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

Category: Eat Green Page 2 of 21

Fluffing up the Garden

I wrapped up my garden clean-up last weekend and would like to share my Fall yard with you. I am still fairly new to gardening – only planted my first garden in 2018. But I read a lot about ways of gardening before I started. It is fair to say that I acquired my gardening skills through authority instead of empiricism.

My first garden bed in 2018:

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Vegetable beds , 1st year:

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Over the last three seasons, I gained a lot more experience and my intuition started to grow. I can finally tell whether a plant is happy, what it might need, and I have accepted that each plant has its own personality (e.g. the way they like to grow). It is important, for me at least as a gardener, to stop forcing a plant to grow into something I think it should be like, but letting it grow to what it wants to be.

Below is my 1st flower bed in this Spring. Some annual flowers have gone and now it is a herb garden:

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The vegetable patch this summer:

A fuller garden also means more lives. Pollinators, insects, and resident bunnies!

Bunny No. 1

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Bunny No. 2

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As my knowledge accumulated, my confidence also grew. This season, I started moving plants around – relocating unhappy plants, switching plants within the same flower bed based on their growing habit and desired view. Fine toning the garden beds, or what I call “fluffing” the garden made me felt like a real gardener for the first time.

Moving perennials out of the herb garden

My garden “fluffing” started in the pollinator/herb garden. We used to have an old tree stump here, which was hard to remove. I asked Slav to cut the stump flush with the ground, then planted this garden on top of it. Everything here are native, drought-tolerate plants that are pollinator magnets:

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The saying about perennials “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, then the third year they leap” could not be more true. By the end of 2020, the whole bed was already too full:

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A full garden offers many benefits – less weeds, more insects, and almost no need for watering. However, taller plants also shade the ground around them, and I found the English lavenders and lavender cottons started to struggle. Last Fall, I transplanted the trio of English lavender to the patio garden. And this Fall, it is time to save the lavender cottons.

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I dug out all three of them, and transplanted them into the front yard. This spot used to have three larkspur, which are very pretty plants, supposedly. But they did not like this location and I did not like their look. So out they went. The front yard offers better sunlight and drainage. I am sure that the lavender cottons will create a really cute low mound of flowers here in spring. Their silver color and yellow little flowers should look nice next to the green dwarf pine and blue grasses.

Speaking of blue grasses, I also relocated one Blue Grama grass. Blue Grama grass is Colorado’s state grass and I am proud to have three of them. They were planted in a line initially, along the edge of the lawn, but the one on the very right has been competing with other plants for water and is visibly smaller. So I moved it for just a few feet, replanted it in front of other two grasses.

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Dividing plants in the herb garden

The second plant I took care of in the herb garden was the Red Hot Poker. The variety I have is called “flamenco“, which flowers in three colors (yellow, orange and red) in a gradient. The flowers look like candy cones and very cool. This grass was used a lot in the median strip on our local streets, which speaks for their toughness.

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You can see it in the middle of the picture above – this was when they first emerged in May. By mid-summer, the grass became a beast.

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Can you see it behind the catmint “walker’s low”? Being its fourth Spring, it stopped flowering, and started to flop from the center. I cut it back, divided it into many parts, and planted a trio in its original location:

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Another clump went under the transparent apple tree:

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I also planted a big clump behind the ginkgo tree. Ginkgo is famous for its slow-growing habit, so I do not think my ginkgo stick will reach to an appreciable height anytime soon. At the mean time, I want something taller as a backdrop:

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After moving the plants out, I cut back some low-mounding herbs that have spilled out of the flower bed:

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Now we can see the edging and path again! I know that this bed still looks very wild. But I intend to keep it this way for winter. Dead crowns not only protect the roots over the winter, but also provide nesting place for insects/eggs and small mammals. We will cut all the dead and broken back next May, after the danger of hard frost passes.

Cutting back irises

One plant I do cut back every Fall is iris. Their leaves are too unsightly to look at during winter, and having snow sit on the leaves often cause rot. I have most of my iris in the front yard along the dry creek. Cutting the leaves back revealed the shape of dry creek again:

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I planted hens-and-chicks and sedum along the dry creek. After cutting back the tall iris leaves, they finally got some winter sun:

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Season of Fall colors

This year we had the best Fall colors in our yard, probably due to the mild October we had. There has not been any snow, not even strong wind. So all the trees and perennials have had the opportunity to reach their fullest Fall color. It is truly a magnificent view:

Front yard flower bed:

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“Shenandoah” switch grass

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Sedum “Autumn joy”

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Mock orange “Snow White Sensation”

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“Berry Poppins” winterberry

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The honey suckle (second year)

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And here is how my backyard looks now:

Ash trees above the garden shed:

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Peony (all 11 of them!)

