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

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House tours and stuff

What is in Store in 2021

Planning for 2021 turned out to be difficult. I’ve never experienced such level of unpredictability before, which prevented me from making plans. After all, nothing went as planned last year. We were looking forward to an awesome ski season; I was supposed to celebrating Chinese New Year with my family for the first time in 15 years. We were getting on a cruise (for the first time) to accompany our good friends on their honeymoon. My parents’ 50-year-old anniversary celebration, my grandaunt’s 100-year-old birthday celebration, my sister’s big birthday celebration on the west coast, and my high school reunion… 2020 was supposed to be about family, love, and companionship. At the end, it was filled with isolation and endurance.

As the world knows, we are still experiencing dark times in the States, but I have to say, the vaccine distribution and more importantly a new leadership did bring a glimmer of hope. I still dare not to make any plans when it comes to family and friends, but I am able to make plans for the ranch house due to the solitary nature of DIY…So, what is in store for the ranch house in 2021?

1. The main floor bath

The 2021 renovation has started in the main floor bathroom.

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This 5″ x 8″ bathroom is the only bathroom on the main floor (labeled as “5” in the floor plan below). Upon completion, it will be a guest/hall bath as our master bath is located in the lower level. As you can see, we have started the renovation by demolishing the old bathroom into studs and upgrading the electrical. We will start plumbing work in January and hope to complete this renovation by end of Spring. You can see our design plans for the new bathroom here.

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2. The kitchen

After the main floor bathroom, the kitchen will be the last room to tackle in the ranch house. I cannot believe that how long we have waited! Below shows how the kitchen looks today, which has not changed since the day we moved in.

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The current layout of the kitchen is shown below. The L-shape layout provides very little counter space.

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Furthermore, the fridge is located right next to the back/garage door and stair area, obscuring the view of the kitchen and making the kitchen feel crowded.

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The new layout will feature the stove/oven between the two windows. This arrangement not only removes the visual obstruction near the backdoor, but also allows us to look into the backyard while cooking.

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The fridge will be relocated to the left side of the room. We will also remove the soffit which are empty inside to make more head room. The upper cabinets are attached to the soffit will be replaced with new and taller upper cabinets to provide more storage. The open shelves were drawn in the SketchUp below just for comparison sake.

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The non-weight-bearing wall between the kitchen and the living room will be removed. We will also create a pass-though window on the upper half wall above the stairs to provide more light into the living room.

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Renovating this kitchen will be a gut job. The cabinets are moldy and Slav is looking forward to a dishwasher. The old tiled flooring is half inch taller than the hardwood floor. We also would like to add more lighting in the kitchen and the adjunct living room.

3. Main floor floor refinish + baseboards

We removed all the carpet on the main floor and uncovered the original hardwood flooring shortly after moving into the house. But the wood floor was in rough shape and need to be refinished.

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23 after office

24 after hallway

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Later on, during the office renovation, we patched the hardwood flooring at the new doorway. These were brand new flooring and more shining than the old ones.

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We will be refinishing all the hardwood flooring in the living room and two offices once all the bath and kitchen renovation work is complete. In addition, we have been waiting for the floor to be refinished before installing baseboards in Slav’s office, the living room, and my retreat room. All the work will be performed after removing the wall between the kitchen and the living room.

4. The shed patio

One of the big landscape project in 2020 was carving out the shed patio and adjunct terraced garden. Due to our inability to get landscaping supplies, we did not actually pave the shed patio, but covered the bare dirt with some black plastic for weed suppression. We were fortunate to get 800 sqft of pre-owned flagstone for merely $100, which is more than enough for the patio space I have prepared. As soon as the ground thaws in April, I will be paving the flagstone patio around our shed and building the retaining wall around it!

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5. Structures and hardscape in the garden

Garden structures provide layers, dimensions, and functionality to a garden. After getting most of the perennial beds established, I am dying to add pieces like garden trellises and bird bath to my garden.

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Above is a picture of the raspberry garden. It is so productive that in the peak season, bounties of raspberry weighted down the brunches down to the ground. Come around Spring/Summer, we will be building a trellis system for the raspberry bushes like the one below.

