gardens by daisy moore
Daisy's Own Garden:
In Year Five, one of the most valuable features in the garden was introduced -- edging the beds with bricks. My gardening partner saw this as a way of using an unsightly pile of bricks that were part of what I affectionately called The Eyesore. We were also blessed with a bountiful supply of landscape bricks from a wall which I tore down from the front of the house. More bricks were acquired later on in the year when the old chimney was removed during renovation.
A difficult task to accomplish with a "naturalized" garden is to keep order in the beds. A natural look can easily be turned into an untidy mess if left unchecked. Edges begin to disappear as they are encroached on by grasses and weeds. Having disappearing edges is fine when you're working with a meadow-type garden, but not at all satisfactory when the garden is comprised of many beds which are joined together by paths.
I like to keep grass between the beds as a mown path but it has the unfortunate characteristic of being quite invasive. Rough bluegrass is particularly bad for this since it grows by stolons over the surface of the soil and tends to move into the beds.
Having proper edges around the beds (whether they be made of bricks, wood, trenches made with an edging tool or any such barrier) makes gardening easier because it buys you time to do other things.
For our edges, we placed the bricks on their sides, well dug into the soil. This barrier prevented early season grass invasion and kept the beds looking good so that I didn't have to spend most of the spring re-defining the beds. Over the season I do need to rip back some of the grass as it can grow both over and under the bricks, but mainly, mowing with one wheel on the bed side of the bricks kept the edges in place. The edges are softened by planting trailing perennials along the edges of the beds.
The new bed in the centre of the yard was a tremendous success. It has the largest assortment of unique plants, since I acquired the plants from a perennial grower rather than from plant sales or other gardeners. Some of the best introductions were: Geum 'Mrs. Bradshaw', delphinium, ornamental onion, white tulips (which I purchased as bulbs the previous fall), Jacob's ladder, poppies, lilies, foxglove and dianthus.
Garlic and Grape Hyacinth were two other additions which made an attractive show. The Irises were transplanted into this bed and gave a great show early in the season. New England Aster, Buttercups and Goldenrod seeded themselves in the bed and have been a valuable addition. Some of the mistakes were Artemisia, Wild Geranium and Statice. The Statice, I just don't like, and the other two have become invasive.
Another invasive problem is creeping bellflower. This plant was introduced into my garden by mistake when it came along with some Lamium I brought from my previous home. Since then, the bellflower has invaded virtually every bed. It is most definitely my worst weed problem.
After one full year the centre bed was full and it was very attractive all season long. The Pear Tree around which the bed was placed now looks out of place. So despite its happiness and fruitfulness in its spot, I will likely move it when I find a suitable home.
The original bed extending from the pond was beginning to need a lot of attention. The Miscanthus was way too invasive and had "eaten up" a lot of desirable plants. Candytuft, Delphinium, Dwarf Lilies and a few varieties of black-eyed susan had been lost by overcrowding. It was taking up a lot of time in the spring just to keep the Miscanthus contained.
Most of the gardening activities up until this point were centred around one half of the property. The area which bordered my neighbour to the east side, the less manicured property, was left virtually untouched and was mostly covered in raspberries. Closer to the house, the old garage foundation which measured 20 feet by 20 feet was an untidy collection of rubbish, stones and weeds. Leading up to the foundation from the house, the soil was very compressed since it was once a driveway. It actually has asphalt buried about 2 inches beneath the surface. Under the asphalt is a mixture of limestone screenings and coarse sand. This is also the area which was destroyed even further by the use of large trucks moving in and out for my neighbours septic bed.
(I had been dealing with the aesthetics of this Eyesore by erecting barriers in front of it, in hopes that the eye would be drawn to the more cultivated parts of the garden. My gardening partner could not be dissuaded from tackling this mess and convinced me to include this area in the total garden picture.)
We started by making a new bed around the old patio and making this an herb garden. Before, I had mostly concentrated herbs in this area, including sweetgrass, a few varieties of thyme, oregano, borage and a few annual herbs. I also discovered that this must have been an area where the previous gardener had worked because phlox, mallow and peonies have sprouted up where I did not put them. Remnants of a previous gardener's efforts, old secateurs, old coins and pieces of twine, cropped up with our digging.
This is a difficult area because it is on a slope. It is viewed mainly from the side and generally needs to be walked around instead of through. I had originally put a path through the middle of the bed but this never felt right. If left untouched, this bed would become a mixture of sweet grass, oregano and Phalaris (an striped ornamental grass which has invasive tendencies).
