Life was easy in the old garden, it hardly warrants mention.
Life in the new garden has been a journey of self discovery.
The biggest difference in the old garden and the new garden, besides soil and wind, has been sunlight. I can now grow vegetables (if my soil will allow me to.)
I've learned a lot about the soil in my garden and I've learned even more about me, as a gardener, and I think this year, I am beginning to understand and except my limitations and view them in more positive ways because I no longer fight against them.
I have learned, I am a "Big Bang" gardener. I make a big push in the spring, and in the summer, I get busy and walk away. Not all vegetables can handle that. I am actually proud that my vegetable garden is only 50 percent weeds. That is down from 95 percent the first year. Where others see shame, I see beauty and hope.
I have learned to plant determinate, long season veggies, because I either am not in town, or I will forget to go out and harvest the ones that need daily picking. I do better with popcorn, versus sweet corn. I do better with winter squash versus summer squash. Forget cucumbers, beans, peas, lettuce.
I have learned, I have to listen to the soil. While the soil is less hard pan than it used to be, it still has a long way to go to being happy and content. My soil does better with trees and shrubs with strong roots. Kiwi, grapes, blueberries, fruit trees, take to my soil better than radishes, carrots, and rutabagas. Pine trees and Hanoki do better still.
I have learned I don't have the time to water all day every day. I have learned the more water a plant needs, the closer to the spigot it gets planted. I'm not dragging hoses. I have learned, I LOVE ollas. I will use more of them in the future. I have gone to great lengths to improve the soil to the point I can utilize so-called "dry gardening" methods. This has been a wet summer, and today was the first time I watered in nearly a month. Even then, I only watered the containers. Of course, I put the containers out in the garden so whatever run off there is, waters the corn.
I have learned, I'm not getting younger, but I may, just may, be getting smarter.
You finally have your first yard! Now what? Below is a short list of things to consider when considering your yard, in a rather loose priority. There is a lot of chicken and the egg round about when deciding how to prioritize.
1) Know before you dig.
Underground utilities? Not only is it helpful to know where they are, it may be required by law to know where they are before digging in your yard. Call your utility companies and be sure.
2) Remove undesirables.
You and you alone get to decide what is and isn't desirable. Things to consider:
a) general health, attractiveness and function of the plant
b) "friendliness" of the plant (ie, does it have thorns, cause rashes, have toxic parts, is invasive, or have roots that disrupt.)
c) location of the plant. (next to a building? pathway? driveway? swimming pool? under power lines?)
3) Take stock of what remains.
Prune and feed as needed.
4) Create a plan!
I am a daughter of a planner and I married a planner. Planning is in my DNA. The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry... I don't care. I plan anyway. It is way cheaper to move a retaining wall on paper than it is to move it in the world real. Planning is a great way to fantasize what your dreams might be like in reality. It allows you to come up with dozens of ideas and filter out which ones will or won't work.
~ Views: The planning stage is a great time to consider the views from the house outward, views from the street to the house, and the all to over looked until it's too late view from one's driveway.
Typically, kitchen and living room views are open and bedroom view tend to be more private. Street appeal matters, not just when you go to sell, but all the time. The street view signals a lot about the people in the house. Is it open and inviting, or closed and private? Keep plants low by street around the driveway so you can see as you pull in and out.
~ Budget: Never big enough. Get to know other gardeners. If you're lucky, and respectful, they might share cuttings. Be wary of "free plants" on craigslists. Nine times out of ten, you end up volunteering your efforts cleaning up their yard for them, with very little to show for it.
~ Stages: breaking the plan into stages makes the work more manageable.
Two theories: create pathways and force people to use them by limiting access elsewhere, OR, wait and see which way folks go naturally, and build the path to fit. Done right, either can work well. Often, you will find you do a bit of both.
As the saying goes, "Straight is the line of duty, curved is the line of beauty." Temple Grandin is famous for simply observing cattle are calmer when walked into a stockyard in a curved path, rather than a straight line. Traffic studies show that roads with gentle curves are safer than straight roads. Curved pathways can create the illusion of space and privacy. Something to keep in mind when designing paths. Do you want paths up against the house? Or further away? Wide enough for one person and a wheel barrow? Or several people all at once?
Materials for pathways:
a) dirt. Great in the dry season, slippery when wet.
b) sand. Soft on the feet. Disappears into the soil quickly. Feet track sand into the house quickly.
c) woodchips. Often available free, but can come with unwanted plant material including thorns. Good for areas that damp and need drying out.
d) sawdust. excellent top dressing over wood chips once a base has been created.
e) hardscape: cement, asphalt, stone, gravels etc. Not a fan, but if that is what you have, it is what you have.
6) Drainage/soil compaction .
