The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Gardening Page 1 of 8

Urban Farming

A Veggie Garden Upgrade

IMG_3351

2020 might have been the best year in my veggie garden yet. I planted only what we like to eat, and raised most of the plants from seeds myself. For the first time, the joy of return exceeded the labor and stress gardening in this space.

IMG_3343

I also had plenty of time to take a hard look at the veggie garden. It has been producing well, thanks to periodic compost application. Practically speaking, there isn’t anything I have to do to here for productivity. But it does bother me how messy it looked:

IMG_3027

The edging made of scrap wood, the woodchip mulch, the lawn grass keep growing into the veggie bed…More I looked at this space, more I wanted to give it a facelift. After all, the goal of gardening this Fall is to make the gardener happy, remember?

IMG_3430

Can you tell what I did now? In short, I replaced all the woodchip mulch with pea gravel.

IMG_3332

Do you like it? I loved it. And Slav likes it too! When I first proposed this project Slav immediately agreed. I was surprised that he even had an opinion, but then I realized that he always has an opinion, just might not say it voluntarily. 🙂 Oh man!

The veggie garden has experienced a few cosmetic upgrades. When we first started this space in 2018, we kept the lawn between the veggie beds. Inevitably, grass grew into the beds rapidly. The following season, we put down cardboard with woodchip mulch on top to create some pathways. This method worked well for over a year, but then the cardboard broke down and weeds started finding their way out again. I guess the woodchip mulch we used is too coarse to block the light. If we had used compost over the cardboard layer, we might have completely blocked weed growth. But in general, we are ready to move onto other mulch material offering more tidy appearance.

IMG_3023

When we built the horizontal fence next to the vegetable patch, a combination of landscape fabric + pea gravel was used under the fence for weed suppression. It worked very well, and we loved the look of pea gravel too! After going through our options, we decided to expand the pea gravel into the veggie garden, which would also get rid of the railroad ties (saved from the old fence) we used to separate the two materials.

So I got to work, the first step was to rake away the woodchips. I started from the corner of the garden, where the veggie patch meets the small flower bed:

IMG_3033

The soil underneath the woodchip mulch was so rich. Apparently, the cardboard we put down in 2019 has completely disintegrated underneath the mulch.

IMG_3060

Remember this small flower bed? I carved it out this Spring for the ginkgo tree, and added irises to fill the space. I intended to keep it mulched, so I moved the metal edging to keep the pea gravel out and topped the bed with a fresh layer of black mulch.

IMG_3070

Look at the ginkgo tree!

IMG_3355

I know, it still look like a twig…but it actually grew a lot. It is definitely a much stronger twig now.

IMG_3427

Love the leaves. Ginkgo is also called maidenhair tree because of the shape of its leaves.

IMG_3358

Below is the transformation of the side pathway. After removing all the mulch, I got rid of the railroad ties, and lined the path with landscape fabric.

IMG_3063

IMG_3072

IMG_3074

Even without the pea gravel layer, it looked a lot better already! Next, I raked woodchips off the pathways between the veggie beds. At this point, Slav was recruited to help with the old strawberry bed.

IMG_3065

These strawberries have been here for three years and stopped producing this year. As the strawberry plants became weaker, lawn grass took over. Knowing this bed will be turned this Fall, I basically let it go the entire summer. So it looked bad… Upon my request, Slav dug up the old strawberry plants, sifted through the top soil to remove large stones and grass roots, and mixed in a couple inches of fresh compost. The soil in this bed is so fluffy and rich now, it will serve as an awesome garlic bed for next year.

IMG_3069

When Slav worked on turning the old strawberry bed, I started putting down a new irrigation line. The veggie bed is watered by drip, but the irrigation grid was never connected to the timer when I automated most of our irrigation this Spring. So basically, I still had to drag a hose to the veggie garden, connect it to the drip grid in order to water this space. The main reason of leaving it out of the automatic setup was simple: the veggie patch is far away from our backyard outdoor faucet. But since Slav was already digging, he offered to bury a water line for me to connect the veggie garden drip grid to the outdoor faucet!

IMG_3196

I connected a long poly tubing to the existing veggie garden drip grid using a T-connector, then Slav buried the tubing all the way to the outdoor faucet at the back of our house:

IMG_3198

Slav has buried poly tubing in front yard this Spring so he moved very quickly on this project. It probably only took him half an hour. But let me tell you, his work will save me at least half an hour, maybe an hour each day during growing season to keep the veggie plants alive. Thanks Slav!

IMG_3194

After all the pathways cleared, I laid down landscape fabric and Slav brought in the pea gravel.

