Garden Goals for 2016. (Lessons Learned in 2015)

A Look Back

 2015 was full of lessons, inspiring definite garden goals for 2016. I started the year off tentatively planning and taking photographs of our projects and plants coming into bloom.

In early spring, our family went through some really stressful things, which snowballed into an unfortunate mental and emotional setback for me, which translated into less time outside for a while.

After some good chats with my therapist and an emergency anti-anxiety prescription, I channeled the craziness into physical activity and spent the rest of the year ripping out sod in front of our house with a pick and shovel and planting herbs and shrubs as fast and as often as I could.

front yard mixed border garden

From a three foot deep foundation bed with grass to the sidewalk to this experiment in border making.

All the digging and planting jumpstarted intense conversations with family, friends, and neighbors about expectations (ours and theirs) for the landscaping, favorite plants, what to include where, when, and how. It's amazing how much passion land inspires, even a small yard like our .14 acre.

In summer, my husband installed a patio reusing pavers from our backyard. Then, inspired both by Steven and Bea's galvanized trough and cinder block raised bed garden featured by Erica on Northwest Edible Life, and mini versions for growing herbs spotted outside when visiting friends, we put together our own three-bed vegetable garden next to the patio.

galvanized raised bed garden

Freshly installed raised beds.

With such a late start, we gave up on the dream of growing everything from seed and bought tomato, tomatillo, bell pepper, and cucumber starts along with a range of sweet and hot pepper starts from a local independent garden center. We also picked up corn, carrot, radish, Asian greens mix, and arugula seeds. My old seed box still had some packets from when we worked for a local organic farm so we dropped in a few winter squash and melon seeds to see what would happen.

Everything grew much larger than we expected. As the garden took off, our health and schedules changed. More travel for work on one side and more pain and less energy on the other. We had some great tomatoes and salads but I was not able to keep on top of the harvest as a whole and use all that we planted. 

lush vegetation in raised garden beds

The beds went wild in the summer heat.

We were, however, able to contribute to the care of a family of raccoons that strolled over the street at midnight to fill up on dropped tomatillos. Spiders looped themselves across the narrow paths between the beds and feasted on insects all summer.

The trellises we built attracted more birds to the yard than usual. They rested and flew around checking out cornstalks and sunflowers a few feet away. Groups of birds visited throughout the fall and winter picking up seeds, dried leaves, and crabapples left on the tree out back.

It's been a real joy to 1) see how much more wildlife showed up this year with the simple additions of some raised beds and trellises, and 2) have high raised beds to ease some of the stress on my body.

In Search Of Knowledge

knight rider stonecrop

Knight Rider Stonecrop.

I read a lot this past year because I know absolutely nothing.

After a decade of reading gardening books and blogs less about design than urban farming and growing varieties of veg and fruit, I need to learn much more about how ornamental and edible plants work together, what varieties there are, the different styles of design, and anything else I can possibly pick up.

♠ A little digging online turned up Margaret Roach, of A Way to Garden, who in addition to journaling about her garden and giving pointers, posts short interviews with renowned garden designers.

♠ Through her writing, I found Thomas Rainier at Grounded Design, who led me to View from Federal Twist's James Golden.

♠ Reading those blogs clued me into classic books about (mostly English) gardens and their creators like Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto.

Designing Borders by Nöel Kingsbury introduced me to many more gardeners and list upon list of plants. I was at first frustrated by the author's insistence on using only latin names but I dug in, looked up every variety online, and began to understand why the borders were designed the way they were.  

I started using a few of the plans to put together a plan for borders of our property and soon realized many of the plants were not as common in the States as in the United Kingdom, some were considered invasive or poisonous here, and others were not suited to my site. Of course, this sent me into further research...

A Few Lessons Learned

Lesson 6: Function Matters

Lesson 6: Function Matters

1. Don't assume, do your research before purchasing and planting.

I've found it hard to keep my lavenders alive. Two out of the four I planted this summer are dead. I did some checking around and it seems to be that while the lavender were sited correctly in sunny, sandy soil, I should have planted them in little mounds so the roots never sit in water. It makes sense. My solo surviving lavender is thriving at the top of a slight slope. And now that I've belatedly done my research, I know lavender hates wet roots.

