Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guerrilla Gardening

The guerrilla gardening groups of NYC and London are among my all time favorite heroes. Although designing gardens is my passion, I love engaging in sporadic-random acts of carefree willy-nilly gardening. My next door neighbor is a reluctant gardener, in the Donald Schimoda fashion of realizing the benefits but not wanting the responsibility, etc. Occasionally I can motivate her to give something a test try in her yard...just for the fun of it. Another friend of mine has an out of control blackberry bush that is taking over her tiny yard. We propagated some of the runners and needed a place to relocate the bounty. We created a square on the far side of the shed in full sun with railroad ties. Without weeding or preparing the ground, we just dug two holes and plopped the buggers in. That's was as much work as we were going to do for something that might not live. But then again, why shouldn't they live? The soil is rich, they were planted properly, they'll get plenty of air flow and sunshine due to the lack of anything else around...the garden gods just may smile on us. This last year was the first time I began testing out a few organic products in my yard and I think it's helped...but for 10 years things grew fine without the help of anything except water and my home made compost. I'd love to take some of these other baby blackberry bushes and put them on public ground to help feed wildlife/people whose lives have gotten wild etc. I think one of the core motivations for guerrilla gardening groups is some kind of an Eden archetype...the idea that where ever you roam there should be blooming fruiting things that could sustain us all. Maybe this is just the fantasy of a conscious gardener...still I'd love to hear some other gardeners thoughts on guerrilla gardening...ideas/tactics...the possibilities are endless.

Be free little blackberry bush...grow!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

It's time to harvest the onions. This is a strange year in the garden. Last year we didn't harvest until late June and the onions were twice the size, for some reason they've laid down. The peach tree also has but one peach on it...I still have jam from last years harvest. I can only guess that it's going to be an "Africa-Hot" summer. Still, there are things in bloom...tomatoes ripening, flowers opening. I hope you are all having a peaceful Memorial Day...I'm heading out to work on some yard art.
Here's a few shots of the garden today:

So, yesterday I went on a tour of a few gardens in Crestview and we ended up in a conversation about the bees. I have tons of bees in my yard, also paper wasps, solitary bees, bumble bees etc. The question was asked by a neighbor of the unfortunate fellow who was found dead, presumably from a heart attack...I imagine brought on by the bee swarm. The question is"who is investigating the bees of Crestview?" Good question. When you Google images of African Honeybee's, they look similar to this one on my Lavender. The European Honeybee is pretty much the same size but has a more golden hue on the wings and the stripes are less pronounced. I wonder if anyone in Crestview is keeping bees?

The first Early the backyard. My Roma up front was the first one to ripen, I ate it:)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Before...Frontyard 1998

This is my house, ten years ago with my tiny 3 year old in front. When we bought it, there was only the Sycamore and Pitisporum bush (out of the shot to the right), the Cherry Laurel and the tiny Indian Hawthorn with a ring of clover...the rest was a spotty expanse of St. Augustine grass.
It's taken years to remove most of the St. Augustine. My goal was to remove 20sq. feet a year. When the girls were little they played in the backyard all of the time, so we built a tree house, put in a tire swing and created several sitting areas so we could all be together outside. They enjoyed tumbling on the grass and so the gardening focus switched to the front yard. I was teaching art full time and gardening was a weekend hobby. Fortunately I had a close friend who was a botanist and gardening guru. She had a xeriscaped property, I didn't know what that meant. I picked her brain for years before she turned me onto several books, websites, suggested I look into the master gardener training and she was actually the person who nominated my yard for the green-garden award. I also had a dear uncle who lived in Maryland who's yard appeared on the historic garden tour of Frederic, and he answered my questions whenever I had an idea...he was an artist and had a beautiful vision of spending time with family outside. When I am designing for people now, a big part of the job entails educating them on having patience and a plan. My yard didn't change over night. One of my neighbors who lives on our street couldn't remember what my yard used to look like, it was that unremarkable. I'm meandering I know...what I'm getting at is that gardening can be your personal patience mentor. Not everyone looks at a blank canvas and sees potential. Education helps, lord knows whenever I sit to draw I have a stack of books around me,'s the drawing that comes naturally and the vision that keeps me inspired. Doing it yourself is the cheapest way to have a beautiful yard...anyone can do the plant research. But, as I walk through my neighborhood I see folks that have put a lot of time, energy and money into their property...but it's obvious that they don't know what they are doing. Then there are the yards that look like someone paid a landscaper/designer/maintenance team to have that perfect manicured look. It all depends on your goal, your pocketbook, your abilities, your personal ethos (in regard to stewardship) and your time.
What is your goal?
Is it: to increase the value of your home, to create a magical place for your kids to grow up in, have a space to entertain in, grow food...all of the above or something else? My first suggestion to anyone who has nothing but grass is to research trees and plant a few in the front and backyards. Carefully select them based on size, water needs, evergreen vs. deciduous and think about the energy conservation of your home. The first thing I did was plant a peach tree to mark time, the purchase of my first home. Once that's done, you're on your way. You've broken up the space. The next thing is to consider traffic patterns...for me that meant busting out the current driveway and sidewalk. Why? Two reasons, the first is permeability. The driveway stretched 80 feet into the backyard and was a river of water loss each time it rained. The second was to allow for designing freedom. Once the shotgun walkway was gone, I was free to flow with curvilinear lines, both with traffic patterns and beds. Islands of interest follow. I wanted a cottage garden, some control-type folks call that "hodge-podge" but they miss the wonder...I call them "yardners," they can usually identify the 5-7 plants they've got going with the help of many a product. Their main goal is to have something look "nice" without any work. There is an inbetween place where you can have something that looks magical without it taking up everyminute of your time.