IMG_3186

IMG_3420

IMG_3231

IMG_3335

What a transformation! Here was how the garden looked with woodchip mulch:

IMG_3021

And here is its new look with pea gravel:

IMG_3330

I think the small size of pea gravel made the pathways look tidy and spacious. I also love the color contrast between the gravel and the dark compost in veggie beds.

IMG_3339

I cannot help but putting a chair here. Morning coffee has never been so relaxing.

IMG_3421

It took us two days and $40 of pea gravel to complete the upgrade. Slav picked up the pea gravel with our trailer from a landscape company, so we did not pay any delivery fees. We had landscape fabric and poly tubing in hand. The woodchip mulch removed from the veggie garden did not go to waste either – it was applied to the newly planted patio garden, making this project essentially zero-waste. 🙂

IMG_3332

This small facelift for our veggie garden officially concluded the gardening tasks this Fall. A peony garden + a tidy veggie garden will give our backyard an awesome start next Spring. They are also treats to myself, after all the stress and work we had to put up with this year. 2020 has reminded me how to be kind to human beings, including myself. Treating myself is not selfish, and asking Slav for help does not make me weak. 2020, you have taught me a lot!

IMG_3211

Planting a Peony Garden!

IMG_3243

The 2020 Fall must be the longest anticipated Fall on my calendars. I am sure you understand why. As soon as our backyard crabapple tree turned color, I was ready for snow to come. But before tucking myself in for a cozy winter, there are some gardening tasks to take care of first.

IMG_3234

Fall in Colorado means the last days of sun ray. And my dogs made sure that they took it all in. This year I had a lot more opportunity to observe my dogs. How they live their lives is a good reminder on what’s important in life. Sleep, lots of day naps, fresh water, stretch, curiosity (sometimes too much), and always, always staying close to your humans…all of which I should do more myself.

IMG_3223

Another thing I thought a lot about this year is the purpose of our actions. We often act to serve others around us, to please other people, and more often than not, doing something to serve oneself is considered selfish. The lockdown allowed me to reexamine my life and identify what makes me happy, and what makes me stressed. To my surprise, the things stresses me out are often trivial, and very easy to correct. Honestly, no one else cares about them one way or the other. Slowly, I came to the realization that I should act a bit more to serve myself and make my life happier.

One good example is what I plant in my own garden. I’ve always been very utilitarian when it comes to garden design and plant choices. But spending time taking care of plants I do not particularly care about started feeling more like a chore than joy. So this Fall, I decided to that my gardening tasks should have one goal and one goal only – plant something I desire, which will bring me joy, regardless its practicality. And to me, this “something”, is peony.

IMG_3385

I always wanted peonies – not only because I grew up with it (it’s the national flower of China), but also for the incredible elegancy and resilience peony represents. When I learned that peonies grow well in Colorado, I was more than committed to make them the queen of my garden. However, my peony dream was held back during the last a couple growing seasons, because I had not identified a good location to plant them.

16

Until this Spring, when the patio garden came to life. Do you remember the patio garden? It aligns the northern edge of our backyard lawn space, stretching from the bank of the future shed patio all the way to the back of the house.

15

Initially, I carved out this skinny and long garden bed to soften the edge of our raspberry patch. But as soon as it came to shape, I knew it would be perfect for peonies. It is mostly south-facing, protected from strong wind, well-drained, and next to the lawn space so the bloomed can be seen from the house and majority of the backyard. It could not be more suitable for peonies even if I was trying to create a flower bed for peonies!

IMG_3359

So here they are, all 9 peonies in white and pink colors, planted in the ground with the flags to indicate their location. I had to shop around this year due to the plant shortage. But I managed to get 8 bareroot peonies from several online suppliers.

IMG_3396

One of my wonderful neighbors, who is a very experienced gardener, gifted me a double pink peony after she divided hers. Gotta love your local gardening friends!

IMG_3372

To cap the peony hedge with a more natural appearance, I planted a cold-hardy rosemary (figures crossed) and three English lavender at the end of the patio garden.

 

IMG_3365

The lavenders were moved from other part of the backyard, so they looked a bit rough at the moment. But they will be fine next Spring.

IMG_3370

Do you recall this Chinese Snowball Viburnum? I planted it this Spring and I think it likes our soil. It grew quite a bit, even gave me two big flowers this summer. It should grew to be a multi-stem ornamental tree, with peonies planted around its stems.

IMG_3379

Peony has a relative short flower season. After blooming in Spring, their leaves and stem grew to be bush-like and do not have much to show for. Peonies also require a few feet space in between due to their extensive root systems, resulting in a rather unexciting garden space during Summer and Fall. To spice up the patio garden, I adopted a trick from P. Allen Smith, who is an experienced peony grower: planting Russian Sage in between the peonies.

IMG_3384

Russian sage does not sprout until late Spring. so they will not block the peony blooms, nor steal significant amount of nutrition or water from blooming plants. But in Summer months, Russian sage gets tall quickly and can mask the peony bushes with their tall, purple flower stalks. So the idea is that the peony hedge in Spring will be come a Russian sage hedge during summer and fall months, lasting all the way to frost.

I splurged a whole flat of Russian sage plugs and dotted them among the peonies. Russian sage flowers are practically pollinator magnets. So adding them will only help the food production in my backyard. I had a few leftover after planting the peony part of the patio garden, so I decided to continue the Russian sage hedge into the shed patio bank:

22

Above is how the patio bank looked like this Spring, right after I finished moving the soil. Since then, I have planted a transparent apple and some irises (also from my gardener neighbor). And here is how it looks like now:

IMG_3406

For space reference, the peony/Russian sage mix was planted to the left side of this picture, and ended before the kidney-shaped herb garden. Planting a few Russian sage on the right side helps to bring the color and the texture of Russian sage to the right side of the garden path, so it does not look like the Russian sage ended too abruptly.

IMG_3403

Here is the bank from another angle. There are two varieties of irises planted here, both of which flower purple, and the apple tree flowers white. Image the white apple blooms, purple irises, and white and pick peonies in Spring, and purple Russian sage flowers and irises in Summer…It will be so gorgeous, people!

Here is the apple tree. It came super healthy and have flowered on its first year. I will surely order more plants from the Jung Seed Company again!

IMG_3413

Do you recognize this plant? I think it is lamb’s ear? Did not plant any but three of them came up near the shed this Fall. People say that volunteer plants means healthy garden/soil. I hope it is true! 🙂

IMG_3399

With the peonies, Russian sage, herbs, irises, and apple tree, the new patio garden is fully planted! I started breaking ground here in April. And now it is the end of October. It has been the longest time I spent completing a garden bed, but this is also the first time that I planted everything truly wanted and exactly where I want them to be. So the wait will be worth it! The best part is, now I have something to look forward to next Spring. I am sure everyone needed something like that right now. Hopefully, it will be a different time!

New Climbers + Recent Cedar Build

You may remember the climbing roses I planted. This Spring, I decided to add  a few more climbers around the house. Some for scent, some for beauty, and some for function. Although these are perennial vines and will take years to grow, I want to show you their baby form today. Hopefully when we check back a few years later, we can see some good progress!

“Scentsation” Honey Suckle

IMG_2397

Planted on the front of the house is a honey suckle called “Scentsation”, a very showy vine with extremely fragrant yellow flowers. It has a longer blooming time compared to other honey suckles, from mid-spring to late summer. I planted it near Slav’s office window, hoping to add a nice touch of scent to the room he spends most of his awake time in.

IMG_2401

Although tiny, this particular honey suckle is expected to grow to 9’~10′ tall and 5’~6′ wide, covering the big trellis behind it. It is deciduous which means losing all the leaves in the Fall. By placing it on the west wall, at maturity, it should shade this corner of the house from strong afternoon sun during summer months, while allowing sunlight in to warm up the house during winter.

IMG_1755

IMG_1758

To keep the honey suckle close to the wall I built this cedar planter. To protect the foundation we graded around the house and put down a layer of gravel over 6-mil plastic around the foundation. I scraped away the gravel, set the planter directly on top of the 6-mil plastic, then added more 6-mil plastic to prevent soil and water sipping out of the planter.

20200516_112755

20200516_114107

20200516_121110

After filling the planter with soil I planted the honey suckle and transplanted some sedum here.

20200516_121805

IMG_1756

As a rule of thumb, container plants or plants situated in raised beds need to be more winter hardy than the zone it is planted in. This honey suckle is rated as zone 4-9, which means it should winter over just fine in our zone 5B/6A.

IMG_2397

We secured a big trellis onto the house for the honey suckle to climb on. If it likes the spot, it should climb to the top of the trellis in a few years! An additional advantage of this plant is the bright red berries in the Fall, which are favored by birds and other wild life.

Climbing hydrangea

IMG_2057

Although popular in Europe, climbing hydrangea is not well-known in US. It is also a deciduous vine, famous for its ability of growing in full shade. These plants are true climbers, using the holdfasts (suckers) on their branches to scale walls and other structures. In Europe, you will find this plant covering north-facing walls of old stone buildings up to several stories tall with their large, “lace-cap” flower flowers in early summer. In theory, a climbing hydrangea can reach 50 feet tall at maturity. In our cold climate, it often tops at 20 feet.

