Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's about to get crazy over here: Part 2

In my last post I revealed that I'm going to turn a lot (if not all) of my front yard into a vegetable garden.  I thought that a day off of work because of yesterday's 13.5 inches of snow would be a good time to play with some design ideas for integrating the vegetable beds with the existing perennials. (As you take a look at the pictures below, please note that I am available for hire for my clearly awesome Photoshop skills.)

This picture is from 2009 but you can see the whole front yard. Please don't be jealous of my awesome grass weeds.

The flower beds that you can see are mostly the same. They're close to/on a wall that stands about four feet up from the sidewalk. The gray thing at the bottom is my porch roof.

Next, some recent pictures of each side.

This is the right side of the yard (I'm standing on my porch roof looking to the street). The neighbors' driveway is to the far right, and our half-dead tree is in the upper right corner (I got a verbal okay from J that we can cut it down at the end of the year - yay!). The purple lines denote current flower beds. You can also see the new Nandina 'Firepower' that was planted this past fall.

The brick path leads to the allée. I'm considering removing the brick and putting in a more organic curved path, but I haven't gotten that far in my planning, yet. To the bottom right and out of this picture is my giant forsythia.

The other side of the front walk is larger but has a couple of restraints, namely that I need to leave a couple of paths for Neighbor M to weed her front garden and for her husband to bring their garbage cans down to the street across our lawn every week.

To the bottom and out of this photo is the small flower bed by the porch and the azealea. I don't intend to move those right now.

I'm still not sure if I'm going to do raised beds or not. If my soil is okay after the lead test results come back, I'd prefer to just stick everything in the ground. Of concern, though, are the many slugs that like to roam around so I'd have to have a copper barrier of some sort.

Behold! My very simple ideas for the front yard.

Scenario A for the front right:

Tomatoes in the back, since I predict they'll be unattractive and unwieldy. The nandina will likely be moved, as will the contents of two of the three flower beds.

Scenario B for the front right:

Instead of circles, we have a few rows here with paths in between. I can keep most of the existing flower beds as they are.

Scenario A for the front left:

Very simple, as you can see. Rows of veggies with paths in between for all of us to walk through, while still maintaining the flower bed in the front.

Scenario B:

A little fancier. This would compete with the flower bed by the porch and by the wall, though, and I'm afraid it might be too much.

This is one of those times when I'm having difficulty visualizing things that are not right in front of me, so my designs at the moment are super simple. The plus side to this is that if I don't do raised beds, I can change things around from year to year as I get a better handle on what's working and what's not.

And finally, since I mentioned the word crazy in the title of this post, I thought I'd just throw caution to the wind and tell you about what else I'm thinking of doing.

Some possible ideas include turning this trellis of silver lace vines that climb up the side of the porch...

...into a trellis of cucumbers or peas. It is currently high maintenance to keep the vines check. But cukes by my face as I walk in the front door? Not so sure about it yet.

Edamame growing up the drain spout? Possibly.

Strawberries instead of flowers in the boxes on the porch?


I need to make sure to pace myself though. But as I sit inside with snow covering every inch of the ground, it's hard not to get excited at all of the possibilities my little yard might become.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It's about to get crazy over here: Part 1

A few years ago, I answered an ad about growing a vegetable garden in someone's backyard a few streets over from my house. The people who placed the ad had just purchased their home and it needed a LOT of work (we're talking Money Pit here). Since they wouldn't be landscaping their yard any time soon, they generously offered it up to people in the area to create plots for vegetable gardens. At the time, I was growing a few tomatoes in my back yard but would soon lose that space when my property was cut in half by developers.

Neighbor M and I decided to share the vegetable plot in our new community garden. The first year, we grew tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, lettuces, and I'm sure a few other things I can't remember.

July 2011

As the yard had been nothing but grass prior to becoming a community garden, our vegetables took on nuclear proportions. Squash plants as tall as my hips. Tomatoes that never stopped producing. 2011 was a banner year for vegetables. Since then, it's hasn't produced as much for a variety of reasons, one of which is that neither Neighbor M nor I feel like walking over there in July to weed and water every day. Yet my desire for fresh vegetables continues to urge on my inner farm girl and tell her "Plant more!"

This is where it might get a little crazy.

I've been trying to come up with ideas for my front yard for some time. The allée is being turned in to a butterfly and bee haven. The back yard will (eventually) be landscaped some more and be my tranquil oasis in the city. But the front? The place where I have some flower beds, a lot of crabgrass, and full sun?

I'm turning it in to a vegetable garden. 

