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Quote of the Day: Garden Structures

March 9th, 2014

Organizational structure is essential to the garden’s functional and aesthetic success. The paths, arbors, hedges, and other elements that create it are the garden’s bones. They hold the garden up, define it’s form, expand it’s possibilities and bring it to life. They are the framework on which the garden grows.

Linda Joan Smith (Smith & Hawken Garden Structures)

building_rock_pathways_in_the_garden 1
My previous garden waiting 6 years before pathways and hedges started to form a framework. I was hoping to get things going sooner here, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly where everything will be. This isn’t something you want to rush either since many of the features that add form to the garden are rather difficult and expensive to change.
boxwood hedge 1
Defining the form in a garden, it’s something I think about all winter as I look at the garden around me. Not only is it a good time to do it because there aren’t any plants to distract you, it’s also a good time because you have time.

What kind of framework do you have in your garden? Is it something you notice & appreciate in winter? Do you need to add features that add framework to your garden?

Making Lemonade – or Stone Walls

March 31st, 2012

“He builded better than he knew,
The conscious stone to beauty grew.”
Ralph Waldo Emmerson
(found in Stone in the Garden)

Every time I dig a hole here at Chiot’s Run I end up with more stones than soil. It’s back building work (and biceps too), which I have to look at it as a treasure hunt for stones or it would quickly become frustrating drudgery. There’s a rather large pile of stones in the back that came from the digging of the foundation, I’ve added to it when the rocks I dig up aren’t needed for an immediate project. As a result I have a nice stockpile of stones ready for any project I can dream up, as long as my back can hold up.

Last fall, when I was planting tulips on the back hillside, I dug up rocks by the thousands. Some were small, about the size of a golf ball, most were about the size of a frisbee, and there were a good many that required a spud bar and could be categorized as boulders. I have been wanting to build a small rock wall to hold up the front edge of this bed for years, but have not had the energy or inspiration to do so. This past week, the weather was beautiful, the soil was still soggy, it was too cold to pain the remaining doors, so I decided to work on this wall.

Most of the rocks that went into the wall were dug from the soil that it’s holding back. The result is definitely wonderful as stone walls add a sense of history and permanence to a garden. Where once a garden seemed to drift into the lawn, now there’s a definite dramatic edge. This wall is the perfect height for sitting and from it you can admire the maple grove behind you up over the small hill or the raised bed garden behind the garage. I capped it with large flat stones just for this purpse (the little black garden cat seems to think it’s the perfect spot for her afternoon naps).

I need another day or two to finish up this project, my arms were getting pretty tired by the end of the afternoon I had spent working on this. It’s so nice to see dreams taking shape in the garden. Hopefully this stone wall will help limit erosion on this hillside and provide a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the garden.

Around here building with stone is like making lemonade from lemons. What could be a source of frustration is now a source of raw materials and beauty throughout the garden (not to mention some serious biceps and a strong back).

What’s one of the biggest frustration that you have with your current garden? Have you been able to turn it into lemonade?

For more reading and great inspiration on how to use stone in your garden, I highly recommend this book. After renewing the copy from the library many times I finally purchased a copy for my library. The beautiful images are an inspiration for all the stone projects in my garden.

Garden Structures: Paths and Walkways

March 10th, 2011

Paths and walkways are important in our gardens. Most of them emerge naturally as we move about the gardens and help direct us to our destinations. They can be straight or meandering depending on the focus and the garden. At times they’re straight because it’s most efficient, sometimes they curve naturally because we must skirt a steep slope.

Some areas in our garden deserve dedicated pathways others do not. The destination of the walkway or path will also determine it’s width, if it’s a path that you roll down with a wheelbarrow you’ll need it to be wider than path that only gets foot traffic. Think of your garden walkways as the road system or infrastructure of your garden. There are big multi-lane highways, regular two lane roads, small one lane country roads and bike or walking trails. The destination and use of the garden path will determine how wide to make it and what materials it should be paved with.

How can you determine where your paths and walkways should be? I’m sure there are all kinds of thoughts on this. I perfer to let a garden evolve naturally. Your garden is a process not a destination. Live in your garden for a few years and the natural paths and walkways will emerge. You’ll notice areas where the lawn is worn away by foot traffic. When you let your paths evolve organically, they’ll seem natural and established. You won’t regret adding a curve here or not adding on there. You paths will be installed along already established natural traffic patterns in your garden.