20200517_102818_HDR

I planted this flower on the northeast corner of the house, right next to the AC unit and outside of the master bedroom window. I want to it to be a screen plant, not only adding privacy to our bedroom, but also beautifying the north side of the house where small windows are swallowed by a sea of brick. As you can see, this spot gets 3~4 hours of morning sun, then shade for the afternoon. Although not an ideal location for most of the flowering plants, climbing hydrangea will be one of the few climbers to perform in such situation.

IMG_2419

Shortly after planting it I added some support from two sides – one being a metal trellis, which we got from Lowe’s as a 3-pack and used all around the garden. The other one being a short cedar fence between the bedroom window and the AC unit.

20200519_193743_HDR

I built this cedar fence all by myself! To be honest, among all the big and small projects I did this Spring with the cedar boards (the patio planter, the honey suckle planter, and the outdoor kitchen), this build is my favorite. From setting post, planning board layout, to attaching boards, it covered all the steps for a fence build, yet remained manageable for me to complete over one afternoon.

20200519_165143

I started by setting a leftover post, which is just tall enough for shadowing the AC unit! Love it when I am able to use up leftover materials without any waste.

20200519_172502_HDR

To keep the post straight I used a pole level and several clamps. They were so helpful when working solo! I made sure that the post aligned with the side of the window and stood straight before backfilling.

20200519_172605

20200519_173214

20200519_175449

After securing the post, I marked the length of the boards and cut them all at once.

20200519_175637

Attaching all the boards went pretty quick. A scrape 2″ x 4″ was set next to the house for the other end of the boards to attach on.

20200519_185040_HDR

This is the final product. Besides supporting the climbing hydrangea, this fence also hides one of the eyesore from the bedroom window – the AC unit.

20200519_190501_HDR

The view from the bedroom window without the fence:

20200519_165402_HDR

With the fence:

20200519_190701_HDR

Climbing hydrangea is known to be slow during the first few years, but after it puts down a good root, it should take off and cover all the unsightly pipe and outlets on the north side of the house in a few years.

IMG_2391

Passion Flower

20200519_155305

Passion flower is another rarely seen flowering vine in Colorado. Being tropical looking passion flower seems to be too delicate for our winter. But it is actually a zone 5 plant! I put mine on the east side of the house, protected from harsh wind and bitter cold.

IMG_2385

After planting I added some string and a leftover wire panel to help it to climb.

IMG_2382

Since planted, it has grown a few inches! This is what it looked like a few weeks ago:

IMG_2060

And this is today!

IMG_2388

Cucumber and Pole Beans in the Veggie Garden

I also planted some climbing veggies! I’ve been growing cucumber for years, and always let them spread freely on the ground. This year, I tried to grow them vertically. I set a trellis on the end of a veggie bed:

IMG_2405

And planted two seedlings at the base of this trellis. The have been flowering for a weeks now and I hope to see cucumbers really soon!

IMG_2404

I also grew two climbing beans: Red noodle, and Limka.

IMG_2412

It is fun to set up the support for my bean babies. Slav lined some T-posts along both sides of a path and I tied some trellis netting to these posts for beans to climb on:

IMG_2408

I also tied the top ends of the netting together over the path, allowing the beans to create a tunnel.

IMG_2409

Look at the beans go! It has been a month since they came up and they are growing an inch per day with the recent heat.

IMG_2415

This is the first year I set up a bean tunnel. In addition to support the beans, I also want it to shade the veggie bed behind. The garlic here will be harvested soon, and I want to plant greens and radishes here hoping the tunnel can provide enough relief from the hot afternoon sun.

IMG_2417

Climbing roses

At last, I want to show you how our climbing roses are doing! I planted four “awakening” climbing roses along the back fence in 2018. They are all doing very well.

IMG_2360

IMG_2361

IMG_2359

I started training these roses this Spring. After a good trim, I guided the longest branches of each rose towards the back fence using plastic stakes:

IMG_2424

IMG_2425

IMG_2426

It might look dramatic but are actually good for the growth of these roses. Bending the branches horizontally eliminates apical dominance and should encourage side shoots and more flowering along the branches.

IMG_2427

IMG_2423

I also did the same training to the “iceberg” climbing rose planted in the front yard:

IMG_2420

This rose was planted only last Fall, but has already flowered for us. I got all my climbing roses from High country roses and they all came with their own root and are very healthy. I know it won’t be long before this climbing rose to put on a splendid show on the front fence.

IMG_2421

Training climbing roses is a scary thing – you should see how much I trimmed off these poor roses…But in the end it is for their own good. I am looking forward to the growth of all the climbers. Given time, they shall become the stars of my garden and for decades to come. Let us check back next season together!

Page 1 of 8

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén