Thursday, January 21, 2010
The Long-Promised Tour of My Garden
Greetings friends! I've been promising you a tour of my garden for 6-months! It's about time I kept my promise to you. This post will show the evolution of our property, at least in part; and give you a glimpse of our garden. So come on in and I'll make you some mint and bergamont tea with herbs from my garden.
Oh yes, you noticed our nifty sign. We are very proud of that. We had our property certified as an urban wildlife sanctuary through the Humane Society.
Habitat loss is a major threat to our native birds. As a result, 50% of Connecticut’s native bird species are declining, and 17% are on the State’s Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern list. That is: 50 out of 290 regularly or annually occurring bird species in Connecticut are State-listed.
Bees, via pollination, are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food U.S. consumers eat. But in the last 50 years the domesticated honeybee population—which most farmers depend on for pollination—has declined by about 50 percent, scientists say. Unless actions are taken to slow the decline of domesticated honeybees and augment their populations with wild bees, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food supply.
What can you do? With a little effort, you can improve your property’s usefulness as a wildlife habitat, while at the same time preserving plants that are native to your state.
You don’t need a lot of space to create a garden that supports wildlife, propagates indigenous plants, and helps to increase wild honeybee populations. Later on, I'll steer you towards info on getting your property prepared and certified. It is easy and is a great thing to do! Let's continue our tour, shall we?
We bought our house during the winter, 7 years ago. It had been abandoned for 5-years at the time that we bought it and it was in terrible shape. The inside had to be gutted to the studs and completely remodeled. Inside, everything is new--- but that is another story. Today's tour is about my garden.
On the outside it was also a hideous mess. This house is on a corner lot, so we have a neighbor to the right, but not on the left. The left-hand side of the property is slightly elevated, as you will see in other pics.
See that white van in the front driveway? Well, as a corner lot, this house originally had no driveway there. The original driveway was on the left side of the property near an old detached garage.
At some point in the history of the house, someone thought it would be a great idea to make another driveway in the front and to make it curl around the house and join the other driveway, so that you could actually drive in one way and exit the other.
While they were at it, they went nuts with the asphalt and concrete, and extended it ALL OVER the property. There was not one speck of grass in the backyard, it was all asphalt and concrete in shitty condition, with weeds growing out of the cracks. HIDEOUS.
One of our first "VISIONS" for the property was to get rid of the asphalt, build a deck on that side of the house, and to enclose everything with a fence both for privacy and to contain our dogs.
So my husband went out there in the spring and started breaking up the asphalt with a sledge hammer and crow bars. Yes, he did this himself. The man is insane. Ya gotta love him.
See the mostly dead tree in the pic above? That was growing on the fence line so we had that and a few others cut down, then DH rented a stump grinder from Home Depot and ground the stump down so that it wouldn't interfere with making the fence.
This pic shows where the asphalt driveway curled around the back side of the house and met the other driveway on the side. The gate where you came in is in this spot now, it's how you enter the yard from the side or the back. The driveway leading up to this on the side is all that remains of the original asphalt and concrete.
This shows the process started of breaking up the asphalt driveway. YIKES! My Dh is a madman. What did we do with all of that concrete and asphalt once Jeff broke it up?
We found a company that gives special deals on dumpsters if all that is going in it is asphalt and concrete-- as they recycle it and use it to repair roads. So we had a DUMPSTER FILLING PARTY during a July heat wave. Want to know who your true friends are-- have a dumpster-filling party in 95 degree heat and see who shows up.
We all wore work gloves and filled wheelbarrows with asphalt and then emptied them into the dumpsters. It took two days. Half a dozen friends stayed. Bless their hearts. My garden will ALWAYS be their garden too.
Here's Zeke in the former driveway with the asphalt removed. And the dead tree has been cut down- you can see the stump still there in this shot. Yeah! Progress!
This shows the front of the house with the driveway removed and the privacy fence started. Obviously, the deck hasn't been built yet. It is now and is connected to the house on this side. There is now another section of gate going across the front at about the point where the enclosed porch connects to the house. The front path extends up to the gate, which has flowers growing all around it. Thus, at this point, you can't see into our backyard from the street and the dogs cannot get out of that area as there are fences installed at any point where they could escape.
