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

Tag: Patio garden Page 1 of 2

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!

Home Stay + Building a New Terrace Garden

When landscaping our property I like a methodical approach. Starting with removing the dead and unwanted, followed by hardscaping and planting trees and big shrubs. The hardscape and structural planting form the fundamental elements of the landscape, directing the choices on small shrub and perennials. I manage to hold off on ground covers and bulbs, waiting for the trees to cast shade and the perennials to fill in. It is surely a long process, several years before one area to complete. But it allows ideas to emerge and taste to develop, resulting the best garden possible.

This approach worked wonderfully in creating our front yard garden, which we added in 2018. After deciding to turn the weedy part of the front lawn into mulched garden bed, we removed the turf, amended the soil, and built a retaining wall system for erosion control. We then added a dry creek and installed drip irrigation to manage water. As of planting, we started with an arborvitae hedge, some evergreen, and tall shrubs and screening bushes, before packing the space with hardy perennials. The once weedy and difficult area has shaped up to one of the most beautiful gardens in our neighborhood, and brought so much joy to us and our neighborhood.

IMG_4466

The shed surrounding before

This Spring, I decided to apply the same approach to another problematic area on our property – around our garden shed.

IMG_9566

The shed is located at the northeast corner of our land. The structure itself is in superior condition thanks to our renovation in 2017.

IMG_9810_cr

But the area around the shed is not so hot. With the shed being a few feet away from the side and the back fence, the space behind the shed is a perfect catch-all space:

02

Our compost bins have been here for two years. Without much sun they have been rather slow to produce.

03

This corner is the only spot we could not see from the house. Inevitably, stuff got dropped off here, temporarily, then become part of the permanent exhibition…

04

Firewood, tree stumps, shrub trimmings, they are used as ramp for squirrels to get over the fence.

01

Moreover, the lawn space around the shed was… terrible. The steep slope= soil erosion = patchy lawn space = weeds.

06

An overhaul is so needed yet so intimidating. Being the furthest from the house it is easy for me to look away. But this Spring, I won’t anymore. I cannot think of a better time to transform this space. A better time to admit challenges, to rip out of what does not work, and to rebuild from ground up. Transformation is scary work, especially when you have to shake the root. But it is the only right thing to do. So, let us!

Decluttering around the shed

The first order of business is always getting rid of what does not belong. The compost bins had been moved to the veggie garden. So what’s left to address is the big pile of firewood, big stumps, and tree trimmings.

31

05

Trimmings were chipped into mulch, tree stumps were used up (you will see it later), and firewood were neatly stacked. It is amazing how tidy this space became with just a couple hours of work.

33

I always liked the spot. Maybe it is the leaves slowly decaying on the ground, maybe is the summer shade thanks to the trees above. It has a woodland feel.

Here is the space before the cleanup:

04

32

And after.

35

36

Defining the boundary of future garden

With a clean slate I was much more inspired. Ideas started flowing and you could almost see steam coming off my ears. I had plans before, but they were no longer cool enough. Now I want a patio, and retaining wall, and a terrace garden. Go big or go home, right?

I will explain. Allow me to lay down some plastic (for killing weeds) first.

12

Terrace garden is the best way to address sloped land, and I like the look. It cuts big slopes into small and flat garden beds, which are much easier to plan and manage. It also gives structure, variation, and transition space to a big open space. With appropriate screening planters, a terrace garden can be used to create “rooms” so not everything can be seen with one glance.

11

For the area around the shed, I think it makes sense to have three tiers – the highest tier being the existing perennial garden (to the left), the lowermost being a patio space (where the black plastic was, leveled with the shed), and a heavily planted “bank” in between.

13

I like to use a flexible hose to trace the boundary. It takes any guess work out of equation, and makes it easy to visualize the future flower beds from different angles and distance. In this case, I left it on the ground for days so I can watch it from every windows from the house.

Once I am happy with the shape of the flower garden, I cut out the new edge along the hose:

14

Then reinforced it with metal edging. These edging were lining up the raspberry patch before. I just pushed them out to align with the new edge of the lawn.

15

All the three tiers will be behind the metal edging. I went with a gentle curve rather than a straight edge.

16

Creating a patio space around the shed

The next step was to define the boundaries between each of the three tiers. I started with the lowermost tier, namely the patio area, by leveling the soil here with the shed foundation.

17

The excess soil was flipped to the future second tier – the “bank” if you will. Can you believe how much soil was removed from this small space?

18

This space will be finished as a stone patio, which requires gravel base, pavers, and joint sand to say the least. For now, I simply laid down some 6-mil poly for weed control, and used the tree stumps from the tree removal last year to act as a temporary retaining wall. One stone, two birds. I am not mad about it!