Nearly all drain problems are caused by soil compaction. New constructions causes soil compaction. Driving/mowing lawns/foot and wheelbarrow traffic, all add to soil compaction. Soil compaction decreases the life in the soil, and it causes water run off. All too often, folks focus on getting the water to run off their property instead of focusing in getting the soil to absorb the water. There are times one has to be worried about landslides, but even then, more often than not, the answer isn't to get the water off the property, but to get plants to hold the soil, and guess what, the plants need water in the soil in order to do that. More and more, homes are being required to deal with the water on site and not just push it down the hill to make it someone else's problem. The industry is moving away from expensive French drains and towards swales which are easier to install and maintain. If you have a bottle neck situation where water gets trapped against your foundation, proper grading can be the answer. You'd be amazed to learn an inch of dirt in the right location, plus or minus, can alter the course of water and be the difference between a dry and wet basement. Increasing the amount of organic material in the soil increases the soil's ability to hold water in a helpful way, soaking up water like a sponge, keeping it away from your house. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Planting more plants can be useful. Try more natural methods of dealing with water first, before going with pipes and gravel.
7) Irrigation and Lighting
I, personally, am anti-irrigation. The money spent on irrigation is better spent on plants and mulch. Irrigation is always broken. It is always in the way of planting. It is a headache and nuance. Fix your soil first, then see if you still need irrigation. My one exception to this is if you happen to have a fire pit in the back forty, in which case, you should run a line out, and have a spigot and attached hose waiting.
Lighting used to require a licensed professional. While it still can, more and more, there are solar lights anyone can install. More and more, lighting is being restricted. It is viewed as unnecessary and harmful to nocturnal animals. There are now laws on the books that restrict gardens from lighting the night sky and also against shining into one's neighbors bedroom windows. Currently, the only outdoor lights we have are rope lights running along the stairs to the doors, as a matter of safety.
Patios, decks, hard pathways, retaining walls, rock gardens, etc. Generally speaking, unless you entertain A LOT, or unless they are an integral part of the function of the house, patios and decks are more work than pleasure. I am perfectly happy with a sand or dirty patio. Permits are required if the retaining wall is over 40".
9) Outbuildings and other structures
Gazebos, sheds, planting boxes/trellises for vines, fences, well houses, etc.
10) Hedge versus hedgerow
A hedge is a mass planting of a single species, usually as a privacy screen and a hedgerow is a mass planting of numerous species, often for the benefit of wildlife. It just depends on what you want. ~ ~ Picking the right hedge plant is essential to one's happiness. Better to find a plant that fits that fits the space, than one that needs a lot of pruning to keep to size.
~ Don't be in a hurry to fill the space, ie, don't over plant. The industry advice of over planting, then going back and thinning, is horse puckey. It is designed to sell more plants. Plant at the distance the plants should be at their mature height. Plant annuals between the plants to fill the space while waiting for the hedge to fill in. If you absolutely must fill in NOW, consider an off set, double hedge.
~ Evergreen or deciduous?
~ Edible hedges are becoming more popular these days.
~ If planting a hedge near the driveway, remember to curve the hedge to allow for vision in and out of your driveway.
~ Hedges are often planted near drainage ditches. Take this into account. Are you okay with standing in a ditch while pruning your hedge? If not, move the hedge back.
~ Hedges have a way of defining one's space. Nothing says "property line" like a hedge. This causes a quandary. Plant on/near the property line and have a neighbor complain about your plant extending into their yard, OR, move the hedge in a few feet and have the neighbor complain you are on their property whenever you go to prune the hedge.
I love grass, but I am not a fan of lawns. A lawn is the most artificial environment in the plant kingdom, requiring the most maintenance of any plant in your garden. I used to think, oh, well, a lawn is better than concrete. But have you seen the average lawn? The act of mowing causes soil compaction. There isn't a whole lot of difference between compacted soil and cement. There is no logical bases for a lawn. If you must, you must, but understand, if your lawn can not put roots down 18" into the soil, it isn't going to be healthy. And don't plant lawn where it doesn't want to grow, like under the canopy of big pine trees and black walnuts.
12) Plant materials.
There is literally a world of plants. I recommend planting plants that have appeal across the seasons and not just a big show in the spring. Generally, one plants the trees and shrubs first.
~ Around here, Spring and Fall are the wet seasons. It is always best to plant during the wet season. Many trees prefer being planted on a small knoll. Never plant a plant dry. Dig the hole, fill it up with water, watch it drain. If it doesn't drain, you have compacted soil, and you need to fix that first. If it does drain. Do that again. Add mulch and bio char in the hole. Soak the plant in a bucket of water before planting. Some folks add B1 to the water. I used to, but stopped, because I prefer the mulch and bio char. Before planting, add mycorrhizae fungi to the plant roots. Put the plant in the hole, fill it up with water one more time, and add the soil.
~ Sleep, creep, leap. Most plants don't do much growing their first year due to transplant shock. The second year, you might see some grow. The third year, the plant should experience a large amount of growth.
13) Specialty gardens
Some folks like to focus on one type of plant, such as roses or vegetable; Others like to focus on special areas of the house such as under the eaves or the entrance to the house.