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(Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stockandhill/4777284717/)

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A new addition to our edible garden is grapes. We will be planting four grape plants along the northern fence (facing south) next Spring, and building garden arbors like the ones below for both function and form:

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Our 2021 renovation plan

might be short in numbers, but it is actually plenty of work as the bathroom and kitchen projects will likely take months to complete. Paving a patio and set all the trellises into the ground also require lots of elbow grease. I am hopeful that by the end of the next year, we will be at least wrapping up the renovation inside of the ranch house. No matter how far we get to the tasks in the garden, the garden will come to fruition, and we will have more leisure time in 2022 and finally get to explore the State we now call home.

What do you think about our renovation plan? Are you planning for any renovations to your space in 2021?

 

A Look Back on the Ranch Renovation in 2020

If the star of our 2019 renovation was the master suite, the ranch house has seen many stars in 2020. Like most Americans, we self-isolated at home for the whole Spring and Summer. With the time saved from commute and socializing, we were able to complete many projects more than expected, and truly improved the way we live in our little house.

1. The Basement Utility

We kick-started the 2020 renovation in the basement utility. It was the last unfinished space in the lower level, and we were dying to have a dust-free living quarter. The utility room was completed in late Spring, consisting of a laundry nook, a utility closet, and a storage closet under the stairs.

The utility closet houses our furnace and water heater:

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The laundry nook:

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The left side of the room:

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The storage closet with a pocket door:

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The whole utility room:

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Although a simple room, it involved some major utility work, including moving a floor drain and upgrading most of the water lines. We framed in the unsightly furnace and water heater, insulated the exterior walls, brought the LVP flooring into the utility room, and installed a pocket door on the storage closet.

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2. The Basement Trims and Baseboards

After the utility room was completed, we proceeded to install door trims and baseboards throughout the basement.

All the basement doors got as craftsman style trims, including the basement entry door:

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The bedroom door:

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And the bathroom door:

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Due to the ceiling height we did a simple trim profile for the bathroom pocket door:

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After installing all the door trims, the baseboards were installed. We picked a simple but beefy style for the basement, which worked really well next to the wood-tone LVP flooring.

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3. Furnishing the Media Room

Once the trims and baseboards were in place, we started bringing furniture into the media room, starting with a TV and a media console:

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next we moved downstairs Slav’s record collection and record players.

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I ordered this commission portrait for Slav’s birthday last year because no mancave is complete without a grand portrait. Right?

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Charlie was the first to move into the basement. I guess he wanted a mancave too.

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Due to the concern of delivery-related COVID transmission, we did not purchase any furniture for the media room for a while, and instead furnished the room with pieces we had. So the basement looked a little bare over the summer:

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But coming into the Fall, after the risk of transmission had died down, we pulled the trigger for a big L-shape leather sofa Slav always wanted.

The sofa really completed the media room. Since it was in Slav has been using the media room every night! This is exactly the outcome I was hoping for by renovating the basement – to create a cozy and relaxing space for Slav to wind down after a day of busy work.

4. Fluffing the Garden

The pandemic picked up in the States right around the beginning of Spring. While Slav was busy working in the basement, I focused my energy outside. 2020 was a great gardening year – it was not only the first season I got to watch perennials waking up in Spring and flourishing in Summer, but also the first season I could wander around and really think how I want my garden to feel. After two years of busy planting, my taste for garden design and plant selection had definitely evolved. I also had a lot more knowledge regarding the growing habits and companionship of plants. During this growing season, being able to watch my own garden changing day after day gave me a great opportunity to come up ideas to fine tune it, “fluff” the garden if I may.

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The first big change I made to the garden was to carve out a patio around our garden shed. I’ve been thinking about how to elegantly address the steep slope towards this corner of our yard for a couple years. At the end, all the options and inspirations brewing in my head finally birthed an adequate solution – a terraced garden over a flagstone patio with a seat-intergraded retaining wall.

With the blueprint in mind I started digging into the hill to create the terraces.

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The edge of the existing garden bed was also changed to follow the curve of the future patio.

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And this is more of less how the new patio garden bed looks like:

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Due to the lack of building supply, we did not actually pave the patio, nor build the retaining wall around it. All I’ve done was to form a temporary “retaining wall” with wood stumps, just to hold up the terraced garden, and covered the future patio space with black plastic for weed suppression. But it was good enough to start planting.

The first plant went into the terraced garden was this apple tree called “transparent”.

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And the second one is a ginkgo Tree.

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As the garden becomes fuller, I was more and more clear what plants I really wanted. Maybe it is just my Chinese heritage speaking, but peony and chrysanthemum are the most elegant flowers to my taste. I planted a hedge of peonies this year in the new patio garden space. And I hope to eventually add chrysanthemum into my garden as well.

