Over the years, we have carved out quite a few large garden beds on our property: the vegetable garden, the back fence orchard, the front yard flower bed, and most recently, the shed patio garden. But we have never “renovated” one. Last Fall, after completing the shed patio project, we decided to redo one of the garden beds in our backyard – the raspberry patch:
Why redo the raspberry garden?
I started this raspberry patch back in 2019. The first a couple summers, the raspberry plants remained small. Despite that, we still got the raspberries we needed:
But during the last two seasons, these raspberry plants explored:
Although we tried to thin the canes in Spring, the growth was too robust to control. The patch quickly grew into a 7-foot-tall jungle. Rabbits and mice started making nests between the canes.
We also found raspberry suckers popping up everywhere: in nearby flower beds, on the lawn space, and even inside basement window sills. Raspberry spreads by horizontal rhizomes underground. Although we love eating fresh raspberries, we did not want a raspberry-infested yard.
Digging out the raspberry canes and future plans
Finally, we made the painful decision to remove the raspberry patch. It was not a task for the faint of heart – these canes were full of thorns and we expected snakes and rodents had taken refuge inside the patch. I started by cutting off the canes after the summer harvest, and worked from the outside in. I found so many berries we could not see through the dense foliage, and ended up freezing several five-gallon buckets of berries from this small patch! Can you believe it? Raspberry must really liked our soil.
After I cut down the canes, Slav the husband of the year took over to dig out the rhizomes.
It took Slav a few weekends to eliminate the raspberry roots. Here was the pile from his work. Mostly prickly raspberry canes. Oh my.
At the meantime, I started contemplating how to utilize the former raspberry patch. I quickly decided to incorporate half of it into the nearby patio garden. Adding this section significantly enlarged the once skinny patio garden, making it look more like a planting “island” instead of a “strip”.
This was the look of the new planting island. Imagine a small ornamental tree where the yellow stick is, maybe an evergreen, surrounded by low-mount grasses and perennial blooms? It will create a layered look and bring more winter interest to this area.
Next to the planting island I wanted a path, so we could walk among the big flower beds easily. Being a visual person, I started by laying down some tree stumps to highlight the future path:
From the picture above and below you can see that the path travelled from the back of the house, right under my office window, to the center of the herb garden. It looked wide in the pictures, but in reality it was barely four feet wide. I also made the path curvy for a more organic look.
It was a lot harder to decide what to do with other half of the former raspberry patch… Although north-facing, this slope was very productive when planting pumpkins and melons.
Unfortunately, we are no longer able to plant vine crops here next year, because of our new dog, Charlie. Charlie loves to taste unripe fruits from my garden, precisely one bite from each fruit. This little devil…
I will show you how we converted this slope in the next post – we found a great use of it! You will like it, I promise. 🙂
Planting the back patio “island”
When it came to the plant choices, I knew we needed some evergreen trees. We only had deciduous trees in our backyard, which looked really bare for 5 months of a year. Planting more evergreens will bring some much needed structure into the winter garden. However, evergreens were so expensive – that I can only afford the tiniest size. But if we plant now, we can have something pretty to look at in ten years!
Besides the evergreens, I also ordered a Jane magnolia. I’ve been long wanting a magnolia tree. It is the tree besides gingko that I really missed since moving to the States. The Jane magnolia is the most cold-hardy and it might have a fighting chance in our zone 5 winter.
I got a couple of the Japanese grasses to plant around the trees. These grasses are cold-hardy, vigorous, and they can tolerate both sun and shade. They should be able to naturalize in our yard and become a dense groundcover in a couple years.
Came with the tree order were a couple free plants. They are called “Rainbow” dog hobble (leucothoe fontanesiana). I never heard this plant before, but I was immediately attracted to its variegated leaves and open branching structure:
Apparently the dog hobble is a native to our climate, drought tolerant, and evengreen to zone 5 (!). It checks all the boxes I want for a mile-high garden. They should mature to 4-5 feet tall and wide. I think they will add lots of color to this corner.
Here is how everything looked like in ground: a “Bialobok” Colorado Spruce, surrounded by three Hakone Japanese Forest Grass “All Gold”. I later added several ‘Nigrescens’ black mondo grasses in between the “All Gold”:
I transplanted this rosemary from the patio garden. It was shaded by a russian sage so it did not put on much growth last year. But it developed a massive root ball. Hopefully the strong root system could help it survive this winter and establish itself as a perennial in my garden:
Also transplanted here was a passion flower from the mailbox garden. It barely grew there last year. I figured that it could use some protection from afternoon sun. Passion flower is supposed to be a perennial too in my zone (5b), so we will see if it comes back next Spring!
To offset the costs of the new plants, I filled the rest of the planting area by “shopping my own garden”, which means that I walked through my yard, divided what looked mature, and dug out what looked crowded. There were an English lavender from the front yard, a catmint (cut back to the ground) from the herb garden, and an itoh peony I got from a neighbor:
Last but not the least, the Jane magnolia was planted into the ground! It took me a while to find it a permanent home:
To finish the new planting area, we covered the bare soil using cardboard, and piled Fall leaves on top. I am curious to see how many weeds will come up in this area since we disturbed the soil, and we are certain that the raspberry runners will come up in Spring. We plan to put a few inches of wood chips next Spring as mulch, which will tidy up this area a lot. It would be very nice if all the perennials come back to life!