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Square Foot Gardening: All the Rage, but Messy

After doing a significant amount of research about Square Foot Gardening and my husband putting in a 4’x8′ vegetable bed, I was excited about watching my plants grow nice and neat like the pictures in magazines.   This, however, has not been the case with my own beds.  In fact, they look like a mess and are drowning our the poor hot peppers.  My research designated larger tomato plants as 1 per square foot but medium-sized pepper plants as up to 4 per square foot, but left grey area for plants like cucumbers, zucchini, or beans–leaving me guessing at the placement.

Well, I can look at this as a learning experience: next year, more room for some plants and reorganization for others.  Oh, and J— needs to double the size of the garden!

Window Boxes Find a Home on the Roof

In an effort to beautify my front yard, I’ve been wanting to add some window boxes to the second story; unfortunately, the secondary story windows of my house walk right onto the roof of the porch, meaning there’s no room for traditional window boxes.  In scanning the local big box stores for inspiration, I came up with a mid-weight alternative to “pretty-up” the house.

I purchased heavy-construction plastic containers and filled them will a combination of Styrofoam and top soil to keep the weight down.  Had I used only top and/or garden soil, I would be looking at 80+ pounds per container, which would be heavy on a tar-paper roof.  First, I broke a large piece of foam into random sections of about 3″x5″ for the lower 2/3 of the containers.

Then, I filled the top 1/3 with top soil, compressing it with my hands as much as I could, and as you can see.  This means that each planter (even filled with plants) is just under 30 pounds, light enough that I’m not worried about them on the roof and heavy enough that strong winds will not carry them away.

I filled the boxes with petunias and set them on the roof centered on the two windows–not an easy feat when Orange Cat was looking at the screen-less windows doing his best to head out on the roof.  The second-story petunias are a bit too small at this point to be seen from the sidewalk, but I now get to wake up with happy pink and purple petunias right out my window.

I can’t take credit for the the Styrofoam idea as I know I saw it on Martha Stewart at one point.  I believe she used packing peanuts, but I didn’t have any and a large block of foam was much cheaper.  I may have to add a bit more soil as it compresses with rain, but that’s easy enough.

In the end, J— was just happy that I started and completed this project while he was as work, so he didn’t get stuck cleaning up.

Oak Tree Replacement

Following the tragic end to our 150+ year old oak tree, J— and I have looked for alternatives that would at least attempt to replace our hallowed tree.  The front yard looks simply bereft without the shadow branches that once were the identity of our home.  We know that even living in our home for 30+ years will not yield a tree worthy of the previous’ former glory, so our options became: decorative object (a la fountain), rosebud tree (they are so lovely), or new oak/maple.

Decorative object: Ultimately rejected because it would be far too small and I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of Grecian goddess-adorned yards.

Rosebud tree: Lovely coloring in the Spring, but will never grow large enough to balance the left-side of the yard and doesn’t fit with the character of the native oaks/maples/et al of our neighborhood.

New oak/maple: We’ve decided to take one of the many tree upstarts in our yard (I’m constantly pulling out these prolific seeders) and make that our focal point.  The original oak was an upstart himself and led a long, happy life until the end.  No, this will never be the 6 foot+ diameter tree of its predecessor in our lifetimes, but it will stand as an homage to the circle of life.

Garden View: Phase 3 And So the Planting Begins

Now for the fun part: plants!

I must confess that I am eaten with jealousy over my neighbor-down-the-street’s vinca.  Until I saw B—‘s, I assumed all vinca was the very same color: deep green with small purple flowers.  B—‘s, however, is a mixture of deep purple, violet, and pink.  So, I not-so-casually asked her the secret to her treasure at a party last week and was surprised by the answer: clippings from other historic district gardens.  She herself had scoped out neighbors’ gardens’ vinca and not-so-casually asked for clippings along the way.  B— then planted them amongst one another on the garden walk, and viola! the fanciest garden walkway in town.

As for my walkway, I decided on vinca throughout with 2-3 foot perennials every 4 feet.  I want plants that bloom for most of the season and must have a “pop” of color.  I just hope Lowe’s starts their 3 perennials for $10 sale around Memorial Day (like they did the past two years), so I can get some bargains.

Garden View: Phase 2 Degrassification

Degrassification: noun, dih-gras-uh-fi-key-shuhn; the technical term for the removal of grass in an area for garden planting that often induces its removers to engage in bouts of swearing, sweating, and general displeasure; syn. distress, unhappiness

Phase 2

After a winter of praying for snow to cover the tragic mound of wood chips and Mother Nature barely obliging, we can attempt to restore our yard.  J— and I headed to the Elgin Historical Museum which is *literally* down the block to find old pictures of our home; if we were truly lucky, we would have found an early snapshot of Margaret and Oliver Fabrique, the original owners of our home, frolicking in the front yard with their young children or perhaps Oliver scowling while Margaret tipped back one too many while playing whist with her lady friends.  Well, we were not “truly lucky” and instead found a 1960s photo with some low bushes in front–hardly the inspiration I was looking for.  In fact, the 1960s museum photo, the one found in a mid-1990s Housewalk brochure, and the five-year-old Google Earth photo all depict our home as having straight-forward, non-exciting bushes, a giant oak, and nothing else.

This simply will not do!

I then spent days pouring over historic homes on Pinterest and Google looking for that spark of creativity.  Alas, every photo had Foursquare Prairie Style home look-a-likes with overly flowery, cottage style, perfect for a Queen Anne gardens or straight-forward, non-exciting bushes–no in-between.  I do love the cottage look (and secretly long for a worker’s cottage), but it is not keeping with the character of my home.  And, of course, J— wouldn’t exactly be thrilled with a garden taking over all of the front yard, as men have pride in their lawn and feel the need to show off to passersby; I could not deprive him of such and earthly need.

I’ll get to the lawn another day…

With a general plan of attack, off we went, tearing into the grass: scoop after scoop, shovel after shovel, lawn bag after lawn bag for five hours, until ahhh… I’ve been degrassed.

Garden View: Phase 1 Tree Extraction

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Until last December, we had a glorious 150-180 year old oak tree (or so the arborist said) gracing out front yard–the focal point of the home. Sadly, it came down a limb at a time over the course of the past three years, when the arborist called it quits: rot, ants, end-of-life-span–all of the above and more.

That day in December dawned dreary and cold; when the house was built in 1904, this oak tree was already mature but it’s lifespan was at an end last winter.

In the photo, one can see the remnants of the once mighty oak.  The dismemberment (wood splitting) took several burly men and a week–now reduced to 4 full cords of fireplace wood.

Thus began our garden view construction…