Mar 23: rain and rest

I always take a lot of photos this time of year because I’m eager for every bit of new growth each day. It’s easy to see progress when everything is starting fresh; I walk the garden multiple times a day to see if anything new has emerged.

Today it rained most of the day, which is excellent for the garden, and also for me since I need a break. I took my camera out in the drizzle to record some of the stuff going on.

March 6: Garden cleanup; lots of things emerging

I want to believe the warm weather is here to stay, though I know from the forecast that it’s not. Still, it was warm here this weekend, and I took full advantage of it to get the garden cleaned up. I pruned roses, cut back ornamental grasses, raked leaves out of flower beds, moved lavenders, transplanted hydrangea, and kicked poor performers to the curb.

As I worked, I smelled fresh mint in the mint patch. I listened to birds chirp and leaves rustle in a warm breeze. I was surprised by the first forsythia blossom. When I pulled away dead debris and raked out leaves that have insulated the ground these last 5 months, I found leaves emerging underneath – sedum, tulips, columbine, goldenrod.

Feb 13: Plans for the back hill

To do

I finally figured out a way to plot out plants in a way that I can visualize how they’ll look in the space. I photographed the back beds, then annotated the photos using Preview on my mac. I had to combine two pictures to get a full panorama of the back hill, but I think I’ve finally (mostly) gotten to a point where next time it’s warm enough to work in the garden, I know which plants to move and where. I’m hopeful I can get most everything moved before my gardening vacation in March, when I’ll mulch.

I want to rearrange everything: every circle shown here is a plant I need to move 😬

Already done

These are the plants I’ve already moved; I shifted my work day earlier Friday so I could take advantage of warm temperatures to work in the garden.

This is the bed I created in February of 2021. In its first season, I sowed seeds for annuals (zinnias, dill, and Mexican sunflowers), but they took too long to come in, and I am not patient. Then, once they exploded in bloom, they were messy and too tall. So this year I’ll try something different. I’ve moved a bunch of perennials, some of which are early bloomers and some are later. I also plotted a little path through them so that it’s not just a giant rectangle and it has a little more organic shape.

I’m excited for the next warm day so I can start working on the rest of the hill.

May 15: new bed is planted! And scabiosa and verbena are blooming

I killed grass back in February to create a new flower bed. I wanted to fill it with lots of nectar and host plants for butterflies, plus some herbs and peppers for eating. I mulched the bed in the end of March, and in May, I’ve planted it:

  • 5 Mexican sunflowers (nectar)
  • 8-10 dill (host plant for swallowtails, plus herb for us)
  • 4 orange milkweed (host plant for monarchs)
  • A big patch of zinnia seeds (nectar)
  • Red salvia annuals (nectar)
  • Parsley (host plant for swallowtails, plus herb for us)
  • Cilantro (herb for us)
  • Jalapeño (pepper for us)
  • Basil (herb for us)

It doesn’t look like much for now, which is why I wanted to photograph it, as a before picture. The wire cages are to keep the rabbits away from the milkweed seedlings. The’ve eaten fresh milkweed in the past, and I don’t want them eating these seeds I’ve carefully cultivated for 10 weeks.

Newly planted butterfly bed
Plan, which I roughly stuck to
New butterfly bed with the rest of the back garden
The purple salvia is at its peak. The new bed is in the background.
I don’t have a telephoto lens yet, so this isn’t a great shot, but I do love watching the birds at the feeder.
Lollipop vervain is one of the first things to bloom
Scabiosa blooms along with the salvia and vervain

May 2: buds and early bloomers

The oak tree suddenly has leaves, and the salvia are blooming. The blossoms of tulips, dogwoods, and redbud begin to fade, but the yarrow, dwarf lilac, roses, rue, and scabiosa all have flower buds. The orlaya came back and its buds are opening, too. I see the beginnings of flower buds on a few echinacea, and a nepetas’ blue blossoms sprinkle the air above their silvery green leaves.

I put in a passionflower today, along with 3 blanket flowers and 2 scarlet and orange milkweeds. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the passionflower. I hope it will last.

Tulips in morning sun
Salvia in bloom
Ladybug and rose bud
Scabiosa buds
The summer bloomers are putting out leaves, and the back bed is starting to fill in

Feb 27: Soggy day to move dirt

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Once I decided to kill more grass, I called my mulch guy to ask if they delivered top soil. He said yes. I got excited, and I asked him for three cubic yards, as soon as possible. That was two weeks ago. A snow storm was on its way at the time, and his dirt was still wet from the last snow. “I’ll call you when the weather is okay to deliver,” he told me.

Thursday afternoon, I was on a run on our second consecutive warm, sunny day — the first sunny days in what seemed like weeks. My phone rang when I was about 10 minutes from home. It was my mulch guy, so I stopped to walk, and panting, I answered the phone. Maybe he could deliver that day!

