Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nap outside


It's really good for you.

We often hear from clients that their yards stress them out.  They find it challenging to maintain them, are irritated by insects, or can't find beauty in their properties.

I hear you.  It's a challenge.  There is a lot to keep up with, but there are many ways to build efficiency, function, low-maintenance, and pleasure into your property.  Sometimes it requires some initial effort but over time you can find that your property becomes much more manageable.  (We can help!)

Our property felt really out of control.  We had trees that were ready to fall on our neighbor's houses.  The first big effort was felling those trees.  We were sad about it, but we had to be pragmatic about being responsible home-owners.  The up-side is that the loss of the trees created ample sunshine to feed our now bountiful garden.  We kept the trees on the property by using the logs to create raised beds.  That way we didn't have to pay to haul them off-site, but could keep them around.  The soil was so compacted from rescue dogs that used to trample it and all the tree roots, that it would be years before we could have had a successful garden directly in the soil.  Now we have a productive garden, thanks to the service of the trees framing out raised beds.

We tried to keep as many trees as possible and we also planted new fruit trees along the creek bed at the back of our property.  They'll help prevent erosion of the soil and they're far enough away from the houses to not pose a threat of falling in a storm.  Plus, fruit!

So now for taking pleasure in our surroundings.  Years ago we purchased a hammock in Panama.  We simply loved the woven hammocks that we continued to find in Central America.  We knew it wasn't practical for us to hang a hammock at that point, but we figured we'd hold onto it for whenever the right circumstances emerged.

This year we kept looking around.  Where was it going to go?  Obviously, we want shade, and we now have less shade.  We wanted some privacy.

A friend posted a photo of a hammock strung between the V branches in a tree.  Yes!  Now I started looking more closely at our trees & we identified the perfect spot.

Under the magnolia!!!

No nails.  Kevin cemented in a post & hook.  He then wired together a few pieces of bamboo to slide in the V of the branches.  The magnolia was not harmed in the process of hammock hanging.

This hammock is woven, so we store it in a waterproof box under the bush.  Safe from the rain, inside during the winter, & easily accessible on a warm day.  (I can't wait to purchase a few more hammocks as back-up when I go back to Guatemala this winter to lead a yoga retreat!)

And the view.  Sweetly enjoying the lovely land around me.  Finding pleasure.

One day I opened up an instructive YouTube video from a permaculture specialist.  I expected to find a lot of content on maintaining mutually supporting systems in a garden.  This highly lauded permaculture specialist walked the viewer to the little havens he had created in his garden.  He laid down by a swale and began plucking berries off a nearby bush.  He shared that here he could hide from his chores, and his wife, a little while longer.  I was so happy.  It is credible content to think coherently about enjoying the space that you inhabit.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Groundhog Chronicles

October 22, 2012

Humans are in the house.  Maiga looks out the window as Superstorm Sandy approaches.  A fat, happy groundhog munches on her arugula and spinach.  Blast.

Several more groundhog sightings follow.

Kevin is adamant that a groundhog can take out a garden.  He begins watching YouTube videos.  Friends compare him to Elmer Fudd.  He buys a Hav-a-heart trap.

The groundhog scoffs.  

This becomes battle royale.  Kevin catches several feral cats, squirrels, opposums, and a raccoon in the Hav-a-Heart trap.  Maiga becomes convinced that the groundhog is orchestrating this all safely from his forest den.  

Here, Maiga & Kevin's life long animal rights politics clash with their desire to eat out of the garden.  Maiga advocates meditating on the groundhog, coexisting, sharing.  Kevin claims that's all rather naive.  That they've invested too much time and effort into the garden to lose it all.  

Tensions flare.

June 2, 2013

Two nights after a skunk sprayed and knocked over the trap (do we not have a master-mind groundhog at the helm?!) Kevin finds that vanilla extract on the cage and baiting with strawberries does work.  On this historic date he catches a groundhog.  Once caged he sees that he's indeed an adorable little rodent.  Confused, he eats several coconut popsicles while taking the groundhog to woods several miles away.

June 16, 2013

Another groundhog has ravaged the peas and lettuces.  Re-baiting the trap, this time the hog is caught quickly.  Is it the same?  Is it another groundhog?  Kevin asks me to identify him as though he were in a police line-up.  Yes.  He looks like the shapeless ball of fur that has been eating our veggies.  He too goes the way of the woods.

Meanwhile, I have been conspiring with friends to advocate for our groundhog brethren.  Our designer friend, Oskar Castro, creates a groundhog image inspired by Subcommandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista movement, EZLN.

Our friend, Mike, uses this groundhog image to turn the tables on Kevin.

