Pickled Beets and Our Funny Garden

Our untidy garden is just right for two people.

Should I make pickled beets this afternoon, or should I write about the beets and other edibles our pocket-sized piece of ground produced this year?  My blogging has been as haphazard as my gardening this summer. But our funny garden has been at the top of my long list of possible blogs for weeks, so maybe I’ll write and then pickle.

Potatoes that grew in the rhubarb patch.
Hank planting ever bearing strawberries last spring

Our garden is not one of those orderly works of art I admire in other peoples’ yards, with neat green rows of veggies laid out in geometric perfection. Beets, carrots, herbs, and squash are more-or-less confined to the big wooden box Hank made so I could plant and weed standing up. For most of the summer, peas climbed chicken wire trellises crowded between the apple tree and the blueberry bushes. Raspberries ran wild along the back yard fence and the rear of the garage. Wherever we found an unplanted square foot of ground, we tucked in a potato or two. As the zucchini finished its season the winter squash we’d planted along the side fence scrambled into the garden box to take over the zucchini’s space. And cosmos and nasturtiums seeded themselves to add color in unexpected places.

Swiss chard that survived the winter in a sheltered spot by the house came back this spring. If the bugs didn’t like it so well, we’d have had a fine crop to eat ourselves.

We had pots of tomatoes on the back porch, strawberries along the driveway, and flowers everywhere.

The wild shrubs in the front yard which we planted as tiny starts in 2009 have become near-trees. I feel like we no longer manage our growing things. They’ve taken control and dictate how we spend our time, or at least, how we should spend our time.

Wild roses bloom in the front yard

Our wild garden just getting started
Son Rob, our landscaper, with the results of his handiwork, 2011

My favorite “shrub”, an American cranberrybush

Our wild garden this summer

I know we should ruthlessly tear much of our funny garden up by the roots and return it to beauty bark and grass that needs no more than a weekly mowing. But come next spring, we’ll look at that empty garden box, the flower beds, then at the seed packets and juvenile plants in the garden store, and once again we’ll go overboard.

By the way, I decided to blog and pickle. Here are the results.

Planting a Native Garden

Just planted.

Hank and I love to garden, but landscapers we’re not. Our house is built into a hill, so the front yard slopes steeply. The upper part can be dry, but the lower corner stays damp. It grew grass too heavy to mow, and huge dandelions. The mostly sloping terrain gave us a number of micro-climates that we took into consideration when we decided to do away with the lawn and instead, plant a wild garden.

Son Rob began a new business in 2009, raising and installing native plants for civic projects as well as home landscapes. He offered to do the work for us.

With Rob’s help we chose the native plants. We wanted early bloomers for color and to attract hummingbirds, and plants that would produce berries for birds through the winter. We also wanted a few trees next to the roadside hedge to grow up and provide additional privacy should someone build across the street.

He started the project by clipping the grass as short as possible. Then the crew set the plants where they were to grow, dug out a circle of sod, and set each into the ground. Then they covered the remaining grass with cedar chips to a depth of several inches. That smothered the grass and made the few surviving weeds easy to root out. Daughter Carmen sawed a cedar log into 4-inch thick rounds with which we made a curving path through our forest-to-be.

In the lowest, wettest corner Rob planted moisture-loving red osier dogwood and sedge grasses. Vine maples, a mountain ash, and a couple of slow-growing evergreens provide the roadside screen. Along the lower driveway are twinberry and Pacific ninebark shrubs, as well as red flowering currant and snowberries. Plants like salal and low-growing Oregon grape love the shade of the hedge. Two kinds of wild honeysuckle twine up trellises beside the deck. Wild roses and tall, prickly-leaved Oregon grape occupy the center of the yard. Midsize plants include clumps of fern, various grasses, and evergreen huckleberry. Red-berried kinnikinnick, bearberry, and wild strawberries creep over the wood chips to form an evergreen ground cover.

The ground cover will eventually hide the wood chips.
Stems of red osier dogwood with snowberries

Berries of red flowering currant
Red flowering currant and Oregon grape in April
“Stinky Bob” geranium hitchhiked with salal.

Twinberry blossoms
Pacific ninebark

This is the 3rd spring for our native garden, and we’re delighted not only with the variety of plants in the yard, how healthy they are and how quickly they’ve grown, but also with the birds, butterflies, and other living creatures that stop by to enjoy its offerings. Other forest denizens such as wild mountain blackberries and tree seedlings that hitched rides with the other plants are now popping up to delight us.

Interesting. . .even in winter.

Hank says the best thing about our “front yard habitat” is no more grass to mow.

For help in planning your own native garden, explore Rob’s website at http://www.ecotonesolutions.com.