The New Home Economics


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Finally, spring

Prince was right: sometimes it does snow in April. It snowed quite a bit this April, so I’m squeezing all my garden work into May—I’ve done some all-day marathon weeding, dividing, and replanting sessions and I’m about halfway done, optimistically.

But my cherry tree is blooming:

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Last year, Adam increased the size of several of my garden beds when he did his paver path project. He also created a new berm in front, which I started planting last August. Then I went to a Wild Ones conference in February and decided I must add another garden bed to the back yard. We now will only have one very small patch of grass.

All of this is to say that I have many spaces to fill in, and nearly all of them are shady. Fortunately, I watched all available episodes of Big Dreams, Small Spaces on Netflix this winter, and it’s making me look at my gardens with new eyes. Monty Don has come to America and I am now a fan.

My biggest takeaway from the show is that you don’t need hundreds of different kinds of plants in your garden. In more than one episode Don asserts that a garden really only needs ten types of plants. TEN!? I’ve always known repetition is a key element of design, but this made me think about it in a new way—I have easily 45 different varieties of plants, counting vegetables and fruits.

The show made me realize why I love my garden best in July. Could it be because coneflowers—a repeating element that ties every area of my yard together—are in full bloom?

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(photo from last year)

This time of year is when my lack of repetition makes my front yard garden less appealing than it could be. I have only one small patch of tulips that are pretty. It’s time to take Monty Don’s advice.

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Since my bloodroot in the back yard were spreading quite a bit, I divided them and planted them all over my front yard gardens. Step one.

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My Jacob’s Ladder, another pretty and easy-to-grow woodland plant, also had spread quite a bit. So this patch has been divided and moved around, too. (Photo from last year.)

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I’m also dividing and replanting Solomon’s Seal. It’s a gorgeous native woodland perennial, and easy to maintain. I first planted it in the dry shade under a silver maple and it’s thriving there. This will be another unifying theme in my shade gardens.

All of this dividing and replanting is also saving me a little money, which is nice. Things are moving along in the vegetable gardening realm as well:

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I put my lettuce out very late. I was putting together the hoop house and realized I actually didn’t need it, so instead I put some chicken wire on the frame to keep squirrels out—they LOVE digging up freshly planted seedlings. The wire did not keep Buckles the black lab from lying on the lettuce one night, but the lettuce recovered nicely and we’re now starting to pick some. I should be able to remove the wire this weekend.

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Another idea I read about over the winter was interplanting strawberries and shallots. I’m curious to see how it will turn out. I’m putting my husband’s saved beard hair trimmings on the strawberries every other day or so until the plants get big enough that the rabbits lose interest.

I’ve got onions, carrots, and leeks planted in the garden, but that’s it. Everything was so late that I didn’t bother with peas or radishes this year. I don’t plan on putting in tomatoes or peppers until next weekend, the 19th or 20th. The weather has been a little too volatile this spring.

Happy spring to you; I hope to be back with my annual Memorial Day phenology photo shoot at the end of the month.

 


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My back yard landscape plan

I am finally unveiling what I’ve been working on for more than two months: my back yard landscape plan!  It is as complete as it’s going to be, so let’s take a look.

I want to walk you through my process, because I am really jazzed about how it went. I used Adobe Illustrator as my landscape design tool, rather than the traditional graph paper and tracing paper. I took a landscaping class in February and the idea of re-drawing the entire thing every time I wanted to move something or change something frustrated me really quickly.  Fortunately, I have an older copy of Illustrator on my home computer and, measurements of my back yard in hand, I created a document where each square on the grid represented 1 foot of my back yard. Made the math part really easy (click to enlarge).

Adobe Illustrator as landscape design tool

So without further ado, let’s walk through the steps.

back yard existing hardscape and plants

Here’s the back yard (and sides) as it exists now. North is to the right. Pretty much everything that’s white in here is turf grass and/or bare ground.  I have some existing planted areas, such as my raspberries. Some areas are so shady (like the corner by the compost bin) that no grass will grow there. The concrete sidewalk is old and tree roots have made it very uneven. Speaking of trees, here’s the same landscape with existing shade trees and drainage problems:

The green shady areas are the areas of more than 75% shade. You could extend those borders out even a bit further if you wanted to include the 35-50% shade areas.  The blue is where we have standing water in the spring — it also floods our garage each year.

final back yard plan

And here is the plan! We’ll maintain a pretty large turf area for now, because the kids need room to play. Everything that’s white will be mulched with wood chips — we’re going to need a couple trucks full!  The biggest components of this project, however, are going to be: building a cedar trellis/arbor over the deck and completely removing the sidewalk.  Adam will be doing his best John Henry impression with a sledgehammer to get that sidewalk outta there.  Our dads will likely help him build the arbor.

The weirdest part about following the landscape design process is that you don’t pick your plants until dead last.  I had a couple plants in mind all along, of course, but I forced myself to keep an open mind in case they wouldn’t fit into the areas I had planned. You plan for sizes and shapes of plants first, then find plants that fit the bill.

One thing that really helped me finalize where everything was positioned was doing an exercise to mark access points where people would be frequently walking through:

with access points

This diagram actually still shows the existing sidewalk too, so you can see that the new plants will actually be in the exact spot the sidewalk is now.  I had several a-ha moments while adding all these little arrows, and it really helped me to finalize the design and feel confident about my choices.

I’m still in the process of finalizing plant lists for the rain garden and the smaller perennials that will go under the viburnums on the right (north).  My goal is for the entire back yard to contain only plants that are native to Minnesota and/or the Upper Midwest.  So that limits my choices quite a bit, but I’m very excited to see all the birds and butterflies that will assuredly show up here in the next few years as these plants mature.

This post is getting a bit long, so I think I will go ahead and save a detailed plant list with descriptions for another night.  If you can think of a great native plant for a shady water garden or a shady understory garden, please add it in the comments below!  Also, what do you think?  I’m pretty excited.