Posts Tagged With: garden design

The Lovely Bones, or, What do you mean the garden lacks structure?

Ah, winter. I gaze out the window at a pristine field of white (or, more often, a soupy mess of grey) and admire the stark forms of the shrubs and trees. And then I think–crap, still not enough structure.

Nearly every gardener I’ve ever met is seduced into gardening by herbaceous plants. Whether succulent vegetables, bright and brilliant annuals, or old-fashioned perennials, they lure you in with their sweet scents and riotous colors. You plant them in front of the house or around the garage, carve out a little kitchen garden, and admire them throughout the growing season.

Then winter comes and turns them into so much compost. And what are you left with? Nothing.  Because as lovely as they are, annuals, vegetables, and herbaceous perennials die in the winter. In the case of annuals, they’re completely dead. With perennials, they die back to the root, ready to rise again in spring. But that doesn’t help you in the winter, when you really, really need something to look at to take your mind off the fact that you just got another six inches of snow and spring is an eternity away. Continue reading

Categories: In the garden, The garden year | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Recycling in the Garden


I’m planning a new garden for the Art of the Soul Center, a local space where I teach gardening and homesteading classes. Out back is a small, concrete-and-gravel-covered wasteland. A six-foot chainlink fence stands to the south, a dilapidated fence to the east, and the building itself to the north. If I can make a beautiful garden there, I can make one anywhere. I cannot freaking wait.


Because I’ll use this space in my classes, I’m focusing on ideas that gardeners can do themselves even with limited resources. The very tight budget forces me to get creative about recycling and repurposing materials, which is something I love to do anyway. (I have a perhaps excessive fondness for garage sales, thrift stores, and piles of stuff set out on the curb.)

I’m making notes and rooting through magazines like Urban Farm for examples, and I picked up a couple of creative ideas from The Small Budget Gardener. I’ll use bits and pieces left from other projects and ask around to see if friends have anything useful they want to get rid of. And by god, I’m going to finally use those freaking columns that have been moldering in the garage since I bought them eight years ago.


Planted straw bed; photo from


My biggest concern is the raised beds. Because space is tight, I want the beds to be tall enough that they can be used as seats. But that means that A). the materials that make the beds have to be wide enough for people to sit on, and B.) the beds themselves have to be a bit taller than usual. As a result, I’ll need more material than usual.

I have some wood in the garage I was considering using, but it’s not tall or wide enough to make seats. Pallets, which would be free, are too tall and don’t have closed sides. I could use hay bales, which would be fun: jam them side-by-side in a rectangle and fill the center with soil (see photo). Once the hay breaks down, I’d throw it in the compost. In the meantime, the bales are fairly comfirtable seats, if you don’t mind the occasional sharp poke in the rear.

I’ll make a rain barrel out of a plastic garbage can I already have in the garage. A second can, this one with the bottom cut off and some holes drilled in the sides, will make a tidy small compost bin. (You just lift the can straight up and fork everything back in to turn the compost.) I have an old solid door in the garage I might be able to modify for a potting bench. And for general storage, it’s hard to beat cat litter buckets. They’re perfect for toting tools, taking with you when you weed to throw your debris into, and storing finished compost.

Once you start changing your view from how the garden looks to how the garden functions, a world of ideas open to you. Aesthetics is still important to me, and I draw the line at a toilet repurposed as a planter. But I did plant mint in an old kitchen sink that I buried in the herb bed. And I have plans to turn a chicken feed sack into a container for growing potatoes. (The feed sack is pink, with a large hen on the front. Apparently Purina was doing a breast cancer awareness thing. I have to wonder who in the ad meeting thought that chicken feed was a natural tie-in. “It’s breast cancer. Hey, chickens have breasts!”)

Check back periodically for updates on my super-recycled urban garden spot. I’ll load photos as a the project moves ahead.

Categories: In the garden | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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