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Russian sage plants are still flowering:

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Chinese Snowball Viburnum (second year):

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The ginkgo tree (second year):

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The asparagus patch:

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And last but not the least, our beloved crabapple tree:

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Don’t you just love the colors? We are so fortunate to live in Colorado where we could appreciate all four seasons. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the Fall as well!

A Back Fence Upgrade

This week, we continue making small upgrades to our house and garden. Since having completed the main floor guest bathroom, our focus has been fine-toning the details inside and outside the house. We patched holes and touch-painted, refreshed the hidden portion under the roof, fixed broken pickets on the fence, re-potted all the indoor plants, and filled dead spots in our lawn. These tasks are rather keep-ups and do not make into the blog, but they are necessary for preserving the hard work we put in initially.

Over the last two weeks, we started to see some cool weather, which made working outside a lot more pleasant. And it was the time I decided to give the back fence a face lift:

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Ranch house - 2

Above pictures showed how the back fence looked like when we moved in. As you can see, the fence was finished with two different types of pickets, which aged into different colors. Shortly after we moved in, Slav gave the fence a good wash with our pressure washer:

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The washing effort made the fence look great for a while. But over time, the different types of wood started turning into different colors again.

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Challenges and decisions

The problem is that the older fence pickets are cedar, which age into a smoke grey, whereas the newer panels are treated wood, which maintain a much lighter and yellow color. The aging process of the cedar pickets happens very quickly – within a couple weeks, which makes it difficult to keep the fence look uniformed.

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We considered to rebuild the fence to match the horizontal fencing on the other side of the yard, but the current high lumber price puts our plan on halt. Besides, the back fence is actually pretty steady and functional, so it fees like a waste to rebuild just for a different look.

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We debated and discussed many times, and finally reached the conclusion to upgrade the look of the fence with minimal effort, before we have to rebuild for structure reasons. The rebuild will not need to happen until years down the road, and by that time, the lumber price should come down as well.

Painting the treated wood panels

To make the back fence look better, we first needed to stain/paint the lighter color panels to match the darker ones. It happened that we had some exterior paint left over from painting the gable, which are a dark grey color.

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I watered it down just a little bit to make the color a better match, and got onto painting:

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The painted pickets are a bit darker but over time, I think it will look similar to the naturally aged cedar pickets. Here is the same section of the fence before and after being painted:

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Close enough!

Installing the cattle panel

Next, I wanted to train the climbing rose up to the fence. We planted some climbing roses along the back fence in 2018. I did not train it up as I should have, due to our indecision of what to do with the back fence. now we have decided to keep the original fence for a while, I can finally lift the roses off the ground!

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The poor roses, they have been gobbled up by the pumpkins this year:

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I decided to train the climbing roses up onto the fence using cattle panel. I had done it with the front yard climbing rose with success, and I loved how steady these cattle panels are. In fact, we used them to create bean tunnels in the vegetable garden this year, and they look great with vine crops climbing on them:

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We got four 50″ x 16′ panels from Tractor Supply, my new favorite garden store! They have great seeds and soil, plus all the gardening/farming supplies you can think of. The best? They have little chicks year around in the stores. I love playing with the chicks every time I have an excuse to go inside.

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Slav secured the panels onto the fence pickets using metal staples.

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And they look nice! Plus I think they actually made the fence stronger.

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With the cattle panel secured to the fence, I can simply tie the branches of the roses onto the panel instead of trying to secure them onto the fence. It is a much easier way to train climbing roses, and once we are ready to replace the back fence, I can simply stake the panel up with T-posts and keep the roses in place.

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Training climbing rose

I spent an afternoon training the roses up. The most challenging part was separating them from the pumpkin vines and lifting them up. Even with long sleeves, long pants, and garden gloves, I got scratched all over my arms and legs! The awakening rose is famous for the strong thorns and I can tell you, they are no joke!

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But nonetheless, they are ON.

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The upgraded look of the back fence

Here is the upgraded look of our back fence, all in dark, covered by cattle panels, aligned with fruit trees and blackberry bushes, and soon with pink rose blooming all over! Do you like it?

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4 Years in the Ranch and a Patio Garden Update

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We moved into our ranch house 4 years ago. Four years! We started renovating the house from the day we moved in, and have made it so much better both appearance and functions. Besides the house itself, we also planted lots of trees and perennials, and turned these old weedy yards into beautiful flower beds and edible gardens.

