Project Site: North-East Garden Bed

The North-East Garden Bed flanks the front right side of the house, March 2021.

This garden bed is probably what people would refer to as a “COVID-19 Quarantine” project. Though to me, it isn’t… Originally I had intended to do SOMETHING the year before, but right before it was consistently warm enough to start in on garden tasks, I had started throwing up and found out I was pregnant. (First trimester was not kind.) Oh, and then I was also planning a fall wedding (my husband and I had gotten engaged the previous autumn). So… the big Gardening Project I had intended to start was delayed from 2019 until 2020.

When we bought the house in late 2017, there weren’t really any garden beds. There were these thin strips of somewhat (uncharacteristically) sandy dry soil abutting the concrete block of the house beneath the siding on either side of the entry. The previous owners had grown some plants here, but all that remained was a small pink Astilbe and a Coral Bell variety tucked into the corner up against the entry steps and concrete block. The rest of the strip was empty. (The similar bed on the other side of the house had a plethora of left over Gladiola bulbs.) I think it was 2018 when I got some Hosta plants from a friend, and planted them between the downspout and the chimney.

Sun wise, most of the north-east bed gets initial shade in the morning from the pine trees planted in the front of the yard. By later morning it starts getting some sunshine until the big ball in the sky crosses over the house, then it starts getting the shade thrown from the house. Interestingly, the north-most part (the rounded end that juts out from the house) gets more sun throughout the day as it’s not obstructed by the shade of the pines, and doesn’t get the shade of the house until late in the day.

May of 2020 is when I broke ground on creating this garden bed (ha! Not really – this is a no-dig bed!) I went no-dig because I had more reasons against buying or renting a rototiller (big or small), and the bed size I wanted was too much to dig up by shovel. I knew the soil would need a lot of amendments – we have pockets of clay deposits all over, so it made more sense to build up.

So for two weeks, I looked like the crazy person on our road (which I’m totally fine with) laying out cardboard and watering it every day to keep it down before garden centers re-opened (#BecauseCOVID) and I could start getting bags of garden soil on top of it (later I switched out to getting mushroom peat – cheaper, darker, and just as much nutrients).

Laying down overlapping cardboard. There is a rose pot there, but it turned out to be dead as a doornail by the time I could get it in the ground. I tried.
Watering the cardboard to weigh it down and start with the breaking down process since it wasn’t going to be sitting under a season of snow. You can see the original spot of the Astilbe (top left) and Coral Bells (top right) that I later relocated.
I did multiple trips over the course of a couple weeks to get bags of soil or peat when I could around my schedule and the new baby. I laid it down on either side to help weigh the cardboard down. The middle wouldn’t blow out of place, but the ends would. This is before I decided to extend the bed beyond the edge of the house.

As dirt started to be laid down, I knew I would have to figure out how to frame it in and keep it in place so it wouldn’t wash out onto the walkway or surrounding grass. When I began trying to visualize the edging, then I started thinking more about how it would look, and where your eye would follow… and it had to “make sense” and “flow. That’s when I made the decision to extend the bed beyond the edge of the house and curve it around to the chimney.

This is where the adventure of wattle-weaving begins.

The wattle weaving was a good solution in a couple ways. #1: I’m not a fan of making it rain money. My husband and I had a new baby, and there were larger projects with the house that we need to save for. #2: Our property is backed by woods, and there is a lot of free, available wood I don’t have to cut down. #3: The lower north yard (the berry patch) gets overrun with saplings and other overgrowth that make it a hard competition for the berry plants to get enough sun, so cutting down and clearing out the saplings (which are pliable to weave) would give the berries a better shot at sunlight. #4: I’m intrigued by ancient or medieval methods for gardening. I mean, they were doing all these things before we had manufactured plastic, metal, or over-processed (over-priced) wood… so I was going to take a page out of that book.

The stakes were cut to about 16″ in length as I wanted an edging that would be just shy of 1′ tall. Younger dried limbs or saplings worked best for being hammered in; but too dry and too thick, they split or broke apart.
The spot where the concrete walkway changes to brick (and also where the branch fence along the driveway starts) made sense visually to extend the bed out to this point. Generally I don’t like hard/square corners, so I rounded it out.
I wound up redoing this because I figured out a continuous weave was better fit for this project than treating it like hurdle sections. This also was too loose a weave so I went back in and added additional stakes. BUT it’s still a good starting example photo.
Filling in the added space with cardboard and dirt.
Redoing the weave as a continuous faired much better and improved the look of the wattle. You can see I doubled-up on the stakes compared to above.