Like all other garden structures, paths and walkways can be made of just about any material. From beautiful Kentucky bluestone (one of my personal favorites) to pine needles raked from the nearby forrest floor. Some elements look more natural than others and your overall garden style will determine which ones look best. The destination of the path will also determine what the path is made of. A beautifully bluestone walkways all the way to the compost pile out back would be outrageous and a waste of money, but it would be a beautiful focal point paving the walkway to the front door. Simple natural mulch would be best suited for the path to the compost pile.

The material you choose for paving will also change the feel of the journey. Walking on soft quiet pine needles is completely different than walking on a crunchy gravel walkway. The pathway surface can also decide the speed at which you can travel. Paths paved in large uneven rocks make you walk more slowly than a concrete walkway. Take all of these things into consideration when choosing materials.

I haven’t laid out many specified walkways in my garden, but I’m getting ready to spend some time defining them. Throughout the nine years we’ve lived here, paths and walkways have naturally emerged as we have established the best ways to get to and from specific areas and features of the garden. There’s a clearly defined a path worn in the grass because we always take the same route we go to the compost pile. We have another one that weaves through the side garden as we go from the front yard to the rain barrels. We also one that cuts across the front yard, and one that goes from the side garden to the back of the lot. Even our pets use the pathways in our gardens.

I have established small pathways that weave through the garden beds to spigots and to allow entry to the back of very deep foundation plantings. These paths are simply large flat rocks placed throughout the beds. Some are laid out in a straight path, others are randomly scattered so I can step from one another to avoid stepping on the soil.

As with most garden features, I’m partial to using natural elements. I like a nice stone walkway. As I’ve mentioned before, we have plenty of stone in our gardens, so we make good use of this resource by using it for many projects. I have built a few small paths through the flower beds to the outdoor spigots using flat rocks. Our main pathways will hopefully be paved with stones like this one from the National Gardens in Washington D.C.

Do you have dedicated paths and walkways in your garden that you have paved with something? What’s your favorite walkway material?

Structural Elements: Arbors, Trellises and Pergolas

March 9th, 2011

Arbors, trellises, and pergolas add great structure to the garden because they add a vertical element that is often lacking, especially in vegetables gardens. They are especially helpful in the winter garden when covered in dormant vines, or when cleaned of plant material and simply left to preserve the garden’s shape while the plants take a long winter nap.

Arbors and trellis help train plants by providing support for vines and climbers. They help keep these plants within their boundaries, which can be important for vines that like to ramble far and wide. We can use them to keep the clematis climbing the porch post, keep the cucumbers up off the ground, or to support the weight of juicy red tomatoes.

Since they allow us to grow upward, they allow for better use of space, particularly in small gardens. A tomato takes up much less space if trained up a support than if left to sprawl along the ground.

As with all garden features, arbors and trellises can be made of a wide variety of materials from crisp wood painted white, to saplings cleared from another part of the garden. They also come in all shapes and sizes from grand structures spanning hundreds of feet, a few stick of bamboo thrust into the garden to support a few peas.

I love arbors and trellises. Perhaps it’s because I have a fondness for flowering vines, or maybe I just love the beauty they add to the garden. Sadly I have no arbors in my garden and only one trellis. A couple years ago Mr Chiots built me this nice large cedar trellis on our garage wall. It’s planted with hops and clematis and occasionally a few sweet peas. I don’t have a photo of it, but you can see it here behind the hydrangeas and here’s a young clematis vine that’s growing on it.

I have a particulary fondness for arbors and trellises made of found materials like saplings and small trees. I was especially impressed by these when I visited the vegetable garden at Monticello.

I’m hoping that I can build a few small trellises for my garden this summer. They won’t be anything grand, although I do dream of having a nice arbor over my garage door draped in grape vines and a few beautiful old fashioned climbing roses scampering up my front porch posts. Vertical elements is something I need to work on my garden! If I had to choose a favorite climbing plant it would probably be the hydrangea vine. I have a few starts I got from my mom’s neighbor this past year, they take a while to get established but I can’t wait!

Do you have arbors and trellises in your garden? What’s your favorite climbing plant?

Reading & Watching

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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 moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.