Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shadow Play

Remember The Grid?

The consensus seems to be that since I have an asymmetrical house, the grid would not be terribly helpful to me as a tool for designing my front yard. (Though, honestly, it shouldn't matter!)

One fellow at the forum where I've been wringing my hands all too often these days suggested I get a can of biodegradable paint and outline the shadows which play across my lawn. He suggested I do it at 6am and 6 pm.

Well, I didn't get out and get a can of spray paint last night (this one vehicle policy of ours really sucks at times) but I did get up at 8am to take pictures. (Long-time readers of this blog will realise the commitment and dedication this exemplifies).

There wasn't much to see at 8 am.

See? Truly, this was the most interesting picture. Everything, and I mean everything was in shadow.

So, I went back out at 9:30.

At 10:30, I got smart and took shots of the entire front so I could piece them together into a handy-dandy panoramic:

At 11:30, the light hardened.

I took a break for lunch, but went out at 1pm (true noon) to see what, if anything, had changed.

I was truly intrigued by this time. Would much change by 2:00pm?

I didn't get out again until 3:30:

At 4:30:

I was just about to set out again at 5:30, but the husband came home and we had to go run errands. When we got back at 8:00 there were no shadows at all.

Which one (if any!) would you pick for the basis of a design?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Bounty

The bushes straggle along the back fence and feed the birds. Most years they feast as we're usually on vacation when the berries ripen. But this year, we were home. And what a lot there are!

Monday night they had to be picked. One more day and they would fall right off the vines.

Yesterday, Aurelia and I made 14 jars of freezer jam. Today I made 18 lemon raspberry muffins,

and a pie.

In honour of summer, I offer you a piece, (I hope you'll forgive me. I forgot pie has to cool a bit before you cut into it! So the bottom crust--which I made from scratch, was a bit, um, solid. But just a bit.)

There's still plenty left for mixing into yogurt, putting on waffles and eating with cream. I wish you all could have some. The above bounty took only ten minutes to pick.

Planning with The Grid.

The Grid a tool--and not all tools are the best tool for the job.

Both John Brookes and Rosemary Alexander, and even, in a different way, Gordon Hayward recommend and explain this approach. Alexander recommends you draw up three plans: one based on circles, one on squares (or straight lines) and one using the grid on the diagonal and choose among them.

They promise that this will integrates the house with the land. Sounds like a good idea, right?

It seems simple enough:

1) establish a dimension for the grid square from the features on your house. (Window 8 feet? Make the square 8'x 8'.) One can subdivide it (into, say, 4'x4') or double and even triple it as one gets further away from the house.) It can be established from an "ell." It can be established from the spaces between repeating windows or doors, or the dimensions of a bay window.

2) draw the grid on tracing paper and place it over the scale plan of the area you're working with. Squares are preferred to rectangles. It makes drawing circles easier.

3) develop shapes based on the grid, play around until you've got something interesting, but still simple, and draw them on another piece of tracing paper placed over the previous two--and there you have a layout for your yard.

However, I'm having a hard time making it work.

I don't know if it is because 1) I haven't picked the "right" dimension, 2) I'm not drawing interesting shapes, or 3) whether the "tool" is inappropriate, for me, at this time.

One reason may be that my house has no "ells", no bay windows and is sorely lacking any pleasing repeating elements. The centre of the house is also just at the left side of the front steps. Someone suggested I simply draw a plan using 2' increments and not really worry about the grid at all. When I did, this is what I came up with:

Actually, I drew several unpublishable "plans"--this particular one was taken from a sketch I did weeks ago. The big tree on the right is my neighbour's Birch.

I really haven't a clue what I'm doing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Garden Tour, Part 2

My camera died at the first garden of the second day.

That put a kibosh on my plans to take pictures...and analyse later. But I did what I could.

I walked slowly and leisurely. I didn't even ask about too many plants.

I breathed and smelled and felt. I chatted with owner/gardeners about, oh, all kinds of things vaguely garden related. I ate rhubarb cake.

I was delighted and enthralled. Charmed and beguiled.

I didn't entirely leave my left brain at home, but almost.

I noted that straight lines leave me cold. In each case where they were used they tended to put the planting "on display." In one case, I felt I had actually walked into a public garden, instead of someone's back yard. Broad sweeping lines are much more inviting--and relaxing.

I noticed that simply planting along the edges, called "perimeter planting" was sometimes the answer to an oddly shaped lot or a particularly shallow one.