Accompanied by this communique:
A communique from the Groundhog Liberation Front (Mike translated from Groundhog)- 

"Welcome to the struggle of all species to be free.
The war of greed over food ravages the earth and species die out every day. GLF works to to scare the rich and greedy oppressors and to undermine the foundations of their speciesist society. For too many years we have sought to simply feed our family and have been treated as second class animals to that puffy white cat. We have to show the enemy that we are serious about defending what is sacred. Together we have teeth and claws to match our dreams. Our greatest weapons are imagination and the ability to strike when least expected. We are practically invisible. We have no command structure, no spokespersons, no office, just many small groups working separately, seeking vulnerable targets to strike back for food equality. Find your family! And let's celebrate as we make ruins of their precious garden.

You cage us, we cage you."

End communication.

You cage us, we cage you." 
End communication.

Kevin feels truly mixed up.

Luckily, it gets better.

I had these tee shirts made.


Groundhogs continue to roam the woods behind our house and eat our vegetables.  On Sunday, we sighted a deer.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Avant Garden Updates

Here's an aerial shot of Avant Garden geometry.  Corn & sunflower beds to the right, with climbing zucchini building ground cover.  To the left, plenty of annuals like tomatoes, peppers, & cucumbers.  Some lettuces in the shade of cucumbers, & herbs like rosemary, basil, & chives.  Further back find berries & fruit trees.

Borage blossoms.  This herb enhances tomato flavor.  The blossoms are also edible.  They taste kind of like cucumber & marshmallow.

Spaghetti squash!  It is efficiently establishing this hugelkultur bed.

This hugelkultur bed is growing a small army of carrots.  We thin, thin, & thin again.  Baby carrots are adorable!

One of my favorite plants: lavender.  It loves full sun, well-drained soil, other friendly lavender nearby, & herbs.  It attracts butterflies & bees & generally smells fantastic.  Throughout the season I create sachets & spike-filled vases.

Potato plants leafing!

And an organic potato farm on our friend, Calyb's arm.

What makes it all grow.  Courtesy of our buddy, Yvonne.

Stay well-watered!

Monday, June 17, 2013


We love berries.  We love to eat them, watch them, sniff them, allow them to lure butterflies & birds.

Raspberries vine & tangle.  They get dense & fun but are low-maintenance.  Find a sunny out of the way spot & plant.  Our raspberries are new this season.  We're allowing them to establish and marveling at their serrated leaves & tiny blossoms.

Blueberry hill!  We acidified the soil with plenty of peat moss, holly tone, & bone meal fertilizer.

They're happy!  We're letting the birds help generate new growth.  As the birds bogart our berries the plant continues to produce more.  As these are young plants, we're game for anything that stimulates happy plant growth.  Once these plants are more established we'll net half the berries & leave half for the birds.  Alternate annually & share the bounty!

Strawberries love to crawl & wander.  We housed ours in a raised bed.

We have some full sun in the front yard that's under-utilized.  We'd like to expand the strawberry patch there.  Some grow strawberries vertically in poles or barrels, when space is limited.

Berries are beautiful and delicious.  Our yards should be places to delight all the senses-- sight, sound, scent, & taste!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Everyone should grow lettuces.


It is EASY.  We direct sowed our lettuces in early march.  We've been giving them hair-cut harvests & receiving bounty since early April. I'm hoping to extend their growing season by trellising cucumbers in front of them to create shade & a cooler micro-climate.

 Not only are lettuces delicious & healthy but they're lovely.

Boston bibb makes a beautiful ground-cover.  Like chard & many other leafy edibles, it's a fantastic contrast with showy flowers and ornamentals.  There's no reason that edibles & ornamentals should be segregated.  Get creative!  & then get to eat some of the fruits of your labor.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Chard is a fairly simple & hugely rewarding plant to grow in South Jersey.  We direct sowed our chard in early March.  It does well in dappled-sun or some-shade beds.  We interplanted it with peas in some areas so that the trellising plant could aid in creating shade for chard leaves.

Aesthetically, I love the colors of this fabulous plant.  It always reminds me of a miniature rhubarb.  I'd love to do a cooler weather planting of chard and rhubarb with some bright reds-- maybe petunias?  Roses?  Photinia?-- for contrast.

And edible!  Edible landscapes are my fave.  The mix of edible leaves and flowers (edible flowers are a plus!) is rewarding and innovative.  As I gaze into the leafy depths I'm thinking poppies, calendula...  Visual refreshment, delicious meals, organic landscapes.  So much goodness!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Chen property, Season 2

It's so wonderful to watch a property evolve over time!  Yvonne has a fantastic sense of design & loves flowers.  Last year, Rooted Landscaping facilitated some big shifts.  We installed a trellis to add interest to a blank wall on the front of her fabulous house, re-designed a unique bed out back, & converted the previous owner's dog kennel into a shaded patio.

