Spiral Garden

A few months ago I got sucked into Pinterest, despite my long time resistance. I get annoyed by any platform that requires you to sign up for an account to view the content. But with Pinterest boards being the top results for searches, I finally broke down and signed up. I understand why it is such a popular site. Crowd powered research mixed with social media makes for a powerful and extensive source of information.

Which is where I learned about spiral gardens.  It started with this picture.  I was immediately taken with the idea of an herb garden that is vertical and circular.  Our backyard is all angles, which I have been trying to soften with curved beds and features.  I also wanted to relocate my turtle shrine from behind the arbor vitae in the back to somewhere more prominent.   With that in mind, we set out to work.

Keeping with the motto of “Use what you have.” we started with collecting rocks, stones and pavers from around the yard.  After thirteen years in this house, I had amassed quite a collection of yard masonry.  To that haul I added a clay pot that had cracked over the winter.  Half of the pot went to the spiral garden and the other, smaller half, was used to make a toad house.

Putting the spiral took about two days of laying stone and adding in soil.  The dirt came from two other raised beds we had dismantled.  Ben provided worms he scrounged from the overturned dirt.  I added bark and leaf debris to the space between the rocks and the wood fence, as well as inside the back of the pot, to provide a habitat for bugs and other garden fauna.

To keep our dog, Enya, from climbing into the spiral from the sides, I moved two other large pots to flank it.  They’ll be useful for mint or other plants that need to be contained.  The turtle went on top of the pot and we called the whole thing done.  I would like to propagate moss on the stones and the turtle, but that’s proven a bit difficult.  Enya, the dog who treated the compost heap like a salad bar, found the moss slurry (moss and buttermilk blended together) and licked most of it off the rocks I had spread it on.  I may have to put some fencing up to keep her out until it has gotten established.

Now all that is left is to plan what will go on the spiral while I wait for planting time.

Planting the Seeds

I don’t feel it is an exaggeration to write that the recent warm weather has been like a miracle to me.  Last year winter lasted long after it was welcome, and I was worried we’d spend another six weeks gripped by freezing cold.

After the disappointment of Fan Fest I have been struggling with a sense of futility.  Jerk Brain has been having a field day, telling me all the ways in which I suck and am a failure.  I’m having a hard time combating all the negativity.  It feels like my well of optimism has dried up.

So on Tuesday, when we went grocery shopping, I added two more items and two more stops to our list.  First we swung by the Home Depot and picked up a bag of soil.  Next we hit the Dollar Store and picked up a couple of bags of accent stones.  We hadn’t planned on starting seeds until next week.  But the warm weather signaled it was time to do something productive that would shut Jerk Brain up.

All winter long I have been collecting empty toilet paper rolls, plastic containers, egg cartons, plastic bags, and other items I could use in gardening.  I have quite a collection by now; it takes up several shelves in the workshop.  I laid newspaper down on the dining table and set to work.

Toilet Paper Starter Pot
Cut an empty toilet paper roll in half. Make four cuts, about halfway up from the bottom and fold over. Voila! You have yourself a biodegradable starter pot.

I made starter pots from the toilet paper rolls.  The instructions I first followed has you taping the bottom closed, but I found that folding the cut edges together works just as well and then you don’t have the added step of pulling the tape off when it comes time to plant.  In those I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, honeymoon melons, bell peppers, hot peppers, marigolds and zinnias.

The egg cartons help hold the starter pots upright.  I spaced them out after learning the hard way that mold can grow if they are touching.

I also started some lemon seeds (because of Pinterest) and ginger.  I repotted some houseplants and started cuttings of more.  I planted three pecans that I gathered from a neighborhood tree last fall.  I hope at least one will sprout so that we can plant it in the front yard.  Finally, I started two containers of trumpet vine from seed, again collected from a plant in the neighborhood.

Marigolds in Detergent Caps
Marigolds started in washed detergent caps. I poked drainage holes in the bottom.

All of the seedlings went into plastic bags to start them.  When it was all said and done, I didn’t make much of a dent in my collection, there’s still numerous cans, yogurt containers, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls and more.  I have to pick up more seeds, as well.  But it is a good start.

The whole effort took a couple of hours.  Hours where I didn’t worry about how we would get by.  Hours where my Jerk Brain didn’t give me grief.  If the weather can continue to warm, I can start some outdoor work next week.  I’ll keep moving, keep planning, keep working: using what we have, doing what we can.  Maybe I’ll find my optimism sprouting as well.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.
After a couple of hours work, this is what I have finished.
Ginger and Houseplants
The started ginger, as well as houseplant cuttings.

Backyard Garden Project: Harvested Goods

The thing about yard clean up, the kind that involves cutting branches and hauling stones and pulling down fences, is that you end up with a lot of stuff. Most of it gets sorted into the compost heap, or rubbish bin, or stacked up for use later on. Some of it you look at and think, “I bet I could do something with that.” You might not know what, exactly, you could do. But you decide to set it aside just in case. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Harvested Goods

Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

The idea started off simply enough: to turn the backyard into a garden.  The indecision, however, is in the details.  While we could, theoretically, pull up all the lawn and plant right into the ground, we have two dogs who have no regard for boundaries.  Enya, a German short-haired pointer, will trample over plants, push over fences and chicken wire, and steal cucumbers right off the vine.  We also have our share of rabbits who trek through the yard, despite the wooden fence and the presence of the dogs.  I’ve lost more pea shoots than I can count to bunny thieves.  Taking all of those factors into account, we decided raised beds throughout the backyard would be our best bet. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

Backyard Garden Project: Woodpile & Compost Heap

In my quest to create a backyard garden (as opposed to a garden in my backyard) some things had to be tidied up.  November was going to be that month.  We knew we had to work quickly as possible since winter seemed on planning an early arrival.

Nightshade Covered Woodpile
Nightshade had taken over the wood pile. Pretty, but smelly, and got in the way of getting to the wood.

The big projects for the month involved trimming the branches from trees, the woodpile and the compost heap.  Trimming the branches would give us all sorts of wood for the fire pit next year.  Alas, the wood pile was still filled with branches and wood from previous years. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Woodpile & Compost Heap

Gardening as a Radical Act

My grandparents’ house stood on an acre of land, half of which was given over to gardening.  Most of it was taken up by vegetables: peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, even a few pumpkin plants for the grandkids come Halloween.  There was a small strip that I always thought of as The Orchard: an elderberry tree, pear, apple and cherry trees, as well as a few grape vines.  The perimeter of the area was ringed by berry bushes: gooseberry, currant, Chinese cherries.  Having raised five kids on little money, my grandparents, my grandmother in particular, had the cultivation and production of foodstuffs down to an art.

Continue reading Gardening as a Radical Act