Here are two views of the side yard BEFORE the dry stone retaining wall was put in. When we bought the house, there were railroad ties along the area of elevation. They were ancient and loaded with graffiti. When DH removed them, the soil had been in that position for so long that it just stayed like that.
This is the left side of the property, the corner side. You can't see it in the pic of the house that I put at the beginning.
I ALWAYS wanted a house on a corner lot because of the landscaping opportunity. It is like having two front yards. When I first looked at this property, I could "see" a circular path here, with a huge center garden and flowers growing along the retaining wall and spilling over the sides. I could see it. I wanted it. And I did it!
Jeff working on extending the retaining wall around the front of the house to enclose front flower bed. You can see in the background that my magical garden hadn't been created yet.
Here's a view of the side of the house after the retaining wall was finished and the garden started. In order to make my "magical garden" I had to dig up all of the grass and weeds over every square inch of this elevated side yard. Your amazon did this, a little bit each day, all by herself, when she was at her heaviest. Yes, I really wanted this.
Neighbors would drive by and stop. "What are ya doing?," they'd ask. "Well," I'd reply, "I'm digging up my lawn to make a magical, circular garden." They'd drive away scratching their heads. Thus we were identified as the neighborhood freaks almost from the moment we moved in.
At present, the circular path is complete and has off-shoots that connect it to the remaining driveway in back and a path in front of the house. There's a small pond too and several places to sit.
I love a "wild" look -- sort of English cottage style. I planted a lot of indigenous flowers and also stuff that supports bees, hummingbirds, song birds and other critters.
Intermixed with the flowers, most of them perennial, are my veggies and herbs, places to sit, annual flowers in pots, and other treasures. Angels, gargoyles, fairies and whimsical garden statues peek out from among the plants and surprise you as you turn corners and explore the plantings.
Tall flowers such as Pacific Giant Delphiniums and climbing vines such as clematis are against the house on this side. The circle includes a lot of easy care plants such as Black-eyed Susan's, Cone flowers, and the like. There are bird feeding stations among the plants and chipmunks have turned the retaining wall into a condo. They scurry around eating seeds that the birds drop and they are so cute!
Stone retaining wall from side. The gutters on our house actually connect to pipes which go underground and exit here above the storm drain in the street. Our basement FLOODS otherwise. Yours truly helped to dig the trench for this. I don't know how I didn't have a stroke at friggen 430 pounds.
The fence and part of the deck. Those Roses are called "Don Juan" and they are so beautiful.
Back in 1993, Jeff made me two of these benches out of kits he bought at Lowes. One finally broke last year but this one is hanging on. I've tried to make this a three-season garden by planting things that flower at different times. We have beauty out here from early spring until late fall. My no-care, "Freedom" roses often have blooms on Thanksgiving that I cut for our table.
A few statues in the bird feeding area. See the plant in the upper left that is enclosed? That is comfry and it gets GIANT! It is one of the healthiest plants in the garden. I have to enclose it or it sprawls out and smothers everything around it. It gets delicate purple flowers in spring and is so beautiful. There's a white dove in this pic. Do you see her?
Ribbon grass. It is pretty, but the stuff is invasive and I have been trying to thin it out every year. The red thing hanging from the pole is a hummingbird feeder. They are vacationing down south now and will be back soon!
Spiderwort and Iris, both of which I have in abundance.
I was a city girl and grew up in housing projects and tenaments. It turns out that I love gardening far more than I ever dreamed I would. Gardening enables you to work in partnership with God and nature to create something beautiful. It teaches you patience. The garden is different every year as I don't know where the squirrells might have replanted my bulbs or where seeds have replanted from the wind.
I Love this Rake lady. I got her at the Christmas Tree shop
I LOVE lavender and over the years I keep planting varieties that are supposed to be perrenniel here, but they NEVER grow back. Luckily, it is cheap to plant every year. You can't beat the smell!
Along the privacy fence, I planted roses and flowers. I used leftover stone from the retaining wall to close-in my flower beds elsewhere on the property. In spring, I have a hellava time keeping the dogs out of the freshly emerging plants in these beds. Along this fence, only the strong survive!