The soil here is poor. The base of the bed is the septic bed so has been disturbed and has gravel close to the surface. The remainder of the bed is sandy soil and appears to not hold water very well. This is likely due to the area being built up to surround the original garage. On the far side of the old foundation, the soil was a collection of debris and rubbish which had accumulated over the years.
On one side of The Eyesore, I had put together a make-shift compost bin by using some of the old fencing which was previously used to fence in sheep. This was never a satisfactory compost pile because it was difficult to get to so was never turned as much as is needed for a good compost. The soil at the base of the pile was contaminated with broken up pieces of clay, gravel and stone, so I was never able to dig into the pile for a usable mixture of organic compost.
Behind that, I had begun to pile large compostable materials such as branches, leaves, grass clippings and dug up weeds. The previous gardener had also used this area to dispose of woodashes, broken pieces of clay pots and stones. Puttering about was not going to solve this whole problem. I was going to need to remove all of the rubbish, turn over the soil and start again.
In year 5, however, we were content (relieved is more like it) to get a start on The Eyesore by tidying up and removing some of the raspberry canes. It wasn't until year 6 that we really attacked the Eyesore.
The Vegetable Garden
My emphasis in the first few years was on the ornamental flower gardens, but even in years one and two I planted vegetables next to the old sheep barn. I was not all that successful because the barn shaded the bed until well past noon. I moved the bed as far away from the barn as possible but this was still unsatisfactory. However, remnants of my original garlic planting still pop up today!
I eventually selected an area well back from the house which was wide open and reasonably level. In the fall of the third year I marked off an area measuring about 40 feet by 40 feet and sprayed it with Round-up. The following spring the dead vegetation was burned off and I tilled the ground.
The goldenrod and raspberries were fairly persistent and problematic plants to remove and caused the tilling to be difficult. The goldenrod, in particular, was in fairly substantial clumps and hadn't completely broken down. The tiller tended to dance over the surface rather than dig down deep. After several passes and removing some of the clumps, the soil was in reasonable shape to be changed into a vegetable garden.
I then made paths out of concrete blocks so that I could bring a wheelbarrow in and out and walk on the same area each year. I made raised beds on each side of the blocks with soil paths in between those beds. The raised beds need to be sized such that you are able to work in the beds from all sides or as many sides as possible.
The thing which amazed me the most about this vegetable garden was how different it was from the surrounding vegetation. Goldenrod and raspberries overwhelmed the land in this location and you could see what a daunting task it was going to be to keep them out. Every year, goldenrod has seeds itself throughout the bed and raspberries creep in from the edges.
The first year in this area I mostly planted potatoes and tomatoes. My root crops were a dismal failure because the land was too heavy and I did not have the time needed to keep the plots weeded. In year 5, I still needed convincing that all the effort and enthusiasm which goes into vegetable gardening is worth it. It only takes one groundhog, vole or bunny and your hopes are dashed. Besides, everything is so available and inexpensive at the local market.
Over time, I will learn what is truly worth growing. So far I have found that potatoes, garlic, chives, spinach, swiss chard and basil are worth the effort. I will not give up on beets, leeks, squash, lettuce and tomatoes just yet....I just need to try and find the perfect spot and defence techniques.
I started making my own wildflower mixes by collecting seed in the fall. I simply cut the heads of spent flowers and placed head first into a large bucket. I kept the bucket in the basement where it was cool and reasonably dry (it should be drier -- but that's another story and another lump of cash). In the spring I removed as much debris as possible and saved the seeds.
The seeds are a mixture of native and "naturalized" plants so will likely require the winter's cold period to stimulate germination. This is because nature plants in the fall so we need to mimic this by placing the seed in the fridge for at least 2 weeks prior to planting. I gave several people samples of this mix as well as used it myself to try and improve the mixture of wildflowers in the "meadow" or untouched part of the garden.
I also took a portion of the vegetable garden and planted it with my wildflower mixture. Including it in the vegetable garden was a bad idea because the wildflowers continued to want to seed themselves in the wonderful bare and rich soil surrounding the patch. My brother Sam planted the seed in his back yard in Toronto and has been very pleased with the surprises and gifts from Elora which pop up every year.
Click here for the progress in Year Six!
"Daisy made my garden dreams come true."
-- R.L., Elora
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© Daisy Moore 2006