Terrific Broth

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

Category: Landscaping (Page 1 of 3)

Garden Edging Continued | Perennial Bed Borders

“Spring is for planting, summer is for building, fall is for harvesting, and winter is for resting.” – Fouch Family Off Grid

One of my favorite homestead family, Fouch Family Off Grid, brilliantly summarized what the four seasons are like for their off-grid homestead. Although being city dwellers, we very much follow the same pattern. Except for us, the winter is for playing – in the snow.

This spring is our first in the ranch house. We planted, planted, and planted more. I had dirt under my finger nails for three months during which I presented at three conference meetings. Now summer rolls around, it is finally time to start building.

Edging project I: Honeybee’s heaven perennial bed

This past week was dedicated to garden edging. Garden edging is part of the hardscape and can be used to define an outdoor area or a flower bed. It is also a good way to keep the soil or mulch contained and the weeds out out of a flower bed. I initially went for soft edging, which means no physical boundary but mulching over the flower beds.

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It did not work very well for us because all the weeds were climbing into the bed.

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Not only the soft edging invited weeds, it also created problem for Slav who mows our lawn. The hedge trimmer hit the wood chips hard and and broke them into pieces. Some of them flew high in the air and even hit Slav’s face.

Here is an unspoken rule in our family: we try to make each other’s life easier. Slav takes out the recycle, so I make sure to flatten the cardbox boxes before putting them into the bins. I compost, so Slav chops kitchen scrapes fine so they break down faster. We are free to do whatever we want and however we want, but one’s action should not make the other’s household tasks more difficult. Although the consequence of my choice of soft edging was not immediately apparent, watching woodchips hitting Slav’s face was an implicit reminder that I needed to change things up.

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Edging can be done in different ways and with different materials – plastic, metal, brick, concrete, etc. You can see both plastic and concrete pavers against the flower bed below. I recently installed the same plastic garden edging along the back fence and really liked the look of it. But I do not think it is a good choice for edging this perennial bed. First, they are soft and cannot hold a perfect line by its own. Installing them against a relative straight fence avoids the problem, but they may appear wavy around a free-standing flower bed. Second, their primary function is to prevent root crossing and are meant to be installed deep into the soil. But the mulch in our flower bed was a couple inches above the ground so I want the edging to also be raised. Third, the plastic edging may not stand well to the blades of lawn mowers. Last, the main goal here is to create a wide separation between the wood chips and the grass, so I decided to use the concrete pavers, or more specifically, the concrete edgers.

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But first, look at how well everything is growing! This is the garden-in-a-box kit called “honeybee’s heaven” we planted early May. In just 6 weeks, everything has grown to 4x of their original size and all of the plants flowered. Thumbs up for native plants!

Saturday morning @ my #pollinatorgarden arden. #gardening #savethebees🐝

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Such pretty garden deserves a good edging – an expensive one. These edgers are not cheap, about $2.58 a pop that only lines 0.8 linear feet (in contrast the plastic edging was $28 for 60 feet!) But the edger blocks are wide and tall, perfect for blocking the root from crossing underground while leaving enough height to keep the mulch in. Slav kindly picked up 50 of them for me – they are so heavy that I could only transfer 8 pieces a time using the wheelbarrow! But I am glad they are because it means that they can stand by themselves without additional reinforcement.

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I started by laying them out to create a curve I like then started digging into the ground along the curve. A whole week of rain made digging a breeze.

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Then I set the edgers in. I used native soil to bump up the concrete edgers a bit, until they sat a few inches above the soil and level. These edgers have curves on both ends, so it was easy to form a nice curve without much gap in between. I actually lay them on their sides because I like the height and the look much better.

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To be clear, setting pavers are usually much more involved than the way I did it. Especially if you are creating a patio or a walk pass. This is a good article describing how garden edging using pavers should be done. I you are up for a permanent edging task or a surface that will be walked on, I high recommend that you follow these steps. It requires paver base, stone dust, sand, and a lot more leveling and compacting, but the end result will be permanent and perfectly level. For my flower bed I chose the sloppy way. Our perennial bed may not be permanent and its shape may change in upcoming years, so I do not want to anything permanent. Besides, our lawn mower is not going to ride on top of this edging but next to it, so it does not need to be perfectly level.

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This is the finished product and I like it. It does a great job holding all the mulch in, and I like how polished it made the bed look. The grey color ties into our back patio so, so well. And the best thing is, Slav can now use the hedge trimmer right against the garden bed without worrying about flying woodchips!

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Edging project II: Underplanting perennial garden

In this spirit I also installed the same edgers around the other perennial bed in our backyard, right under our crab apple tree. I used to have branches right against the bed as a natural edger and I absolutely adore it. But again it did not work well for mowing.