Season 2 and the honey-suckle is climbing!  We're staying on top of it to ensure it doesn't spread.  It's offering tons of fragrance as Yvonne and her guests pass in and out of the front door.

Heuchera capturing light in the back bed.  Soaker-hoses were installed to keep maintenance manageable.  These plants are happy.

Native plants attracting beneficial insects.  Salvia is a fantastic plant-- bright color, easily maintained, and attractive to butterflies.

Have you been wondering who's been making us look so good?  This guy.  Mike Hrinewski has become Rooted Landscaping's in-house photographer.  (Funny to say because by day he's an attorney.)  Any photos in posts tagged Mike Hrinewski are his work, otherwise, they usually come from Kevin's camera.  If the photos are really terrible, they may be mine.

Stay tuned as the garden grows!

Friday, June 7, 2013


Kevin & I are steadily working towards making our home largely self-sufficient, meaning we're less dependent on importing water & other resources.  A simple way to move towards a closed loop is harvesting rain water & recycling eligible water within the home.  We knew we wanted to install both rain barrels as well as a grey water system.  Grey water is recycling water from the washing machine and some sinks, being mindful of the cleaning products and matter that interacts with these water sources.  This water is perfectly safe for plants.

Rain barrels are often installed on platforms outside the house to harvest rain from the gutters and then allow gravity to passively distribute water to the garden.  We knew we needed a lot of water for our garden.  The thought of tons of platforms seemed somewhat cumbersome & potentially an eye-sore for our neighbors.  Plus, if we wanted passive distribution of greywater the barrels couldn't be high-- unless we created separate systems for greywater & rain water.

Kevin came up with a creative solution.  This winter he dug holes in the ground to bury rain barrels.  He found a source & purchased six 55-gallon barrels.  He then began connecting certa-flex pipes from the down-spouts to the barrels to collect rain water.  He created the same process to connect output from the washing machine & kitchen sink.  

In this way, when we have a surplus of water we can disconnect the pipes from the barrels and allow the water to flow back to the city gutters.  In the winter, we'll disconnect the greywater system.  It's important to use greywater frequently due to the other organic matter in the water.  This way it's available when we have high water demands in the garden & easily detached when we're in colder seasons.

We've switched our detergents and soaps to greywater approved.  Ecover products are easily found at shops near us, but they can also be ordered online.  This has urged me to clean mainly with lemon, vinegar, and baking soda, which is healthier for us and greywater safe.

OK, but how does the water reach the garden?  Kevin thought of a pool pump.  We had to try two before we found one strong enough to pump the water from the sunken barrels into the hose.  We're on the grid with this idea, using electricity to power the pump.  We hope to incorporate solar panels onto our home at some point so that this would largely be an off-grid approach.

It's taken some getting used to.  The hose has less pressure pumping from the greywater and rainwater barrels than it does when connected to the spigot.  The pumps tend to shut off automatically if we connect the hose to our soaker hoses.  However, working through these kinks and readjusting our habits has been worth it.  Our water bill and water consumption has drastically decreased.  

I'm anal.  A sign for guests letting them know the deal.  I hate being in a space & feeling like I might mess something up.  My hope is that folks in my home feel comfortable & fully informed.

Still fine-tuning, but fully hydrated & happy!  BTW-- just got the water bill.  HALF what it was before we implemented this grey-water system!  Environmentally friendly & fiscally responsible!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Bike Trellis

Kevin was struck by genius.  We would add interest to a blank wall facing our property by building a trellis made from repurposed bike rims.  We knew we wanted to plant conchord grapes, which obviously we would want to trellis.  We put out a call for rims.  Several friends began cleaning out their garages and sheds for us & I think a few might have trash picked!  Then we hit the motherload-- I called Joe Bonaparte at the Collingswood Bike Share.  Space is a premium for the bike share.  Joe was happy to off-load two trunks full of rims.  Gleefully, I struck a deal to offer the bike share volunteers yoga in exchange for their bounty.  

Laz was instrumental as we de-tired the rims.  We found a local spot to recycle the rubber.

We used wire to attach the rims.  It was labor-intensive & time-consuming, but when you have a feline muse all things are possible.

The trickiest part was trellis transport.  We mistakenly built the trellis laying flat, as shown.  It made it easier to attach each rim, but then we had to somehow carry this heavy contraption to the conchord bed.

Luckily, we have a heroic neighbor who heard us alternately laughing and cursing.  With him, we had three adults to carry three poles, carefully, to the already dug holes in the conchord bed.  Kevin quickly concreted the copper poles into the garden bed.

We leaned our climbing grape vines against the rims.

They're already grabbing hold.