Monday, March 26, 2012

Cancer Survivor’s Garden – Design

When I was designing my garden I didn't ask myself what it would look like when it had been neglected for three or more years.  I’d read books on design.  I’d been to lectures at the Northwest Garden and Flower Show.  I can follow instructions.

I designed most of my pathways wide enough for the garden cart.  The joke at the garden show was to design the pathways wide enough for the staff.  I didn’t need a staff—then.  I did design my pathways wide enough for the garden cart, in most places.  The wider paths will allow us to mow them with the riding mower.  They are not a problem.

I intended for my paths to be gravel.  I put down landscape fabric and four inches or more of gravel.  In some places I saw no need for my gravel paths to be wide enough for my widest garden cart.  These are the places where I will have to completely redo the beds.

The gravel paths were great for about the first three years then grass and dandelions began to creep in.  I fought bravely, then I couldn’t fight.  The grass and dandelions completely occupied my pathways.  The narrower paths were wide enough for the push mower but not the riding lawnmower.  They harbored the crab grass that invaded my raised beds.  They bred the dandelions that went to seed and grew in my nice loose fertile planting beds.

About twice a year, we hired the workers from the local garden store to come and clean the gravel paths.  This was expensive and did not last long.  Within a month the crab grass and dandelions were back.

My garden is a great testimony to the importance of good garden design.  Where I designed well, the structure and design have kept those areas looking respectable.  When the garden workers come, they can make those places look fantastic. 

Those parts of the garden that were never constructed as they ought to have been are a mess.  They take hours and hours to clean up.  In some places the best that can be done is to hire help.  It will be expensive to clean up and rebuild the mess created from neglect and poor design. 

I can promise you that as I rebuild all pathways will be wide enough for the riding mower.  The beds that create my labyrinth will need to be completely redone.  I will raise them higher.  I will eliminate small paths between the beds by running some beds together and relocating some beds to make the pathways wider.

When I say I will do all this heavy work, I really mean the very expensive workers from the garden store will do the heavy work.  It would have been so much cheaper to do the job right the first time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cancer Survivor’s Garden – Adaptations

            My flower farm means a great deal to me because I love fresh flowers in the house.  In addition to flowers for myself, I want to share the joy and spirituality of a bouquet of fresh flowers on the dining room table.  However, I am concerned about what is on those fresh flowers.  The little white spiders and occasional baby slug don’t bother me much.  On the other hand, have those flowers been sprayed with a fungicide that is likely to rub off on your hands or simply evaporate into the air you breathe?  Mine haven’t.  It is important to me that my customers be able to purchase a healthy, locally grown product.

            For three years, I was unable to do much gardening, but I still wanted my flowers.  How could I manage?  Thank heavens for containers!  I bought some large, cheap, plastic storage tubs at the hardware and asked my hubby to drill holes in the bottom.  I planted hundreds of bulbs in my tubs.  I intended to empty the tubs into the gardens after the first season so the bulbs could naturalize.  They are still in the tubs.  The daffodils are coming up thick and the anemones are showing signs of being ready to bloom.

            When the plastic swimming pool we used for the ducks got a crack in the bottom, I pulled it into a sunny spot in the yard, filled it with dirt and planted it to annuals.  It is now the home of my Rudbeckia Prairie Sun. 

            Any large pot I could find became home to flowers for cutting.  Large pots seem to be a fad lately.  I’ve found many lovely pots for a very reasonable price.  I usually plant bulbs in them.  They put on a long season show of daffodils to lilies.  I might tuck a Canna in each pot this year.

            In addition to my found objects for planting beds, I managed to hire workers from our local garden store to build a deep, raised, brick bed for me.  It is amazing how much I can grow in a ten by four foot bed when it is raised up with two feet of good soil inside. 

            I discovered that crab grass and dandelions easily took over my eight-inch high raised beds in the garden.  The deeper twenty-four to thirty inch beds are easier to keep weeded.  They have not been attacked by the crab grass.  It is easy to get all of the dandelion root out of the light soil in the deeper bed. 

            We have another container bed of sorts.  I planted a large garden in the middle of our cul-de-sac.  It is surrounded by driveway.  Nothing creeps in from the outside because the outside is compacted gravel.  The native soil in that spot was decent.  I build it up with layers of straw and imported soil.  This bed holds water well.  I’ve planted the bed with bulbs and tall grasses.  It has year-round interest and produces another thousand or so daffodils in the spring.

            My plan for the future is to build more deep raised beds.  I may even abandon some of the eight-inch tall raised beds.  The taller beds are easier on my back for weeding.  They grow healthy plants because the things I want to grow are not competing for root room with invaders from outside.  I will continue to use containers.  I need to devise some method of trimming the grass around my raised beds.  Perhaps I should get a sheep.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden- Greenhouse

When we built our house, we built an extra ten feet onto the end of the garage.  I put a sliding glass door in the east wall, double pane windows on the south and a large window on the west.  The screened windows open as needed.  I also put three large skylights in the ceiling.  We insulated the same as for the house.  This is my greenhouse and my spa.  I installed a six-foot by six-foot hot tub. 

