My Ugly Awesome Garden

This garden is not going to make it to Pinterest. But I am so so excited about it. Two years ago I eased into gardening with oregano, parsley, and basil. Last year I added 2 kinds of mint and chives to the mix. This year I went big league with some vegetables

Half the garden is potted and half is planted.

small space backyard garden

 

In the ground:

  • Sage (year 1)
  • Spearmint (year 2)
  • Oregano (year 3)
  • Chocolate mint (year 2)
  • Chives (year 2, in the ground year 1)
  • Tomatoes (year 1)
  • Cucumbers (year 1)
  • Blueberry bush (year 1, won’t yield until next year because it’s a transplant from a friend)

In pots:

  • Red bell peppers
  • Hot peppers
  • Basil (not pictured- I keep it on the front steps because it’s so finicky)

diy garden marker

The potted plants are layered as so: rocks (for drainage), then leaves/lawn pick up (compost-y), then sand, then soil. They’re all staked and tied up with embroidery floss because that’s what I had on hand.

Marigolds will help keep bugs away, and the will chives too (I don’t even eat chives but they’re awesome at repelling bugs, I keep some in a pot near the basil as well). I also added broken up egg shells on top of the soil so the crawling bugs will stay away, they don’t like the feel of it.

Everything got a good meal of Miracle Gro, which I’ve never used before but I heard such good things I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed to work on the herbs almost instantly, and the peppers have grown a lot in just one week too. My cucumbers haven’t really started to climb yet, but I’m hopeful- they look healthy.

The cement pavers were just pulled up from another area of the yard and I use them as stepping stones for the garden and to keep the potted plants on, and the fences are from Home Depot and KMart (so fancy..lol).

backyard garden for beginners

 

 

I’m working up some plans to add a compost near the garden and hopefully that’ll go in next week. I know we’ve got possums and skunks because I’ve seen them, and I assume we have raccoons too so I just want to work up an inexpensive solution that’ll be easy to maintain and won’t attract critters. I’m thinking one barrel (that we already have on hand) full of leaves and another next to it for the actual compost, that way as soon as we add food I can scoop some leaves on top and keep odors and appeal down. What do you think? Any compost tips?

3 ways to dry out garden herbs

It’s still early summer, but my garden is already doing so much better this year then it was last! Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Basil & lemon basil potted on the front steps (I find it’s too fickle to keep in the ground)
  • Oregano that gave me nothing last year has been relocated and now needs trimming each week
  • Parsley somehow came back from last year and I added a bunch more
  • Peppermint for the first time!
  • Chocolate mint for the first time- hanging on by a thread….come on buddy! Live!
  • Chives currently potted on the front steps until I figure out where to put them (apparently they spread like crazy)

Today I thought I’d share 3 ways I dry out my herbs as I trim them.

1. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet

IMG_2562This is what I’ve been doing with my basil because I add it to water everyday- it’s my least favorite way to dry out plants because I feel like it takes the longest, but since I use 3-4 leaves daily in water it’s what’s easiest and they don’t need to be completely dried for how I’m using them.

2. Hang them in a bundle

hanging bundleBecause my cats have no consideration, I ended up bundling my plants then hanging them from my guest closet’s pole. It worked just fine (in the dark, with the closet door closed) and took a few weeks to completely dry out.

3. Bag and chill them

paper bagThis technique was the one I was most skeptical about, and it absolutely works the best. It makes the leaves super crunchy and retains flavor really well. Just pop them in a paper bag in the back of the fridge and get them a few weeks later.

What technique do you use? Whatcha growing this year?

 

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Linked up to Inspire Me Linky Party via Liz Marie Blog

High 5 for Friday: Garden Edition

I may have gotten a little overly excited about gardening this year… normally my hoard just includes glass jars and bags but it has now grown to include plants of all kind. So with that in mind, here’s my high 5 garden edition:

1. BASIL! I got regular basil from my local greenhouse and lemon basil from a coworker both potted in perhaps the cutest pots I’ve ever seen (thanks Marshall’s!) I’ve already pruned about 4 inches off the top of each, so I expect them to get pretty big and bushy once I move them outside.

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tip: When using pots this large you do not need to fill them completely with soil, the roots just aren’t going to get that long. I put a layer of rocks at the bottom, then filled each pot about halfway with dried crushed leaves. If you don’t have leaves, shredded newspaper or junk mail will work too.

another tip: I bring a bottle of water with me to work everyday and I’ve started adding 1/3 sliced cucumber, 3 basil leaves, and a squirt of lemon to it. mmmmmm. It sounds weird, but it is goooood.

2. CHIVES! These came from my coworker as well and man do they taste just like eating an onion. I was going to add them to my herb garden but honestly we’re not going to eat them that much and they get really pretty flowers if you let them grow so now I need to find a  sunny spot to use them as a decorative plant.

Where should I put you?

Where should I put you?

3. MORNING GLORIES! Also from my coworker, I’m really hoping I don’t accidentally kill these guys. They’re crawlers and stretchers so I’d like to put them at the base of my cement wall so they can grow to hang over it.

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4. SUCCULENTS! It’s hard for me to have plants inside because one particular cat (ahem luigi ahem) likes to eat them. So I’ve got them placed on my swing shelves just out of reach. Each one has a layer of rock at the bottom, then cactus soil to help with drainage. They’ve all been doing fine for several months now.

why yes, I do know how terrible this collage is.

why yes, I do know how terrible this collage is.

5. CACTI! One you see pictured above, and this other one lives in the living room to add just the tiniest bit more color in there… try and chew this Luigi! muah ha ha!

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Oh yeah, and note that this is just a “high 5″ post. I’ve also got daisy seedlings, parsley, peppermint, and chocolate mint all hoarded in the basement waiting until this week’s thunder storms are over.

What are you growing this year?

Guest Post: 5 Eco Friendly Tips for Garden Lovers

Today’s guest post is from DIY enthusiast Dan Whiteside. Dan blogs about DIY and gardening topics at DIY Newbie, where he discusses a variety of issues including plumber repairs and building projects. He is currently getting stuck into his latest renovation project and loving every minute of it.

Take it away Dan….

PicMonkey CollageThe weather is notoriously temperamental in the UK, but as temperatures improve (albeit slowly), now could be the perfect time for a bit of gardening. If you’re thinking about sprucing up your borders, carrying out essential drain repairs, or generally pottering about, however, it’s important to protect the environment as you beaver away.

With this mind, here are five eco-friendly tips for garden lovers:

1. Reduce your water consumption

With the amount it rains in the UK, you’d think a drought would be unlikely – but that’s not the case. In fact, a water crisis was declared at the start of 2012 (one of the wettest years in history), so it’s essential not to take the elements for granted. Instead, use cans and buckets for watering instead of hosepipes as this will keep your water consumption down and make sure sprinklers only come on at set times of the day – and aren’t causing unnecessary floods. What’s more, you could even collect precipitation in storage units and throw this over your plants if things get a bit dry.

2. Avoid chemical-ridden weed killers

If there’s one thing that can destroy the look of gardens, pathways and laws – it’s weeds! They’re most gardeners’ nemesis, but it’s possible to get rid of them in an eco-friendly way. Firstly, if you’re using a shovel, try to remove each unwanted plant by the root as this will give them less chance of growing back (although some are fairly stubborn). Secondly, if you want to use some kind of spray, make sure it’s not ridden with horrible chemicals, as these are bad for the environment. Everything from boiling water to rock salt can do the trick, so leave those dangerous products on the shelves and go for a more natural alternative.

3. Use natural insect repellents

As with weed killers, insect repellent tends to contain a host of harmful ingredients. These can disrupt the natural life cycle of many creatures (aside from the ones you want to get rid of), so it’s well worth using something a little more natural. The bitter tree leaf neem is thought to deter an array of beasties from entering your garden, whereas salt spray is great for treating plants infested with spider mites. Many spices are also believed to be eco-friendly pesticides and deterrents, so you could always try growing rosemary, thyme, clove or mint to see if they do the trick.

4. Make your own compost

Why spend a fortune on bags of shop-bought compost when you can make your own? Lugging soil back from the shops takes time, energy and, of course, fuel in most cases, so keep hold of your old kitchen scraps and plant clippings and whip up some cost-effective fertilizer. While anything that was once living will compost, it’s worth mixing a range of things together to make the soil as rich as possible. A combination of green ingredients like nettles and grass cuttings combined with brown ingredients like cardboard and sawdust should work wonders, so give it a go!

5. Use old containers as plant pots

As you probably know, many young plants or seedlings need to be kept indoors (or in a greenhouse) until they can survive outside. To do this, you’ll need a variety of small containers or pots, so it’s worth recycling food tins, paper eggs cartons or anything else that will host a growing plant. Simply make sure anything you use is sparkling clean, before filling it with soil and poking some holes in the bottom so the water can drain. It really is that easy and you’ll save a fortune on plant pots from home stores or garden centers. Feeling creative? Then you could even decorate the pots or create your own labels to help you remember what you’re cultivating.

Eco-friendly gardening is both fun and satisfying, so do all you can to protect your patch of land – as well as the world around you.

Thanks Dan! Please be sure to hop on over to his blog and say hello!

Walkway Update

When I last showed you the cement path I constructed by my driveway, it looked like this:

img_2428

Welp, the grass did not grow. See that downspout by the fence? It rained for 3 days straight and that downspout created a grass seed water slide. I literally watched my hard work slip away. Womp. Womp. On the bright side, I had constructed that path all wrong so this at least made me go back and fix it.

Matt did a little research and found gutter extenders, dug a moat to hide it in, and now the path is looking like this:

IMG_2518

It’s not very pretty right now, but it’s far more functional. The extenders cost about $30 total for the piece that attaches to the gutter and then 3 more pieces to stretch it out to the driveway. They can be buried, but you don’t want to put anything crazy heavy on top of it so I’m thinking I may restructure the garden bed to reach the path… Maybe some hens and chicks on top of the extenders, then wildflowers (as planned) in the rest of the bed. You’ll notice the bleeding heart bush and the filler greens are gone now, they’ve been relocated and seeds will go in this weekend if the weather is nice enough.

It’s supposed to rain all week here so we’re going to check out how it works before we try grass seed again.

And just in case you’re interested, here’s an up close look at how it connects to the gutter:

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Nothing fancy, just pops right over the top and then each extender just locks into the one before it. Have any of you tried this before? How’d it work out?

 

Front Yard Hopes & Dreams

A few weeks ago I shared with you my plan for the backyard, and I thought today I’d show you what’s going on out front. Beware that none of these pictures show a beautifully landscaped lawn. We’re nowhere near that point yet.

front of house

This is the view from across the street so you’ve got a better idea of the hill we’re working with. We’ve got a street level front yard, a house level front yard, and a 2 tiered side yard (then the two tiers of the backyard as well) sitting on .25 acres. This picture makes things look so lush and happy… but once we zoom in for a closer look you’ll see how sadly mistaken that is.

Let’s start with the dirt patch on the lower lefthand corner of that picture:

lower front

For some reason grass won’t grow here, so last weekend I transplanted a bunch of hens and chicks throughout the area in hopes that they’ll slowly spread and cover, I think they actually spread pretty quickly so this may not take more then a few years.

I moved the hostas to that spot last year, so I’m expecting them to come in big and full this year and then next year hopefully they’ll be ready to be divided. I’d like for those three eventually be six, and to keep them in that area.

Then there’s that gorgeous built in flower bed, which is unfortunately located directly in front of a giant tree so it’s full of thick roots and it’s pretty difficult to grow anything there. The daffodils were there when we moved in so I’d like to add some more, and I recently transplanted some daisies to the upper right corner of it in hopes that they’ll take and spread (so far so good!).

And now let’s head up the hill to flower bed number 1, which we added last year:

rose bed

The rose bush is already bigger this year then it was last, so I’m hoping it continues to grow, grow grow. The impatients are what returned from last year and we need to add at least a dozen more. The petunias I picked up from a garden sale where I work (a college with a horticulture club), so I just put them in there to see how they’d do. All that mulch is what’s left from last summer so we’ll add more once we weed a bit.

And then also on the front lawn is flower bed #2, which is located at our front door  (which is not the door we use):

front bed

Jeez louise do I need to paint those steps. But I also purposely grow gladiolas there because they get nice and tall and hide it- I put the bulbs in last weekend.

Both flower bed #1 and #2 need some love- better more defined edging, new mulch, and more flowering plants. I’ve got seedlings in the basement so once they’re big and strong that’s where they’ll go.

And last but not least for today, the flower bed under our sunroom bay window, which is what I will be tackling this week:

bay window bush

Last year I dug up all sorts of weird bushes that used to live here, and planted my herb garden in it’s place. This year, now that the weird bushes were gone, a few new tulips popped up- I think they were choked out before. It got me to thinking that more tulips and lots of wildflowers would be lovely here. So I dug up the parsley and oregano (that came back from last year) and relocated them to a spot in the yard, and over the next few days I’m going to dig up & relocate the spreaders and that last bush then plant seeds, seeds, and more seeds.

Hopefully in a month or so things will be looking a lot cheerier and fuller! Fingers crossed I don’t accidentally kill it all…

Constructing a Cement Path

You’d think that after I built an entire wall out of cement pavers that were already  in my yard that maybe I’d be out of cement pavers. You’d be wrong. My yard is chock full of cement pavers. I have no idea why. So I dug up some more of them and made a little path that leads from my driveway to my backyard fence.

I’ve said it a bunch on here, but just as a reminder we live on a hill. A no joke sized hill… like the basement of my house is level with the roof of the house directly across the street from me. This means our soil is incredibly rocky, uneven, and hard to grow things on. I only dug about 5 inches deep to create the spot for my path, and this is all the rock I extracted in the process:

Please note that the path is only about 2 feet wide and 6 feet long. And I dug in less then half a foot. AND HAD TO REMOVE ALL OF THIS.

Please note that the path is only about 2 feet wide and 6 feet long. And I dug in less then half a foot. AND HAD TO REMOVE ALL OF THIS. Most of those rocks are at least 6-7 inches long.

Eventually I gave up caring whether or not the path was level because the deeper I dug, the more rocks I hit. Also, this path is like 80% cosmetic because we normally enter the yard through the sliding doors in our house anyway.

I used a pitchfork to pry up the pavers that I wanted, then spent some time arranging them until I found a pattern I liked. If I had been smarter, once arranged I would have filled the hole back in with dirt so they’d be nestled comfortably in the ground. Unfortunately, I’m not smarter. And I was exhausted and very busy hating rocks. So I just  threw my grass seed down and called it a day:

IMG_2429

Maybe mother nature will take care of business and the pavers will settle into the ground eventually.  Maybe I’ll end up removing all those pavers next summer and seeding the spots where they are now. Either way, if any grass is going to grow and survive through winter it really needed to get started now. I used Scott’s brand patch filler grass seed and it needs to be watered twice a day for the next two weeks.

IMG_2428

 

We’ve got lots more grass seed to spread, lots of rocks to relocated, and years of work to do outside of the house, but for now every little bit helps!

What outside projects are on your list for the summer?

 

How I built a garden bed wall

In my last post I shared all sorts of plans for my yard. The trouble with working on a yard is that things are rarely instantly gratifying. It’s hard to stay motivated. Especially when you have so many years worth of work ahead of you.

For example, I built a freaking wall this past weekend, and I am immensely proud of myself. Unfortunately that wall is on a pit of dirt, in front of a busted up retaining wall, so my pictures aren’t beautiful and satisfying. I’m hoping that’ll change by the end of summer.

Here’s how things looked in the yard from the start of the weekend to the end of it (part 1!):

This is how things looked when I got started on Saturday morning. Oye.

This is how things looked when I got started on Saturday morning. Oye.

Because we are on a hill our yard is two tiers, and the neighbors behind us are over 12 feet above us. It’s kind of weird. It’s a big ass hill. Also, their house is perpendicular to ours, so that’s the side of their house facing us.

Here’s another part of the yard:

More of how things looked before we got down to business. Dutch does not seem to mind.

Dutch does not seem to mind the mess.

Last summer when we sold the above ground pool we were left with all the sand that was under it and all the curved pavers that surrounded it, and instead of getting rid of them I decided to put them to use. But I’m still not going to show you what that section of the yard looks like. It’s too hideous.

To hide some of dirt pit 2 (because we can’t grow grass where it is) and some of the retaining wall (because it’s horrid looking) I decided to make a gigantic flower bed out of pool remnants. It’s about twelve feet long, 2 feet high, and 1-4 feet wide depending on the section. I used all of the pavers from around the pool and some of the sand to build my majestic “Great Wall of Sandpaper & Glue.”

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Some of the pavers are very dirty because I literally had to dig them up from underground, I’m hoping a solid few rain showers will take care of that. All of them were  moved one by one BY HAND and arranged by ME! The bed has a bit of a curve to it just to make it more appealing to the eye, and is closed off at the ends with cinderblocks from other parts of the yard to make it less accessible to the dog. Yes, there are various types of cinderblocks throughout my yard. I don’t know what the previous owners were doing back there.

I don’t have in-process pictures because I was busy carrying all those blocks across the damn yard. But basically I started with about a dozen and laid them out in the general shape I wanted the wall to flow. Then I filled in the spaces between them to create the first row. The additional top two rows were just laid on top, each paver has a lip on the bottom back of it so they interlock with one another. Hint: Stack them in brick formation (like I did), not directly on top of one another, to make it more visually pleasing.

I decided to fill the bed compost style so I wouldn’t have to spend a million dollars on soil, and to make use of the never-ending leaves and sand  my yard has so graciously provided. So far I’ve got it about 1/3 filled and the layers are as follows:

  • Bottom layer: cardboard! I’ve been hoarding cardboard for months to use as a bottom layer to help prevent weeds
  • Leaves (wet, dry, crunched up, whole… whatever you’ve got!)
  • Sand (from where the pool used to be)
  • Leaves
  • Sand
  • Dirt (10 bags of topsoil at $1.50 each was enough to cover just one layer all the way across)
  • Leaves
  • Sand
  • Leaves

Yes, all that fills JUST ONE THIRD high in the bed. I’m estimating I’ll need about 25 more bags of top soil, a few more layers of dirt and leaves, and then also miracle grow for a deep top layer to ensure my plants thrive.

The sand helps to break down the leaves- step down on the bed in between each layer to flatten an even it out.

The sand helps to break down the leaves- step down on the bed in between each layer to flatten an even it out.

By the end of the day it was looking like this:

Any improvement is better then no improvement at all?

Any improvement is better then no improvement at all?

Oh, and if you’re wondering what my man Matt was doing while I was lugging around cement, here’s a hint:

SO LONG MOLD HUT!

SO LONG MOLD HUT!

Come back Friday for mold hut demolition fun times!

Operation: Halfway Decent Yard

Our yard has many sections of awfulness- it doesn’t look too bad in pictures but in person it is one hot mess. We live on a hill, and because of that our yard is 2 levels and most of it is dirt because it’s too rocky to grow grass. Finally the snow has melted and the weather has warmed up, so we can  start whipping it into shape.

Here’s the break down of all the yard sections we’ve got going on (all in less then a fourth of an acre, mind you):

Tier one, from left to right: turf, cement, more turf, awkward cinderblock nonsense, sandpit (where the pool used to be), debris

Tier two, from left to right: dirt section 1 (too shady for grass, includes a hut full ‘o mold), dirt section 2 (too rocky for grass), grassy-ish zone (needs to be reseeded)

Sounds dreamy, right?  This summer we have a lot going on, and  it takes years for things to grow and fill, so the plan is just to get it looking better, then next year to get it looking good, and eventually to get it looking fantastic.

Here’s some diagrams of what I’m going for:

long shotThis picture was taken last summer right before Matt’s graduation party so things were looking particularly nice. But again, don’t forget that that’s you’re not lush green grass you’re seeing- it’s plastic turf. And what looks like a cute little area where our patio set is?- that’s dirt. The pool was sold and where it used to be is just sand, cinderblocks, and overgrown weed grass.

from backThis is a view from the back of the yard looking in. Notice I have strategically left out a close up of where the pool was…. I like to pretend that part of the yard doesn’t exist. It’s disgusting.

Anyway, as you can see- lots of plans. LOTS OF PLANS.

But I already put one into action… in lieu of creating a raised flower bed I used some of the old pool cinderblocks to create a garden wall. I’m basically a mason now. And the strongest woman on earth. Stay tuned!

A preview of things to come

I haven’t done any big projects in quite a while and around 4:30 yesterday when my dog sidekick and I pulled up the driveway after a 3 mile walk/hike it hit me. I hate the flower box under my side bay window, and I hate the patchy grass in front of it and I just couldn’t look at it any more. So with 3 hours to spare before company came over for the night I went to town… I find that if I at least start a project, having it stare me in the face on the regular will drive me nuts enough to finish it asap.

 

Our bay window originally looked like this:

This is the saddest looking flower bed I have ever seen.

 

I dug up just about all those plants and transplanted them to various spots around the yard, cleared the weeds and nonsense, dug up the rocks (we’re on a hill so we’ve got real rocky soil), and switched my potted herb garden to an in the dirt herb garden.

Still pretty sad looking, but a definite improvement.

 

I decided to keep the filler greens (I don’t know what their real name is) on the left because they’re nice to trim and use in flower arrangements, I added my three herbs which will hopefully now spread and grow, and I left the zinneas because they’re already there and they won’t grow back next year anyway.

Still to do this summer: fix the rock border so it’s not so haphazard and drunk looking

Still to do next summer: add sage and rosemary and then mulch

 

But I couldn’t just stop there, of course! We have a ton of cement pavers in our yard left over from when we got rid of the pool, and I’ve been dying to use them to create a few walkways around our house.  I lugged a bunch of them to the front yard and laid them out then got my handy dandy pitchfork and started to tear it up.

Me woman. Me strong. Me have a hurting back today.

 

The walkway will run from the driveway to the fence, so it’s not super huge but just big enough to make it more welcoming and homey. Throughout the week I plan to dig up (and relocate) the dirt and grass, spray weed killer and spread sand, place the pavers, and fill in the rest of the whole with some pea gravel. I have the sand and gravel leftover from the pool as well, so it’s another one of my favorite kind of projects: f-r-double e.

 

STAY TUNED.