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I’ve long wanted to add seating and planters into my garden. This set of planters with seating I built for the patio area was undoubtedly my favorite wood working project to date. The cherry on top was that it was built with leftover cedar planks from our 2018 fence build! Talking about one stone two birds here…

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Encouraged by how nice and useful the new patio planters were. I built a potting bench/outdoor kitchen also with leftover cedar plank trimmings:

Followed by another planter located in the front yard:

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And a small fence to hide the HVAC unit from the view of the master bedroom:

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The ugly AC unit was no longer visible from the bedroom window:

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These cedar pieces echo our horizontal fencing and really added dimensions and interests to the garden. I enjoy looking at them this year. Towards Fall, with Slav’s help, I completed the most physically demanding garden “fluffing” project – edging the vegetable garden beds and mulching the walking paths with pea gravel.

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5. Automating the Irrigation

One of my personal goal of 2020 was to reduce stressful and time-consuming work for ourselves. We all have limited time which should be reserved for creative projects and relaxation, but not house chores! In our garden, the most annoying, stressful, and time-consuming task has been watering. Our property did not come with sprinklers, so the precious summer nights were often consumed by dragging hoses among flower beds, vegetable garden, and lawn space, as well as adjusting yard sprinklers every 30 minutes. Therefore, I was determined to automate the whole irrigation process.

The first I did was to install drip emitters for our front yard lawn space, which enabled automatic irrigation for the lawn grass:

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Then I connected all the drip irrigation grids, including the ones installed in existing flower beds, to two battery-powered water timer, one for the front yard:

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And one for the backyard:

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Since the completion of the automatic irrigation grids, we have not needed to spend any time or effort to even think about watering. The entire front yard, including the flower beds and lawn space, as well as all the flower/veggie beds in the backyard were taken care of without our attention. This upgrade, which took a couple hundred dollars and a couple weekends of time, greatly improved our life quality and reduced our anxiety during growing season.

6. My Retreat Room/Home office

After a whole Spring of basement work and a busy summer in the garden, we turned our attention to the main floor of the house. We still have a number of rooms to renovate on the main floor, including the kitchen and the main floor bathroom. But before getting to the tough jobs, we decided to convert the spare bedroom into my office/retreat room.

Over the Fall months, a desk was built, the two existing closets were reframed to accommodate a murphy bed and a winter gear closet. This room will be used by overnight guest as a bedroom.

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I just realized that I have not given you a full reveal of the room yet. It is currently decorated for Christmas, so maybe after the Three Kings day when we take down the Christmas decorations, I will take you on a tour. So stay tuned, friends!

7. Starting the Main Floor Bathroom Renovation

The last major renovation project we at least started, is the main floor bathroom. It is currently ongoing but slowly due to Slav’s busy work schedule. Without getting into it too much, I’d say that we have completed the demo and electrical upgrade, and are anxious to start the plumbing process. You can check on our inspiration and design post here to get an idea what we are working towards. It is gonna be a long journey!

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To summarize…

2020 wasn’t the year I expected it to be. But maybe, it’s the year I needed. I am grateful for what we’ve learned to appreciate during this unprecedented year. Patience and tenderness, growth and reflection, generosity and sacrifice, all led to strengthen and refine. 2020, I will remember you!

Home Stay + Spring Garden, 2020!

Hi friends and family! I hope you had a fun Memorial day weekend. For Northern gardeners like me, a successful Memorial day weekend means getting your vegetable garden planted! Being housebound for 10 weeks, I put more hours into the garden that I could ever hope for. This is the Spring I not only stayed on top of basic tasks like planting, watering and weeding, but also made changes to the garden that will improve our landscape in a long run. I cannot think of a better time to show you the garden than today. Are you ready?

The Video Tours

First, here are the garden walk-through videos! You can click the “play” button in the middle of the video, or for better quality, head over to Youtube.

The front yard tour:

The backyard tour part one, which covers the veggie garden and herb garden:

Backyard tour part two: the berry patch and new patio garden.

If you have trouble viewing the video, do not worry! Below are the pictures I took over the last two weeks of different blooms!

I. The Front Yard Perennial Bed

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Here is our front yard flower bed today!  Most of the plants went in during Fall 2018, when they were just babies.