I always loved the look of morning glories and tried every year to grow some but I always failed until two years ago. Sadly, these are an annual, at least here. So these won't come back. I may plant more this year. These got so healthy that I had to trim them to maintain access to the gate.
For awhile, I tried to grow herbs in the back. That area is fenced-in so the dogs cannot get loose when they are outside. I could not keep Zeke out of my herbs in spite of the signs you see in my little patch here. LOL Those ceramic "no pooping" doggie signs are hilarious close-up. I'll take better pics of them for you in the spring. I painted a piece of slate with "Zeke Keep Out." Can you see it in there? Anyway, I gave up. Only flowers in the back--nothing I'm gonna eat because of the dogs.
A view of part of the circle in the spring. See the chives with the purple flowers? Very yummy to pick them fresh! I replaced the woodchips in the path with stone last year. I can see this area from my kitchen window and most of the bird feeders are around here. In the winter, I watch the birds feedng outside and dream of spring and tending my garden.
You can see a bird in the platform feeder. This is in the side yard.
My beloved Zeke in backyard with view of roses and flowers along privacy fence. This is after Jeff built the deck as you can see the steps leading up to it on the right.
Yellow Roses along privacy fence.
I told you I'd explain about urban wildlife sanctuaries in case you want to do it. You can live ANYWHERE and do it-- a farm in Nebraska, a condo in New York, a house in California--anywhere!
The HSUS Urban Wildlife Sanctuary Program fosters a greater understanding and appreciation of wildlife in urban areas by encouraging stewardship practices that improve conditions for wild animals, and by promoting humane solutions for resolving human-wildlife conflicts, when they occur.
Last I knew, it costs $25 for a homeowner to have their property certified as an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary, and you get a nice metal sign to display on your property like the one I have on my gate. You may apply online. The size of your property does not matter.
Here is the criteria that your property must meet in order to be approved:
Ideally, there would be some type of naturally occurring food such as trees, bushes or berries.
Feeders for birds, humming birds or squirrels are also a plus
There must be a water source, it does not have to be natural, a small birdbath is fine
There must be at least one type of cover or living space. Mature trees are ideal, but rock piles and piles of brush are acceptable, as chipmunks will live in them. Ponds, nesting boxes, and hedgerows are also acceptable.
People in condos can make the area on the small patch of grass outside their door or even on their balcony or patio. Stawberries and flowers can be grown in pots on a porch, patio or balcony, a dish of water can be a water source, and any mature trees on the condo grounds near your unit should qualify as habitat.
That's it. You fill out the questionaire, pay, and you get your certification in the mail. Wanna check it out? Visit this link:
Part of the circular path in the side yard.
Our garden is so dramatic now when it's in full bloom that cars come to a complete stop to check it out. Some actually get out of their cars to ask for a tour or ask about particular flowers.
One lady lives a block over but comes home by driving by our house so she can see the garden. Now that the dream has come alive, people understand what I was trying to do and they appreciate it. The lady digging up her lawn by hand doesn't seem quite as crazy anymore.
Our garden is a gift, not only to ourselves and to the wildlife it supports, but to our community as well. Everyone gets to enjoy it as they walk or drive by and we've inspired many others to garden!
By the way, our garden is completely organic, including the organic top soil and cow poop we had delivered by a local organic farmer when we got started. We are trying to heal this little piece of earth. Certain pesticides render butterlies sterile. We don't use chemicals of any kind on our property.
We also planted milkweed because butterflies like to lay their eggs there. This worked, when we sit out in the yard during the summer there are dozens of butterlies flying around.
I hope that you enjoyed your tour. I will post updated photos as my garden comes alive this year and I plant new things-- which, I always do!
Here's a government website where you can look up indigenous and endangered plants in your state:
And another that is about gardening for wildlife:
A good book is Douglas Tallamy's "Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens" (2007, Timber Press), which brings into sharp focus the relationships between plants and wildlife.
I have to get on with my day but feel free to rest in the bench above and dream of spring! And if you need any gardening tips, you know where to find me.