Friday, May 01, 2015

Garden Crazy

At this time of year, my garden occupies a large part of my mind.  I always want to spend more time in it than I am able to, and I wonder if I would ever get tired of being out there.
I hope that this summer, by June or so, I will be able to spend less time out being in the garden just because I feel like I have to.  I hope that the work of last summer and fall and this spring will have laid some kind of foundation, that that was high startup energy that will result in just maintenance work and optional projects for the rest of the summer.  Last summer, my husband and I turned most of front lawn into plantable space.  He built three raised beds, we built a hugelkultur-style bed (experiment), and the two of us spent a great deal of time digging up the weeds and grass on the front hill so that it could instead be planted with flowers.  This was because I wanted more space to grow things from my endless garden wish list, and because both my husband and landlord (that's right, we are doing all this work and change to a rental) opined that mowing the lawn on a hill sucks.
By the end of last summer, we had a (zany) colorful paradise of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, one very aggressive yellow summer squash plant, and a few perennials concentrated in areas like the space around the front walk and a little border garden by the front of the house, under some hedges.  Nearly everything that was on the hills died out with the first frost, leaving our hills totally bare, susceptible to erosion, weeds, and repopulation by the lawn.  In the fall (and into the winter and almost spring, it took us so long) we mulched that hill with oak leaves shredded by our lawnmower.
Spring returned, and while our neighbors had daffodils and azaleas blooming, we had a lot of bare, golden-brown leaf-mulched hill.  And with heavy rains and wind of Atlanta springtime, leaves and mud washed down the hill and away, revealing dirt and making room for weeds.  Something had to be done.
So, this summer's project, in addition to trying to grow some vegetables in the raised beds and continuing to turn our deep shade backyard into a "woodland garden," is to get some attractive things with sturdy roots onto that hill.  I want to cover the hill with things that are beautiful and strong--plants whose roots will keep the hill from washing away; perennials to hold onto that hill all winter and return, bigger and stronger, next spring; annuals to fill in the gaps; flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will defend the vegetable garden; plants that are tough enough to live on a hill of rocky, red, clay-y, nutrient poor Atlanta soil; color to make passersby happy; and habitat to support wildlife.  I have planted (actually transplanted as well as encouraged the spread of) wild clover both for its roots' adaptability to poor soil and its nitrogen-fixing qualities, to help make the soil better for next year's plants.  I have planted a buckwheat cover crop which will theoretically do the same thing, but I've never planted it before so I don't really know what I'm doing.  It has nice white flowers, though!  I have planted flowers and herbs and even vegetables on the hill; I am testing to see what survives despite the odds.  I am happy to see that the leaf mulch has attracted worms to help aerate and fertilize the soil.  I am happy that when I dig a hole to plant something new on the hill, the first several inches of soil are brown, not red, which makes me think that even in just one season, a period of less than a full year, our work has managed to improve the soil.  Even though it is a rental, I want to leave this place neater than I found it (even when you drop out at the Brownie level, this Girl Scout lesson remains embedded in your mind).  I want to leave the soil healthier and the little outdoor space over which we have control a healthier place for wildlife and people.
Perhaps most of all, what I enjoy about my garden is hearing neighbors and strangers (because people driving through our neighborhood, sightseeing, often stop their cars to talk to me in my garden) say that seeing our garden makes them happy.  It makes me happy, but it was an unexpected reward to learn that it makes others happy, too.

Buckwheat cover crop with white flowers.

Butterfly weed aka Asclepias tuberosa, started from seed last year.  It died back completely, as did a happy yellow cultivar Asclepias in another part of the garden.  It died back to the point that there was no trace of these plants aboveground, and having never grown Asclepias before, I didn't know if they were coming back.  I was pleasantly surprised to see them return bigger than ever.  This one looks like it's getting ready to flower.  It will have orange flowers and attract monarch caterpillars and butterflies.
 One side of the front hill, with a few perennials and a lot of seeds planted.
 The other side of the front hill.  Last summer, my husband built a stone staircase and an arbor (on top of the hill, on the left, partially in the picture).  At the top of the staircase, on the right, is a lavender plant that overwintered successfully.

More pictures and specific plants planted will be in a follow-up post at some point this spring/summer.

No comments: