Planning My Garden

front of our house

There’s been a whole lot of daydreaming going on around here (from sewing ideas to wanting to make hats) since there hasn’t been a lot of doing, thanks to this pregnancy. My latest daydreams are revolving around my garden, and I’m pretty dang excited to show some absolutely massive changes that have happened to our yard and to share what I want to do now that the changes are in place. When we bought the house last year, we had a list of construction projects that we wanted to (eventually) do in the house to make it our dream house. What we didn’t realize, is that the property needed a major construction project as well. After living in our house for a bit, we discovered two major flaws in the property – 1) It was hard to get into the house. There were steep and uneven gravel paths leading to the house from two directions (since we are on a corner lot), but both turned out to be pretty treacherous in the winter. Adam and I have both fallen on them and got really worried about getting in and out of the house safely with baby. 2) Nobody ever came to our front door. The way the paths were laid out, everyone approached our house through the mud room off our kitchen. The kitchen is the messiest and least inviting room in our house whereas I’ve worked really hard to make our living room inviting, so that has been less than ideal.

garden plans

We started by hiring a landscape architect. It was a fascinating process to work with him on building a site-map for our lot. He had great ideas about how we could change things that Adam and I never would have come up with. The scale of what he designed is huge, so it’s a 10-20 year plan (we don’t ever want to move again!), but we needed a place to start and we are so glad we hired his help. We decided that we would take the plunge and build the driveway up to the front of our house.

new driveway up to house

The quick explanation of what we did was to dig up a patch of grass along the edge of our lot, have it graded, and put in a compacted gravel driveway with parking spots in front of our house. There’s a short, inviting gravel path from the parking spots to the front door (see the first picture in the post). The parking remains hidden from view from the front door because we were able to save and move around a bunch of very large plants (mostly rhododendrons) that were already on the property.

heavy machinery in garden

Various delays meant that the project finished a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, it beat baby here, but the timing was less than ideal because for several weeks we had no paths to our house, which wasn’t so easy to traverse as a very pregnant lady. Adam and I (and Tig) were mesmerized by the giant machinery moving around giant amounts of fill, so we did a lot of staring out the window and trying not to worry about what could go wrong. (Of course some things did go wrong, as always happens in massive projects, but fortunately they caught the fact that they broke our septic pipe immediately!).

side of house before

Since we had the giant machinery in our yard, we opted to go ahead with another part of the plan at the same time – simplifying the side yard. My office has french doors off the basement that opened into several steps. The side yard was then a weird mix of gravel pathways, berms, and odd patches of garden. Clearly, someone had spent a lot of time gardening in our property at some point in the past, but it certainly wasn’t the last owners and it wasn’t done with any sort of coherent plan for the space.

side of house after

So, we flattened the side yard all out. Now I have a huge vegetable garden! Okay, let me re-phrase that – now I have the space to put in a huge vegetable garden! My office now opens onto the same level as the garden so I get even more light and it feels more spacious. I’m going to put in paving stones where the gravel is so that I can have a little office seating area outside. And where the woodchips are is going to have raised vegetable beds. We also discovered that we had a lovely view from the side yard once all that clutter was gone, so we are going to put in a seating area and fire pit at the end of the yard to take advantage of it!

gardening plans

So now that the machines are gone, we get to my planning for what is to come! (Not in time for this summer, but I’m hoping that life with baby will settle into a routine enough by fall that I can start building beds and planting things by then. And if I have to wait until next spring, so be it. Daydreams are still fun in the meantime!) Since I’ve never had a garden of my own before, I started by getting stacks and stacks of books from the library (some on decorative gardening but mostly on vegetable gardening since that’s what I’m most excited about).

My mom is an amazing gardener and I found that the two books I’ve used the most actually came from her library. I settled on Square Foot Gardening as the approach that made the most sense to me (also knowing that my mom has used it quite successfully before) and have used his method to plot out a scale map of my garden space. I’ve made many different lists of different types of fruit and veg that I want to plant and feel like the book does a great job of holding a beginner’s hand step-by-step from planning to planting to harvest so I can actually make plans that have a chance of success! I’ve used the Western Garden Book to figure out what strains of bushes and trees to get (and learned that I can grow peaches here!). I’ve also used it as a reference for the decorative parts of our garden – the massive dirt digging left several new beds that I’ve tasked my gardener mother with helping me choose some simple ground covers to plant ASAP before the weeds claim them for their own. It has a bunch of helpful themed lists (like “Ground Covers & Lawn Substitutes” or “Deerproof Plants”) as well as an encyclopedia of relevant plants.

I was really hoping to use and love The Rooftop Growing Guide, but found it to not be that helpful. I selected the book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review with high hopes (no pun intended) of using it to guide planting on the top of our little carport turned potting shed that I see straight out my office window. I had dreamed of planting a fern garden on top of the shed, but the book quickly taught me that our shed isn’t structurally sound enough to bear the weight of planting on top. Since I had to scrap that idea, there was little else I found useful in the book. It assumes that you know a fair bit about gardening and then walks you through step-by-step how to apply your pre-existing knowledge to growing on rooftops and overcoming the unique challenges that rooftop growing causes (such as weight limits, wind exposure, and reflected heat). If you have gardening experience and want to grow on a rooftop, it does seem like a really helpful and unique book, but, unfortunately, neither of those conditions apply to me right now and the book doesn’t include much more broadly relevant information. If those conditions do apply to you, I highly recommend checking out the book – you can get more information here.

Comments 8

  1. Your comment about growing peaches prompted me to suggest a specific type of peach tree. I live in Tacoma and this tree produces the most delicious peaches with great abundance. It’s a Frost Peach. I planted it probably 22 or 23 years ago. It was developed specifically for this area in the Pacific Northwest. Your garden sounds like it will be fantastic.

    1. Post

      Thanks! The man who oversaw the excavation also lives on Vashon and he told me that he grows abundant Frost Peaches here which blew my mind and got me very excited. It’s nice to have another personal recommendation of the same strain in our area, so thanks! I will definitely be planting Frost Peaches soon!!

  2. This is amazing!!!

    My husband and I did a yard-regrading project last year in our backyard and it was mesmerizing to see all of the bobcats hard at work. It made my attempts at manual labor (where I attempted to clear out our backyard with a small shovel) look silly – bobcats did more work in a small fraction of the time, it was very worth it to hire the crew & machines.

    Daydreaming about yard plans is wonderful… you have a lovely view and property. :D

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      Thanks Liz! I’ve loved seeing the amazing progress you and your husband have made on your yard as well. Since you’re a bit ahead of me on the process, I get to learn from and be inspired by what you share!

  3. Erin, you can get all the relevant info for any kind of gardening from your Cooperative Extension office, many of which you can download. Master Gardeners are volunteers who work in most counties in this country to help homeowners choose plants, etc. The information is all research-based from the Land Grant college in each state, and other states and institutions.

    Are you in King County? That is the county in the US where an agent first thought of using volunteers, extensively training them by appropriate University professors and others, to help the public. Boat loads of info on each area of gardening (i.e., fruit trees, hardwoods, shrubs, roses, veggies, etc. Look it up now while you have time to investigate this huge resource. I am a Master Gardener in Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix area) and love helping folks. Look for classes, public talks, demo gardens, Question and Answer sessions, etc in your area.

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      Thanks so much for the information! I am in King County and had no idea that such programs originated here. I will definitely look into the resources available here and appreciate you pointing me in the right direction!

  4. Your house and garden look amazing, it’s surreal (for me) to think the people actually live in such places.
    I hope you enjoy the process – I think growing a garden is a life-long journey and one of those hobbies you can share with others. It must be really nice to do with children once they are old enough.

  5. Have a wonderful time with your garden, and remember: there’s always next year!!!

    Mostly, I just want to say that you look beautiful pregnant! Good luck to you.

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