It's called having a plan, and it's why you hire a designer/garden coach. Here's my yard now:

New deck, no sidewalk, baby Pecan tree, no St. Augustine on what would have been the left side of the walk, and an unfinished swale...need rock.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gladys the Rescue Chicken

So Gladys came to us via neighbors who passed on the information that we had a coop in the backyard. She's full grown, and pretty old. We know because her eggs are funky and misshapen. When she got here my girls flipped out. Several times she was cornered and pecked at quite brutally. Chickens can be mean. I didn't really know what to do and I started worrying that she may need to be rescued from my yard. I got on line and found all kinds of bizarre information on how to manage your flock. Based on several different approaches I developed my own...the one that fit our time schedule and kept the chickens outside. What I did was take a chair into the coop and sing. No, I can't sing. But the chickens don't know that and they seem to like my voice when I holler "hey girls, Mommy's got some goodies for ya" singing's just longer. So I went through all the nursery rhymes I knew, then started in on some Johnny Cash. Meanwhile I'm keeping an eye on Tammy Faye, who is the leader...or top of the pecking order. Every time she takes a peck at Gladys, I peck at her with my finger. It didn't take long for everyone to figure out what was going on. Gladys started hanging around at my feet and eventually got comfy enough that she just hopped on my lap, and then on my shoulder. Tammy's feelings were hurt...she still won't come to me like she used to, well...unless I have
hops n' grain from our brewing. (No one can resist that yeasty smell.) I figured that my job was under an hour. So, I went inside...but checked the clock and made a mental note to head back out and check on the girls in half an hour. When I went back outside they had Gladys cornered again. I pecked at 'em all and gave 'em a serious talking to. I can't repeat what I said, but it wasn't pretty. I got my chair and commenced singing...again. Roger Miller, Old 97's all the songs I knew the words to then I remembered Alouetta...the French song about de-pluming a bird. I was giggling through it as I cooed and petted my girls trying to get them to all be friends. It sounds a bit silly, or sick I know but I was damn bored after several hours of in and out and singing...yes, several hours. I don't know how singers do throat was killing me, lousey audience, no tips...terrible job. The process took nearly 4 days! It wasn't all day...but it was everyday. So much for my "own" method. We just have a few girls and a tiny space (8ft x8ft) but that's enough. 4 chickens, 4 people...not everyone lays each day...right now Esperanza is brooding so we'll only get 3 eggs a day for about a month or so, but that's enough. The funny thing is that now when I sing Aloutta, the girls come running! Makes me feel like a deranged Chicken Whisperer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let It Rain

Woke up this morning to Thunder around 4am. Yahoo! I had planned to get out in the garden and do a bit of work but I've been saved by the rain. I've located 3 more places in my yard that I can put collection barrels, I need to have the gutter work done but once that's in we'll go get the barrels from the city. That will bring our total to 5. I know it's not a lot, had I the space, I'd put in one of those giant ones...but they do help! In the coming years water scarcity is going to become a huge issue and the more work we can all do to lessen the load now the better. I'm wondering where the public service announcements are? A few years back there was a push in the schools and kids were educated on conservation. My kids came home with a suggestion postcard that I've kept posted in the bathroom. It dons cartoon character walking a tight-rope made out of a waterhose named "Dowser Dan." The tips list: Turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth, soap your hands, take a 5 minute shower and to keep a bottle of drinking water in the frige so you don't stand there running water waiting for it to cool. The 5 minute shower is the toughest thing for our family with two teenaged daughters with hair down their backs. But we're working on it! The next step is to find a way for the CBC to collect water. The roof is flat and we aren't really sure where that water goes? We may need to look into a roof garden! I'm going over there now to see what's up!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Candid Garden

My best friend in town happens to be my next door neighbor. She's a professional photographer and beauty enthusiast. We've put together a

small hobby business entitled "The Candid Garden." We work as a team,

I'm the artistic director and she's the techno-editing-photo-genius and we
have only one goal. That is to show you in your garden looking the best as possible, and I mean beautiful. We come to your garden early in the morning to catch the golden hour of lighting. We work quickly and efficiently documenting what is abloom and you in your favorite clothes, nooks and spaces. We are adventurous and meticulous! e-mail me if you are interested. All photos on this site are of my garden, art, family and pets.

Think about what makes your garden unique, make a list of the "cool" stuff be it

plants, yard art, folk art. Decide if this is for you or
get your entire family involved. Pets welcome! Kids
welcome! We are still working on a variety of packages
available, complete with proofs and a high resolution
disc that you can print from yourself or take to a professional
photo shop for gallery quality images. Fabulous for
gifts. Show off your garden!

Mural of Bud and Dorothy on the back of my tree house.