It took me a while to be comfortable with the idea. After all, front-yard vegetable gardens have only recently been gaining some traction among gardeners but I still wouldn't call it a popular idea. I want fresh food, yes, but I still want it to look nice, and will blighted tomatoes ever look nice? But one day, ye olde Google showed me this photo: 

Image courtesy of

It was from this post at The Art of Doing Stuff and oh my god! She has a front yard vegetable garden AND it looks nice! Not only nice, but I think I'd like to roll around in it for awhile, meditate, and then eat. This was the inspiration my inner farm girl was looking for!

My front yard is about four feet above the sidewalk and with my existing flower beds and bushes, a lot will automatically be hidden. I'm still playing with some designs (more in another post) and will likely have to move around some of the flower beds closer to the house. Also, since I can just move a sprinkler around, watering should not be an issue like it is at my current community garden plot.

My prep work thus far includes:

1. Soil testing - I do intend to get my soil tested for lead (this place looks easy enough). Now that the ground isn't as frozen as it was during the Polar Vortex, I may be able to dig down far enough to get some good samples.

2. Seeds -  I'm going to go as organic as I can and Monsanto, etc.-free. I've already purchased a variety of seeds from Cubits and am still looking for more. If you have a favorite vegetable seed purveyor who meets my criteria, please let me know.

3. Stop letting the dog pee in the front yard. Today's crabgrass is tomorrow's carrots and...ew.

4. Seed starting - It's almost time! I'm not ready! I'm looking for organic soil in which to start seeds (if you have suggestions, let me know). My big box store does not carry this, or at least not in January, so I need to look to the internets.

I'm really, really excited about this. I look forward to being able to walk out my door and grab a turnip or some beets. I just need to figure out how to marry function with looking pretty. 

Coming up in Part 2 - design ideas!

What do you think of front yard vegetable gardens?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reflecting on 2013

It's a week in to the new year and I've been thinking about the year that just passed. I don't make resolutions - they never stick and cause too much guilt when you break them. Instead, for some time now I've been trying to find the lessons in each year and reflect on what I've learned. With respect to gardening, this is what I've come up with for 2013.


I am a control freak with a capital C.F. I generally try to plan most things out in my life, though in true Gemini fashion, I make the most important decisions of my life without much thought. 2013 was supposed to be the year that my natural fences took shape. The climbing roses would weave themselves through the lattice on top of my new fence. The viburnum I moved would grow and thrive and block out the new homes built down the street. Clearly, nature had other plans, as all of my roses contracted rose rosette disease and had to be ripped out. My viburnum was plagued with some mystery pest and looked dead, then half-dead, for most of the year. I am left wondering if my viburnum will make it in 2014 and had to come up with a plan B for the fence. I really did take it in stride, though, because what else can you do when Mother Nature laughs and throws you the middle finger? In any case, at least I got a nice picture out of it (before I ripped the roses out). And it's sort of fun getting to plan things all over again. Waiting to see if bushes really are dead? That's tougher, which leads me to...


This lesson has come to me the past two years. It will be a long time before I make good progress but I'm getting there. I have a tendency to want things to be Martha Stewart-ready right now! But 2013 was the year I subconsciously decided to be nicer to myself - to let myself relax when I wanted and to not be so tough on myself that everything isn't so perfect all of the time. This translated to taking the entire summer to dig up sod in the side yard and needing to be okay with something that was a work in progress for months.

It also meant I said "no" when Neighbor M persisted in asking if she could help me dig up the front yard to do something with it because I wasn't ready (even though I think the front yard looks like crap!). It means that a lot of the plans and ideas I have in my head stay there for awhile or that projects are done in stages. Would it be nice to have everything "done" (I say facetiously, as a garden is never done)? Yes, but most of the fun is the planning and the doing.

Proper pacing

Patience and pacing are intertwined. The mania of spring garden chores has led to summer burnout for me every year that I've had the garden. Every year except 2013, that is. I made it through the entire year without wishing it was already over. Part of this was thanks to patience - giving myself permission to take things one step at a time. Part of it was giving myself permission to stay indoors when the disgusting humidity appeared in July and August, even if it meant my weeds were getting out of control. Part of it was that I had a lot of other things going on my life and the garden wasn't the main focus. 2013 kicked my ass in a lot of ways, but gardening burnout wasn't one of them. I'll need to keep this in mind in 2014, as with close to a foot of snow on the ground, I'm ready for spring and the onslaught of gardening chores!

I'm looking forward to the lessons that 2014 has in store for me!

How about you - do you feel you learned anything from your garden or from the act of gardening last year?