Archive for ‘Edible Landscaping’

May 29, 2012

Location, Location, Location

At first glance, you may think you’ve crossed wires and are reading a post from a realtor.  Not so, but when it comes to planting, regardless of what kind of plant it is, location is just as crucial as buying a house (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

What do I mean by location, location, location?  When it comes to plants there are three basic factors to consider that help determine the best location for your new plant(s).

The first consideration for location is the sun factor.  Most plants are pretty particular about how much they like.  Give them what they need.  Put sun plants in sunny locations and shade plants in shady locations.  Plant tomatoes in sun.  Hostas in shade.  (I still scorn the first person to use Hostas as landscape plants in Southern and Western exposed foundation plantings.  Those poor Hostas!  What did they ever do to you?!)

The second consideration for location is the soil factor. While some plants can handle a range of conditions, others can’t.  Don’t put water-loving plants in sandy soil and plants that like “free draining” soil in clay.  For example, Willows love water.  If you plant them in sand you will either be watering constantly (not exactly a very environmentally friendly thing to do) or they be stressed (kind of cruel), but they will chase water wherever it might be, including underground water lines and water mains. Unless you like calling Roto-Rooter, skip the Willow if you have sandy soil and plant something that likes good drainage in its place.

The third consideration for location is the exposure factor.  When it comes to exposure this is where it’s handy to know a plant’s origin.  Let’s take Birch trees for example.  When I was growing up many homes had one single Birch tree right smack dab in the middle of the yard.  People love them, myself included.  The white peeling papery bark, the airy, wispy canopy and the unique branching habit.  Beautiful.  But, unlike taking a walk through the woods where you might see a limitless number of Birch among other hardwoods, many Birch trees in front yards have had issues.  Lost limbs, storm damage and overall just stressed.  Why?  Because Birch trees in their native habitat are understory trees, meaning they receive protection from the canopy of larger trees.  If they were to plant themselves in their ideal location, it would not be in the middle of a lawn with blazing hot sun and no protection from strong winds, storms or winter cold.  But we love the beauty of Birch trees, so we plant them there anyway.  Unfortunately, the stress eventually catches up to them and they just can’t survive.  Bummer for the trees.  Bummer for us.

You get the picture, right?  Location, location, location.  Put plants where they like to be and they’ll thrive, put them in less than desirable conditions and they’ll struggle.

So knowing all of this location stuff, why on earth do you think I would I build my raised vegetable beds in shade?  No, I did.  Seriously!  This past weekend I finally had a little window of time and ventured out to get my garden planted and started looking at my plan and siting and realized… there’s no sun on my garden.  Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  There is one corner of one bed that gets about an hour of morning sun and a corner of the other bed that gets about 25 minutes just before the sun sets.  Holy cow was I ticked when I realized this.  How did this happen?!?  What was I thinking?  Seriously!  So ticked.

Okay, in my own defense I must explain. You know how it’s hard to see change in people we live with?  Kids grow-up so fast, adults ahh.. um… age, but we it’s not until someone points it out who hasn’t been around us every day that we realize how much we’ve changed.  Well, the same goes for my garden.  You see, I have a little problem with plants.  If its alive, I want to keep it.  If it’s on its last leg, I want to revive it.  If it’s a volunteer, well it must like it there, who am I to remove it?  Add to that the novelty of growing at least one of just about anything that comes my way and lo and behold the raised garden is in the shade.   You see, about 5 or 6 years ago  I got a couple of ash and elm volunteers on my fence line and left them.  They weren’t doing any harm at the time so why remove them?  Besides, they provided a little screening too.  Fast forward to today and I can’t even reach the lowest branches to limb them up, which is what I originally thought when I discovered the shade.  But after a closer look, I realized these trees are probably 30 feet high and have a combined canopy of about 60 feet shading my entire garden.

So now what?  No, seriously.  That’s what I’m asking myself.   Per my previous paragraph, I have a problem with plants (and trees and shrubs) so it makes it really hard for me to remove them.  On one hand, these are healthy trees.  On the other hand, they were volunteers.  On one hand,they screen the power pole.  On the other hand, they’re growing through the power lines that connect to the power pole.  And did I mention they shade my garden.  And while I’ve been gradually converting my landscaping to edible landscaping and this would definitely speed up the process, I’m just not ready to bail on my raised beds.  Oh, and did I mention how ticked I am that I will now have to pay someone hundreds to cut them down whereas if I’d had the foresight I could have used my own saw to take care of them a couple of years ago?  Yeah, ticked.