“Hi! I’m calling about your top soil, the weather finally is clear – ” he said.

“YES!” pant pant. Very excited. Grinning.

“We’re about to get another six days of rain -“

“Can you deliver it today?!” I said. In my excitement, I kept interrupting him.

“Yes. Today is the only day. I’ll be there in 30 minutes. You want it at the top of the hill, yes? I’ll meet you there.”

He delivered it in the late afternoon. I covered it with a tarp as the sky clouded over. With six more days of rain on the way, I wondered when I’d get a chance to spread it. If only I could get the cardboard down and the dirt on top of it, the rainy days would be perfect to water it in and get the cardboard good and soggy so that it will start breaking down at least a little bit before I want to start planting. With potted seedlings, I can dig through the cardboard for their roots to get into the earth. I’m worried about sowing seeds though; if the cardboard is still too stiff and new, and I sow seeds in the dirt on top of the cardboard, their new roots won’t be able to penetrate it. The sooner I can get the cardboard over the grass to kill it, and under the dirt and rain to start breaking down, the better chance my seeds will have.

Planting plans: flat-leaf parsley, basil, milkweed, Mexican sunflower, and jalapeños I can start indoors then transplant the seedlings. Zinnias, chives, cilantro, and dill I will want to sow directly in the bed.

Yesterday, I couldn’t stand not taking advantage of the coming wet weather. So despite gross gray skies, rain, and a constant drizzle, I decided to go ahead and lay down the load of cardboard I’d collected from a nearby recycling dropoff. The soil was sodden and heavy, and I’m lucky I didn’t throw my back out as I shoveled, wheeled, dumped, and spread. It was pretty grueling work, and I was glad when I was done. Today, I sip coffee at the window and watch with glee as rain soaks my work.

I need maybe one more load of cardboard to finish off the area for my bed. Hopefully by the time I get to that final load, the soil will be drier. And spring will be that much closer by then!

Cardboard over the grass I want to kill
My wet dirt
Halfway there
The deck on the right is where I sit in spring, summer, and fall to watch the garden
Done! For today. This took about 2.5 hours. One more session should do it. Except I need more cardboard.

Feb 5: Killing grass is how I get through winter

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

At the end of every summer, I think, cool, the garden is good. It looks great. I will leave it as it is; I won’t obsess during winter or move a bunch of stuff around in the spring.

Then January comes. I order seed catalogs. I pace. I look out the windows. This year, I started a journal — with drawings! — to help me see the garden’s beauty even when the colors are just a dozen shades of brown.

As I looked at seed catalogs and paced and looked out the windows, I thought, you know, I really want a big swath of Mexican sunflowers. And a giant patch of zinnias for the butterflies. And I really want more milkweed, too, and dill.

But all the beds are already full.

So I paced and looked out the windows more. I looked for a place a bed could go. A place with sun and that I could reach with the hose and that was somewhat level so the tall Mexican sunflowers wouldn’t flop down the hill when they could no longer bear up under their own weight.

There’s a big section of one flower bed that gets too much shade in summer for me to grow the things I want in it, but I realized if I pull it down a bit, I can create some space that gets more sun, is less steep, and would be a perfect place for a big flower patch.

We still had a bunch of cardboard boxes left over from Christmas, so on a warmish day (for January — it was maybe 45 ℉), I set the lawn mower on its lowest setting to shear the grass close to the ground in the area I want to transform into a bed. I broke down the cardboard boxes, spread them out, and weighed them down with bags of topsoil.

My idea is that if I start now, I can create a physical barrier between the grass and the sun to kill it. Meanwhile, I’ll cover the cardboard with topsoil to weigh it down. The topsoil will also provide dirt to scatter seeds directly into come May when it’s time to sow zinnia seeds. I’m hopeful the next three months of snow and rain will soften the cardboard enough that by the time June gets here and the zinnias are sending down roots, they won’t hit an impenetrable barrier.

First row of cardboard and dirt – Jan 24

This is all very much a fly by the seat of my pants idea, by the way. I’m pretty sure it will work.

However, I fear it will only work if I get started, like, now. As soon I exhausted our cardboard supply, I plotted when I could put more down. I had time off scheduled today, and I thought, awesome, I’ll do it then!

And then this happened.

Hello snow. Jan 31.

Which means the area I wanted to work in today looks like this.

Guess I won’t be working in the garden.

Now, instead of laying more cardboard down, I’ve decided I should extend the bed even further, all the way around the raised bed, because why not? I can put in some sugar snap peas.

I couldn’t work out there today, but after a coworker inspired me with his compost delivery, I did put in an order with my mulch supplier for dirt to be delivered next week or the week after, depending on the weather. That gives me two weeks to scrounge up more cardboard, and hopefully not come up with more ideas of where to kill lawn. I don’t know how my back will handle shoveling this much more mulch in spring.