves, etc. they say you can bag your lawn clippings, then spread them out on the driveway to turn brown for a few days. i tried this and am severely impatient.

i know you can purchase "accelerator" stuff - maybe that would help?


StuccoHouse said...

You tend your yard pretty much like I do. I'm also much more lazy than I am "green" but have a reel mower, compost & rain barrel.

On the seed in your compost question. Sounds like your compost isn't heating up enough (i.e. you need more green). Try adding a thick payer of lawn clippings. You will actually start to see a little steam coming off the top.

Tiny Oak Park Bungalow said...

I think you guys are right about the heat issue. I will try the more brown and the more green suggestions and see what happens. New news: I think I have squash AND pumpkins (or maybe mroe cucumbers) coming up. Now that they are getting larger, I am noticing that there are two types of plants.