Location: Canton, MI (zone 6a)
Size: 30' x 45'
Age: 3 years
Bio: In addition to being an amateur gardener, I'm a librarian at a public library, former punk rocker, caregiver (w/my husband) of two rescued Boston Terriers, and crafter (sewing and knitting, mostly). I started gardening shortly after we bought our house in Canton, MI (pure suburban sprawl halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor). Prior to that I'd planted a few bulbs, but never really did much gardening. In the summer of 2007 I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and got completely inspired to start gardening. I took out part of our back yard to start a veggie garden and as I did research on growing veggies in the burbs, I found a ton of great information about the edible estates movement. This in turn inspired me to devise a plan to replace our front lawn with a garden that would contain some edibles.
The other big factor that convinced me that a front yard garden was the thing to do was that shortly after we moved into the house we thought we'd somehow killed the front lawn - the whole thing turned dead-looking and appeared to have given up the ghost. Wondering what we'd done (we hadn't used any chemicals) we sought the advice of experts and learned that we didn't have a dead lawn, we had a Zoysia Grass lawn. It's a variety not designed for climates like Michigan's, which means that it looked dead more of the year than it looked alive, and we also learned that it had a deep root system that was really difficult to get rid of without copious amount of Round-Up. Great. So I talked to the state Extension and they suggested smothering it.
Smothering the grass was just a lot of manual labor - nothing too complicated about laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch. It took us most of one spring season to get that job done, working on it a pickemup-truck-load of mulch at a time, and then we let it cook until the following spring, at which point I started planting bulbs and perennials. We're now another year in and many of the plants I started last year are beginning to look established. We still have a long way to go - it'll be years before it looks like a real garden in my eyes, but it's on the way. And we're not going anywhere, so we've got time.
Type: Front yard garden
Style: Informal. I like gardens that look a little wild. When I started planning this garden, I decided to go for a black/white/purple/silver color scheme so that things would hang together with some cohesiveness. I also like a mix of herbs, perennials, bulbs, and edibles.
Inspiration: I follow a number of garden blogs and I spend a lot of time looking at other people's gardens on Flickr. A few of my favorite garden blogs: About Organic Gardening, Anarchy in the Garden, Garden Faerie, Heavy Petal, In the Garden Online, Perennial Passion, Well Read Gardener.
Favorite plant: I think it varies according to what's in bloom! Right now I'm going to go with the Lavender that I have along the front walkway. The blossoms are a really brilliant purple color and the foliage is silvery in some seasons. It also smells really, really good. My goal is to have the walkway lined with it so that if you brush up against it while walking in, it will release its lovely scent and you'll feel so welcomed as you approach the front door.
Biggest challenge: Right now it's finding which plants like the conditions in the front garden. Because we smothered and I didn't till the soil (I didn't want to give weeds too much opportunity - they pop up enough as it is), I haven't amended the soil at all. It's a nice rich composted material underneath the mulch but I haven't yet tested it to see what it might need as far as pH. It is south-facing and gets full sun in most spots, despite the presence of an old Silver Maple between the sidewalk and the curb. I've had some successes and some failures, but as long as I'm learning something, I'm okay with that.
What your friends say: Most of my friends are supportive of what we're doing, though some are skeptical about making such a non-traditional choice. We live in a late-60s era subdivision with a very homogeneous architectural style and other than ours, there is not much variation in front yard landscaping, so we stand out.
Biggest embarrassment: The worst was when our front lawn was completely dead-looking and we were the only house on our street without a lush green front yard. It just looked like we didn't care at all. Tied with that would be the amount of whirligigs we accumulate on the lawn every year when the trees drop them. We have a large Silver Maple between the sidewalk and the street and a sizable Red Maple next to the house, so the whirligigs pile up like nobody's business. Luckily squirrels like to eat them, so at least some good comes from them.
Proudest DIY: My proudest project is this whole thing! Because it's so ambitious and will take a long time to get truly established, I feel that I can be proud of it even though it's still such a work in progress. What fun would a garden be if it were "all done" anyway?
Biggest indulgence: Buying lots and lots of plants and bulbs. 1350 square feet is a lot of area to cover, so even when I get a ton of plants, it usually only covers a small portion. Because I'm still learning what likes to grow there, I also feel like buying random plants with no real idea of how well they'll do is a bit of an indulgence.
Best advice: Make a note when you plant something. I have not always kept the best records of when and where I planted something, and while it's entertaining to solve the mystery of "what plant is that?" it is also nice to know what to expect when spring rolls around.
Resources: I will admit to haunting the clearance racks at my local Lowe's stores. There are two Lowe's nearby and I probably stop at each at least once a week during the summer. They often have gallon perennials on clearance for $1 each (sometimes as low as 10 cents!) and while they may look bedraggled at the time, they usually perk up just fine once they're in the ground and given some time to get settled. I do buy from Breck's, Michigan Bulb, Springhill Nursery, and other online retailers, but I stick with bulbs from them. (I've gotten live plants from them in the past and the majority of them have not done well - either never thrived, or didn't come back after winter.) My other favorite source is friends and fellow garden bloggers. I'm lucky to have generous friends and peers who have shared lots of seeds, seedlings, and plants with me!
Thanks for participating, Anne! I love the picture of that giant silver maple.
If you would like to participate in Virtual Garden Tours, please me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com