Garden Update October 2004

The last two years have been very difficult for me.  I suddenly started having migraines, worse than the usual headaches I have had since high school - these keep me out of the sun and heat entirely, and also make it hard to do much on the computer.  The garden, front and back, became a depressing, jungly mess, and I couldn't do anything about it.  However, I am getting better now, and have jumped back in as much as I can.

Many exciting things have been happening in the garden.  First, we decided to go back to grass paths in the front last year, as the weeds were just too hard to keep down, even with a 4-6" mulch carpet - they simply grew in the mulch!  This would have meant my pulling them every couple of weeks (which I couldn't do, laid up with near-constant migraines and only able to garden for a few minutes at dusk on a really good day), or letting my husband spray them, which he did several times, but is completely contrary to the direction in which I want to take this garden.  Since we have a very cheap lawn service anyway, it was easier to plant grass and let them mow it - they don't spray or fertilize, which leaves that part back in my control.  They are not to remove the cut grass - it shoots out the side and lands back on the ground, where it returns its nutrients.  Our lawn service trims the shrubs (except the roses - I do that) every 2-3 months, and tries to keep the nutgrass down - it has invaded the rose beds and is a nightmare, but we just keep it pulled and mulched over.  So the front at least looks decent, but the back was still a disaster until this August.

As in the front, we went back to grass paths in the back garden and had the beds surrounded by three rows of Old Chicago brick (the Potager boxes got two rows since the spaces between them are narrow).  This keeps the lawn men from weed-eating right into my beds and tearing up the Potager boxes with their infernal machines (the main reason I removed the grass in the first place). The center of the Herb Circle is paved in bricks, and there is a small brick threshhold in front of the patio door, and in front of the back gate when you enter the area.  There is also a pad for a bench or chairs at each end of the long axis of the back garden, and a chair sits on each one now.  The threshholds and Herb Circle pad are areas where we can eventually incorporate mosaics if we wish.

After a cleanup and mulching with pine needles, I have my garden back!  The climbing 'Penelope' rose on the west side of the Herb Circle frame reaches all the way to the center, and one shoot stretches in the other direction, just touching one of the Elderberries (which just finished fruiting) against the back fence and just north of the rose, making a romantic rustic arch to walk through on the way around the Herb Circle.  Climbing roses 'Clair Matin' and 'Dortmund' are coming into their own on the east side of the Herb Circle frame and another shoot stretches east and just north toward a trellis of Confederate Jasmine against the house, so another delicate arch of vegetation is forming on that side, too.  I like that these new "arches" are not perfectly in line with the frame - they make more of a half-circle rather than a straight line, which is more aesthetically pleasing and follows the shape of the Herb Circle.  The Baobab and Figs in the center got large, pretty, glazed pots this year.  I will take a picture when I can and post it here.

The hurricanes spurred a cleanup of the back porch and garage as well, and most of the plastic pots (all but some small ones for seed-starting, and the large ones for vegetables) got recycled.  Small clay pots wre given away.  The porch got pressure-cleaned and sealed and the pots (mostly medium to large terracotta and colorful glazed ones) are stacked at the north end, away from the sliding glass door.  The "potting bench", really an old fiberboard desk, got trashed.  Amendments and larger tools went into the garage.  The bench is finally painted the same blue as the front door and sits on the porch.  Hand tools I use all the time, my gardening jeans and tennis shoes, elbow-length goatskin gloves, and plant ties (twine and the unrivalled cut-up black pantyhose) are stashed in an attractive round terracotta pot by the door.  Most potted plants found new homes outside.

In keeping with our purpose to produce as much of our own food as possible, I drew up a plan that incorporates a large number of edibles.  As a first step, we bought some fruit trees from Excalibur Nursery, one of which is a Jackfruit 'Bangkok Lemon', which we planted across from the porch and a few feet from the back fence to give it room to grow.  This is one of the most useful fruits you can grow.  We also planted a Cardamom plant next to the bench pad on the south end of the Tropical Vegetable Area.  The other fruit trees, a Grumichama, a Pomegranate 'Vietnam', and a Malabar Nut, were planted in the mound area in front.  These were bought and planted right before the Hurricane Frances hit, but all came through that one and Jeanne just fine and are flourishing.  We were also given two viable Coconuts, which have been planted in large pots in the hope that they will germinate. Further steps will mean making more nursery trips - at least one to ECHO in Fort Myers for perennial vegetables and one or two to someone closer for more fruit trees.  Then it will be a matter of combing the Internet for seeds and roots and starts of other perennial edibles.  The main advantage of perennial food plants is the reduction in labor, which is a biggie for me.  Also, a good mix should give us food year-round.

I have been reading many books on permaculture and ecological gardening, and have been able to put several ideas into practice this year.  We will see what the results are - they will be posted here.  Cover crops, mostly nitrogen-fixers, have been planted in the Tropical Vegetable Area and Melon Patch.  The Potager boxes have been improved and the cool season planting is underway.  The Herb Circle is gradually being filled again.  More details on this aspect of our garden are in the new Ecological Gardening section.



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