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The most recent improvement of our backyard landscape is the patio garden. There used to be a straight line dividing the lawn space and the raspberry patch. Last Spring, I cut out a curved flower bed at the edge of the raspberry patch, and planted it with peonies:

2020 Fall:

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I am happy to report that all the peonies have come back this Spring! We even got flowers from some of them:

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This is my first time growing flowers with big petals. While I was excited to get flowers, I was so surprised watching peony flowers changing color over time:

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This one flowers coral pink when the flowers first open:

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which fade into a light pink:

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In between the peonies, I planted Russian sage. They are supposed to fill in the space between peonies when the peonies are done flowering, with a sea of purple flowers. They were such baby plants when I put them into the ground last Fall, and did not show up until mid-May, which really got me worried. But now they are getting bigger each day and I know they will be holding up well:

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Behind the patio garden is our raspberry patch, which just explored this year. Not only they came back earlier and grew fuller, they started developing young shoots all around the original plants, expanding into the pathways surrounding the patch.

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One of the varieties has already flowered – we are getting raspberry soon!

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One end of the patio garden reaches all the way to our back patio. It touches the cedar planter I built last year, which houses our strawberries:

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This Spring, I added a pot of wild strawberries at the end of the patio garden. They are supposed to be excellent groundcovers.

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On the other end, the patio garden wraps around the future shed patio, and connects to the flower bed along the back fence. That is how this garden beds got its name – it extends from the back patio to the shed patio! This area will see some disturbance when we build the shed patio, therefore, I did not plant anything precious, but only irises we got for free from a neighbor:

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The picture above was taken last summer, right after planting. And this is how it looks now! All the irises came back and some of them have flowered:

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I did not know the exact variety of these irises when planted them, and happy to see that they flower blue and purple. I have white and light purple irises in the front yard, and these two varieties fit well into my garden color theme. And both of the varieties smelled amazing.

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I also planted an apple tree! It is the only permanent planting I did here (away from the edge of the shed patio). It was very healthy when it arrived last Spring. So I am not surprised that it branched out early this year, and already looks so full in early summer. I think we are gonna see some fruit this year!

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Although I do not plan to put more perennials yet, I am comfortable using this space to grow annuals. This Spring, I interplanted squashes and zucchini among the irises. I raised them from seed myself this Spring, so they are the perfect filler for this area for next to nothing. And they will add some much needed height and color to this space once the irises are done.

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In between the shed patio garden and the raspberry patch is our herb garden! This is the first flower bed we planted, back to 2018, so all the plants have matured and got super big this Spring.

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Tarragon sits at the very tip of this oval garden, then there are oregano, lemon balm, and sage.

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There is also an Egyptian walking onion. I had lots of fun watching it grow and “walk”.

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Apparently, some of other herbs “walk” too! I think it is charming to have a bit lemon balm spilling over onto the pathways. Besides, when I walk on them and crash the leave, it smells amazing.

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We started this flower bed with a garden-in-a-box kit, so there are some flowering plants here too:

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These tall purple stalks are all from one catmint called “walker’s low”. It is seriously the best plant I’ve grown: it stays low, spreads far, flowers all Spring and summer, and it is a true pollinator magnet. There are always bees buzzing around these stalks, and this Spring, two hummingbird moths found it too:

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A mature garden not only has plants, but also inserts, birds, and even mammals. We have noticed bunny dropping in the backyard, and recently, we started to see two cottontail rabbits hanging out in our backyard.

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These two rabbits happily share the backyard with each other, and with the dogs. Amazingly, they do not escape when we walk onto the lawn! I think they have figured out that we mean no harm, so all they do when we got close is to hop away a few feet and watch us. Luckily, they do not touch the vegetable garden or any of my flowers, only eating grass. So there is no reason for us to stop them from coming into the yard either. In fact, I think one of them made a nest behind the garden shed, and the other one lives under the raspberry bushes.

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Recently, we decided to push the kitchen renovation to next year, which is the last big-ticket items on our renovation list. This decision freed us this summer to enjoy the fruit of our labor for the first time. It has been a lot of work during the past four years to get to this point, the point that we allow ourselves to slow down without rushing ourselves, the point that we can put work aside without feeling guilty. Today, at the 4-year-annivesary of our home ownership, I am looking at the work we did, and truly appreciating the comfort and beauty we created together. Happy anniversary, house!

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