Before and After: Progression of a Hot Border

I'm clearing old photos from my computer and have consequently relived the past two years of gardening at Chickadee Gardens. The early photos are quite surprising and make me realize how far we've come. One part of the garden I am particularly pleased with is a south-facing hot wall set against reflective metal siding. It is what you first see when you come up the driveway and, because of its orientation, it is a challenging site. Over the course of two years I have lost a few things there but now all seems settled in and is thriving. I would like to share my planting successes and illustrate what it looks like today as well as our first days here.


This is an early photo from September 2015, the first time we toured the house and property. From what I've been told, the piece of wood attached to the house was built in the event the deck was to be expanded. We recently found plans for the house and it seems the area just below it was originally planned to be a vegetable garden. A good idea as it's close to the back door and easily accessible, but I saw it as an entry point to the whole garden and home. I wanted to make this spot a lively but easy-care border for heat-loving plants.



This is standing at the corner of the house looking southeast, September 2015.

(Facilities Manager says, Oooo, look at all of that lovely green grass!)



And this is just after we moved in a couple of months later and tried to drive the plant-loaded truck up to the garden gate. We learned our lesson, i.e.,, soft ground makes good mud.


Where to start? The very first thing I planted was a Callistemon viridiflorus. I knew it belonged in this area so I got it in the ground January of 2016. In the background is the first of many gravel loads we've had delivered. We refer it to now as Mount Gravel #1.


To follow along with where things are situated, I suggest using the concrete block on the left (an access point to the septic system) as a marker. It will soon be the spot where a turquoise birdbath lives. 



Spring of 2016 saw the use of a sod remover and cultivator over much of the garden. We used it here, too, because I wanted to break up the field grass to have a place to start. Facilities Manager also placed a temporary raised bed so we could at least have tomatoes that summer. It would prove to be right in the way of the path, so we just worked around it for a year. The concrete block can be seen in the lower right corner.


The soil was amended with compost and a layer of gravel was added to keep the mud at bay while traversing through this area. I began to add a few plants to the right of the tomato box - the sooner the better to get the larger ones established.


Facilities Manager and I then dug out paths leading up to the stairs and deck and built up beds on either side of the paths.


Scraping, digging and laying down many wheelbarrows full of gravel. This is to the right of the stairs to the deck and connects the gravel garden below the deck to this new area we were working on. It needed some definition so as to connect visually as well as literally.


It was starting to come together by summer of 2016. At this stage we had begun painting the deck. I chose a dark neutral gray color to harmonize with the silvers of the house. I wanted the deck to visually recede, to blend in rather than pop out at you. The gravel also echoes those tones.



My ideas were coming to fruition but still had a way to go. There's the concrete block with the birdbath on it making an appearance. The two grasses in the new bed are Miscanthus 'Little Zebra' and were eventually moved.


In this shot you might notice the deck had been completely painted.


One fine November day in 2016 we decided to tackle the rest of this project. All of that gravel that we had laid down for a temporary path was working its way into the soil and weeds were beginning to take over the beds.


I also wanted to define the edges and make the soil level higher in the beds. In this shot, you can see there's not much variation of height between the path and the bed. Some good ol' digging would take care of that, plus I would have the chance to make the path undulate a little rather than be so straight. In a naturalistic garden, curves count! 



These pavers had to go, despite being functional. I wanted it to look more cohesive and polished (remember the gray/silver theme, not brick red), so we went down to Scappoose Sand and Gravel to purchase some locally quarried flagstones.



First, we defined the edges of the beds and mounded up that soil in the garden beds. We also weeded in the process. This was all made easier now that the raised bed had been moved.


I then played around with my new flagstones to come up with a pleasing and comfortable pathway. Those old brick pavers on the side of the house were just recently reused in the vegetable garden which I wrote about last month. I love using materials I have on hand, it feels like a giant puzzle and everything will eventually find its perfect home.


Once I had a general idea about layout of the stones, I laid down a gravel base.


After they were arranged atop a gravel base, I back-filled with a generous layer of gravel.


Later that day, a deeper layer of gravel was added to the whole path.


Fast forward to early summer last year after plants started to fill in. In this bed I planted Thymus 'Foxley' (pictured foreground center/left), two smaller cistus with no i.d. (throw-aways from work, one pictured foreground right), two Dorycnium hirsutum or hairy canary flower, the Callistemon viridiflorus, two Panicum 'Cloud Nine', an Atriplex haliumus or saltbush, various Sedum spurium, a NOID agave pup that is thriving and a Salvia 'U.C. Pink' (not yet pictured here). I had a couple Hesperaloe parviflora but lost them last winter. I may try one again. I also had two Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra' in this spot, but it proved to be too hot so I moved them to a cooler area. With the reflected sun and south facing aspect, this gets quite warm and doesn't receive much supplemental irrigation. In this particular photograph it is late afternoon and the sun is beginning to go down behind the neighbor's trees in the west.



Dorycnium hirsutum or hairy canary flower. It is a low-growing subshrub/groundcover. I understand it's supposed to be evergreen, but last winter it completely died back and I thought they were lost. As can be seen, it came back with vigor. It is very drought tolerant once established. I have it planted at the edge of this bed where it can spill down.




On the recommendation of a co-worker at Joy Creek, I planted several Thymus pulegioides 'Foxley'. I'm glad I did, I enjoy the slight creamy variegation in the leaves. The flower spikes have purple/white flowers. It is edible and smells great, it can handle light foot traffic although there is no real reason to walk on it in this bed. It does spread, which is want I want it to do, and it is very drought tolerant. 


One of two Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine', this one tucked into the corner. I chose this site for it because it gets so tall - I wanted something to fill that gap underneath the deck that also allows for access to that area if needed.



Here is the whole scene last August. The thyme can be seen on the left, while the petunia and sunflower in the gravel path were welcome volunteers.



Pictured here is Dorycnium hirsutum in the center (groundcover), Atriplex halimus behind it and in the back the second Panicum 'Cloud Nine'. Sedum spurium lower right corner.



Atriplex halimus or salt bush. This has turned out to be one of my favorite foliage plants. I bought it on clearance in a tiny four-inch pot. It has really taken off becoming a woody shrub. A co-worker who grew this at his nursery let me know it can be hacked back in spring to control its size, and that it takes well to pruning. It is also edible, tasting a little like spinach. If you were growing a food forest or practicing permaculture, this would be a good addition as a food source as well as an ornamental plant.



I show this photo in early autumn as the Dorycnium hirsutum really shows up. It has continued to spread a little, by the way.


At the base of the stairs I planted this no i.d. chrysanthemum from work in autumn 2016. Last year it grew from a small four-inch pot to this. I have shown it before on the blog, but it deserves a repeat. I think this must be C. 'Sheffield Pink' - that's just a guess.


The whole scene in November. The grasses have gone to a straw color, but I leave them standing throughout winter.


One more time - before, taken in September 2015.



After, taken September 2017.

Revisiting these images reminds me that I garden differently here on our two acres. When we had a standard 100 x 50 foot lot in Portland, every inch was meticulously cared for and every plant chosen carefully for its color contribution, its ultimate size (not too large!) and its contribution to wildlife. Here, since I'm painting in large swaths, I look for plants that are sturdy and can smother weeds. I'm looking for plants that read a particular way from a distance. I still look for what any particular plant can contribute to wildlife. I am looking for larger plants that can fill in vertical space. I'm looking for plants that require little from me once they are in the ground. I'm looking at how the whole picture connects with the land around us. I'm looking for repeat patterns and colors that make it all flow together. It's not any easier or any more difficult, it's just different.

When we first dove into this two-acre thing, I think I was a little intimidated. Over time, I have learned to just start. Go out there, keep your trowel handy, see what happens. Sometimes it needs correcting, but sometimes it's just right. Also, be sure to keep your Facilities Manager well fed and watered. Give him chocolate from time to time.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and commenting, happy gardening to one and all!




Comments

  1. This was a very informative look back at how this area developed over the last two years. I'm sure it will continue to change too. My own garden has changed so much over the last ten years, I've lost and moved so many plants that I have no memory of any more. I sometimes go back to old posts in my blog and can't recall having bought certain plants or where I planted them. I've wondered how you deal with weeds in the gravel. I have a considerable amount of gravel too, in the front, and weeds are a constant problem.

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    1. Thank you Alison. It was a long post, I tend to take a lot of photos..hahah...! Gardens do change a lot, it's fun for me to document the changes so as to understand why my back hurts. Seriously though, I hear you - plants come and go.

      As far as weeds in gravel, I think having deep gravel helps. My goal is to have a 6" base minimum, all that tends to come up now are weeds that land on the surface rather than come from the soil below the gravel level. Those are relatively easy to pull and we do so much walking on the paths, they don't really have a chance.

      A flame weeder would be nice.

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  2. I love before and after pictures. Seeing all the work that went into the after wears me out. I so admire you and FM for tackling this 2acre plot. You are certainly bringing it alive, giving it a lot of personality. So much accomplished in such a short period of time. Congratulations to both of you.

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    1. Aren't before and afters fun? I hope you're not too worn out, spring is around the corner, right? :)

      I'm glad you see the garden as alive and with personality, that's certainly a goal and sometimes it's hard for me to imagine what others see. Thank you thank you!!

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  3. I found you after you had moved, so I've been able to see some of the development. Even so, before and after pictures are illuminating. We (I) forget so much about how things have changed. That chrysanthemum is outstanding.

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    1. Things change rather quickly, especially when nature is involved. I tend to forget that, what with my impatient nature and all.

      That chrysanthemum is so lovely, I am blown away at how large it grew after one year.

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  4. You how I wish I was young again and had your energy and strength. I love all the paths and planting that you are doing. You're creating a lovely landscape with so much interest and enchantment. Beautiful!!!

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    1. I'm glad that the paths and plantings are appreciated! Thank you so much, Connie! I am equally glad you see it as lovely and with interest, that is certainly one of the goals! Thank you Connie!

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  5. Another great job from start to finish! The project summary is a great tool, both to prod your own memory when it comes time to start work in another area that presents similar challenges and as a guide to others reading your blog. I find it's easy to forget some of the time-consuming and grueling aspects of work on big projects once it's behind you a year or more.

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    1. Thank you Kris! It is indeed very easy to forget the not-so-pleasant aspects of a large task. I am glad you find value in such posts, and hopefully others do to. The goal is to share information with one another and yes, document so I don't forget!

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  6. Beautiful progression and a lot of work you've both done! You're fortunate to have all that space so if something gets too big, you have lots of room to move things around.

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    1. Thank you, Matthew! We are lucky in that regard - moving things around if needed. It means there are endless possibilities!

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  7. Tamara, this is really encouraging to see! And I totally get it about the difference is plant selection and design with a city lot vs 2 acres. I'm starting some serious work on a 1/3 acre lot this year and you are a fantastic inspiration for me. <3

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    1. I like following what you're doing too, Susan. I'm glad you get it, it is something of a "letting go" process - gardening on a larger scale. In a way, it's kind of liberating. Thanks for your kind words, and keep going on your own piece of paradise. Looking forward to seeing it develop over time. Also, you're always welcome to come out for a visit!

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  8. Love the before and after posts! That Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine' next to the steps is just lovely. Also you mention a NOID Agave pup but I couldn’t locate it in the photo. Is it still doing well? Photo please!

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    1. Don't you love that Panicum? It is so vertical and airy at the same time. I just sent you the Agave pup pix.

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  9. Fabulous. The before and after photos have been so informative. As I was reading, I thought, how much I would like to be in the garden while taking the tour.

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    1. Oh, thank you Gail! I'm glad you got something out of the photos. You are most welcome to come out for a tour, by the way!

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  10. Wonderful Tamara! Your vision is really taking shape. Since I am just starting on a similar journey I love seeing how you handle and learn from the challenges. Gardening on acreage is so much different than a postage stamp lot in the city--it can be so overwhelming at times, but I agree...just trudge on--it's so gratifying in the end (even with the sore muscles!). Can't wait to see what you do next! XOXO

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    1. Gina, you are so kind! And yes, you get it too - gardening on a larger scale. You'll kick ass at your own Fernhaven paradise, I am SO enjoying watching your garden and land and home develop and grow into spectacular heights. Keep going on your blog, it's a great record and is wonderful to read. Here's to sore muscles! :)

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  11. Fascinating, Tamara. Your last photo, taken in Sept. 17, looks like the area has always looked like this. It's so perfect. And so much more exciting than boring turf grass. That pink mum is so gorgeous. I need to find a spot for one.

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  12. Loved this two-year evolution of your hot bed. You're very lucky to have a Facilities Manager and wise to keep him well fed and watered.

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