So, learn from my mistakes.  Location is of utmost importance.  Before you plant, or let a volunteer continue to grow, think about the future.  Sure it’s just a little guy now, but what’s it going to be when it grows up?  Will provide shade?  In the right place?  How big will it get?  Will it get too big for the space? Is it an understory tree? Does it need protection?  Will it get it?  How high are those power lines?  Will it get big enough to touch them?

The same goes for edibles.  Some like rich soil, some not so much.  Some are finicky about water, others could care less.  And when siting your plants, make sure you’re not planting your tallest plants on the South end of your garden.  You don’t want them shading everything else out.  Well, unless you do.  In other words if you’re trying to create cool and shade in an otherwise hot environment, but that’s another conversation.

So needless to say, the raised beds didn’t get planted this weekend… and more edible landscaping did.  But there’s a lot more I wanted to do and a lot more plants to go in the ground, so I’ll keep you posted on what ends up where and how they do.  2012 may turn out to be one giant experiment!

Kate

April 17, 2012

M is for Monticello

If you live in the Twin Cities, or once resided somewhere in Minnesota, you may think this post is referring to Monticello, MN.  For those of you who were hoping that is the case, my apologies.  For the rest of you, I’ll continue on.

As a gardener, designer, what have you, every time I begin a project, whether it be at home or a project for a client, I’ll seek inspiration.  Sometimes it’s a plant, or a tree.  Sometimes it’s a detail on their home.  Sometimes it’s a place they’ve traveled.  Sometimes it’s nature.  There are many, many things that can be my source of inspiration, but when I’m looking for some inspiration for myself, I often turn back to a place I visited a number of years ago, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  Now, some of you may recall I did a post about Monticello, or rather part of a post about Monticello in my History, gardening and experiments post about a year ago, but Monticello made such an impact on me I figured it was worth visiting again.

What’s so special about that place?  Well, what’s not to love? Ive you’ve ever been to the East Coast, or “down South” for that matter, I’m sure you’ve visited at least one or two plantations.  And while many of them are similar, at least to me, Monticello was different.  Sure, they have the huge estate, the enormous tree lined drive and massive spans of lawn, but at Monticello there’s something more.  Gardens.  Amazing gardens.

Now, I’m going to stop for a moment.  I don’t want to go any further without acknowledging what took place back in the time Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello.  That was a time of slavery.  I also don’t want to ignore the fact that Jefferson had slaves, because he did. Many of them.  And this plantation, like all the other plantations at that time would not have existed had it not been for the slaves who took care of them.  So while I wish slavery had never existed, I’m also very grateful for the slaves Thomas Jefferson had, because had it not been for them, the gardens I fell in love with would also not have existed.  So to the slaves, and the descendents of the slaves, I thank you.

So what about Monticello is so amazing?  Let’s see, where to begin? Let me start by saying this is a gardener’s paradise.  Whether you like annuals, perennials, fruit trees or veggies, it’s there.  And do you like heirlooms?  They have heirlooms, not only veggie heirlooms, but how about roses dating back to the 1400s?  They even have the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants!

What else?  Okay, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener himself.  And what I mean by that, is that he tried, experimented, tried again.  He planned the estate with curving pathways and flower gardens.  He created micro-climates by installing terraces on the South side of the hill to plant a veggie garden, and orchards with apples and apricots, peaches and pears, pomegranates, cherries, plums, nectarines, even almonds and olive trees.  And there’s Mulberry Row.  Many people pull mulberries thinking of them as “weed trees”.  Not Jefferson.  He planted them intentionally.  You’ve never seen Mulberry Trees look so stately.  And why not? The berries are wonderful! (Add that to your edible landscape.)  And the vineyards, yes he had two.  Okay, okay.  I know I get excited, but this all happened in the 1700s!  And what’s equally cool is that many of his plans, meaning, yes, sketches of the grounds, still exist.

Now, granted, the original plants are not there, but they began restoring the gardens in the 1980s to bring them back to what was once there.  Not to mention, heirloom seeds and plants are not only used on site, but also available for purchase if you have the inkling to do so.

There are so many things about Monticello that I love.  Oh, and not just outside either, of course Jefferson had amazing tropicals growing indoors as well.  If you want to take a peak, catch a little history and get a little inspiration, the folks at Monticello have done an amazing job on their website and have also created the Monticello Explorer, which lets you take a little tour from your desktop so you can catch a glimpse of this amazing estate.  There are plenty of photo galleries of the house, gardens and plantation as well.  And, like I mentioned before, they even have an online store where you can get plants, seeds or a replica artifact or two.

So as much as I would love to hop a plane and fly out and stay for the summer, instead I’ll be taking a virtual journey to Monticello today.  I’d love for you to join me!