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Boy did they grow up:

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Planted along the dry creek are irises. They have been blooming since early May:

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Last Fall I dotted some Hens and Chicks along the dry creek. Apparently they all rooted in and came back this Spring:

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The white flowers behind the Hens and Chicks are called “Snow-in-summer”. It is a rather tall groundcover that blooms from early Summer through frost. They are such a fast grower/spreader – this patch was started with two 2-inch cans!

At the end of the dry creek, I cut out this small flower bed last Fall, and planted two peonies and a climbing rose. A trio of grass aligns the fence to add some softness.

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Around the corner of the house is a new honeysuckle, underplanted with stonecrop:

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Imagine the honeysuckle climbing 8 feet tall and filling the space between the window and the gutter, with the sedum covering and trailing off the entire planter…

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The rest of the flower bed is filled with flowering perennials:

Salvias, pink:

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Penstemons, Husky red

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Salvias, Purple

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Penstemons, Pineleaf Beardtougue

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Mugo pine and stonecrop “Angelina”

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English lavender, FlowerKisser “After Midnight”:

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Also planted here are Colorado State flowers and grasses. The Columbines have been putting on lots of foliage growth. They are expected to flower from mid-summer through Fall. The Blue Grama grasses are also getting bigger each day.

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I love this Pawnee Buttes Sand cherry! It grew much bigger this Spring compared to 2019, and we are not even getting to the Summer days yet! This particular Sand cherry variety is a western native and supposed to be a low-mount ground cover, but I’ve seen mature plants about 4 feet tall.

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The Silver brocade sage adds a nice ice-blue color to the flower bed:

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Near the retaining wall are planted groundcovers that flowers in different time of the season. They look like low mounts now but will eventually meet each other to create a nice flowering carpet:

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I tacked some baby Hens and Chicks last Fall into the small gaps between the retaining wall and the sidewalk. I did not hold too much hope then, but look at them now!

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How could you not love a plant that is beautiful, always looking like it is flowering, impossible to kill, but not invasive?

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II. The Mailbox Garden

On the other side of the driveway is our mailbox garden:

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This spot is one of the toughest on our property – west facing, beating afternoon sun, water runoff, compact soil, and being pilled onto salt and snow for months during winter. It is my test ground for plants – if a plant can survive here, it will thrive anywhere in my garden without water! And so far everything I threw here passed their entry exam:

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The Red Hot Poker (Torch Lily), Hot and Cold:

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Salvias, Blue

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Lilies:

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More Stonecrop:

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Creeping Thyme:

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One of the best upgrade we made this Spring, is to automate all the front yard irrigation, not only for the flower beds but also for the trees and the lawn. It saved us so much time and stress, and the plants are much happier too for getting consistent water:

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III. The Backyard Vegetable Garden

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This is the third season of this vegetable garden. Starting with just a couple beds, we now have five 4′ x 16′ in-ground beds, two of which are planted with perennial vegetables. I am a believer of perennial edibles – “planting once, harvest forever” sounds great!

The strawberries bed has been producing for two years:

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A chive border was planted in front of the strawberries last Fall by splitting one – yes, just one – chive plant! Gotta love a plant that is beautiful, edible, tough as nails, and attracts pollinators!

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Last year I asked Slav to “pick a vegetable you want me to grow”. And he picked asparagus! The plant ended up loving our soil and intense sun.

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This Spring, I added 25 more crowns around it and dedicated this entire bed to asparagus. All the crowns sprouted nicely. We should be able to start harvesting asparagus next Spring, and many decades ahead!

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I am a big fan of garlic scapes. Growing up, garlic scapes and strawberries were only available for a couple weeks each year, usually around my birthday. Each year I look forward to them as birthday treats. Starting 2018, I plant a whole bed of hardneck garlic every Spring for the scapes.

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The remaining two beds are planted with annual vegetables we love – tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumber, cabbages, radishes, beets, arugula, and salad greens.

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After filming the video tour, I put up some trellises for the climbing beans: This year we are growing Limka and red noodle.

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IV. The New Ginkgo Tree and Helleborus Garden

One of the new addition to my garden this year is a Ginkgo tree. I planted it next to the veggie garden. It is a slow-growing tree, especially during the first a few years, so it would not cast shade on the veggie garden any time soon. But eventually, I would love to have the whole yard covered by canopies of big trees for a forest-type micro-climate.

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Before that happens, this little flower bed under the crabapple tree is my only “shade” garden. I dedicated this whole space to my favorite plants: helleborus.