20

 

Leveling the second tier

21

Now you can finally see the look of the patio. Do you like it? The perennial bed on the left houses lots of herbs. Once the mulched area behind the perennial bed gets incorporated to the second tier, I can walk around the perennial garden and harvest the herbs with ease. The bare soil between the mulch path and the black plastic-covered patio will also become the second tier. It will be heavily planted with trees and tall shrubs to screen off the future patio.

25

Here is how the space look now. The boundary between perennial garden and the 2nd tier will be created as soon as I could get my hands on materials for a retaining wall.

24

Can you see how tall the retaining wall would be around the patio? It needs to be 24 inches tall so I can mulch the second tier. I also plan to incorporate some kind of bench seating into retaining wall, likely with snowboards again.

Adding lighting to the garden shed

With momentum I tidied the shed: from head to toe. Here are my two walls of gardening tools:

42

43

The left side houses storage shelves.

41

And I have a handy small storage next to the door for strings and rulers:

44

Our shed does not have windows, so it was pretty dark when the door is closed. I finally got around to add a shed light. And it was such an upgrade!

46

We did not run power to the shed. So I picked a solar-powered light with a string on/off to conserve power. The solar panel was mounted outside of the shed door.

45

I threaded the cable under the roof and secured it on a truss:

47

So!

Here is the progress shot for the shed terrace garden! I like this layered look a lot better. Cannot wait to build the retaining walls, set the patio, and plant up the bank. As I mentioned at the beginning, I usually finish the hardscape before planting. But with the pandemic, things might go with the order of which can be shipped to my door first…

99

Have you been doing any hardscaping at home? Do share!

Home Stay + First Week in the Garden

IMG_1135

One silver lining of staying at home, is that I finally got to watch the garden waking up this Spring. Spring has come slowly but steadily, with alternating sunshine and snow/rain showers. And our trees and perennials seem to be loving it.

IMG_1136

IMG_1127

IMG_1124

IMG_1126

IMG_1123

IMG_1109

IMG_1108

One pleasant surprise: all my helleborus came back! They were planted last summer and did not look so hot last season. A couple of them died back to the ground. But a couple weeks ago, all nine of nine helleborus sprouted new shoots, and looked strong and healthy.

IMG_0971

I’ve not seen any buds, but I am just happy that they are putting down their roots.

IMG_1100

IMG_1103

IMG_1102

The 2020 Spring garden to-do

With the warm weather I managed to spend a few hours every day in the garden. This might be the year that I actually stay on top of the Spring garden tasks! Who knows? Maybe I can actually sit down and enjoy the garden in Summer… I started with a long to-do list, including planting more trees and climbing vines, hardscaping the backyard, expanding the berry garden, and finally whipping the vegetable garden into shape. With the lock-down it looked like I would be trekking along just fine.

One big thing I checked off the list this week, was to prepare the vegetable garden for Spring planting.

1. Reducing the size of the vegetable garden

IMG_0968

We started with five 4′ x 16′ beds in 2018 and added two more last year. However, after last summer of growing, I realized that adding the two new beds were a bad decision.

IMG_9370

For example, the bed I added in front of the original field was too close to our patio, leaving a narrow path in between. We started having problem backing the trailer into the backyard. As of the bed behind the original field, it was way too close to two of the fruit trees.

IMG_9328

Honestly, we we could get away with just five beds. So I decided to reverse these two beds back to lawn and mulched space, respectively.

IMG_0846

I have pushed the boundary of the veggie bed back last Fall. So this week I started by removing soil from the first bed. As you could see here, the soil here was higher than the lawn space in front of it. And this is all rich soil from last year’s vegetable gardening:

IMG_0851

I scraped the soil to match the lawn space then reseeded grass.

IMG_0854

Our nights are still rather cold, so I covered the newly seeded lawn with Harvest guard after watering them in:

 

IMG_0856

It might not be obvious, but this 4′ x 16′ space generated six wheelbarrows of soil. I did not want to ever put soil into trash, especially good soil thanks to the compost we mixed in last Fall.  So I transferred all six barrows into my newly built patio planters.

IMG_0913

I also leveled the last vegetable bed by moving the soil here to the planters. Here was what the space looked like before:

IMG_0858

As you can see, the original boundary was right next to the trunks of the fruit trees.

IMG_0860

It was a mess where this last bed met the fence too.

IMG_0861

From the picture below you can see how much taller the soil on the last bed was above the mulched space behind. This space could really use some retaining system.

IMG_0862

I pulled up the old lumber that held back the soil here and scrapped 8 inches of top soil off this space. All the top soil went to the patio planters as well.

