Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Suburban Garden

When Dave and I bought our house, it was the first time in years that I had a backyard. I'd spent many years living in an upper floor apartment where my only plants were in pots on my minuscule deck, where I struggled not to water our downstairs neighbors' stuff.  At our house, we plant herbs in the one area of the backyard that gets a lot of sun, and then plant other stuff in the shade and hope that we can keep it alive. I don't have a black thumb per se, but I definitely have very limited knowledge of plants other than "living plant = (dirt + water) - squirrels."  When fall comes around, we generally harvest the last of the herbs and then ignore everything until the following spring. This year, I learned that parsley is a biennial and that sage, lemon thyme, and oregano are perennials. Because this is what my herb garden looked like after being dead during the winter:
In post-apocalyptic suburbia, parsley and sage shall take over the world.

Needless to say, my untamed herb garden was a mess.  Last weekend my mother in law and grandmother in law came out to help us plant a new garden.  They are both active in the Western Reserve Herb Society and have encyclopedic knowledge of plants.  They actually refer to them by their scientific names as opposed to "the purple flowery one" and "the one that attracts angry bees" (my own descriptive terms). They toss around words like "cultivar" and know which plants won't die in the shade.  In other words, they are the opposite of me.

After two days of digging in the dirt (the morning of one, I ran a 5K and then worked all day, because I am awesome), this is what our newly fabulous garden looks like.  The sage, lemon thyme, and oregano all got haircuts.  My mother in law brought out some sweet basil and a spiffy non-flowering type of basil called pesto perpetuo.  She also brought some new parsley and tarragon.  I topped it off with my rosemary plant.  It lives in a pot so I brought it inside for the winter and kept it alive that way.  At the garden center, I got an Arp rosemary to plant in the ground. 

Lemon thyme is a cooking herb, not a ground cover.
I admit, the picture below is not from this year, it's from 2010.  I needed a way to illustrate what the shadeless wasteland portion of my backyard looked like.  When we bought the house, there was a rhododendron bush here.  It was pretty, but we tried to move it to a sunnier spot and it died pretty much immediately.  We needed something that would live in the shade, since this area of the yard gets only partial sun.  I planted chives in 2010, and they're still doing fine.  Picture this area, but with some chives near the gate, and this is what the back area looked like before we got started.
I know what can grow here!  Weeds!
After a lot of hard work and at least two trips to the garden center, this is the result!  On the far left are some ferns and impatiens (which I thought were spelled "impatients" or "impatience" until google graciously corrected me *hides*).   Further in is my mint, which is impossible to kill.  I thought it had died over the winter, but it's doing just fine in its pot.  Next to the mint is the frog planter my mom got for me.  I always like to put cool looking flowering plants in it.  This year, I actually found a plant that will live in partial shade.  It's a "phantom" petunia, and I picked it because I'd never seen a petunia like it before and I love the colors.  On the trellis is a clematis, which will have purple flowers eventually.  Next is Vietnamese cilantro,  which is great in summer rolls.  I didn't know it existed until my mother in law brought some out from the Herb Society.  On the far right is the bay leaf tree that either I or my husband almost killed out of negligence.  Either he killed it by leaving it outside for too long this winter, or I killed it by not watering it for a week when he was out of town.  Regardless, it was pretty dead until about 2 weeks ago, when it sprouted new leaves.  My mother in law pruned it back, and now it seems happy.  I love having fresh bay leaves when I cook, so I'm going to try very hard not to kill it again. Lastly, farthest to the right are my chives.  They're a MVP in salads and soups.  I'll put them on pretty much anything though. 

One of the things I love most about the backyard is the Japanese maple.  Its little corner of the yard has always been empty unless you count the sea of dead leaves that accumulates there in the fall and stays until we rake them away in the spring summer  until they mostly decompose on their own.  Ok, so we're not really that bad, but this year they stayed for an embarrassingly long time.  
Garden Frog is lonely. 
This is what that area looks like now.  So. Much.  Better!  I had no idea what to plant under the maple, that area gets almost no sun at all.  My mother in law came up with the idea of using autumn ferns and impatiens since they both like shade.  I love ferns, and they will remain green over the winter after the leaves fall off the maple.  I think this corner is my favorite part of the garden. 
The Japanese maple was pruned to make room for the ferns and impatiens.  Now it looks like a real garden!

I went with multicolored impatiens to bring some color to the corner.  I have only white ones in my front yard but this area definitely needed some color to break up all the green from the ferns. 

Happy Garden Frog!
I don't have a good "before" shot of this area.  This side of the yard gets very little sun.  We haven't been successful with keeping anything alive here except for the grapevine, which is awesome.  Last year we had shiso plants, which grew so quickly that they almost looked like small trees.  Then they went to seed, and had shiso growing everywhere. Even in between the flagstones!  This year, we planted marigolds, Japanese painted ferns, an autumn fern, and a few impatiens.  We also got a cute owl rock to sit next to the flowers.  Even though I remember the plague of shiso we had last year, I rescued one shiso plant from our furious culling and planted it next to the owl.  I won't let it grow rampant again. 

The grapevine has been trained to grow up on the deck. 

So there you have it, my suburban garden.  I don't have a lot of space to grow things, but I've got the herbs I cook with the most and some really cool looking plants that will stay alive in the shade.  I'm so happy that my backyard is a pretty place where I can sit outside and eat dinner.


Elizabeth said...

Nice job! That looks amazing! I like the frog!

Mary said...

You've really done a wonderful job with the garden. It looks beautiful. This is my first visit to your site and I been browsing through your earlier posts. You've created a lovely spot for your readers to visit and I really enjoyed the time I spent here. I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

Scienter said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping by! :)

Michelle said...

Hi Dori! Looking so cozy! Did you confuse perennial with annual? Thyme, oregano, and sage are all perennial. They'll keep growing back unless something kills them. Parsley is actually a biennial, meaning it flowers and dies in its second year.

Other common garden plants for shade that you might like: bleeding heart and hosta. And you won't have to worry about deer using your hosta as a salad bar with that fence! :D

Scienter said...

I did! Thanks. :)


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