What I *WILL* say was a COVID-19 project was the whole cutting down of saplings, hauling them up the hill from the lower north garden up to the upper north yard, and stripping them all of leaves and limbs to leave the main stem for weaving. That definitely took advantage of the energy from the work stress-rage I was feeling at the time. Great outlet. Constructive. Obviously.

This is already turning into a longer entry, so I’ll skip ahead to the fun part of figuring out what plants to fill the bed with. By the end of the season, I had relocated my indoor herb seedlings to the outdoor sunny curve, and they thrived. I relocated the Hostas, the Astilbe, and the Coral Bells. Because ultimately the goal is to establish a(n eventually) more low-maintenance garden, my primary focus for plants I purchase or start are perennial (or biennial). I started from seed a grouping of Hollyhocks and Foxgloves in front of the Hostas. Starting the seeds out of doors, I used clear 2-liter soda bottles with the labels removed and bottoms cut out as little cloches or green houses (worked super well). Somehow I managed to thin out and spread out the Foxglove seedlings successfully when it came time (the how-I-did could be another post). I had beautiful clusters of rosettes of both Hollyhocks and Foxgloves by end of season. Hopefully they all spike up and go into bloom this year.

Also I discovered the joy of adding a 4-port splitter to the outdoor faucet and soaker hoses. Not only are they fantastic low-cost investments, they are MAGICAL AND SATISFYING.

Herbs, May 2020.
Herbs, late June 2020. Going counterclockwise from bottom, Catnip (later relocated to another bed), Dill, Basil, Cilantro.
Herbs early September 2020. A purchased Munstead English Lavender took the place of the relocated Catnip (installed to the left of the Dill).
May 2020. This slope and dirt wash-out issue gave me the idea to install a gravel path up against the house at the back of the bed. Was also a practical idea for being able to access the utility meter and windows for resealing/washing etc. without disrupting any plants.
Late June 2020. The Hostas were relocated to frame the gravel path that would be put in; their lower height will be a nice intermediary so you don’t feel crowded by the eventual mature height of the Hollyhocks and Foxgloves. I was terrified I’d killed the Hostas – they were all divided when relocated, and looked a little worse for wear when re-installed, but they wound up thriving beautifully.
Finished gravel path, mid-October 2020. Eventually the cardboard was removed, the dirt raked and smoothed out, and covered with landscaping fabric as a weed barrier. Typically there’s a wood frame and a sand or concrete base, but I just laid pea gravel over the fabric in anticipation we might have to temporarily take this out in case there’s a basement related project such as a waterproofing project or adding an egress. I re-used the dug-up rubber edging left behind by the previous owners to frame it in.
A branch trellis for the perennial Sweetpeas was put in. They didn’t flower in 2020, I started the seeds too late.
Late September 2020. Plants relocated, new ones purchased and installed. I did a row of annuals that came to nothing except two or three Zinnias and this Sunflower variety. I also installed soaker hoses which was hugely satisfying.
Another view of late September 2020. The Sweetpea I *DID* get to enjoy is the kitty laying in the garden just above the pink Autumn’s Joy Sepum.

Well here I am going to stop. There’s more I did in fall 2020 (planting bulbs and beginning a battle with voles – another post idea), but the sunshine is out, it’s now past 11am (no thanks to Daylight Savings) and I have a Wee Beastie that is impatient for her mummy to come out of the bedroom. (Sunday mornings are usually spent with daddy and is mummy’s one morning of the week to ‘sleep in’ or have some selfish self-time).

But this was fun recapping and getting to review the massive amount of work and progress done for this site in 2020. My attention will likely rotate to another site in the yard for 2021, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this bed fills out with last year’s plants growing out a little more and seeing how the fall bulbs turn out as we go through the seasons.

Purchased in 2020 for this bed: Autumn’s Joy Sepum, Munstead English Lavender, Pristar White Bellflower, CranRazz Butterfly Bush, Harlequin Magenta Beardtongue, Veronica “Venice Blue” Speedwell, “Pink Cotton Candy” Lambs Ear, “Days Blue” Fall Asters, and Geranium sanguineum Striatum (Bloody Cranesbill).

Bulbs planted Fall 2020 for this bed: Fair Maids of France, French Perfume Hyacinth Mix, Angelique Tulips, Big Impact Allium Mix.

Planted from seed in 2020: Basil, Catnip, Dill, Cilantro, Foxglove (Gloxiniiflora blend), Hollyhocks (Carnival blend), All Season Color Mix (annuals), Zinnia (Giant Double Violet Queen)

Had already on property and relocated to bed in 2020: Astilbe, Coral Bells (best guess “Sweet Tart”), Sarah Bernhardt Peonies (started as bareroot in 2019, definitely dead as of March 2021).

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