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In the process I made the bed larger. The crab apple tree shades everything below so the poor flowers are not growing as well as I hoped. We need to plant something else next year and a bigger bed will allow me to have both shade and partial shade plants here.

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Here is the bed when I finished:

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I like the result a lot more than I thought. Maybe because of the messy edge of the pavers, the bed does not feel too serious. I also like how the same concrete edger ties the two beds together. They echo the color of our concrete patio which downplayed their existence. I do not find them intruding at all.

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As you can see we have drip tubing runs in and out of this bed. We will bury them as some point so Slav can push the lawn mower through this area, probably next year after we set up all the veggie beds.

Edging project III: Frontyard mailbox underplanting

Next we moved onto edging the last perennial flower bed. This bed is in our front yard and directly under our mail box.

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Our black metal mailbox is very boring and I think the underplanting complements it nicely – a boring rectangle with just a few plants in it. There is one lavender, two rosemary bushes, and a struggling rose:

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This poor rose. We’ve got bunnies in this neighborhood and they love this rose bush, or more accurately, the taste of it. Every a few days I find the new growth on this rose leveled to the ground. Thankfully these bunnies are as dumb as their cotton tails are cute – they have not discovered my salad garden yet (knock on wood).

Although uninspiring, it is still a big upgrade compared to the weeds and broken bricks we inherited:

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For this bed I decided to create a mowing strip. Mowing strips are usually done with brick pavers. I chose to build one that is composed of two lines of bricks, one line on their side and the other laying flat. The taller edge keeps the mulch in while the flat part is leveled with the turf for the lawnmower to ride on.

To build this mowing strip I more or less followed the instructions here. Again, I did not use paver base or stone dust or any form of underlayment, because I do not know how permanent this flower bed will be. I simply dug down, leveled the brick with native dirt, laid bricks in, and packed around them with soil. I brushed some play sand in between the bricks to fill the gap so grass will not find their way into the flower bed.

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This brick paver is purposely different from the concrete grey ones I used in the backyard. I want to make the edging in the front yard more formal while keeping the backyard look more natural. This brick is super flat with sharp edges, making leveling them with the grass pretty easy.

The new border feels like the way it should have always been. I like the width and how it fills the void lawn a bit. As you may have noticed, we also made it bigger for more planting area. I want to add some winter interest plants here so from November to April our yard does not look super dead.

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Mulch!

As the final step of polishing everything up, we proceeded to mulch. Mulch is great for weed control and in our area, it is also crucial for reducing surface evaporation and keeping soil cooler. We have really bad problem with weeds especially where we water often, such as around the veggie beds:

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We could hardly see where the veggie beds end and where the weeds start. In preparation for mulching, I pulled most of weeds out, cut the grass super short, and covered all the path in between and around the veggie beds with heavy duty cardboard.

After weeding and mowing:

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Slav brought in two full trailer loads of wood chips and we mulched in between and all around the veggie beds:

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Doesn’t the mulch make everything look sharper? I could not be happier. Some of these wood chips are from fresh-chipped pine trees and they smell AMAZING. We continued the mulch along the back fence around the fruit trees and roses. This is another area I had been weeding by hand since this Spring, which took a few hours per week. With all the mulching we have replaced ~1000 sqft of the lawn that needs weeding and mowing constantly. Cutting down maintenance time while saving water sounds like a win-win to me.

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Here you have it, all three flower beds edged, large area mulched, and my landscaper (Slav) is happy. And guess who else is happy? These roses.

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Happy summer!

My First Rose | How to Install Plastic Garden Edging

I am always drawn to English cottage gardens – green hedges, lush garden beds filled with cut flowers, and roses and peonies wherever possible.

Tasha Tudor’s Garden

I want my garden to be informal but intentional – a bit messy. In this spirit, I’ve chosen to plant perennial flowers and blending them in with the surroundings with nature-looking wood mulch.

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We also plan to grow evergreen hedges. If you remember our backyard layout, we neighbors four properties with long stretch of fences that needs to be covered.

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I always knew our back fence will be the perfect place for a wall of climbing roses. It is west-facing and the majority of the fence receives full sun, ideal for growing roses. We have planted five fruit trees that will form canopies above the fence in a few years, but in between we could really use some green foliage and soft flowers.

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Choosing the right rose

After weeks of research, I finally pulled the trigger and got four climbing roses from a local nursery. High Country Roses specializes on cold-hardy roses that grows well in Colorado, where high altitude, high winds, and clay soil take a toll on regular varieties. I have learned that from the veggie garden that we have to plant the specialty plants selected for our harsh climate. The regulars just do not stick. 

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The climbing roses we got are called Awakening. It is a sport of New Dawn, one of the most popular David Austin Rose. Reportedly, Awakening has all the advantages of New Dawn, including the glossy foliage, light apple scent, subtle pink and white blooms, but they grow faster and bloom better (more repeat) than New Dawn.

