Stacking Functions Garden

1 Comment

Solstice garden update

The first days of summer were marked by terrible weather–three nights in a row of severe thunderstorms that left much of the city (including us, for about 18 hours) without power. Trees are down everywhere. We were very lucky that we only lost a few branches. Despite that, the weather was nice during the day we were able to spend much of the weekend outside.

Eating snow peas in the garden

We were sitting on the deck watching a monarch laying eggs on our milkweed Thursday night when suddenly, something in the letttuce/pea tank caught my eye. SNOW PEAS are ready! The kids have barely let us have any. I already know none will make it to the kitchen. I’ve eaten 3 or 4 of them, and only by sneaking. The flimsy twine support I made for them was completely insufficient and they are now laying on top of the lettuce, but no mind. Everything is still growing and very much edible.

Broccoli and basil in pots

Things are going swimmingly in my deck container garden, too. I hope the broccoli doesn’t get a whole lot bigger… I may have crowded that a bit closer than is ideal. I will also have to thin out the basil soon.

Overview of vegetable garden on June 21, 2013

Here’s the whole garden. Rhubarb at the bottom. I added a fresh layer of straw last week, and there’s not much to do right now in here except harvest scallions, check the radishes and implore everything to grow faster. We also harvested our garlic scapes on 6/21.

Peppers in garden

Taking it piece by piece, here are the peppers (mixed sweet and hot). I hope they get bigger soon; they have barely grown in the 6 weeks since I planted them. Behind them, as usual, the hops attempt to take over the house. At the trellis to the rear left, cucumbers are looking much healthier but still very small.

Bush beans and Christmas Lima beans

Bush beans (we had a bit of spotty germination), flanked by scallions. Cucumbers on trellis to the right, Christmas Limas on trellis to the left. I didn’t think about it until after I planted, but since both varieties of beans are open-pollinated, am I going to get cross-breeds? Maybe not. The bush beans are Blue Lake.

Tomato trellis

Continuing on to the tomato and garlic area. The garlic will be ready relatively soon, and I’ll be happy to get it out of the way. The tomatoes are growing rapidly right now, putting out blooms and tiny green tomatoes. I also *tried* to plant some radishes in here, between the garlic and tomatoes, but I think they are not getting quite enough direct sunlight. They just do not seem to want to produce a good-sized radish. Such a bummer; I should have planted them in with the beans, which were tiny for a very long time. I’m growing the following six varieties of heirloom tomatoes this year: Costoluto Genovese, Jaune Flamee, Moonglow, Nyagous, Brandywine, and Black Cherry.

Kale, herbs, zucchini, acorn squash

Finally in the last, odd-shaped west end of the garden, we have kale, some herbs (including a lot of chamomile), one hill of zucchini, some acorn squash at the trellis, and a row of shallots in the front.

Corner of the house and garden

Here’s a view from further out. In the very front between the chimney and the rain barrel, I’ve been attempting to grow both asparagus and strawberries for several years. I’ve recently come to realize this is not working well. It’s simply not enough space to get a decent amount of either one. Especially the asparagus; we end up with about 5 spears every spring. And maintaining the strawberries means maintaining a constant war with the rabbits.

Meanwhile on the other side of the rain barrel, my currant bush just keeps putting out fruit, with less light, little care, and no rabbit damage.

Now that I’m a more experienced gardener, the very first portions of my garden are truly ripe for a bit of editing. Perhaps even a full redesign if I can get Adam to cut down an ugly (and completely non-beneficial) crab apple tree. I want to put in plants that are more native to Minnesota and less likely to be taken out by rabbits or to need constant attention with things like acidified mulch (I’m looking at you, tiny blueberries that have never given me fruit). So, stay tuned on that.High season for greens is in full swing, and everything else is soon to follow, if we can prevent trees from falling on us…

1 Comment

Boulevard Butterfly Bonanza

About three years ago, Adam and I decided to plant the boulevard, where grass barely grew anyway, with a flower garden. The plan was put on hold when the city informed us they were going to replace our sidewalk, then waited 18 months, then finally did it. After they were done late last summer (they did make a mess of the boulevard) we put down cardboard and wood chips to smother the newly-sprouting weeds.

This winter, while everything was covered with snow, I came up with the following plan:

Plan for a boulevard butterfly gardenExplanation: it’s my boulevard cut in half and stacked. To the left is north, to the right is south. In real life, obviously, it’s all in a row. I planned to get some of the plants from my kids’ school’s plant sale, and the rest from the Friends’ School Plant Sale.  And yes, I’m aware that peonies aren’t native, but I had a homeless one and I couldn’t just kill it. I’m also unsure about whether this particular astilbe is a native or not.

It features almost all native plants, which are well-suited for tough, dry, salty, foot-traffic-heavy areas like boulevards. Also, since I’d rather not grow food for myself where so many dogs go, I might as well grow some food for birds and butterflies.

Fast forward a few months, and things went a little differently than planned on planting day. I decided to go ahead and produce a designed version of how this turned out, to illustrate the art of landscape design fantasy vs. reality, which I am still new at.

