The Great Gardenification of 2016 (or, Garden Recovery)

Hellstrip garden | Fraudulent Farmgirl

I am in a garden frenzy this year. I’ve planted new fruit trees in the front garden as part of my small tree hedge experiment. I moved one of the honeyberries. I painted the rain barrel. And I rescued the espaliers from last year’s neglect. They seem to be recovering from my severe pruning job.

Fruit tree whips | Fraudulent Farmgirl
These three whips were planted in March and are leafing out. They’re underplanted with strawberries.

I’m steadily working toward 1. eradicating all the lawn (I’m down to about 10% of the original) and 2. covering all the ground with plants, so that eventually I won’t need mulch except on the paths.

So I’m always looking for good perennials for the front. This ‘Limelight’ catmint is a nice foil for the golden oregano. I especially like catmint because it fills in nicely without rooting, which makes it a well-behaved ground cover. And bees love it. (So do cats, but at least they don’t love it to death like they do catnip.)

'Limelight' catmint | Fraudulent Farmgirl
Nepeta x ‘Limelight’ has a more yellow foliage than most catmint, and it stays small—about 10″ x 2′.

The Garden from Hell(strip)

Between the sidewalk and street lies one of my greatest challenges, the hellstrip. You may know it as the tree lawn or parking strip. But let’s face it, “hellstrip” is way more accurate.

Hellstrip garden | Fraudulent Farmgirl
You can just see the new ‘Amethyst Mist’ heuchera, hakone grass, and hosta among the previously existing geranium and violets.

I could no longer stand looking at one of the hellstrips, which was a motley collection of salvaged plants and weeds. I took inspiration from a photo in The Layered Garden and started a tapestry bed under the red maple. In a perfect world, I would have started with about three times the plants at about 1/3 the size, but you take what you can get.

Color repetition | Fraudulent Farmgirl
Golden hakone grass in the hellstrip echoes the golden oregano on the other side of the sidewalk.

The hellstrip is now planted with an array of hosta, ‘Aureola’ hakone grass, ‘Amethyst Mist’ heuchera, salvaged hardy geranium, salvaged Siberian iris, and violets. Some gardeners consider violets weeds. I consider them free ground cover.

The yellow of the hakone grass echoes the yellow in the golden oregano on the other side of the sidewalk, and the heuchera picks up the purples elsewhere in the garden. Repetition, baby. It’s what makes a garden look unified—and the gardener look like a design genius.

Growing fruit tree whips | Fraudulent Farmgirl
I use purple and yellow as my two main colors through out the front garden. They act as a foundation so that I can change out accent colors with annuals (this year, cherry profusion zinnia).

Reclaiming the Back Garden

Last year, I didn’t set foot in the back garden for months, except to mow the small patch of lawn. As a result, it has been colonized by redbud, rose of sharon, honeysuckle, and host of other weed trees. Thistle has invaded. The small fruit section that holds the blueberries and espaliers looks like a weed breeding station.

The lesson here, my friends, is that it’s harder to reclaim a garden gone out of control than it is to create the garden in the first place. On the upside, my complete abdication of responsibility last summer has opened up some new ways of thinking about the back garden. I plan to largely convert it to a native shrub garden to provide wildlife habitat—and not incidentally reduce the maintenance load.

Also, I bought myself a Dutch scuffle hoe, my favorite hoe of all the hoes. So much easier for large-scale weeding than doing it with a knife!

The Fraudulent Farmstead on May 8, 2016. I've just mulched the existing beds and sheet mulched the next batch of lawn, so this is the tidiest the garden will look all year.
The Fraudulent Farmstead on May 8, 2016. I’ve just mulched the existing beds and sheet mulched the next batch of lawn, so this is the tidiest the garden will look all year.
Fraudulent Farmgirl
I teach garden and homesteading skills—the stuff your great-grandmother knew how to do. But if there's a faster, cheaper, or easier way to do it, I'll find it!By day, I design earth-friendly gardens for Spotts Garden Service. By night, I don my Wellies to become the Fraudulent Farmgirl. On my small urban homestead, I've ripped out the front lawn to plant vegetables and fruit trees, turned the garage into a chicken coop and grown enough strawberries to feed half the neighborhood.

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