IMG_0875

It took another 6 trips of wheelbarrow to level this bed. After that I stacked the lumber back (they are pressure treated) to create a retaining wall. They are not anchored into the ground, but it looked like they do not need to be.

IMG_0882

Then the space is covered by mulch. The young fruit trees will benefit from not having grass growing on top of their roots, since frequent watering required by lawn space does not promote healthy root structures for trees.

IMG_0883

When I mulch, I always start by sheet mulching with cardboard, then follow with a thick layer of wood chips. Sheet mulching really works in terms of suppressing weeds. Just remember to remove any tape and staples. This approach also encourages the proliferation of earthworms and other beneficial insects, which build healthy soil.

IMG_0884

The before:

IMG_0864

IMG_0865

The much cleaner after:

IMG_0901

IMG_0894

By pushing the retaining blocks uphill, the messy corner next to the fence is now much cleaner as well

IMG_0906

And the other bird killed by this stone? All the patio planters were filled almost to the top:

IMG_0910

IMG_0909

2. Moving compost bins

After mulching the area I moved our compost bins here. It just makes more sense to have them next to where most of the green waste will be generated.

IMG_0956

I like how the composted bins filled the void between the two fruit trees. It brings more symmetry to the veggie garden area.

IMG_0968

3. Planting strawberries

With the patio planter most filled with soil, I topped them off with some garden soil I had on hand:

IMG_0914

IMG_0917

IMG_0916

Then I planted strawberries! We grew these seascape strawberries last summer for the first time, and they were such a hit. They are so sweet and lovely that I purchased another batch this Spring. The only problem was that the rabbits loved them just as much. Even our dogs could not keep the bunnies out of the yard. So I transplanted last year’s strawberry plants into the big patio planter:

IMG_0927

Then planted the new batch into the two smaller planters. Take that, bunnies!

IMG_0930

The new strawberry plants came as bare-root, so it will take a while for them to leaf out. But trust me, they are all snuggled up in there and will start producing as soon as the weather warms up.

IMG_0926

We also ordered some garden trellises this Spring. I tried them in the planters and loved the look. It will be nice to grow flowering vines up these trellises this summer.

IMG_0922

I put in some screws inside the planter to store the most frequently used gardening tools. It is nice to have them close yet out of weather.

IMG_0923

4. Planting asparagus

Besides the strawberries, we also welcomed asparagus to our vegetable garden. Slav loves asparagus and it is one of the few keto-friendly vegetables. I also liked the idea of having more perennial vegetables.

IMG_0950

We had one asparagus from last year as a trial plant. I gave it zero attention, and it thrived in our native soil. For the new asparagus, I followed the instruction and planted the bare-root plants deep into trenches.

IMG_1095

We will not be harvest from these new plants this year, and probably only lightly next Spring. But these asparagus will produce for us for decades and only getting stronger and more productive. Cannot wait!

5. The 2020 veggie garden plans

Last I used scrape lumber to separate the paths from garden beds. I have been using wood chip mulch on the entire garden, including both in the gardening beds and on the paths in between. But this year, I will use compost as mulch in the veggie beds and keep the mulch only on the paths.

IMG_0846_

The first bed houses the strawberries we planted two years ago, which have naturalized in this garden bed. They produce smaller strawberries than the seascape variety, but also very sweet and tasty.

IMG_0959

Last Fall I created a chive border for this bed by dividing one chive – just one! The little seedlings all survived and started shooting up fast. We do not eat lots of chives, but I hope that they can attract more pollinators to the vegetable garden.

The second bed is occupied by asparagus. The third and fourth bed are reserved for tomato, pepper, cucumber, and beans:

IMG_1097

IMG_0957

I planted garlic in the fifth and now the last veggie bed last fall, using the cloves from my own harvest last year! They have come up looking healthy. 🙂

IMG_0953

We usually harvest garlic here around July 4th. So this bed will be available for planting warm season vegetables after. I’d like to try squashes and melons. Wish me luck!

6. Winter sowing

That brings us to seed starting! I’ve never done that before – for things I cannot get transplants, I always just directly sow into the garden. But this year I want to try things that scares me. And today is for sowing seeds. I’ve heard good things about winter sowing. It sounds super easy and it was. I was able to sow creeping thyme, cutting flowers, cold weather greens including lettuces, spinach, and cabbage, and even some warm weather plants such as beans in an hour.

IMG_0925

Are you preparing a vegetable garden? Have you been working in the garden during lock-down? I am thankful for the hope and relaxation gardening provides this Spring. Be good and be well. We will get through this.

IMG_1121

 

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén