Friday, May 24, 2013

Secret Garden: the Patio Project

Rooted Landscaping was recently asked to offer a design for a patio garden.  Upon visiting the patio in full daylight glory, I immediately (& excitedly) conceived of a mediterranean-inspired garden of tall, glazed ceramic pots over-flowing with espalier trees and fragrant herbs.  The stucco and brick automatically reminded me of cliff-side dwellings and rosemary breezes.

I requested photos taken throughout the day so I could get a handle on how much sunlight actually reaches the patio.

Oh.  Not so much.

I tried to reconcile this reality with what I remembered visiting.  It occurred to me-- there is full sun in the middle of the patio but most of the edges stay shaded.

We were looking to create something lush and low-maintenance, and now primarily working with shade.  I went back to the drawing board.  Obviously, we need some height and some recurring themes to pull the area together.  The wire furniture made me think about wrought iron hooks for hanging baskets and wrought iron trough window boxes.

Upon further inspection I realized that one wall did get more sunlight.  The espalier design sticks!  A fig tree steps away from the kitchen.

Given that this is an entry way to the home and a home office, I still wanted fragrance.  More sun arrives by the front steps.  We decided potted rosemary should go there.  It's perfect to trail your fingers through or dab a little behind your wrists.  A little scented sigh as you enter the space.

(Years ago someone planted rosemary behind the yoga studio where I teach.  It's become perennial.  Everyone loves pressing some of the herb behind their wrists as they walk in for class.)

I hunted and found some great big ceramic pots at HomeGoods on the cheap!  To cut costs, we transplanted some cuttings of rosemary from the vegetable garden we'd installed previously.  We added some trailing sweet potato vine & some flowers to add color with scent as you enter.

We decided to center window boxes on the brick wall.  The patio needed height and some wall cover to feel more lush.  Not that it was easy anywhere, but affixing window boxes to only brick as opposed to brick & stucco simplified the process, made the boxes more secure, & is visually appealing.

A lot of the existing furniture had sentimental value.  That bench is over a 100 years old!  We moved it under the low wall and surrounded it with herbs.  Rosemary as you first step onto the patio, mint behind, and basil on the other side of the bench.  Sitting on the bench you're surrounded by fresh scents.  Also, the kitchen is steps away.  Another nearby planter has chives.  Plenty of flavors to incorporate into dishes-- all without getting your feet dirty!

The planters will be mainly shaded so we chose fuscia on top for height and drama, lots of variegated and traditional wandering jew, and several varieties of coleus.

There are hanging baskets throughout the patio, tying together to give it a "room" feel.  In the corner nearest the kitchen we installed a simple, Eastern-influenced fountain.  The bamboo fountain offers the sound of soothing running water on the patio or in the home if the window is open.

We used existing pots to house these gardenias.  I pulled them further from the door to be sure they got rain when it falls!

A repurposed wine cart & fountain are now planters to more shade plants.  We chose similar varieties to the window basket plantings to create continuity.

Piece de resistance!  My favorite.  This wall does get full sun & it's south-facing & it has wind-barrier!  Text-book perfect conditions for a fig tree!  I found a black turkey fig at Greensgrow and brought that bad boy over.  Kevin built the trellis to begin training the fig towards espalier, so that the tree won't enter too far towards the center of the patio.  Rather, it will go broad, offering cover for the blank wall, fruit, and enchantment.

Training branches.  Wouldn't you want to take your morning coffee gazing at a fig tree?  Makes me want to read Homer.

Planted on a rainy day (happily, for the plants).  Stay tuned as the patio receives the full glory of summer sun!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chive Blossoms

I obviously like purple.  Chives are one of my favorite plants!  Not just favorite herbs-- favorite plants.  Obviously, I like including as many edibles as possible in any design, even if it's main function is ornamental.  Chives are perennial, low-maintenance, and stay perky most of the year.  Those spikes add fantastic height and dimension in a planting.  Then the gravy-- a mother-load of onion-y, herb-y goodness to add to your favorite dishes.  And and and!  They BLOSSOM!  Those sweet purple puffs aren't only so pretty, but they're edible.  Stif-fry, add them in salads (and seem really sophisticated), or incorporate them into some other culinary delight.  The chive blossoms are an annual event.

I hope to do more plantings with both chives and lavender.  They like similar conditions-- full-sun, well-drained soil, and they have successive bloom time.  Right now, my chives are in full flowering splendor.  The lavender is green, fragrant, but not yet sprung to life.  It usually sends it's purple spikes out in June.  There's often a second bloom later in the summer too!  Between the two plants you find an array of aesthetic beauty along with scent, taste, and texture.

As I look around my home garden, I see purple popping up in multiple spots.  The butterfly bush in the back neighboring the grape vines.  The lilac I plan to plant once we've built the deck.  The little flowers on the rosemary bushes.  Some of our client's ask how to tie together their gardens.  This is one of the ways I like to build a feeling of consistency-- repeated themes of color, plant, texture, or grouping.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Radiant Rhododendron

Oh radiant rhododendrons!  Our side yard is shady most of the day with a little morning light (hence the halos you see above).  Fantastic, versatile rhododendrons are planted along the gentle slope.  Soon, we'll add an understory of ferns.  I wanted to co-plant the two after noticing the slopes at the base of some of the Poconos-- tall trees, and under the dappled light, rhododendrons and ferns.  Lovely, gentle, purple bloom in the spring, and year-round green.
(Image courtesy of Mike Hrinewski)

Nature is the best inspiration.  When building our shade garden in this region of the yard, we automatically decided to mimic what seems to work well in this region on a whole.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Radishes are rad

This year we decided to direct-sow radishes.  We interplanted them with lettuces, kale, spinach, and peas.  Radishes are an early harvest so we knew we would clear bed space for the other crops.  

Mike took this ground level shot of the baby plant forest.

Radishes almost harvest themselves.  They begin to "shoulder" or let some of the firm, root body emerge above the soil line.  They grow in a variety of shapes and colors, but are usually pretty simple to gently draw from the earth.

Kevin cleared a ton of bed space when he harvested our crop last night.
He immediately made a raw radish and radish green salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and herbs.  The 5-gallon bucket in front of him is filled with radishes.  To make the most of the harvest, we stole another idea from Mike and made several batches of radish kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish.  The kimchi can become a garnish or addition to sandwiches and salads.  There are a ton of radish greens that didn't make their way into the kimchi.  I plant to dice the greens and include them in stir-fries, pastas, salads, and pestos.

Happy harvesting!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Blur the lines between Garden & Home

As I track dirt in the house daily, the boundary between house and garden is becoming less distinct.  Honestly, I dig it.  I feel more invested in the land around and under me, more connected to the living system I'm a part of, and more at home even if there's no roof over head.  The garden, like my home, gives shelter.

Here are a few practices that help foster this sense of connection:

Re-Use E'erythang
Many folks know that you can clean your whole house with lemons, apple cider vinegar, & baking soda.  Lemons, specifically, remind me that I'm supporting my garden even if I'm cleaning indoors.  I LOVE lemons.  I start most days with fresh lemon juice & always squeeze fresh lemon over my spinach salads.  I leave the last dregs of the lemon & rind on the counter when I'm done preparing my meal.  I then use the last drops of lemon, or even the pulp, to clean the kitchen counters.  Lemon juice is said to deter ants (they don't like lemon, cinnamon, nor mint), it disinfects, creates a lovely shine, and smells delicious.  The rind then goes in the compost.  Compost goes in garden.  The cycle continues.

Invite helpful bugs to the garden, deter bugs from home
So maybe the line is more distinct here, but still a symbiosis from garden to home proper.  I have mint planted in several pots.  Always plant mint in pots!  It is INVASIVE!  Even if you love mint (I love mint) you don't love it that much!  Seriously!

Mint, like many herbs and flowers, is a great plant to have near your vegetables (again, in a pot!).  The scent of many of these herbs will deter aphids or insects that like to nibble on your grub.  Alternately, many herbs (specifically lavender, rosemary, and basil) will attract beneficial insects like bees & butterflies.

Plenty of fresh sprigs find their way into tea.  Other sprigs get dried out to brew iced Moroccan mint tea.  Many sprigs find their ways into the corners of rooms.  Mint is another scent said to put off fleas, ants, and other insects that sometimes settle into the home.  It also gently scents the room.  When it begins to decompose, toss it in the compost.  And the cycle continues.

Remember how helpful rosemary is in a vegetable garden?  It's beautiful, fragrant, a companion plant to many vegetables, and a fantastic accent to many savory dishes.  You can also take a few stalks and tie them to your shower head.  As the hot water and steam pour out, so does the aroma of rosemary.  You'll receive a rosemary rinse while creating an aromatherapy spa in your bathroom!  If you grow eucalyptus, this will also work well.

A garden tends to find it's way into vases on the kitchen table.  A lilac bloom can scent your bedroom for weeks.  We like to put fresh herbs in the kitchen and dining room as well.  Whenever we bake a pizza we put a vase of basil as the centerpiece.  The leaves are lovely, it scents the room (though the pizza does a fair job of that too), and we have easy pickings for pizza garnish!

The list goes on and on.  The more you find pleasure in the plants and land surrounding you, the more you're compelled to tend to its health.  Let your life and your surroundings feed your joy.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


At the Rooted Landscaping home garden, we had a lot of wood.  Last year we had to fell several trees that risked falling onto our neighbor's homes.  We hate to fell trees, but sometimes it has to be done.  We now had fresh wood as well as rotting wood from previous seasons.  

We chopped a fair amount for cords of firewood.  We elected to use longer logs to frame out raised beds.  This way we don't have to toil for years digging roots & rocks out of the soil.  We can allow for natural decomposition while we grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs easily in raised beds.  