Specialty gardens might also include water features.
14) Top dressing
Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch is food for the soil. There really isn't such a thing as too much mulch. Feed the soil often.
It's a good idea to know the needs of your plants before planting them.
Well, that's my short list. I hope you found something there of use.
Hubby has been a landscape contractor for more years than we want to admit at this point.
Suggestions coming from our view point:
~ Be sure YOU own the property where you want the work done.
One would like to think this is a duh, of course, recommendation, but the truth is, hubby gets about two to three calls a month asking to remove trees that belong to the neighbors. Don't make him tell you "NO!" Contractors can lose their licenses over a "silly thing" like taking down a tree on someone else's property, so don't ask. That the neighbor is away, doesn't mean, they won't care.
~ Kennel your pets.
Your pet is wonderful to you, but a distraction to folks trying to get a job done. It is also a good idea to clean up after your pets before asking a contractor to walk through your yard making suggestion.
~ Know what you want.
When you meet with the contractor, be prepared to show him/her photos of plants, pathways, etc, that you have seen elsewhere that you do/do not like, so the contractor has a starting point. Ask your self, what do you hope to gain by his services. How do you hope to use the space? Think of your yard as an extended "room." How do you want that room to function? Is it a play room, a utility room, a kitchen? Do you have allergies? Does the yard have drainage problems? Are you wanting to screen out the neighbors? Are there any plants you want to remove? Where are your property lines? Who owns/maintains existing fences, hedges and walls? There is a really long list of considerations. Have some idea of what you want. It is very frustrating to deal with people who say, "I don't know, you tell me."
~ Be honest about your budget, know and understand the costs.
Lying about what you have to spend could land you in court, so please don't sign a contract you can not afford to pay.
~ Understand what the contractor actually does and does not do prior to meeting.
Some contractors only plan, other contractors only install, most do both. It is a rare contractor that wants to install someone else's plan. You might think, oh, I just need a planner, I can do the work myself. That's fine, but... if you hire a straight planner, it's a good idea to find out from them who will install their plan in the event you later decide you want to hire someone rather than do the work yourself. If they don't work with someone local, you might rethink who you want to hire as a planner, because, otherwise, you might have wasted money on a plan no one is willing to install.
~ Hire local.
We constantly find ourselves fixing plans and redoing plantings of out of state planners, and occasionally, out of state installers. Out of state planners, either don't know our zone, plant material, soil, and hardscape products, or they don't care.
~ Remember Contractors have families to support, and are not social service providers.
This is a tough one to explain. We all feel for folks who are lonely. But pretending to want to have work done because you want someone to talk to is discouraging to the contractor, and hammers them from finding a paying job. If you're lonely, search for meet up groups.
~ Visiting does NOT reduce the bill.
I don't know how many times folks have said, "But we were just talking. I shouldn't have to pay you to listen." You talked. I listened. I also pulled weeds, planted plants, raked leaves, occasionally gave you advice. Your talking did not stop me from working and even if it were to, how you utilize my time is up to you. I was here, you took up my time, that we laughed and had fun doesn't change the fact you owe me for my time.
I don't doubt I could come up with more, especially in the "know what you want" section, because pleasing the client is essential to good business, and that only happens when the client knows what they want. But I feel this blog is long enough for now, so maybe another day!
I've never blogged before, not sure about the whole process. I'm allowing comments because otherwise, I will feel like I'm talking to a wall like a crazy person. I'm getting up there; I don't need to give my children anymore ammunition on the "put her in a home" topic! :-)
So, I've been gardening all my adult life. As a kid, yard work was something we were "made" to do as punishment. One would think I would hate it, but I don't. We have always rented, so there was always the "how much do I want to spend on someone else's yard?" quandary. The fact is, none of us really own the earth, do we? We borrow it from our children, as the saying goes. I want to give it back to my children in better condition than I found it. The earth needs me. I'm repairing it as fast as I can. The act of giving is good therapy.
I have long had the policy, "Weed a weed, plant a plant." In other words, don't take something out until you have something else to put in its place. Our "new" yard, has really tested my resolve. The desiccated soil was riddled with 80 years of thistles seeds waiting to explode the moment the mower dude stopped mowing the mostly dead lawn and I attempted to garden. I start to make head way, and then it gets away from me. I don't invite friends over to see my new garden because it doesn't match the standards of the old one. And yet, I'm proud of it.
Currently, the thistles are feeding the bees and the birds. The wildlife is amazing. I attempt to do the responsible thing and knock all the seed heads down so the seeds stay in my yard and not float off to someone else's. Insane, I know. But my clay soil is so compacted, it needs all the help it can get, even if it is from weed seeds. The thistles have been breaking up the soil for the last several years and I think next year, the soil will be loose enough, I'll be able to defeat it by planting things that might out compete it, though what that might be is anyone's guess. It takes a thug to beat a thug. We shall see which thug wins the ring next. :-)