Sunday, July 18, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: Tina's Upstate New York Garden

Name: Tina
Location: Upstate Central New York
Size: 1/2 acre
Age: 25 years
Bio: My husband and I spent our entire childhoods on dairy farms soaking up the outdoors and learning to grow all kinds of vegetables and flowers on a very large scale. Learning to grow, preserve, can and freeze vegetables, fruit and meat were just part of every day life.  So, when we married and moved to our own large plot of land it was natural that we would continue gardening. The only thing that has really changed from being on the farm 25 years ago is that the domestic animals have gone from cows, chickens and cats to a dog and koi, and I don't grow beautiful roses like my grandmother did because they absolutely hate me.
We've tried to pass on a little of the art of being (partly) self sufficient to our four grown children. I hope they were listening.
When I'm not gardening, and mostly to pass time during our very long Upstate NY winters, I'm enjoying other hobbies like sewing quilts by hand (many of which became ribbon winners at the state fair), crocheting, knitting, cross stitch, making handmade paper, pressing flowers and I am a self taught seamstress, making a majority of our own clothing.
Garden Survey:

Type: backyard, front and side yards, shade, full sun, container, houseplants, herbs, water garden, vegetable, fruit, ornamentals, shrubs.
Style: Spilt Crayons

Inspiration: Other gardeners, garden blogs and public gardens.

Favorite plant: Delphiniums

Biggest challenge: Weeds! Since I am enclosed by farm fields on all four sides, the weeds are never ending and tenacious.

What your friends say: "Too much work!" and "Can I have some?"

Biggest embarrassment: The pot ghetto. I need a potting shed or at least somewhere to store my mess. And the fact that I once planted Variegated Aegopodium on purpose. What was I thinking?

Proudest DIY: It's a toss-up between the koi ponds and the straw bale garden, though the bale garden certainly didn't take as much work!

Biggest indulgence: The Weeping Siberian Pea Tree.

Best advice: Patience, start things from seed and keep learning.
Rarely does anything work together like you imagined the first time. If you don't like where you've planted something, move it and be patient enough to see what it looks like the next year. Gardens don't lend themselves well to the 'instant gratification' thing.
Start everything you can from seed and by winter sowing if possible. You'll get the varieties you want (some of which can't be found through other resources), the satisfaction that you did it yourself and you will save yourself a pretty penny in the process. It's easier than you think.
Even after 40 years of gardening, there is always more for me to learn. No one should ever think they know enough when it comes to gardening and it's always fun to learn new things about growing plants. If you've tried something and it didn't work, don't give up, learn from your mistakes and try again. Gardening is a life-long learning opportunity!

Resources: Clearance sales and fellow gardeners.

Garden Tour

Thanks for participating, Tina! I loved your description of your garden style and I loved learning about your rich gardening history.

If you would like to participate in Virtual Garden Tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: Anne's Canton Front Yard Garden

Name: Anne
Website: LibrariAnne
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.

Garden Survey:

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!

Garden Tour

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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: Carri's Year-Round Sacramento Garden

Name: Carri
Location: Sacramento, CA
Size: 1/3 acre
Age: 6 yrs
Bio: I’ve been gardening most of my life. I grew up on a farm, plus I come from a long line of dairy and pig farmers.  I have a reputation in my neighborhood for being a hard worker (blame my Portuguese blood).  They’ve watched me shovel manure and mulch in the rain, plant trees in 100 degree weather while I was 7 months pregnant, and sand/refinish a table a week after I had brain surgery.  I work in computers/technology during the day, so gardening is a nice way to balance out countless hours behind a computer screen.  I joke that my favorite gardening tool is either an ice cold beer or my Blackberry (having internet access to Google plants is awesome).
Our lot used to be a mini forest- we had 73 trees!  We’re down to 35, and most of them are young fruit trees.  We’ve removed about half of the lawn that we originally started with. We officially have year round fruit/veggie production on our lot (or will as soon as some of those young trees are producing!).  We’ve got apples, artichokes, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, almonds, avocados, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, Jerusalem artichokes, a variety of citrus- and I just got rhubarb to plant yesterday!  We’re lucky that we can grow vegetables year round in Sacramento; although that also means I don’t really have any down time when it comes to the garden.  I dehydrate, freeze, or can whatever food actually makes it into our house.  I also make limoncello using our Meyer lemons, and we’ll now be growing our own hops to make beer.
I used to only concentrate on planting edibles until I noticed a huge decrease in food production from our garden about three years ago.  Since then I’ve been trying to grow more plants that will attract bees.  Of course I couldn’t just stop with bees; I had to create a habitat for butterflies, birds and squirrels too.  Of course that still wasn’t enough for me- I completed the requirements to get my garden certified as a habitat garden with the National Wildlife Federation this past year.  I swear once I got my certificate in the mail my address was put in a newsletter that goes out to every animal within 50 miles as we have seen skunks, possum, wild turkeys, raccoons, and even deer!
Garden Survey:

Type: Organic, edibles, natives, front yard, side yard, backyard.
Style: Hodge podge.  I buy what I like, plant what I receive as gifts, and also allow my 4 year old to pick out any plant she wants when I drag her to a gardening event.
Inspiration: My 4 year old daughter Alex.  I love watching her pull tomatoes right out of the garden and quickly shove them in her mouth before my husband tries to get any.  I love that she picks out plants that I wouldn’t have even considered, and yet they become some of my favorites.  I love that she considers the worms in our worm bins as our pets- right along with the dog and bunny.  This garden is just as much hers as it is mine.
Favorite plant:  My citrus trees.  We have oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mandarins, limes, lemons and pummelos.  If I had to pick just one, it would be the Meyer lemon that traveled around with me for years in a tiny pot and maybe got one lemon a year.  It was the first plant I put in the ground at this house, and it’s now taller than my house.  We typically get 200-300 lemons on it each year now.  To me, citrus are the perfect plant. They stay green year round, have yummy smelling blossoms in the spring, and in the winter when everything else is brown- they get this beautifully colored fruit that tastes like summer.  Somehow it makes winter more bearable.

Biggest challenge: That would have to be our 70lb Labrador retriever, Romie.  She’s a real sweetie, but if she sees a squirrel, anything that is in-between she and the squirrel is in jeopardy.  Last year she took down out our bean teepee that is made of metal stakes. The stakes were bent, and she was totally fine, smiling of course.  

What your friends say: “Dang that looks like a lot of work,” or “If Armageddon hits we’re moving here with you guys and living off your land.”

Biggest embarrassment: That I hire a gardener.  He just mows the lawn, but still it feels weird to say I’m a gardener that hires a gardener. Makes me feel lazy.  If my husband would let me rip out the rest of my lawn, I wouldn’t have to have him anymore.  Actually no, I take that back.  It has to be the fact that I always forget to pick up dog poop before the gardener gets here and he just runs the lawn mower through it.  I’m pretty sure he steps in it often too. Maybe I should hire someone to pick up the dog poop too.

Proudest DIY: It’s either my front yard vegetable garden, which has kinda turned into an educational garden for the entire neighborhood- or it would have to be the shed that we built with my father-in-law.  My father-in-law would come here almost every day to work on it while he was going through chemo, and it was completed shortly before he passed away, about a year and a half ago. It has two rooms- one side is a workshop for me to use when I refinish furniture, and the other side is my garden shed.  Eventually we’ll be installing a rain barrel and gutters on it- that’s on my long list of To-Do’s!

Biggest indulgence: Probably my hammock and stand.  I bought it for my husband to try and get him to relax more.  We use it all the time.  It’s one of the few things in my yard that if it broke, I would go out and buy another right away.  It can hold me, my husband and our daughter on it at the same time, and I have nice memories of us sitting out there together eating freshly picked green beans.  We also play pirate ship on it- where our daughter is the Captain and we rock back and forth and pretend like we’re in rough seas.  Yes, we’re dorks.

Best advice:  Don’t spend so much time designing your yard for what the people see from the street- worry more about what you see from your windows.  It’s your garden- not theirs!
Resources: I order most of my seeds from Baker Creek and most of my plants are from Green Acres Nursery and Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. I also order a lot from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.

Garden Tour

Thanks for participating, Carri!  My favorite part was how you described your inspiration for your garden.  And the shed.

If you would like to participate in virtual garden tours email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.