Decks with broad steps were inviting--less imposing and integrated to the garden rather than merely being appendages to the house. This one had the patio right in the flower bed. I loved it. I also loved the colours.

Beds need trees or tall shrubs. It gives a feeling of lushness to the landscape. So do tall delphiniums! Some of them were shoulder height. They were amazing. I realised I must have blue oat grass. It's also quite tall and sways beautifully in the breeze.

Mature trees along the back of a property, instead of closing it in, gave the property a sense of being cosy, private and established. In most cases, the folks who were lucky to have these were also tying to block the noise of traffic, though.

I learned not to be afraid to divide the space. It really is more interesting when you have to round a corner or set off to explore where the path leads. It also makes things feel more spacious, oddly enough.

And water--I will have water, if not in this exact way.

These folks create magic. It was an honour and a privilege and a joy.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Garden Tour, Part 1

I will plant dogwood.

I will plant hostas and ferns in my front bed.

I will plant flowers.

Maybe I'll make a curvy path

and plant a small leafed Linden Tree.

I'm going to build some sort of water feature.

I'm going to do something about the garage.

I'm going to plant an arbour in front of the playhouse.

Maybe we can have tea.

And a game or two.

Four down, six to go.
Say tuned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How To See

One of the most frustrating aspects of this garden enterprise is learning how to see. Sounds weird, doesn't it? But I honestly don't have a clue what I'm looking at when I look at a landscape design.

I know how I feel. I know if I like it. I know if it's something I'd like to recreate--or not. But I have no idea why.

It's a question of being literate in this milieu, actually. It has more in common with architecture than interior design--given the added complications of mass and void and scale and proportion. In interiors, we're pretty much given what we have to work with. In gardening, everything is so much larger I find myself gasping inarticulately trying to ask the right questions in order to understand and interpret.

The other problem, of course, is experience--or lack thereof. Not the experience of gardening, or, more properly, horticulture, but the experience of being in a garden. What I look at is pictures on the 'net, pictures in a book--and I react to the pictures--not the gardens.

I hope that will begin to be remedied today and tomorrow. Our local horticultural society is hosting a "garden tour" of ten home owner's gardens. I'm so excited I could spit.

I'm off in a few hours.
Meanwhile: here are some pictures from flickr.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Progress Report

I'm afraid this gardening thing has been all-consuming. I imagine it would be fairly boring to anyone not similarly obsessed, so I haven't been posting much. However, some small progress has been made!

1) We've started ripping out the sidewalk that runs in front of the dining room window. After taking down the tree, it was very obvious the whole thing was heaved and sloping back towards the house.

The husband just wanted to "see" how easy it would be to remove it. This is what was accomplished after we took turns going at it with a sledgehammer and a crowbar for a few hours.

(Aurelia's job was to collect the small stones which fell out of the rubble and stockpile them for me.)

This is where we are now:

The whole project had me in a panic for a few days. We must have a path (or "access") leading round to the side of the house here for the meter reader. The city recently extracted all the gas meters and placed them outside our houses. I'm thinking of creating a gravel path--but I'm not entirely sure just where, yet. And I realised that as long as there is access and something shoveled in winter, I don't need to decide its precise location just yet. That's good, because I still don't know what I'm doing!

2) I'd say "we" but I'm really not helping with this at all--the husband and Caius are in the process of removing my strange front bed--the wooden edgings to be precise.

Here's a "before"--looking at it from the front door, out to the street.

Here's what they've managed to take out so far. Those are 4x6 and 4x4 foot posts, bolted together.

There's about a third of it yet to go. Not sure what we'll use the wood for.

I've applied herbicide to all the vegetation and now I need to cut it down.

It really isn't much, but it's hard physical work, so I guess it can't go any faster than our aging backs and muscles allow.

Oh, 3) I did get this tiny section of fence painted!

In case you think it still looks pretty goldy, (as I do) here's a comparison:

That's it for now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Never Before Seen...

....on my dining room floor. Light, that is. Natural light. From the sun.

First, a photo from earlier this month.

The next is from this morning, after the husband has pruned off most of the branches. Yes, that is a weird "top" to the tree--as in--there wasn't any! It had been cut off years and years ago.

He took a break and then pruned a few more. We attached a rope near the top.

I can't believe I didn't get a shot of the 1/2 hacked, chopped trunk. Can you believe he went at it with a kindling axe? The blade is no more than 4" wide. But I was scared 1/2 to death from the moment he hit the heartwood--too scared to think of the camera.

We tugged at the rope a few times, then he chopped, I tugged, he chopped, tug, chop, tug, chop, until finally, it was time to call the boy to help us. A few knots in the rope gave us a good grip. There was a CRACK and....

And so, at last, one very tired husband enjoyed the westerning sun on the stoop for the very first time.

One heck uva good day's work.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

That Settles It!

Turns out my third unidentified plant is.....(drum roll, please) alfalfa. Alfalfa! So, I'm growing vetch, clover and alfalfa along with some rampant Campanala.

It's all coming out. Out, I say.

(Do you suppose they are seeds long lain dormant from the era, 50 years ago now, when this was a prospering farm?)

I pruned some more off the remaining Thujas in the front. You can almost see the little roof over the front door, now.


(yep, that's the pile of pruned branches in the front left foreground, there.)

Seven weeks ago, when this madness began:

The husband says we'll work on the tree by the dining room window tomorrow (the one you can't see, behind the Birch tree).

Yes, I know, (for those who have been following the paint saga) I was supposed to pressure wash the fence this weekend. But it occurred to me at three am this morning (two and one half hours before the appointed time to get up so I could have the car to fetch the ruddy thing) that the raspberries are just beginning to ripen. I thought we should probably wait until the harvest is done--about another three weeks or so.

So, meantime, I'll be sawing trees and hauling on the crowbar--when does gardening get fun?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Decision Time

I have a front bed which is weird. It is a long, narrow thing--thirty feet long on the left of the sidewalk and, mysteriously, only about 8 feet long on the right. The whole thing is barely two feet wide.

I've seen one or two other beds like these, set back from the road by a mere five feet or so, as is mine, and they're a welcome sight. They're like a little run of cheer and I sincerely appreciate the gardener's thoughtfulness to brighten up my busy day.

But I live on a dead end street. There's no need for this drive-by bed.

Taking it out is going to be a major pain, though. It is constructed of 4x4's securely bolted together and at least two deep. I took the crowbar outside with me when I went to show the husband what we were facing--and he wasn't even tempted!

I've been waiting, in part, to see if any of the flowers in it are worth keeping (other than my daisies).

I've now indentified three of the flowers in it:

This is vetch. The photo is from has just finished flowering. It spreads by way of rhizomes, I believe and it is extremely difficult to erradicate without resorting to that which should not be mentioned in organic gardening circles. It fixes nitrogen in the soil (in fact, the faved fava bean is related) Vetch, reveals google, is an "alternative forage plant." Maybe I should just get a cow? or I know! A sheep. I'll send the wool to Zooza to knit something for me!

This pretty pink thing is clover--yes, the clover you find in your grass. It is, however, taller. About a foot taller.

Interesting tidbit: it is poisonous to sheep and cows when wet with dew. So, I guess the sheep shouldn't be let out to eat until after breakfast!

The next one, also purple:

Bellflower--or Campanula rapunculoides.

This, too, is an invasive weed.

The bed is currently keeping them contained, but I'll take that which should not be named to them, I think. It's a shame, the bellflower is pretty--but I don't want it crowding out and destroying plants I'll actually pay for!

There's at least one more to identify. Then I'll know what to keep.

And the delphiniums, it seems, are self-seeding annuals. They may not even be back next year. So as for colour scheme, I think I'll keep working on my original red and white (with touches of gold/orange) theme.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Look What I Found!

It's Delphinium, apparently!

I've wanted some ever since I read this:

Of course, that was over 30 years ago, now. And I'd forgotten. It's funny what memories can come back when confronted by a plant.

Apparently, too, I'll have to stake them. I hope they will still be visible through the forest of stakes!


Planting a purple and orange flower garden wouldn't be so awful, would it?

With my red roof?


In other news: Paint can No. 2 it is, then! It's called "Brown Cattail"--a most excellent name for a gardening fence, I'd say. I'll be renting the power washer this weekend and having at it.

Oh, and 12 years ago? Hubby painted the fence wrong. He painted it with latex, not oil as he should have. Thank goodness. If it had been oil, I would have had to use the same or sand. We tested it with a cotton swab dipped in nail polish remover. Paint came off on the swab: ergo, latex. Cute trick, that.

Behind Can No. 2!

It's not really a fair comparison--the first pictures were taken while a storm threatened and the light was dull. The second, after the storm had passed and in cheerful sunshine.

No. 1 is on the left and No. 2 on the right.

Here's the other side. You can see both:

Are we there, yet?
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