Making A New Garden: Planning

If you have ever dreamed of a larger space in which to garden, ask yourself this: What would you do if your wish came true? What would your imagination dream up if you could have two acres to do as you wish?

I am so blessed to say I'm in this predicament. A fantastic one, to be sure. I get to put into practice a lifetime of gardening, designing, nature-attracting and food-growing skills. Some skills are stronger than others, and I hope I will continue to learn and grow as a gardener. I will also be incorporating new-to-me (but intuitive) concepts - those from the principles of permaculture - so in time the work will be less. As mentioned in my last post, this will be our "forever" home so I want to be able to enjoy it as I grow old and it matures with me.

Although much planning and forethought is necessary at the outset of any successful project of this scale, it is true that in my style of gardening much of the garden will develop spontaneously as resources and ideas present themselves. Before I get too spontaneous, however, there are a few decisions that must be made now even before one plant is planted, no matter how sure I am that I have chosen the right spot for any given plant. This is also true before I actually put into place some of the plans I've made over the past nine weeks of obsessive thinking and drawing plans -- gardening in my head, so to speak.

The driveway. To sweep or not to sweep? I will sweep eventually. It gets frosty up along the Columbia River so leaving the debris might add traction to the asphalt. The leaves in the grass will remain, however. I will do no raking here; it's going to decompose where it falls. The soil is really pleasantly spongy to walk on. I imagine in part due to all of the leaves decomposing over the years.

I include this photo to mention that I plan to sheet mulch most of the garden. If you're not familiar, it's a process whereby you "till in place," add layers of material (compost, cardboard, manure, etc.) on top of the soil to eventually break down and improve soil quality without disturbing soil structure. You basically let the worms, microbes and whatever critters are in there come to the surface and break down all that material for you. This means the grass or weeds or whatever will rot in place also adding nutrients to the soil. It will take a long time as it will have to be done in sections but it's less work in the end and only really has to be done once. I have done a version of this in the old garden without calling it sheet mulching. That is, I allow leaves and debris to fall where it will on the soil and let it decompose.

Another item at the top of my gardening To-Do list is to engage an arborist to determine which trees need to go. This big leaf maple is in bad shape. It was obviously dying or perhaps completely dead when we first visited the property. No leaves on it even in September. Since it's close to the house it will likely have to go, although if it were in an out-of-the-way area I would leave it as a snag for wildlife.

This second big leaf maple, also on the drive up to the house is partially dead. A large section also had no leaves in September and the branches appear to be unhealthy.

At the very northern border of the property is this fence with some rather unhealthy looking cedars on the neighbor's side. We will ask them if they would like us to limb these up as we're having a new fence installed and it would make it easier on everyone.

A wider look at the same area (left). While the Douglas firs on the right are on our property. They are too closely spaced and many will have to go as only a few seem healthy.

Some trees look fine up top, but the lower branches are so congested there is no sun to speak of below. The lower branches are dying.

Another tree in question.

Another big ticket item on the "Now" list is a storage shed; the new house has no storage. That is to say there are no closets, no cupboards, etc. There are two large IKEA shelving units that have been added for clothing storage, but besides that, nothing. It's an adjustment as our current 1930 home has many nooks and crannies. I guess the solution is to purge. Having said that, we still need a place for the larger items as the garage will become the gym. We've mapped this site for the new shed, which will be built in the coming weeks.

On the western edge near the gate there are bunches of filbert tree that are likely all volunteers. I plan to thin these out, add some native crabapples and other wildlife-friendly plants such as snowberry for a hedgerow corridor. Native ferns are also on my mind for this area. Of course nothing is planted until the fence goes in early January to avoid getting trampled on and eaten by the deer.

Here's the northern side of the house. It gets little to no sun, so many shade perennials will be planted here. David calls this the bocce ball lawn. This morning the frost was clinging to the grass.

It was also clinging to the little leaves.

Just for fun: The former owner pointed out these paperwhites coming up in the garden. This brings up the garden the former owner planted.  There is a selection of deer proof plants on the berm where these paperwhites are sited. I will incorporate probably all of them into the garden in other places, but for now they remain until the time is right to move everything around.

The red bark of some Acer species. There are many here, most look like Japanese cultivars and many have verticillium wilt and will unfortunately have to go. Another task that will need to be done soon. This one, to my delight, seems healthy. So far.

In the middle of the property is this shed I will use for gardening. There are a few trees surrounding it, but some will be taken out to make room for a future chicken coop. I think this filbert will be gone as it's pretty much right where we want the chickens to live. Go chickens!

On the right of the shed is a beautiful oak tree that is definitely staying.

 Beautiful bark and mosses on aforementioned oak.

 Looking up.

David couldn't wait to get out there with the tree trimmer and remove a few low-hanging branches. It feels good to be outside doing these small tasks as we've mostly been indoors unpacking the thousands of items we've somehow accumulated.

One of David's self-imposed chores was to sweep off the roof of the shed. Can you see our new tractor inside? The former owner left it for us. We are thrilled. We will also paint this garden shed to match Casa Azul from the old garden.

There are many leftover rocks when the former owner built this.

What may look like an eye sore to others makes me very excited. I can surely use these all over the garden for small retaining walls and maybe a dry stream bed foundation.

My mother saw this and thought it might be a camperdown elm but I don't think so after looking at the leaves. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you. This is a reminder to myself that I need to identify the many trees on the property before anything is done - moving, removing, or nurturing.

This is the southern area of the property where the fence divides our property in half. Looking east beyond the gate is the area where the super large veggie garden will go after we clear many of the brambles on part of the area. We are also planning on a small "orchard" of fruit trees -- a few apples, a cherry, fig, persimmon, maybe a plum or two. We'll also have several blueberry bushes. Along the very southern border I would like to plant raspberries.

Another look at the site of the new veggie bed. Where the bramble pile is on the left is about where the fruit trees will start.

Meanwhile at the house, the deck is completely empty. This is southern exposure so gets quite warm. I see many agaves and other potted treasures here. This shall be a little getaway cove when we're done with it.

I want to paint the pink railing, too. I appreciate the color but it's not my taste. I'm thinking a charcoal gray and maybe painting the whole deck, too. I may change my mind on that.

From the southern border my imagination turns to this vision: The existing vegetable bed at the base of the deck will be dismantled completely and in its place a fire pit will warm us on chilly nights. I would love it to be surrounded on the north side by stone benches and that would serve as the epicenter for the rest of the garden. I see large sweeps of Amsonia, grasses, small shrubs and maybe the dry creek bed emanating from this central point. I see organic lines and large areas of the same plant intermingled with some foundation plants such as Arbutus unedo, for example. I see the outer edges of the property as a little more wild and, as it gets closer to the house, the plants that require more care will make an appearance.

This will all be gone. Perhaps I will re-purpose the wood and chicken wire for another project. Can you imagine a fire pit with seating, grasses, rocks, dry river bed, paths, plants, etc. coming from this area?

For now, however, it serves an all-important service -- saving my yet-to-be-planted plants from grazing deer. Oh yes, we've seen them -- in fact, they quite like this property. Rumor has it that they sleep under the deck.

The front door. It may not look like it in this photo but it's extra wide. Yay for that! I see many potted beauties out here along with a seating area. It faces north but the wall to the left captures heat and reflects it so plants that take a little sun and warmth will do well here. No real plans to change anything here, just more of a "before" photo while the slate is clean. The former owner also left about ten hanging baskets. Hmmm....what do do with those. I think my mother needs a few, don't you agree?

The window from the garage faces out to the front porch area seen in the previous photo. This is the makeshift greenhouse for now. I'm grateful there is such a shelf in place.

Moving in:
We have been bringing truckloads out every weekend for an while now, slowly moving all the unessential items at first, now on to some of the furniture. David has been off for a few days and has been especially busy building IKEA shelves and unpacking the truck. While he was out there on his own recently, I thought he might put up the tree (which he did), but I did not expect this:

He totally surprised me with an early Christmas present: He had some friends in Nepal make all these felt cats for me for Christmas. I laughed so hard I peed my pants a little. Only David. That's why I married him.

Smile! They are finger puppets, too. Now that took some planning to pull off.

A parting shot of the dining area/kitchen/living room. Of course, it's in a state of flux and most of this is temporary until we get our real furniture out here. That will have to wait until the old house sells, so we're in a bit of a holding pattern. No matter, there's plenty to do until then.

Back to my original question. If you had two acres with which to garden, what would you do? It's fun to imagine, a dream to put into practice. If any of you has ideas you would care to share, I'd love to hear them.

Well, that's it from Chickadee Gardens where David works too hard and has no intention of ever making a dry creek bed with those silly heavy rocks no matter how much chili is offered on a cold, windy Sunday afternoon. OK, that's a David note. I say, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and bring on the chili!


  1. What a challenge, what potential! You've got some great ideas already, so I don't think I can offer anything constructive other than agree with you on taking care of the tree situation first. You won't get a real feel for the place until all of the leaves are back on everything either -- I'm looking forward to seeing those photos too!

    Love the deck "nook", and can't wait to see it transformed. Looks like a nice, cozy spot for a sunny winter's day...

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence Alan. The nook will, I believe, be the "hot spot" of the whole place - we look forward to many lazy evenings out on the deck together!

  2. Anonymous9:22 AM PST

    I am so very excited to the the before shots and can't wait to continue seeing your visions come to life. David was so sweet to have the cats made for you what a loving gesture. Enjoy dreaming

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! David is a big sweetheart, to be sure :)

  3. I don't really have any advice on moving from a smaller garden to a larger one, because when we moved here from Massachusetts 6 years ago, we did the opposite. Our former garden was an acre, the current one is 2/3 acre. But the good thing about moving was that I got to make a whole new set of mistakes, in the process of trying to avoid former mistakes. Starting over is fun but challenging. When we moved we did a major purge of indoor stuff, and that was the smartest thing we did. I put a lot of stuff out at the end of the driveway, free on craigslist to whoever got to it first. Most of it disappeared within minutes of my posting.

    1. I hope I don't regret going larger, Alison. Starting over will be fun and challenging to be sure, and the purging is high on our list - something we've been doing for a year now. Yay for less crap!!

  4. The felt cats are the best part of this post. ;) I have thousands of photos on Pinterest for the day I'm gardening on two acres!

    1. Hee hee..David was very happy to read your comment! :) I wish I had thousands of Pinterest photos, I just have thousands of thoughts going through my head. D'OH!

  5. The kitchen/dining/living room area looks so bright and warm. I can see why you chose this house. As for the garden, you're already making a good start with such thoughtful planning. I already (sort of) have about 2 acres to garden in, though I do dream about what I would do if it were actually, wholly mine and I didn't have to compromise with my parents. Plans are so dependent on the area in question. My advice would simply be to take your time getting to know your new space. Carefully observe how water flows and where frost forms the most in winter, where things warm up faster or slower in spring, where things dry up the most in summer. As you dig, you may find differences in soil from one area to the next. It will take time and some things you'll have to observe after you've already started planting. You strike me as naturally observant and attuned to your environment, though, so I'm sure you'll do all that anyway. Do you do much propagation? You might want to take it up, to help save some money on plants for all that space. I'm planning on taking hardwood cuttings of things like Malus fusca, Holodiscus discolor, Ribes sanguineum, and other deciduous shrubs and trees this winter to plant around the edge of the woods. I'm so excited to be able to grow them now that the deer fence is up. By the way, I'd be happy to visit and help ID things when they leaf out. I'd need a closer shot of that weeping tree to tell what it is.

    1. Your advice is sound, Evan. Yes, I need to examine each area throughout the course of a year to find dry areas and check out the soil. And oh my gosh yes yes yes, come over and help me ID plants! I'd love to propagate, I haven't done much but would love to learn. I will have the greenhouse someday, too.....Come over, Evan!! Come see the land - you are most welcome!

  6. I'm so excited for you! I always told my friends I wanted 2 acres but that's REALLY hard to come by in SoCal, much less LA County (unless you've recently won the lottery). As it turned out, I was very glad to get 1/2 an acre 5 years ago (almost to the day). As I look back, the hardest thing for me was adjusting to working in a much larger space after years and years with truly tiny plots, which I could transform in an afternoon with a single trunk load of plants if I chose to. I think your methodical thought process has you on the right track and getting a good review by an arborist is worth the time and expense. In retrospect, I approached my new garden more haphazardly than I wish I had and now, 5 years out, am only beginning to feel as though I've begun to untap my garden's potential. Good luck and best wishes!

    1. I bet it is, I'm thrilled you have a half acre. I was going to settle for a smaller piece of land if we couldn't find anything but we got so very lucky. I too have this little garden right now so know the feeling of a trunk load of plants and working a day in the garden feeling like I've accomplished so much. Things are about to change and I'm all ears for advice!! Thank you for commenting, Kris! :)

  7. No storage? What were they thinking?

    I'm one of the rare birds who doesn't dream of owning a big chunk of land, maybe because I grew up on 3 acres out in the "country"? I wouldn't mind a slightly bigger lot, but as much space as your looking at would make me feel lost. That said I love your plans for it an it sounds like your already imagining great go girl!

    Now a question. How do you already know some of the trees/shrubs have verticillium wilt? I'm not doubting you, I'm honestly curious.

    1. Re: storage - I KNOW! We're dealing with it, though. Lots of visits to Ikea.

      Re: verticillium wilt - on maples you see dead branches or areas and the leaves wither and die. It attacks the vascular system so comes from the inside out - if you cut off a branch and look at the cross-section of wood you can usually spot some kind of discoloration. I did this back in September and saw that this was the case for a few small maples on the property - the dead branches were very evident. I don't know about any other trees than maple - it does impact many deciduous trees.

      Re: the big chunk of land -- I actually do feel lost. I keep trying to break it down into sections to maintain sanity. If all else fails I'm throwing seed bombs around and calling it a day.

  8. Love your new digs! I can't imagine the challenge and fun of working with this much garden space. What to leave, what to leave, what to move? Yikes! You have some great ideas about what to do with different areas. Because I lack vision when looking at such a large space, I'd call someone with design skills which I sadly lack to help me visualize the possibilities. Congratulations on the move and the awesome outdoor space to work with! That David is a keeper!

  9. Oh T - I think you're totally doing it right. That said, I agree with what Evan said - do the broad sweep planning now, but take your time and fine-tune, as you get to know your spaces. I can't wait to see it in person, but alas - this weekend I have to deal with holiday hysteria. (Not my own, mind you.) Hat's off to David, who got you the perfect present - a tree full of cats. Made me laugh! xoxo

  10. I am so excited for you (and us!!). You have lots more room than we do. I hope that I can fit a vegetable garden in and have all the other things I want - a natural area, roses, and pretty much everything else! It is a new frontier for me - so many new plants I can grow here.

  11. How I wish we had taken a more methodical approach to our 4+ acres. Far from giving you advice, I'll be watching to see how it's done.


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