And I almost forgot to mention, next week is Historic Garden Week (April 21 – 28) so if anyone would like to take me on a surprise trip, I’ll go!

Kate

 

April 5, 2012

E is for Edible

E is for Edible, Landscaping that is.

When you look out your window, what do you see?

How about when you look from the street?

Is it green all in lawn with a plant skirt by the house?

Or does it do more and call you to come out?

As you walk from your car is there something to snack on?

Are there veggies and herbs and good things to munch?

Could you eat in your landscape?  Could you have lunch?

People traditionally think veggies with beds.  But what if it were different? Would you want this instead?

Rosalind Creasy is an Edible Landscaping guru.

If I’ve sparked a “What if?” “It’s possible.” Or “Maybe.”

Please head to her site, or her blog or her books.  And see what, is possible, take a fresh look.

March 21, 2012

Why You Can’t Afford Not to Plant an Edible Garden

Money may not grow on trees, but it does grow in your garden!

“HO-LY-COW! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Oh, geeze, did I really say that out loud?  I quickly glanced around the store, avoiding any eye contact with anyone who may have heard or at the very least seen my face when my eyes popped out of my head and my jaw hit the floor.   My eyes stop.  A woman is looking at me with a concerned, or maybe it’s disgusted, look on her face.  I’m busted.  I smile a sheepish smile and bolt from the produce section, round the corner to the next aisle with incredible speed, and pretend it never happened.  I stop and stare at a shelf of products I’m not even remotely interested in eating, much less buying, but I look like I’m focused on making a decision.  What’s really going through my mind is that if I breathe slow enough the blood in my flushed cheeks will begin to flow back down into the rest of my body… and…. I cannot wait to get my garden started!  I’m so tired of paying through the nose for produce when I could grow the same thing at home… for so much less!  Okay, so maybe I couldn’t grow them now, but in the summer I could.  I really should start my seeds…

That’s when I realized, nobody (except for maybe the appalled lady in the produce section) can afford not to plant an edible garden!  I’m serious!  Think about it.  When you go to the store, a, one, single, organic green pepper can easily cost between $2 and $3.  Make a meal using 3 or 4 of them and you’re talking $10 to $12 that’s just for the peppers.  That’s not to mention the other ingredients. Yikes!  (And if I haven’t convinced you to convert some of your purchases to organic yet, those conventional peppers aren’t too far behind.)  You can get so much more for so much less money in a garden, or a pot, or a bucket for that matter.

As I’m absorbed in thought about how gardens can solve all the worlds problems, I see this lady, not the produce section lady, but another lady.  Not all that much more friendly looking either.  She’s floating, hovering, covered in dust, no, its dirt, er, um soil, and leaves and straw…  What on earth?!?  She identities herself as the Ghost of Gardens Past.  She takes me by the hand and drags me on a little garden tour.  She shows me my failures.  The planned, but not planted.  The planted, but not watered.  The watered, but not harvested.  The wasted spaces that could have been a home for edible plants, but have nothing.  “Wow…  Right… ” I think to myself, “I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about the prices.  Got it.  Can I continue my shopping now?”  Much to my amazement she disappears.  I start down the next aisle, looking back over my shoulder, wondering this time not if people saw my face, but if they saw this woman, this Ghost.  I’m also checking to make sure she doesn’t pop out of nowhere again. Nobody appears to be alarmed.  I shake it off.

Thinking about my chance meeting, I round the next corner to find a woman covered in produce.  Not again…   But I notice this one is pretty, not angry and haggard looking like the first one.  Peppers hang from her short sleeves, or maybe they are her sleeves.  Broccoli or broccoli-raab looks like flowers in her auburn hair.  I look closer, her dress, the many layers upon layers of greens are… greens!  Oak lettuce, butter lettuce, arugula and spinach.  Uh oh, I’m being whisked away again.  This time we fast forward a couple of months.  I follow this Ghost of the Future Gardens.  The weather is glorious.  The garden centers and nurseries are buzzing with activity, we’re cruising the aisles looking at the transplants, because, back in March it was so unseasonably warm I completely forgot to order seeds, or did I buy them but forgot to plant them?  I don’t recall.  Now I kick myself a little as we look at the price of the green pepper plants.  Really?  Seriously?!?  $4.50, $6 or $7.  “Forget it!”  I think.  “I’ll wait until they go on sale in July.  Or buy peppers at the Farmer’s Market. ”  I love the Farmer’s Market,  so I quickly justify to myself why this make sense.  But the Ghost stops me.  I turn right around and try to grab that plant, but I can’t.  My hand goes right through it like it’s not there.  I’m disturbed.  We move on to the Farmer’s Market it’s mid-July or maybe August.  I see myself across the way.  Buying everything under the sun.  What am I doing?!  “You have a garden at home.  You don’t need all that stuff!”  I yell to myself.  “A little, maybe, but look at that!”  She takes me to the grocery store, where I buy more.  “Look at those tomatoes!  They’re not even ripe!  What are you doing?  Look at the money you’re spending!”  Confused, I look to my Ghost.  She said I never planted a garden… I never planted my seeds… I was too busy enjoying the warm weather in March.  Then she takes me to my family’s gardens, friends gardens… they’re picking cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers!  The peppers!  I’m green with envy.

