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Garden Design

November 29th, 2011

It is true that nature, up to a point, can, and often should, be compelled by the gardener. But the very best gardens are made when nature is a collaborator rather than an adversary. Often, that part of the gardener’s site that seems at first a painful liability turns out in the end to be the very genius of the garden, its best asset.

Joe Eck (Elements of Garden Design)

I must admit that I really need to work on my overall plan for the gardens of Chiot’s Run. Before I purchased the lots on either side this wasn’t really a problem, my garden was small, I had a plan and I was executing it. Now it’s a bit of a challenge since what used to be the boundaries of my garden are no longer there.

The edges I had defined and planted with hedges and ornamental borders are no longer there. My garden extends a quarter acre on both sides beyond the previous boundaries. My current garden is the middle slice of the lot. I have to decide how to proceed to incorporate these two new areas into my existing garden plan and make it seem cohesive.

Even though we don’t plan on living here forever, and because of the local gas fracking we may be moving sooner rather than later, I’m still a believer in gardening as if you’re never leaving. I may only live here for another year or two, or I may end up living here the rest of my life. I would really hate to be here 10 years from now and have spent that time putting off what I wanted to do just in case I moved away.

I’m working on moving forward with my new and expanded gardening plan, trying to figure out how to deal with expanding my current garden plan onto lots beyond it’s border. I’ve already started by planting bluebells and daffodils along a new walkway through the maple grove. It connects the fire ring in back of our current garden to the new lower lot. Eventually the plan is to have these flowering bulbs wander down into what will hopefully become an orchard on the front of this lot. The new lot on the other side will, in my mind, become a more formal potager surrounded by a strong hedge to keep out the deer and to provide privacy for the neighbors. These are just a few of my initial thoughts, I need to sit down and scratch them onto paper and try to figure how I must proceed to make my plan a reality and to fit my current garden into this new plan cohesively.

Do you have master garden plan? What’s your biggest problem when it comes to garden design?

A Blessing and a Curse

June 21st, 2011

I’m both blessed and cursed to have rocky soil. When I say that I have rocky soil, I mean it. If digging a hole to plant, say a boxwood, I usually end up with more rocks than soil. This is a curse because it makes digging any kind of hole a quite a chore (I have the biceps to prove it). It’s a blessing because I have piles of rocks, in all shapes and sizes, around the property waiting to become rock walls and garden paths. There’s nothing quite like using native stone in the garden, it looks right at home. An added bonus is that it’s free, except for the work of digging them up and moving them.

Remember that new garden area with big sweeping curves on the southeast side of the property? That is the new asparagus bed with a box hedge along the front. Since my goal is to limit soil compaction and disturbance, I decided a nice stone garden path would be a great way to harvest all those lovely asparagus spears each spring. I’ve been working on laying a narrow stone walkway through the middle of the asparagus bed, it separates the ‘Purple Passion’ from the ‘Jersey Supreme’. Down at the end of the path will be the heirloom asparagus.

I also added a nice larger walkway into the new garden area by the pond. The plan is to build a bench out of some of the branches from all those trees we took down and set it under the dogwood behind the pond. It will have a backdrop of heirloom snowball viburnum that came from my grandma.


I wanted to have some plants growing among the rocks. Luckily, I have a few patches of ‘Major Red’ Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum coccineus) in the garden that need divided so that will be planted in the large main pathway. I purchased some Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata) for the narrow walkway through the asparagus.

The boxwoods are all planted now in front of the asparagus. I’ll add a few stepping stones behind them for pruning purposes and so I can use any extra space not taken up by asparagus for other annual vegetables like lettuce. Now I’ll be able to harvest asparagus and prune boxwoods without stepping on and compacting the soil.

What’s your preferred garden pathway material? native stone, cement, gravel, wood chips?

Liberating Even More Front Lawn

June 2nd, 2011

In a 2003 study of the lawn-chemical industry, Paul Robbins and Julie Sharp, then of Ohio State University, drew a “fundamental lesson of the lawn” that “such self-evident and noncontroversial landscapes are the ones most configured by socioeconomic force relations.” Serving as familiar, marketable packaging for “homes,” front yards are best kept in a noncontroversial state because standardized commodities are the easiest to mass-market. Robbins and Sharp noted that “property values are clearly associated with high-input green lawn maintenance and use,” and “moreover, lawn-chemical uses typically associated moral character and social responsibility with the condition of the lawn.” To toss all that aside and grow food in the front yard is an announcement that one has bought a house in order to live in it, not to turn around and sell it at a profit in two years. In the housing economy, such an attitude qualifies as moral laxity.

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition


I started liberating portions of my front lawn a few years ago in order to grow vegetables. Our home is surrounded by woods and thus the back garden does not get enough sun. I can grow a few vegetables back there, but peppers, tomatoes and other sun loving crops languish. In order to fulfill my need for lots of tomatoes, I started slowly reducing the size of our front lawn and making the garden beds larger. These beds have been the home for a wide variety of vegetables like: peppers, onions, tomatoes, squash, leeks and many more. As I started growing food in my front yard my neighbors started coming over and asking questions. Soon they started adding vegetable gardens in their yards most of them in their front yards.

I’ve had this vision of how I wanted the edible borders to be since I started expanding them. With my limited time and budget, I only added a few extra feet each year. This year I’m finally going get the ones around the front yard to the size I’ve been dreaming of. Last week I laid out the new garden edge using a hose to figure out where the big sweeping curves would look best. Tuesday I spent the morning sweating it out digging out the sod in the new area. It’s probably 3-4 foot wide by about 60 feet long. I plan on installing a box hedge along the front edge and behind the box there will be a large asparagus bed, in which I’ll be growing four different kinds of asparagus. Behind the asparagus along the edge of the property there will be a mixed border of various fruit bearing shrubs, evergreens, and ornamental grasses.

When I liberate portions of lawn I usually dig up the sod, flip in over and then cover with shredded leaves. I’m fresh out of shredded leaves so I’ll probably buy some straw from a local farmer. I’ll amend the soil a bit by adding some greensand, gypsum and a few other things to help improve the soil. I think I’m to the point where I have reduced the lawn portion of our front yard by about 40%. With the areas that will be liberated next year for a walkway and a few more beds I’ll be up to about 50%. I’d much rather be harvesting heirloom tomatoes than mowing grass!

Do you grow any vegetables in your front yard? Have you noticed any in your area?

One Step at a Time

April 25th, 2011

Now that I have an extra quarter acre of land to work this I’m excited about the possibilities. I’ve been planning my new garden in my mind for years, just waiting to have a space with enough sunlight. There are a few things about this new garden space that aren’t perfect. It’s not a level lot and it slopes westward, not a southern slope as gardeners usually want. It’s also covered in saplings, trees and lots of brambles of blackberry, multiflora rose and wild black raspberries. There is also some damage from the first owner, the main one being a driveway area that was cleared and bulldozed so he could drive in to collect wood.

We had a professional tree remover come to take down a few HUGE trees that we didn’t want to deal with. We did cut down a few smaller multi-stem poplars and a few other trees ourselves. We’ve been working on clearing out all the saplings, pulling them with a tool we purchased called the Weed Wrench. I have to admit, it’s a fabulous tool for the job and we’re happy we made the investment in it! We also borrowed a vintage come-along from a friend’s dad. Our friend Shaun came over a few days and lent his muscles to help clear out some of the bigger saplings.


All of this is a lot of work, especially since we’re doing most of it ourselves and by hand. We’ve been spending a few hours each evening clearing out the lot, sawing, digging, raking and carrying all the debris to the compost piles in the back.


Now that a section is cleared I’ve been working on the amending the soil, clearing away all the weeds, brush and picking out all the rocks. I have been able to clear a small area and build a small 4 x 10 ft bed for onions. I used some logs to surround it to help with erosion. I’m currently working on another bed that will be roughly 4 x 15 for potatoes. I’ll keep working my way back towards the house on the top half of the lot. At least I’m able to grow a few crops this year.
I have to keep telling myself that gardening is about the process not the final product. One step at a time will lead me to a beautiful potager in a few years, I just have to be patient and enjoy the journey!

What stage would you say your garden is in: infancy, teenager, middle age, or mature?

Gardening Season is Officially Open

April 21st, 2011

Last Friday I went to my mom’s house and we tilled and planted almost all of her garden. We have a large section of grass still covered with a tarp since we’re doubling the size of her garden again this year. The new section will house all of the warm season crops: corn, tomatoes, peppers, and beans. The current area is going to house all the of the early crops. Here’s a plan of the spring crop area which will become a winter garden after harvesting the spring/early summer crops.

We planted a double wide row of potatoes. It’s 4 ft wide and about 35 ft long. We were able to fit 6 varieties of potatoes in this area, all of which were saved from our own potatoes that we grew last year.

Yukon Gold – (my mom’s favorite) A favorite among gardeners, consumers and chefs. Delicious flesh is drier than most other yellow varieties, perfect for baking and mashing. Yellow flesh appears to be buttered. Bred and selected by AgCanada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food in 1966. Excellent yields and a great keeper. 80-90 days.

All Red (a.k.a. Cranberry Red) – Red skin with delicate pale pink flesh. Low starch content makes this variety a good boiling potato for salads or any dish that requires potatoes to retain their shape. Considered the best producing red-fleshed, red-skinned variety. Introduced to SSE members by Robert Lobitz in 1984. Consistently a good producer at Heritage Farm, regardless of the weather conditions. 90-110 days.

Kennebec – (my favorite) Champion late potato! Young tubers are tasty for creaming. Later, good for boiling, mashing, baking—smooth with shallow eyes. Stores well.

Carola – Heavy yields of medium-sized, rounded oval potatoes with straw-beige skin. Excellent when harvested as young new potatoes. Creamy yellow flesh, relatively low starch, great for soups, boiling or fried. Maintains new potato qualities for months in root cellar. 95 days.

La Ratta Fingerling – Long prized by French chefs as a top quality fingerling. We cannot recommend this variety highly enough, an absolute delight to cook with. Long uniform tubers, yellow flesh with firm, waxy texture and a nice nutty flavor, holds together very well. Especially good for potato salad or as a boiled potato. Commands a high price both in the restaurant and fresh market trade. 100-120 days.

French Fingerling – This is a wonderful variety! The rose-colored skin covers its creamy yellow flesh. Very versatile and good for any style of preparation. Peeling is not necessary or recommended. Rumored to have been smuggled to America in a horse’s feedbag in the 1800s. 90-110 days.

I’ll also be planting Purple Viking potatoes in my garden here at Chiot’s Run when I can work up the soil.

We were also able to get four rows of peas planted.

Golden Sweet Snow Pea – (if you remember I planted some of these in planters on my front porch) more than a novelty, this variety produces flat pods that are a beautiful, bright lemon-yellow, great in stir-fries. Tall 6′ vines with purple flowers. Collected from a market in India, rare and tasty. (source: Baker Creek)

Oregon Sugar Pod – Large, thick, 4-5″ pods are superbly tender and delicious. This is my favorite snow pea. Bush plants are high yielding and stay compact. Developed by Dr. James Baggett, of Oregon State University. A winner. (source: Baker Creek)

Little Marvel – Vigorous bush plants, heavy yields and fine-flavored peas. A great home garden variety. An heirloom from 1908. 60 days. (source: Baker Creek)

Wando – This pea was introduced in 1943 and is a great pea for the South, being somewhat heat resistant and can be planted later than most peas. Medium sized peas are great fresh or frozen. An heirloom from 1908. 60 days. (source: Baker Creek)

Green Arrow – 68 days – An excellent garden pea from England. The plants grow 24 to 28 inches tall and have 4 1/2 to 5 inch pods, each stuffed with 8 to 11 petite, deep-green peas. A gourmet variety that has been popular in Europe for years! (source: Sand Hill Preservation)

My mom likes growing onions from sets and she had already purchased 4 different kinds of onion sets, specific cultivars weren’t named on the package. They were simply labeled as: red, white, storage, sweet. We planted roughly 250 onion sets. Some of these will be harvested as green onions and some of them will be left to mature in the garden for bulb onions.

We’re trying to do a little better at planning our garden this year so that when we want to plant winter crops mid-summer we have a large open area ready for them. Last year we had to plant around a few things so it wasn’t as easy to cover as it would have been with better planning. Hopefully all this planning will pay off with a more bountiful harvest of winter vegetables.

How do you plan your garden? Do you plan for multiple season crops from the same space?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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