Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sophie's Secret Garden

Sophie and Nate see the Secret Garden for the first time

Not knowing what I am doing never stops me, it just slows me down a bit. When my daughter told me my granddaughter was reading The Secret Garden I decided she needed to have a Secret Garden.

The sign that had to be moved

A real walled garden of grand proportions! Except that there is no room here for a grand garden and no walled space. I did, however, have a side yard, done as a very low water needs area some years ago. Nothing very special there but it had the house on one side, a short wrought iron fence on the other and a six foot tall section of fence at the back end. Sounded as if, with the addition of a gate, it could be Secret Garden-ish.

The first thing I did was install gate posts. Now some would say it would be smart to have the gate in hand and be able to see how things would work but I decided to just start and hope for the best. I dug holes and put the posts in concrete. Did you know there are level apps on smart phones? When I couldn't find my level I searched and there they were. Worked great too! 

Droid level...there when you need it

I couldn't have found a better gate!
I went off to Home Depot, looking for wood to make a gate. Someone took pity on me and my naivete because right on the end of the lumber aisle sat the perfect gate. Meant to be used as a short fence piece to hide an air conditioner or garbage cans, at four feet it was exactly the height I had hope to make. It also had trim that coordinated with the nearby arbor I installed to replace the one the wind took out a while ago. A few coats of paint and it was ready to go. Hinges were added and a latch was installed that can be reached easily by a five-year-old. The sign up there at the top was painted and hung on the gate. My old garden bench, replaced by a new birthday gift bench, was relocated here. A circle of river pebbles was surrounded by 3" grapevine ribbon, staked by landscape cloth staples, to make a little fence.

Sophie plants the flowers she found at the farmers market

Sophie arrived for a visit sooner than I had expected when I started this project so things were not quite done. A fairy cottage must be made; it will be much smaller that the first Fairy House.  The liriope that has gotten out of hand must be reined in. More hardy plants that appeal to five year olds must be added. But there is no hurry. We planted a few things on the last visit. More will be added in due time.

The one thing Sophie made me change right away was to take the sign off the gate and hang it in the garden. As she so astutely put it, it wouldn't be a Secret Garden if it had a sign on the gate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Make Your Own Garden Pillars

The back vegetable garden with entrance at each pillar
  I love being creative in the garden and thinking up things to's a kind of play that I really enjoy. But sometimes I wonder how I get myself into the middle of some projects, especially ones that require a lot of problem solving. This project started last year when I wrote about the garden art of a friend who is a ceramic artist. In it I mentioned that I had no idea how ceramics are done and so Donna, the artist, offered to teach me how to make some simple pieces. I was in the midst of making the Fairy House and thought a ceramic door would set it off well. I did end up with a great door but Donna encouraged me to make more than the one thing so I decided to make some flat ceramic vegetables to use as garden art.

Cutting out the clay
I mentioned to Donna that I planned to glue them to something, perhaps some sort of wood post. The good part about us having that conversation is that it stopped me from making a big mistake; Donna explained that the wood would expand and contract with heat and rain and the pieces might fall off. The bad part was that I spent the next few months thinking up and rejecting different ways to display my ceramic vegetables.

In the end I came up with an idea that fit all my requirements and was something I felt I could actually make happen. I now have two pillars, made of inexpensive 8x8x8 concrete block, coated in mortar and decorated with purchased river rock. Pillar tops were made of concrete in a plastic bowl I found at the thrift store. It had just the right dimensions and decorative shape and best of all only cost $1.00!

Cement block and mortar

 Installation was easy enough, living as I do where there is no need to worry about the ground freezing and thawing which could cause the pillars to topple. I simply dug a hole a foot deep, filled it part way with pea gravel, and set the first block on top. I followed with the other blocks, using mortar in between each one. I then pounded a piece of half inch rebar into the center of the block, several feet deeper than the gravel bed, for security sake.

I used a skim coat of thin-set mortar on the outside, finding type S mortar hard to work with for surfacing. However I tried again, on a new project I am working on, and had more success. I think if mixed correctly it works fine for a skim coat.

Carrot pillar

After letting that coat dry I started the top layer, working on one side at a time, putting on another coat of thin-set and adding river rock designs. I mortared on the ceramic vegetables at the top of the 2 front sides of each pillar. Since I had 5 vegetables I decided to make a third, shorter, pillar in a different bed. For this I used 6x8x8 inch block that I had on hand. 

Unhappy with the color of the pillar tops, yet not wanting to obscure the decorative design on the rim, I hit on the idea of mixing some concrete colorant in water and painting it on.  It worked like a charm and I am much happier with the look.

The pillars serve several purposes. They are decorative and show off the ceramic vegetables even better than I had hoped. The flat tops (a requirement when I was searching high and low for a form for them) provide a surface for a colander when gathering veggies or for hand tools when gardening. It has also been a landing spot for my coffee mug when an early morning walk turned into a bit of impromptu gardening. And they work perfectly for the thing that got me thinking about making a pillar in the first place: as a hand hold when stepping out of the garden which is a step up from the rest of the yard. Knee injuries have made the availability of something to hold when stepping down a reassuring thing.

Any decorative items could be used for a pillar and they can be made as personal as you like. Be sure to read about safety measures to take when working with concrete and mortar. Play around and see what you can create!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Garden Blogger Bloom Day June 2012

  Here is a quick look at what is blooming today here in Davis...


Ornamental Oregano Kent Beauty, just beginning to show color.

Plumbago auriculata growing up through in the banksia arbor.

Shasta daisies bloom in various spots around the garden.

Agapanthus adds cool blue tones for hot June weather.

Also blooming today: various daylilies, solanum jasminoides, allysum, wax begonias, pelargoniums, cranesbill, lavenders, salvias, hollyhocks, tomatoes, peppers, and borage.

Check out what is blooming elsewhere by visiting Carol, our fearless leader, at May Dreams Gardens.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Many Uses of Garden Containers

Barrier row in front of pressure treated base board

Ivy on tuteur in terra cott
Not long ago some friends asked how many containers...pots, planter boxes, hanging baskets... I have in my garden. I have a lot! It took a couple of tries but I finally came up with a tally...156. That number fluctuates a bit. And doesn't include the empty pots waiting to be used or the pots that hold spring bulbs that have died back and been moved to a summer resting spot. It also doesn't include the fountain planted with succulents; I really didn't know how to count that. Right now I have peppers and eggplant in a number of pots that will sit empty next winter. Many other containers are more or less permanently planted.

I am a big fan of pots in the garden. But there is a reason for that love...containers are useful in so very many ways that they are something pretty much any gardener should have.

I do like the look of containers, from simple terra cotta like most of mine, to glazed ceramic, wooden, or repurposed objects.

So esthetics is one reason to add containers. In my central California climate I don't get snow cover to pretty things up in the winter. Many of my perennials die back or look somewhat scraggly around the beginning of the new year so a pretty pot placed in the open space can draw the eye and prevent the garden from being too embarrassing. Containers are also the perfect spot for a plant with a reputation for being a bully...many ivies or mints for example.

Other end of row of fence pots
Fences can serve as a support for smaller pots with the caveat that you choose plants that can survive in a container that might dry out quickly. Here that means succulents. I got tired of the blank fence outside my family room window so, inspired by the abundance of hanging pots and garden art I saw in Buffalo, I  began hanging pots and other found objects here a few years ago.

I use a long line of pots against the fence in my side yard. It is paved in concrete, installed by owners over 30 years ago, and so nothing can grow there to soften the look. But the real reason I have that line of containers is that when we had the fence replaced 2 years ago the installer used a 2x12 horizontal board at the bottom made of pressure treated lumber. I did not want anyone to be able to come into contact with that so the pots make a nice barrier.

I have also used containers as a barrier to posts that might otherwise be run into by careless bike riders or basketball players.

I grow eggplant and peppers in a collection of larger pots. In my ongoing fight against root knot nematodes they allow me to have a nice harvest from my small garden while leaving space for planting in ground to plants less affected by them.

I know gardeners in harsher climates have more constraints, needing pots that can stand up to extended freezing or even hotter temperatures than I have in the summer. But I have found that containers add a sense of richness to my garden and can highlight particular plants that would otherwise be lost.  So I will continue to use them for many purposes...although I don't think I will ever need to buy any more!
Eggplant with a side of basil