Awakening:

Its parent flower: New Dawn

As you can see, Awakening also offers more petals per flower, a softer look I am after. Our yard and house are rectangle-shaped and look very stiff. I could use some bendy canes, layered pink pedals, and curved garden beds to break up the rectangles. During weeks of research I have not read a single complaint about Awakening, except it grows faster and bigger than many would think. The decision was made easy.

I brought them back from the nursery and left them our in partially shaded area for a few days to harden off:

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This is the look I am after:

Before planting, I still needed to tackle a few tasks in the area, including removing the open yard compost along the back fence, and edging along the pickets.

Edging along the fence

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As you can see, our yard slopes down towards the fence. Understandably there is a lot of soil build up against it:

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The metal edging installed along the fence have been pushed around by the soil and do not protect the fence from touching the soil anymore.

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Behind the fence there is a retaining wall, a few feet above neighbor’s yard. Preventing top soil from pilling up against the retaining wall is important for its integrity. So we really needed to refresh the edging before planting.

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I started by digging along the fence and pulling out all the old metal edging. You can see some was already pushed into the other side of the fence.

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After pulling every pieces of metal out, I was happy to find 6-mil poly (not landscape fabric) laid in our retaining wall on the other side of the fence. We have been wanting to come over to our neighbors to clean up the retaining wall since we moved in. Years of neglect granted it to be a shallow trash can and home for some happy weeds. Knowing that all that are only floating on the very surface above the plastic is comforting.

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Our back fence is 88 feet long so it took me a few hours to remove all the old metal edging and dig down until all the pickets were shown. The edging needed to be installed against and just below the fence, so no soil will ever be in contact with the pickets.

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We got the cheapest plastic edging from Home Depot. It is about $28 for 60 feet and we got two. They are also the tallest – about 5″. I want them to come above the soil a bit so we can mulch the area.

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According to instructions, I laid them flat under the sun for a day or so to soften them up. They were very easy to manipulate after that.

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I leaned the edging against the fence, made sure that the bottom of the edging sit just below the bottom of the pickets, and buried them with dirt.

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One of the complaints about this particular edging is that it is too soft to hold a straight line. It was not a problem in this project since I was putting it up again a relatively straight fence.

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Each roll of the edging is 60 feet, so for our 88 feet fence, I needed to join two together. Each roll of the edging came with a connector which made the seam tight and hardly noticeable.

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This is the finished look and I am very happy with it. The new black edging made the fence look more polished and a whole lotta sharper.

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Planting the Roses

The last task before planting the roses was to move the morning glory I previously planted along the fence.

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They came up from seeds I planted mid-May and really should have grown bigger by this point. 🙁 They are getting another chance at the corners of the back fence.

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While digging the morning glories out I was happy to see abundant of earth worms below. We have been piling up fall leaves and glass trimmings the back fence since last fall, 6 months till now. It was such a success. I did not cover, water, or turn them at all – just pile new stuff on top of the old. But all the fall leaves were completely broken down and mixed into the top soil thanks to the earth worms.

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All the open compost were transferred to the new veggie beds and roses were planted into the now rich top soil.

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We piled some wood chips we produced ourselves around the rose and watered them in. Now we wait! I do not expect much bloom this summer but hope to see some foliage. And I desperately need to learn how to care for these pretty babies. Should I stake the canes? Should I fertilize again? Should wait a few years before training the canes? I want pretty trellis that is self-supporting but invisible. which kind should I get? If you have experience growing and training climbing roses, or building garden trellis, I would love your advice!

Back Home and 2018 Spring Yard!

After a week of travel and some catching-up at work, I am FINALLY back to the blog. Thank you so much for continuing to read and check back. It is very encouraging for a new blogger like me to see the blog traffic did not drop entirely down to zero. 🙂

I spent the last week of March in Southern California for work. For the most part, I stayed in Riverside, where Slav and I got our PhDs (in Neuroscience, in case you are wondering). I got to visit the houses we lived in, dine with old friends in our favorite restaurants, and walk around the campus in which we spent 5 years learning, doing research, and teaching. Walking down the memory lane was fun and gave me deep appreciation for how far we’ve come, but I also missed home terribly. Maybe age has something to do with it, but I do not enjoy being away from home for this long.

One thing I never paid attention to when I lived in SoCal, is its mission-style, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It turns out that the ceramic tile roof, the white stucco wall, and the arched front porches totally burned into my mind and have been subconsciously influencing my design decisions. Remember the phase II plans for our back patio? That is pretty much what Spanish Revival porches look like. Interestingly, we also lived in North Carolina for equal amount of time (>5 years), but I’ve never developed the same interest in Federal and Georgian-style southern houses.

Spring Cleaning – Pantry Closet

Since coming back, unsurprisingly, I was swamped with work. But we did manage to work on a few small things in and around the house. For example, as part of the spring cleaning and purging effort, we reorganized our pantry closet.