We live in the country, which means that when winter storms hit, we can be without electricity for three to five days.  It seems that when the storms hit the temperature drops into the high twenties.  All I have to do to keep my greenhouse above forty degrees during the power outages is to open the lid of the hot tub.  I have three hundred gallons of water heated to one hundred and two degrees.  This works fantastic.

The greenhouse did suffer during my years of neglecting my gardening.  I have spilled dirt everywhere.  Plants dried out from lack of watering.  Fluorescent lights died and were not replaced.  The room became a catch-all for things that got carried out of the house.

Despite the neglect, I’ve had success starting seeds in the greenhouse.  I am careful to use sterile potting soil.  I use the plastic flats available in most places that sell garden supplies.  I buy them with the clear plastic domes.  The domes are important for me because in my greenhouse, seeds are not going to get watered.  I throw away the silly little cells that come with the flats.  I fill the whole flat with soil.  I sow my seeds into the soil, cover with the dome and stack the flats on a warm shelf to germinate.

When the plants are not quite to the true leaf stage, I set them in a sunny place or under the one remaining fluorescent.  I do have a mercury vapor light in the greenhouse.  Between the windows, the one fluorescent, and the mercury vapor light my seedlings seem to grow well enough without getting leggy.  True confession:  I know this is very bad.  I know this is as bad as going to bed with my make-up on.  During the seed-starting season the mercury vapor light never gets turned off.  My timer broke and didn’t get replaced.  The light runs day and night.  My seedlings do not seem to be traumatized.  Perhaps they like a nightlight.  They are just babies after all.

As I said, I haven’t kept my greenhouse as pristine as it was before I got sick.  I still haven’t had trouble with disease or insects.  The spiders may help by eating invading  insects.  I do check the plants as I go back and forth to the hot tub.  If I see something that looks like an infestation, the plant or flat goes outside immediately.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  I never try spraying with something in hopes of killing the pest.  Infested plants go outside, even the orchids.

Despite the spilled dirt, spider webs and miscellaneous stuff stacked on the floor and shelves, my greenhouse seems to be a healthy place for plants.  I’m not sure why.  It is dryer than most people think of a greenhouse.  It seldom feels humid even when I’ve been soaking in the tub.  The room doesn’t grow mold.  The amaryllis who live in there year round seem happy enough.  My seeds grow into healthy seedlings.  I start my dahlias in there in the spring.  I am forcing lilies now.  I just finished forcing tulips for Valentines Day.  I regularly bring in branches to force for spring bouquets.  

Why does the room work?  I suspect it has something to do with being “too dry.”  Also, my morning walk through to my hot tub keeps me on top of any problems.  The room is large for the number of plants.  It has ten-foot ceilings and one end taken up by the hot tub.  I run a fan all the time.  My plants have excellent ventilation.  It works.  I’m not sure why.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden- What Thrived

Among the plants that thrived while I was doing the cancer thing were our Summit Raspberries.  I started with five plants ten years ago.  The Summits are an everbearing raspberry.  They don’t have as good a flavor as a June bearing raspberry but in September, October and November there is nothing better than fresh raspberries from the garden.

The Summits have a tendency to travel.  They took over the two beds nearest the one I gave them.  I now have two twenty-four foot rows of thick raspberry plants.  They produce a heavy crop in June and another in July.  They produce a third crop in September.  In between the main crops they produce more than I can eat.

My friends and neighbors have been more than willing to come and dig up raspberry plants that grow where I don’t want them.  They kept the raspberries from being invasive.  I don’t know why they didn’t want to take home crabgrass and dandelions.

I shared more than just the plants.  Right after my cancer surgery two women from the church came and picked raspberries.  They took them home and made jam then each gave me back one jar.  I had to buy the rest of my raspberries back at the church bazaar.  They make fantastic jam.

My idea of how to process raspberries is to stand in the garden and pick those that look most ripe and pop them into my mouth.  There is nothing better than sun warmed raspberries eaten while standing in the garden.  My raspberry canes grow about six feet tall and arch over the path forming a tunnel full of yummy rich-flavored fruit. 

At the Northwest Flower and Garden Show this year, I was telling a total stranger who sat next to me about my raspberries.  She was excited and explained that raspberries are full of anti-oxidants.  She had a theory that plants and gardeners have a special chemical/magnetic bond so our plants respond to our physical needs.  She speculated that my physical, cancer distress triggered something in my plants to stimulate their growth.  It is possible.  They certainly grew well with no fertilizer, pesticides or chemicals.