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Helleborus, or hellebore, is also called Christmas rose or Lenten rose. It flowers in January through April, and offers the most delicate looking flowers that often used for water art.

I planted this garden last year with white, dark purple, and black flowering helleborus, basically what you see in the picture above. They have not flowered this year, but all of them came back from the winter looking much stronger. Without the flowers they still got nice and glossy foliage to look at:

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V. The Pollinator/Herb Garden

Besides the veggie garden occupying the south side of the backyard, and fruit trees and climbing roses aligning the east fence, we also densely planted the north side of the backyard. This part of the yard receives full sun and is on a slope. To prevent water run-off, we covered the entire area with wood chip mulch and turned it into an edible garden.

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The flower bed in the front is our pollinator garden. Planted here are all sun-loving perennial herbs and flowers. There are sage, English lavender, mint, tarragon, catmint, lemon balm, oregano, hyssop, walking onion, Black Eye Susan, lavender cotton, sulfur flower buckwheat, and some ground cover.

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To add more shade trees, I planted a maple tree here in 2019. It will eventually become 40 feet tall and its canopy will meet the canopy of the crabapple tree.

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VI. The Berry Patch!

A big part of our edible garden, besides the vegetable beds, is a berry patch we planted last year. 20 berry plants, including 15 raspberries and 5 black berries, and two hazelnut trees went into this big mulched area:

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The three rows of raspberry are different varieties. You can see the difference between their sprouting time and growing habit. The row on the very left came up first and spreads the most, and the right row has a more of a tight form.

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VII. The New Patio Garden + Planters

Last is the newest addition to our backyard – the patio garden!

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What I call the “patio garden” includes the patio planters (planted with stawberries), the strip of mulched area in front of the planters and the berry patch (which is mulched with dried grass clippings for now), and the area between the herb garden and the shed.

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Due to the pandemic, we did not manage to get perennial plants to fill the new patio garden. To fill the space, I seeded some annual flower and vine crops. The entire patio garden, from the patio to the shed, is full-sun and get overspray from our grass sprinklers. It will be fun to plan this garden this Fall!

The space closest to the house now have a couple annual herbs, with cosmos seeded in between:

Lemon verbena

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Rosemary

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Cosmos

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The pink flags are there so Roxie does not get into the flower bed – this girl likes to nap on fresh mulch, which I totally understand. But the new flower seedlings would like to disagree.

I did manage to put in two perennials here, one being a Chinese Snowball Viburnum. It will eventually grow to be a multi-stem tree, 8 feet tall with a 6 feet spread. It will provide some afternoon shade for the snowboard bench and the flower bed below.

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The other perennial is a lingonberry, and it flowered right after being planted!

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Where the patio garden curves along the berry patch were recently seeded with lettuce and beets. It is treated like an extension of our veggie garden this year, but will be plant with pretty perennials this Fall! I have some leftover cantaloupe seeds that are fairly old, so they all got thrown there too. Maybe one of them will come up!

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Near the newly built shed patio I planted a vine crop patch! All the seedlings of  zucchini, squash, cucumber went in here.

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The goal is to let them becoming a green mulch for the area, so less weeds can come up:

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I did manage to get one perennial in this area, and it is an apple tree!

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We already planted a honey crisp apple tree a couple years ago, but transparent apple is Slav’s favorite. Although popular in Poland, we could not find this apple sold in stores around us. So let us grow it!

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VIII. The Shed Patio and A New Pollinator House

Remember the shed patio I created a few weeks ago? It is still bare and covered by black plastic…given the current situation of the pandemic, this patio might have to wait until next Spring.

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We did spice it up a bit by setting two faux evergreen trees in front of the shed. One of (many of) Slav’s snowboards serves as a temporary seating.

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Oh, the leave-cutting bee house we DIYed last year reached full occupancy! Totally did not expect it and very encouraged by it. We put up a bigger native pollinator house for native bees and butterflies this Spring, and hope it ill be appreciated.

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So, here you have it, our 2020 Spring gardens! We put lots of hard work into landscaping over the last two years, and I think the garden really shows it. Although many of our trees and perennials are still young and need time to fill in, I’d say that we’ve landscaped 90% of the property already! I especially appreciate the hardscape we put in, such as patios, fence, dry creek, the retaining wall, and the most recent drip irrigation and automation system, which will all serve us well for years to come. I cannot wait for our garden to mature and to support the native ecosystem – the pollinators, birds, and even animals. Grow little garden, grow!

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