2. Don’t be a succulent snob. Just because everyone loves a plant doesn’t make it a bad idea.

After years of avoiding all members of the overexposed succulent family, I purchased two on a whim, Sedum 'SunSparkler Lime Zinger' Stonecrop and Sedum makinoi 'Salsa Verde'They are the healthiest, fastest growing, most adorable plants I have, and require little attention. I've since added a few Hylotelephium 'Knight Rider' Stonecrops to my collection and I'm sure there will be more.

3. Faded purple is not bad, and yes, you can have too much pink in a small city garden.

My palette has been pinks, white, chartreuse, and purple-black with touches of green and silver, gold. But, I’m realizing that all pink all the time can be jarring, despite lots of green foliage.

Lately, when looking for filler plants, my eye seems to rest more on light blue lavender and sea holly rather than the bright pink lavenders and white-silver sea holly. Even white can be hard on the eyes when there’s too much.

I'm not completely sure what to do here. Experiment with both, I suppose, a block of pink in one area, and in another area, a mix of pink and light purple and blue, to see what works on this land, in this light.

4. Proper edging of beds takes lots and lots of practice.

Having cut out about a dozen small (3x3) to medium (6x21) beds by hand, I’ve only really started to get an idea of how to make them look good with the last one. 

5. Winters are incredibly hard on my pride.

Half of the front yard is partly done, so it sort of looks like I know what I’m doing. The other half has a only a couple plants in it. 

Some are starting over because of scorch or being stepped on. I don't have all the perennials in that I'd like to. The basils I used to distract the eyes and fill in the spaces are dead. Their stems remain interesting but they're not enough make the bed look anywhere near completed.

It seems I'm a whiny, fickle, fair-weather gardener and a show-off at heart. All I can do is accept the humbling nature is meting out. (And make an even better garden with more winter interest this year.) 

6. Review function before form, go outside and take a hard look at what you're working with before you design and plant.

If I had reviewed exactly what the space in front of the house was being used for, I wouldn’t need to shift the beautiful combination of shrubs and trees I put there last winter.

Because I leaped ahead without consultation, I didn't realized the new water hose holder was to be stored there. Now, as we water, the hose is drags along and crushes the plants around it. Back to the drawing board.

7. Incorporating mulch year-round is vital. All sides of the house just bake in the afternoon sun and if the ground upper soil layer is not deep enough, my plants scorch and many don’t recover.

In 2015, I used manure all over (yes, the neighbors love me…) plus hay and fallen leaves in the back yard. In 2016, I’ll keep to that routine and add crushed up coffee and eggshell mulch to bare spots. I’ll do this constantly between plants and all over the beds, avoiding trunks and stems.

Hopefully, it’ll help increase the soil quality and plant resilience instead of feeling I need to dig in compost, etc. That’s too much work and disturbing the existing soil structure.

Gardening Goals for 2016

gherkin on rebar trellis

A little gherkin hanging by a thread on our rebar trellis.

1. Study leaf types and learn how contrasting different foliage shapes, colors, and textures can add oomph to the garden. Inspiration: Consider the Leaf: Foliage in Garden Design by Judy Glattstein

2. Build a grow light system setup for year-round sowing. Inspiration: Gayla Trail's D.I.Y. Lighting System

3. Make the yard more homey with a couple chairs, benches, and art or colorful planters. Inspiration: A Woman's Shed: Spaces for Women to Create, Write, Make, Grow, Think, and Escape by Gill Heriz

Looking Forward

At this point, I am overwhelmed with all the detail but continue to plow through the books, hoping to reach a breakthrough and have everything I read start to coalesce and make sense.

I'd love to someday gaze out over my garden and have this information sort of overlay what I physically see, allowing me to see what may work and what isn’t working, and make an educated guess on what to try next.

I know trial and error is necessary for every garden and nothing is static but it has to be better to come out to a piece of property with a baseline education for reference, right? And I expect the deeper education will come upon working with the land itself.

How was your garden in 2015?

I’m interested in hearing how your year went and what you’re planning for 2016. Leave a comment below and if you wrote a gardening goals blog post of your own, go ahead and leave the link, thanks!

Featured Photo Credit: Gratisography