Our friend Eric mentioned that he'd been playing with a German permaculture technique of hugelkultur.  Rotted wood is piled in a berm shape (though I have seen creative half circles and spirals created).  Organic material, like straw and leaves, is added on top of the rotting wood.  Then you pile and pack loose composted soil to finish the berm.  At this point, the bed is ready for planting.

The obvious benefits are making use of organic matter.  Also, as the wood breaks down it creates a natural heat, which will lengthen growing seasons for plants that like warm feet.  Some gardeners are able to extend growing seasons for crops like cucumbers.  

Deficits are nitrogen deficiencies.  Rotting wood likes to suck it up.  For this reason we've planted peas in a lot of our hugelkultur beds as they do a good job at fixing nitrogen levels.  We may have to add organic fertilizers.

Another problem is erosion.  There's little to hold in the soil.  Traditional row planting is a challenge as the new soil is loose.  For this reason, I got experimental again.  I tried another permaculture technique of choosing seeds of varying germination rates that produced companionable plants.  I spread the seeds evenly across the beds and covered in compost.  I lightly and consistently watered.  Early on, there was some run-off and erosion.  However, as the plants are taking root erosion is no longer a problem.  It's still a work in progress, but I think that in future seasons these beds will be well-established and easy to plant.

To combat erosion, some gardeners dig a trench & layer the hugelkultur bed within.  The trench method is also a good choice when planting potatoes or root crops.  Obviously, trench digging is labor intensive, but so is thinning.  Pick your poison!

This bed has fava beans (good little nitrogen fixers!), kale, chard, carrots, and spinach.  The down-side of the permaculture "raking" planting technique is that there will be labor-intensive thinning!  As the baby plants have come in I've been diligent about giving them breathing room to establish healthy root systems.  This will be an on-going practice as the plants mature.

Fun side note: my friend Ally helped me thin.  She kept snacking on the baby seedlings.  Yum!  My friend, Sonora said that she often adds thinned seedlings as salad garnishes-- the first harvest!

One of the most successful hugelkultur beds is planted with only spaghetti squash.  Like most squashes, spaghetti squash loves to vine and wander.  I figured the vining & rooting might help to better establish the bed.  Looks like that hunch is playing out!  Right now there are only a few leaves visible at the bed surface, but already water is absorbed right into the well-formed bed.  The root system seems to be establishing the bed well!

Our hugelkultur beds, like all our projects, are a work in progress.  We're still learning the benefits & deficits of this approach.  It's so fun to let your home become creative and dynamic art.  To keep your hand print in it all.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A photo essay from Mike Hrinewski

Take it from us-- it pays to have talented friends.  Our buddy, Mike Hrinewski stopped by the Rooted Landscaping home garden the other day.  What follows is through his eyes.

A butterfly landing on the borage.  FYI, borage enhances tomato flavor!  Plant it nearby & it will establish as a perennial.

Baby corn.

Filling up the grey water tank.  Never knew we used so much water from washing clothes!  The soap is Ecover, grey water-approved & plant safe.

Thinning one of the hugelkultur beds.  As the beds are establishing this year erosion was a problem.  It made row planting nearly impossible.  I tried a permaculture technique of gathering seeds with varying germination periods & beneficial relationships.  I then raked them through the new soil & have been lightly & consistently watering.  As you can see, fava beans, kale, chard, spinach, & carrots are all coming up!  Now comes the task of thinning the plants.  Erosion is no longer a problem now that their root systems are holding in the soil. Next year I should be able to plant in rows & have less work at thinning.

Every garden needs a mascot.  Laz!

What looks to be a forest of baby radishes & lettuces.

An unfinished row of wine bottles to frame out the bed of sweet peas & conchord grapes.  The shadow of the clothes line.

After all that good work, a song.

Kevin thinks mulchy hands make good music.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Transitioning from cool to warm crops

Delish!  Lettuces from seed are coming up nicely.  We're still harvesting spinach & now finding varieties of lettuces.  That stake near the lettuce is supporting a trellis for cucumbers.  We're hoping to extend the lettuce harvest by letting the cucumbers grow up the trellis & provide shade for the delicate leaves.
Kevin created this bed last weekend.  He incorporated the existing stump in with some re-purposed wood from our neighbor.  The bed is shaped in a triangle to give us an easier turn radius when we wheelbarrow soil  into parts of the yard.  

We haven't grown our own starts from seed over the winter because we travel.  For this reason, we usually purchase a few starts from Greensgrow Farms where we know the plants are organic and non-GMO.  This past weekend we picked up some tomatoes, peppers, and borage.  This bed features two varieties of tomato, sweet red peppers, borage, & basil.  Our friend Sonora turned us onto borage-- companion planting it, basil, & tomatoes together ensure that the tomatoes are flavorful!  Plus, borage is a pretty little plant.  We have several more beds with tomatoes & almost all feature borage nearby.

I have a few friends who have been relentlessly asking when it's safe to plant tomatoes.  I say plant away!  We should be past the risk of a freezing night.  If you're busy, or uncertain about the weather, you could probably plant until Mother's Day.  Enjoy!