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History of Our Semi-Natural Garden

Stroll garden path

My husband Henry on a stroll path preparing for garden tour

The Greenfield Garden Club is holding its Garden Tour today July 12 – and my garden is one of the ten that will be showing off all kinds of flowers, shrubbery, and trees.  I am very excited, and I have been thinking about whether a garden is a natural thing. Or is it a construction?

Our small garden is celebrating its fifth birthday. This was a very new experience for us. In Heath we had acres and acres. In 1980 I was passionate about vegetables. We plowed up a too-big vegetable garden and thus began our adventure of joyfully making mistakes. We planted here, we planted there. We planted everywhere we had a plant and an empty spot. We looked beyond our garden, such as it was, to the wild fields that circled us. This was no longer a natural space, but neither was it skillfully contrived.

In May of 2015 this is where the garden began. We have not yet learned the full extent of flooding

Our backyard in Greenfield, was not large, about 66 by 80 feet. The minute we signed the documents that made the house ours, we started planning what we wanted to do with that blank space. First we took into account the limits of the space, and my age. I was 75 and no longer gung ho about spending hours and hours trying to make a welcoming and beautiful space. My husband made his demand that he would never mow another lawn.

I was beyond putting plants here and there, but unsure of how to make a plan. Happily I had recently been on a Garden Bloggers Tour and met Julie Moir Messervy, a skilled and wonderful garden designer whose business was just starting to have an on-line arm. She asked me if I would like her to use my garden as an example. Yes! I said. I gave her lots of information about the site and our desires, and limitations. She gave us The Plan.

We took the plan out in the backyard and looked around. We looked at the plan. We looked at the expanse of grass. We gasped.

We laughed. We went back in the house and had tea and cookies. This was going to take work, even with a professional plan. To let our neighbors know we were friendly gardeners we created a flowery hell-strip for  the pollinators.

In 2016 we were understanding the breadth of flooding

We could never complete our plan in one season, but we began by planting three panicle hydrangeas, a lilac and seven roses, and plants we brought from Heath. The South Shrub Border was begun.  We also planted a River birch. Shade was needed.

By the end of 2016 we could see the beginnings of the essential beds that would give us our Stroll Garden.

By the end of 2016 we also knew a lot about the drawbacks of our garden. It was very wet. The soil was dense. A neighbor told us our yard, and others on our side of the street, were at the edge of the Pray Brickworks. That explained why a shovelful of our soil looked like wet cement. We have been helping keep Martin’s Compost Farm in business ever since we got our first load of compo-soil in 2015.

Hugel logs are in place

One year after beginning beds are planted, and the hugel logs are in place

We were using Julie Moir Messervy’s plan to a great degree. However, because we were not knowledgeable about the site ourselves we never told her about the quality of the soil and the regular floods. We met those challenges by making raised beds. We also begged all our Heath friends for old logs. We decided a hugel would help manage the water.

Hugel is a permaculture term. First we had a low stone wall built. We took all those collected logs and put them at the wet back of the yard. Then we covered those logs with eight yards of Martin’s soil. Those logs do soak up the water in that wet space. We then planted ground covers and small shrubs on our hugel.

stroll garden in June 2019

June 2019 and the stroll garden is nearly done.

The grass in front of the hugel was not handsome. It looked forgotten. Our friend Walt Cudnohufsky suggested a pea stone ‘patio.’ With a garden table and umbrella we now feel very cosmopolitan.

In May 2020 we can see the peastone patio, table and umbrella.  Time to plant annuals.

Spring would not be spring if new plants weren’t added. This year we added five new roses, Lady of Shallot, Gruss an Aachen, Quietness, Carefree Beauty. I have already mislaid  the name  of the fifth rose. No matter. We now have a mini-rose walk.

The raised beds got larger and larger, planted with shrubs and perennials that would attract pollinators and birds. In some sense we can now say the garden is finished. Of course, a garden is never finished. There is a saying about garden plants, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. We are in the leaping stage. Riotous growth! Pruning! Some plants need to be divided and moved. Some plants need to be removed.

Our garden is not natural. But like any natural landscape it changes from year to year because of wind, weather and plant growth or decline. Because we love Mother Nature we have included many native plants, the kind of plants that will support the butterflies, bees and other insects, and birds that are a part of the natural world.

We are looking forward to sharing our garden on the Greenfield Garden Club Tour today. Masks and social distancing are in order. Tickets, $10,  including the map are being sold at the John Zon Community Center from 9:30 to 1 p.m. Tour ends at 4 p.m.###

Between the Rows  July 11, 2020

5 comments to History of Our Semi-Natural Garden

  • Wow, that’s some flooding! What causes it? Do the neighbors’ yards drain into yours?

  • Kate

    That is an amazing transformation! Beautiful 😍

  • Pat

    Kathy – There is actually a river running under it which is part of our garden’s problem. The soil is a heavy clay hence all the raised beds. Also, our neighbors on either side are slightly higher than our lot, AND they are paved so their water does drain into our garden to some degree. I have learned a lot about water loving plants. Buttonbush! Winterberries.

  • Jason Kay

    We also have some flooding issues in part of our back garden – though not as extensive as yours. Looks like you’ve done an excellent job of adapting to the problem. I would love to see your roses when they are in bloom!

  • Pat

    Jason – The roses are in the driest part of the garden which is very limited. The first flush of bloom is over, but I am seeing lots of buds arrived. Keep watching.

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