Actual planting plan for boulevard butterfly gardenLet’s talk about the differences.

For starters, I could not dig holes big enough for the astilbes on the left (north) edge of the garden. The tree roots were too big there (a mature elm tree is directly to the north of this garden). So I’m hoping the wild ginger will just fill in there.

Also, you’ll notice we now have a stone tile path (using some old leftover slate tiles we’ve had in the garage for ages). I realized early on that it might be a bit rude to not offer pathways across what is, in reality, city property. Many of our neighbors and guests will be parking cars along this garden.

The right (south) side of the garden is also a bit shorter in real life because… we ran out of gas. Adam said “I am NOT digging up ANY MORE SOD this spring!” So we have a very small amount of weedy lawn left surrounding the monarda on the southern end of the garden. We’re going to mulch it thickly and see if the monarda just spreads and fills it in—knowing monarda, I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation.

The other big confusion I had was about the Asclepias Incarnata. The Friends Sale had it listed in their catalog as “Pink Butterfly Weed” and for whatever reason I didn’t look up its Latin name to read more about it. If I had, I would have learned it’s more commonly called Swamp Milkweed (I actually have it elsewhere in the yard, d’oh), and it prefers damper soil than what it will get here. But, on the other hand, IT’S MILKWEED. Weed is part of the title for a reason!

I also added in the Canada wild rye that we sprouted from seed we brought home from a prairie restoration in South Dakota last summer. I’m not certain how tall it will get; where we saw it growing it was only 2′ or so, but it may have been mowed once during the season.

Last but least, a relatively recent picture (before I did some much-needed weeding).


This is looking north. You can see the very happy peony; I’ve never seen a transplanted peony look nice so quickly. Must have been the cool rainy six weeks that followed the day we planted everything. The cages are for rabbit protection and as a not-so-subtle reminder for people to keep their dogs and feet off my new plants. I will leave them on through the fall this year, but I don’t think I will need them next year. This is just one of the great things about native plants.

I’m very gratified that the rabbits have shown little interest in any of these plants. My theory is that because this is an open space, they don’t feel comfortable lingering long enough to do major damage. But…. we’ll see.

(I should be ashamed at how weedy it is around the monarda there in the middle of the bottom of the photo, but… well… you do what you can!)

Upcoming posts: I plan to do a solstice garden update, talk about my favorite [edible] weed of all time, and let you know how my back yard landscape is coming along, now that we’re on our way with year two. What’s going on in your garden?


Garden update

I usually do a photo shoot in the garden over Memorial Day weekend, so I can measure my little yard’s phenology from year to year. This year everything is SO late, and Memorial Day weekend was so rainy, that it just didn’t happen. I got out there a few times this week, though.

Inner city garden, Spring 2013

We’ve been getting plenty of rain, and I’ve had no trouble sprouting seeds, but it’s been very cool. The cucumbers in particular (too small to see here, by the chimney) cannot seem to progress into their true leaves, and their baby leaves are covered with white spots. I may not get many cucumbers this year.

Everything else is hanging in there, though, including the rhubarb (foreground) that a fellow master gardener divided for me last weekend. I’m so excited to have finally figured out where I wanted to put it!

A pagoda dogwood recovers from rabbit damage.

In the darkest, shadiest area of my yard, my new-in-2012 woodland garden is thriving. This pagoda dogwood, which the rabbits nibbled down to one bare branch, is on its way to a full recovery. This fall, my shrubs are getting the full hardware cloth treatment, not the cheap version. Note the ferns coming in behind it, too! It took them so long to sprout that I thought none had made it. Happy to be wrong on that.

Nannyberry in bloom (viburnum lentago)In my drier, dappled-shade woodland garden, my nannyberry (viburnum lentago) is in full bloom. Gorgeous! This plant is looking fantastic. The two highbush cranberries (viburnum trilobum) also survived the winter and should bloom very soon.

Turtlehead, chelone glabra

Happy to see that my turtlehead (chelone glabra) is getting larger. It’s never bloomed, but this is its third summer so maybe this will be my year. The foliage of one of my new garden favorites, bloodroot (sanguineria), is in the background.

ferns, mint, and raspberries

The best news of all is that, after being mowed to the ground by rabbits this winter, the raspberries (right) appear to be making a full recovery. I don’t know how many we’ll get this year, but if we can protect them this winter, we’ll be back in action for 2014. Also notice the crazy chocolate mint taking over on the left. In this very shady spot on the north side of the house, we planted 6 different kinds of mint several years ago. The chocolate mint was the only one to survive, and now it’s taking over. Fine by me! Ostrich ferns are along the foundation. We just planted them last year and they weren’t quite established enough for me to feel comfortable taking fiddleheads this spring. Next year, hopefully.

A pop-up garden

Finally, I ended up with this little pop-up garden on the deck, when I discovered that I had no place for basil, cilantro, four homeless broccoli plants, and some lemon balm. We are supposed to get some sun this week, so I expect my cool weather vegetables to really go crazy. And hopefully my warm-weather ones will hang in there.

Bonus points if you can guess why these pots are raised up on landscape bricks.