carolf (carolf) wrote,

How does my garden grow?

I'm trying to figure it out, myself.

Thanks to all for the helpful comments on my Anti-Lawn entry.  Some of you [waves at Eva] really gave me lots to chew on.  So I think you deserve your own entry, rather than just a return comment.

First, let's define the scope. Our total lot is 25 acres, of which 75% is wooded. The other 25% is divided between pasture/field and swamp. Except for the mountains of the Upper Peninsula, we basically have an example of any topography found in Michigan somewhere on our property.
We cleared two areas on one of the wooded parts of the property.  One for the house itself, plus the equipment to get around.  The other was an unanticipated 1/8th of an acre we had to clear for the geothermal loop.  Both of these rest on the high ground of the tallest of the two hills on our property.

The plan is to keep the remaining woods, woods.  (We may have to cut down just a couple of trees where they encroach too close to the house, but we rather hope not.)  So, in terms of gardening, I have around the house itself, and the geothermal loop.

Long-term plans for the geothermal loop area is to plant wildflowers throughout.  Plant Husband's chestnut trees at the back (North), fruit trees in the middle, and build a gazebo/grotto thingie at the entry to this area, visible from the house.  The short term plan is to plant annual wildflowers to keep the area relatively weed-free.

That leaves the house area.  On all sides but the north (front) of the house, the average width between house and woods is 20 yards.  On the north we have about 75square yards to the east of the driveway, and approximately 200 square yards on the west side of the driveway.  It is this front, western area I am calling my "lawn."

The soil is clay, rainfall except in summer is generous (we are in a rain forest, after all -- it's just not tropical).  Winters are cold, but lately have stayed above zero degrees F, and don't go much lower than 20 degrees F.  High temperature is usually in the 80s during the summer, with an occasional spike higher, but no one temperature stays around for long.  We are in three lake areas (although not anywhere near them for real estate sale purposes.  Lake Michigan is west of the state, Erie southeast, and Huron east and north.  (I think the UP actually kisses Superior, but that's not where we are, so I won't include that.)  We are directly on the crossroads of weather systems from the west, north and south.  If Florida gets a hurricane, we'll get lots of rain.  If Minnesota gets socked with snow, we'll undoubtedly get some of it, even at the eastern edge of the state.  Canada air constantly wants to push Florida air around.   Basically, if you don't like the weather right now, just wait an hour, and it will have changed -- particularly in the summer.  Our hardiness zone is 5a-6b (I will probably get 6b in my courtyard, but not the rest of the area.)  As soon as it arrives (on order) I will start measuring the real sun exposure on each side of the house and report back.

So far, my nebulous plans for around the house are as follows:
  1. Put down cardboard, newspaper and leaf mulch (think layers) over everything but driveway, so get rid of and deter weeds until I'm ready to plant.
  2. Put in hardscape.  At minimum, this will be pathways around the house, so we can get everywhere without breaking an ankle or dying of poison ivy itch.
  3. Put in raised beds.  These will be attractively arranged on both sides of the paths; shorter, showier plants on the house side, increasingly tall and blend-in-with-forest plants on the woods side.
  4. The front "lawn"  This is my problem area.
The "lawn" must be something which does not require mowing.  It can't stand too tall, since deer ticks are a real possibility.  It must out-compete  weeds.  I don't know how much sun it gets, but I know it will at least be partial shade.  It would be nice to have something pretty and interesting.

I'm thinking we'll plant some pretty (as opposed to the stately woods trees) on the east side of the driveway: Redbuds, Lilacs, whatever.  The outer edges of the "lawn" to the west of the driveway could be shrubs, lessening the amount of ground cover necessary.

Eva, Vinca, holly and ivy are not invasive in Michigan.  They are not native, but they don't cause harm.  The two major plants to avoid here are Purple Loosestrife and garlic mustard (the latter, unfortunately, has already invaded our property.)  Hydrilla is not yet here, but is close, and the state is trying very hard to keep it out.  Vinca (periwinkle) is one of the covers I'm considering, in fact.  I also thought about wild strawberry.  Yellow/White sweet clover are invasive in Michigan, but the other clovers are not.  They may be too tall for my purpose, though.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that we have some raspberry canes near the private road, which I'd love to bring to that area east of the driveway, within easy reach of the kitchen.

Anonymous asked if I had seen the NYTimes article about mosses.  Yes, thank you.  Husband is considering using moss to mark/cover the trenches so we can find and walk easily on them to check/service the septic tanks et al.  The article says that they don't stand up well to dead leaves, though (which seems strange, since they grow under trees ...) so we may have to do some more research, first.  That could be an option for us, if it an establish well enough.

Nothing is carved in stone.  We won't be able to do the final grading until later in the summer, after the wet season.  When we're done, the ground will slope away from the house, which is sitting at the top of the hill.  Right now, all the disturbed ground is still settling, so there is a slight cant house-ward.    That won't be permanent.  The area I will be gardening most is flat; the sides of the house may be a problem, but that's why I'm thinking about raised beds.

Yes, Eva, this is exciting times.  I need to see what is already there before I make final decisions.  I am but beginning to make plans, and I will be fine-tuning it all through the year, as I see what  my land has to offer.  So far, I'm dreaming .

Do I like to garden?  I don't really know.  I'm certainly interested in it, and I love having natural beauty around me, but I've not really gardened before.  In the last few years, my hip problems have kept me from doing much.  But I have hopes that I can stabilize that condition enough that I can do at least raised beds.  So I'll find out. 

One thing is for sure, though.  I like having the gardening done, and enjoying the fruits of the labor.  Making the flower/branch arrangements through the house -- yeah, that I like a lot.

[edited to add light requirement for "lawn."]
Tags: gardening, home construction, landscape

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