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It does not look like a superior product, but it is a lot more functional than the before:

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The original closet lacks shelving, so things tend to pile up and hard to find. One night, as I was cooking dinner, Slav added a couple shelves above and below the existing shelves. Adding these shelves could not be simpler: the cleats were already in place, and we have some leftover 5/8″ plywood from making the floating nightstand. Slav ripped down the plywood to size and popped them over the cleats – no nails or screws needed. This upgrade almost doubled the holding power of our pantry, so everything we store here can be organized to one layer and easy to find:

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To top shelf holds plastics. We are trying to cut down the plastic use, so I intentionally put them up high and make them hard to reach.

Dog treats and medicine were stored on the second shelf – We have a treat jar for dogs in the kitchen so these are just refills. The medicine is bulk ingredients for mixing Charlie’s joint supplement. If you have an older dog and want to make their joints healthier for longer, I highly recommend to mix your own joint supplements opposed to buy from pet stores. You can find all the pure ingredients online in bulk and in pharmaceutical grade. It is not only cheaper, but also you can control exactly what and how much your pet is taking. This sheet shows what and how much we give to our 10-year-old lab Charlie, you can use it to calculate how much your pets need based on their weight.

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The next two shelves hold our dry goods, sauces, and spices. We are eliminating some upper cabinets in our kitchen soon, so this pantry has to work harder to hold our spices. Putting sauces on Lazy Susans makes everything we need visible and easy to reach. For $10 a pop, they are god-sent.

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Pasta, grains, and cleaning supplies are located at the bottom. Pretty neat, right?

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We also added shelves into our toiletry closet next to our bathroom. Giving everything a dedicated and relatively permanent space not only makes keeping track and finding supplies quicker, but also makes cleaning inside the closets a lot easier. It is our intention to have a low-maintenance and low-consumption style of life, so there is less stress and more time to create. Having well-organized closets with spare room shall help.

Planting Fruit Trees

In addition to cleaning, Spring is also time to plant. We are currently experiencing a massive attack of analysis paralysis due to lack of landscaping experience. Yard work was easy last year, because all we needed to do was to fix obvious problems, such as getting rid of overgrown bushes and dead trees, power-washing the fence, and doing a gut-job on our garden shed (including demo, rebuild, paint, organization, and finishing touches). But this year we need to create, which feels like a much bigger responsibility.

There is no right way for gardening, so we decided to just follow our heart and plant whatever we want, starting with fruit trees.

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We planted five trees in total, including a Honey Crisp apple, a nectarine, two different cherries, and a peach. These bare-root fruit trees are only $12 a pop in Costco, making them good subjects to experimenting with.

Slav picked the cherry trees. One of the best memories from his childhood was climbing onto his parents’ cherry tree and eating fresh cherries. Apparently, his childhood cherry tree no longer exists. 🙁 So this 36 year-old man decides to recreate this magic happiness in our yard.

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We also got a honey crisp apple, a nectarine, and a peach, all of which we love and purchase constantly. They will likely spend the first a couple years growing to full size, and start producing delicious fruits in year 4. We planted them 14 feet apart to allow them to come to full size. By lining them along the back fence, we hope the mature trees also function as a privacy fence and hide the mix-and-match back fence.

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This is our first time growing fruit trees, so we followed the instructions to a tee. Fingers crossed!

Other Gardening Plans for 2018

We also plan to add a privacy hedge along our northern fence. This portion has double fencing – our neighbor’s wood fence and our chain link fence, with quite a few trees in between.

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The tree root started damaging neighbor’s wooden fence, which prevents us from taking down the chain link fence that we deeply hate. Since these trees do not provide flower or fruit, and appear to be quite invasive, Slav made the decision to cut all of them so he can fix neighbor’s fence, take down our chain link fence, and plant a privacy hedge instead. It will be a fairly big and expensive operation for which we need to coordinate with our neighbors. But if we could pull it off, we will have complete privacy in our backyard in just a few years.

The last thing we want to do this year in our yard is to experiment with vegetable gardening. Colorado receives only 8″~15″ precipitation each year, most of which during winter. So replacing turf with urban farming and Xeriscape is one serious matter to us. Among drought, heavy clay soil, and wind and hail, gardening vegetable will be a very different experience from what we had in North Carolina. This year’s goal is simply experimenting different methods of amending soil and watering, in preparation for bigger garden next year. To set us up for success, I ordered a veggie garden starter kit from Resource Central, which includes starter plant that are drought-resistant and locally raised. I also ordered their honey bee heaven garden kit to bring more pollinator into our yard.

Being warm and nice outside today, I shot a short video of our yard and explained our landscaping goals for you. Among the fencing, privacy hedge planting, and veggie and perennial beds, we will be busy as a bee!

 

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