I come to in the refrigerator section.  A chill comes over me.  I think about my dream.  It was a dream, right?  Then I see the peppers in my cart.  I bought 4 peppers for dinner and it cost me $12!  I could buy two pepper plants for the same price and even if I only get two peppers on each plant I’ll break even.  More than that, I’m ahead.  I’m for sure buying transplants if don’t get my seeds started.  But think, I paid $2.75 for a packet of seeds. I could get way more than 2 plants from that packet that I paid $2.75 for and just think of how many peppers I could get!  Now we’re talking.  That’s some serious frugal shopping, right?

But it’s not over.  The Ghost of Present Gardens comes up the aisle motioning for me to follow.  I look back to make sure she’s looking at me, or more realistically, hoping she’s looking for someone else even though I know better than to believe that at this point.  My new ghost is adorned with seed packets and trowels and garden twine serves as a belt around her burlap potato sac dress.  Somehow the pot she wears upside down for a hat looks appropriate.  She takes my hand and guides me home.  She shows me the seeds and the soil and the plant lights.   All sitting empty.   She points to my garden calendar, to March 20th with my note “start seeds” and an arrow carrying through to April 3rd.  She flips the page to May.  She points to the 15th with my note “Avg. last frost – Plant!”.  She takes me out into my back yard.  The lawn is greening, trees are budding, perennials are popping up everywhere.  Rhubarb is poking up, asparagus is growing in front of my very eyes.  Then she takes me to my veggie garden.  It’s right where I left it last year.  She walks me down the block where neighbors are cleaning out their gardens, getting ready for the season to start.  I say “Hi!  Beautiful weather!  Can you believe this?!?”  They can’t hear me.  She shows me my friends, neighbors even people I don’t know, starting seeds.  She shows me my son.  Telling his teachers and friends how much he loves to grow things, but then tells people we aren’t growing anything from seed this year,  “My mom is too busy.” he says.  Suddenly I feel sick.  I don’t want to see any more.

I wake up to today.  Oh, my gosh! What day is today?  What’s the date?  Today is March 21st, the first official full day of spring.   It’s not too late!  It’s 8 weeks before I normally plant warm season crops like peppers in the garden.  I can plant my seeds!  Woo-hoo!!! HAPPY SPRING EVERYONE!

In case you didn’t follow all of that… the moral of the story is:  Get out there (or in there) and get planting!  Get those seeds started!  And if you don’t “do seeds”  then buy (organic) transplants later this season or you’ll continue to pay huge prices for produce. And don’t forget to keep it all in perspective – all the prices are relative.  Seeds are cheap because we do the work from the beginning.  We take the risk of losing a few.  Transplants cost us a little more because someone else took the risk and nurtured them for the first part of their lives until we buy them.  When buying transplants we take on their costs, loss and overhead to grow them, transport them, etc.  And if we buy at the Farmer’s Markets then they took it all on.  They grew the plants from the beginning until they produced fruit (or veggies) for us to buy.  They deserve what they charge, they’ve earned it.  And the organic producers who supply the grocery stores?  They take on all the risk too.  The extra cash out of our pockets comes from the larger scale… more of everything… more tending, more overhead production costs, more transportation costs, more people costs, not to mention the grocery store or co-op wants a cut too.

So, if you learn nothing else from my crazy co-op experience.  Please take away that you could stash a lot of cash in your pockets this summer by simply planting an edible garden.  Even if it’s just a container of patio tomatoes, think of the bang you’ll get for your buck!  So maybe money doesn’t grow on trees, but plant yourself an edible garden and it will feel like it grows in the garden.

This completes the lesson on why you can’t afford not to plant an edible garden this year.  The green peppers and ghosts in this story were fictional.  The prices reflect current market prices at local distributors.  Any similarity to actual green peppers, ghosts or distributors is purely coincidental, but if it gets you to get dirty and plant some seeds, then it’s not.

Happy Spring and Happy Planting!  Did I mention it’s time to start planting seeds?

Kate