Monday, March 8, 2010

Garden Season Starting

A couple of years ago I took out my front lawn and replaced it with mostly drought tolerant plants, plus three 4 x 12 foot planter beds. I believe that lush lawns in drier climates are an environmentally unsound idea, hopefully to fall out of favor soon. My new yard provides a welcome place for butterflies and bees, some food for my table, some cut flowers for my house, and beauty to enjoy viewing.

In the picture you see the vegetable beds. I finished digging the front and rear left beds this weekend. This morning I planted hollyhocks and birdhouse gourds in the forward bed, just in time for a fortuitous rain shower. The back left bed will be corn; so far just the drip irrigation is in place, nothing planted yet. Other planned plants for this year: tomatoes, basil, cilantro, carrots, and ???. By the way, eating fresh corn from my yard has totally turned me off to store bought corn on the cob - there is really no comparison! Additionally, there is a rosemary hedge, and three fruit trees: lemon, orange and peach. This year we are also finally starting to compost, so next year the planter beds will have homemade compost added.

The nice thing about a wild looking garden is that it is possible to not care for it and it still looks like it is supposed to look. A lawn requires regular mowing, edging, fertilizing, etc; leave it alone for three weeks in the summer and it starts to look positively neglected.

I tend to do very little work in my garden in the summertime: clip roses, prune lavender twice, collect vegetables. Yet it looks good all summer long. There are about four times a year that I spend a lot of time in the garden: late winter (now), late spring, fall, and winter. Now is the biggest work time of the year: time to dig out vegetable beds, do a major weeding and application of new mulch, replace clogged drippers, and replace tired/boring/non-performing plants. Late spring will be time for a major clipping of spent blooms: rose, lavender, and daisy; plus some weeding. Next is the late summer/early fall major spent bloom clipping and pulling of spent vegetable plants. In January I prune everything back that needs it, especially roses and lavender, and start thinking about what I want to plant next season. In between these major work times I do the occasional clipping and puttering when I feel like it, but I can easily go a month or six weeks at any time of year doing absolutely nothing and get away with it - try that with a lawn!

Plant Selection and Layout
My philosophy about a garden is that all the plants should serve a purpose. They must look pretty, smell pretty, or be edible or otherwise useful. I have plants that bloom in late winter/early spring, some that bloom in summer/fall, and some that bloom all year until I prune them in winter. The planter beds are in the middle of the yard, with plants and flowers on either side so that one can see flowers when viewing the yard from either the house or the street. Having plants on the front side of the planter beds seems to be working as a deterrent to casual theft from passers-by. In two years we haven't had any problems.

All the plants must be able to tolerate minimal to no additional water once established. The first year we watered everything regularly so the plants could develop good root systems. Last year we only watered once, but all the plants did very well except the roses. Those still produced blooms all year but did seem less disease-resistant. This year I will water the roses weekly and the rest of the yard not at all (except the planter beds, of course).

Continuing Education
This whole project has been a big experiment. I hadn't lived in a place where I could garden for many years, and never my own place where I could decide what to do. Having an experimental mindset has made everything much more relaxed and enjoyable. I'm not afraid to pull up a rosebush that doesn't bloom as advertised, or a plant that gets too big or just starts to bore me. My yard is small so if I had a set of plants I was dedicated to keeping I'd never get to try anything new. Trying new things is part of what keeps gardening interesting to me.

Why the Front Yard?
The way my house is placed on its lot gives me morning to mid afternoon sun in front, and later sun in back. The way we live is to spend more time outside in the back where there is more privacy. So it makes sense to dedicate backyard space to areas to eat outside, barbeque, and relax. Also in my household things like working on antique steam engines and woodworking happen in the back. With a hardscape area and a couple of trees in back there is less sunny space for planting even though the space is bigger. In short, the sun and the underutilized space in front made a front garden a sensible idea.

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