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Home Sweet Home
How does my garden grow? 
9th-May-2008 01:06 pm
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."]
9th-May-2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
With hip problems, I'd suggest looking at perennials (the ones that last through the years) or annuals that self-seed, and asking for ones that don't need a lot of care. Some years will doubtless be worse than others, and I bet you'll be happier if during those years, you can enjoy without worrying that stuff won't come back if you can't tend it.

You might want one bed near the kitchen to be fresh herbs. A lot of these overwinter, including the mints (though these can be invasive) and most sage varieties. And chives, of course.

Good luck!
9th-May-2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
In fact, wild chive is endangered or threatened (don't remember, exactly) in Michigan, so I'd love to plant some of that.

Yes, definitely perennials. I like low-labor activities. I hate heat, so ... I figure I'll do containers of annuals for color and interest here and there.

My kitchen, unfortunately is not situated to have a close garden. Directly out of the kitchen is the screened in porch, which is above the ground by oh, 6-7 ft? Steps lead down from the deck around the porch to one of the side walkways -- I might put something there, but it will be a heavily shaded area. Not sure which of the herbs do well in shade.

Otherwise, it has to be either in the front (close to the front door or garage) or in the courtyard, accessible from the basement.

I can't have everything even though it is a dream house.

Sage. Interesting thought. Does it do well in shade?
9th-May-2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
So far, herbs that seem to do well, once established, just about anywhere (including in shade) include any mint (this would be a good one to put in a small plot surrounded by concrete, if you don't want it wandering; we have come to enjoy the scent of mint when mowing the lawn as it's perfectly happy invading same), lemon balm, which is also called melissa, (I have found lemon balm tea eases muscle cramps of various sorts); oregano & chives. I'm sure there's others. Basil seems to absolutely need sun, and though I've had established sage survive being over shaded by other plants, when I've tried to put new-bought plants in shady spots, that hasn't worked, so far at least. Hmm...what else have I grown...I've tried a bunch of things that did ok for one season, but didn't survive the Milwaukee winter.

When I make lemon balm tea, I use lemon balm, spearmint (I usually prefer the taste of peppermint, but spearmint blends better with the lemon balm) and since moving to this house, rose petals, which add a nice delicate flavor. Sometimes chammomile or red clover or thyme or other stuff, to taste. It's best when I make it as "green tea" which is also the term for tea made with fresh-picked herbs instead of dried ones.

Lilacs are very nice. Did you know the flowers are edible? I got interested in edible flowers a while back, which led to me figuring out why I don't like beer! But so far, I haven't had the heart to pick the flowers to do something like make pancakes with them, it's so nice to HAVE them outside, finally, at the end of winter.
10th-May-2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
I did not know lilacs are edible. I know about violets, though (another candidate for our "lawn" -- at least as a border) and love to accent a salad with them.

The reason I want a cutting garden is specifically so I don't feel so badly about taking the flowers for the house. I dream of having season-appropriate displays in my home.

Until I have it, though, I've finally reached a stage where I just take them. The spring flowers only last so long, in any case. They may as well be where I can see, appreciate and enjoy them.
10th-May-2008 07:22 pm (UTC) - OMG - Deer
Talk about dilemmas. On the one hand, Husband and I really like watching the deer. (See the "show" during our anniversary dinner.) On the other hand, the deer really like eating my plants.

I've got a few ideas. There are some plants deer just don't like, and I figure I'll use as many of those as I can on the woods-side of each border. The heirloom tomatoes will grow in pots on the balcony above the courtyard (they are on our deck at the current house) where the deer literally cannot get to them.

For the courtyard, I plan a decorative iron fence with appropriate gate to enclose the outer side of the courtyard. That will keep the deer from going after my lilies. For one thing, at the current house, the deer evidently have a limit as to how close they'll come to the house; I moved my lilies just outside the front door, and the deer have left them alone. The guys at the new house may be bolder, since we built directly on their feeding ground, but I hope the fence will deter them.

The rest? Well, I'll just hope I have enough color that my eye is pleased, and consider the flowers the deer do get as sacrificed to feed our deer-watching habit.

The moles, mice and cut worms, however, will not be deterred by the fence, so I still have some thinking to do there.
10th-May-2008 12:20 am (UTC) - another question
Carol, This is Eva. No time to check in. Do you have to worry about deer or other garden pests of the mammal variety?

I love the idea about using leaves for mulch. We live in evergreen country and therefore have no access to leaves.

I wonder about deer. If you have them wandering about in any number you will quickly learn that it is pretty hopeless to do any planting without knowing what they will not touch - and that is all different for different deer - go figure.

When you think raised beds you may want to consider a berm - irregularly shaped, perhaps a couple of levels. If you have access to stones you can use them for an edge and/or natural wood rather than building rectangular boxes. Nature abhors a straight line in most cases.

We have had a Blues festival and i have spent days at a high powered dishwasher. Time for a party to finish up.
10th-May-2008 03:52 am (UTC) - Deer aka BIG RATS
We have never been able to outwit deer. Nothing deters them...they will even eat things that make them sick. You can call your extension service for help with planting and they may be able to tell you some things that deer do not like.

After 25 households in our neighborhood were affected by Lyme disease, almost everyone has stopped gardening. It is just too dangerous. This disease is insidious and so difficult to get rid of. And it is very painful and debilitating.

11th-May-2008 10:51 pm (UTC) - Re: Deer aka BIG RATS
Lyme disease scares me.

It's not at all prevalent around me, although there have been a few isolated cases. But I don't know how long that will last. The West Nile moved to us much more quickly than entomologists predicted.

That's why I discarded clover as my "lawn." It grows as high or higher than grass, and I need something that will be as short as mowed grass would be -- just without the mowing.

I do hope yours was not one of the 25 households. Yeah, either way someone got hit, but I sorta know you.
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