Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Front Garden: here’s what I’ve been up to, chapter 2 (the hard-work)

So I’m starting with a “blank-ish” slate and it’s time to plant. Our spring being what it is has not afforded lengthy periods of planting time. I decided I would be attacking this phase in parts (sub-phases?). First the “big plants” (a relative term they weren’t really all that big…but they were the biggest ones I had) and then later the “smalls.”

It was such a relief to haul the plants I’d been accumulating and storing out to the front garden and see that despite my fears I had not bought too many (no that isn't all of them...not by a long shot). I had previously tried laying out the design on the computer, and when that failed I started sketching. But nothing worked. I had to just walk around the garden with the plants and place them where I thought they should be. And then move them, and move again. This is not quick work. Luckily I was doing this on a weekday so most (but not all) of our neighbors were away at work and not able to watch. Oh what they must think of my puttering around the gravel pit, again. “Why can’t she just have a lawn and be happy like the rest of us!?” Honestly though if they do think that they keep it to themselves. Everyone is very supportive, hollering positive feedback from their car or stopping to ask questions and compliment me on our ‘xeriscape’. Once I was happy with the placement the last big obstacle to my just getting on with the planting was the condition of the three 5-gallon Yucca Rostrata I had splurged on. I was swearing and cursing like a sailor. Who thinks that when potting up a plant like this you need to completely bury the base in rich potting soil? If I had actually planted these plants like this #1 you wouldn’t be able to see the cool base of the plant and #2 it would have probably rotted. Keep the crown above the soil people!!! And the same goes for Agaves, these big thick succulent “leaves” don’t grow out of the soil; there is a mass at the center of the plant. You should be able to see it! Ok…so I think I made that point…onward. After a day and a half of planting the “bigs” it was time to bring out the smaller plants. No this didn’t happen all in the same week. In fact I think it was a good two weeks between these phases. Most of these "smalls" were things I bought at 40% off from Garden Fever in late winter, things I already had like Agaves that had been growing in pots, Opuntia from my kind neighbor, or things I dug up elsewhere in the garden. A couple of small agaves were new and when I pulled them out of their plastic pots this is what I found… Roots bursting and pups in the making. With any luck there might be a couple small agave colonies in my future! Here’s where some of you might be thinking “Agaves…in the ground? In Portland? Isn’t it to wet?” well yes, and no. It’s all about good drainage. And it’s all the fault of this one: I planted this one and two others just like it last summer. Then before winter hit I wimped out and dug two of them up, leaving this one as a sacrificial experiment. And it did just fine! It must be the slope of our lot in the front of the house helping to take the rain away. Plus when I planted it I had worked in some Cherry Stone Grit (ground quartzite) for drainage. So I bought a bag to use when I planted these agaves. Utilizing the larger rocks I had bought (see chapter 1) I built the soil up with some of the grit mixed in with regular garden soil, all in the name of better drainage. So it’s time to do it all over again. I walk around arranging the plants, finding their best spot and then planting. It’s a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon! Okay…next up: it’s planted, but what does it look like? (to be continued...)


  1. Uhg, despite my training I can't work out my garden layout on the comp. either! I do a little better with my sketchbook, but I also come down to moving things around in RL ;)

    Although once I printed out a scaled layout of the front yard and cut scaled color circles to represent different plants and moved them around that way. It did ok... but I'm don't stick to plans so well.... hehehe

    Good luck with the pups!

  2. Hah! You had me cracking up over your comment about the neighbors watching you in the "gravel pit" and wondering why you can't be happy with a lawn. Too funny! We're definitely on display out there, aren't we? But of course the puttering is half the fun, no? You've got some awesome looking plants. Can't wait to see how it all comes together.

  3. It's looking good and boy am I learning a few things here.

  4. When I was a young woman, "management by walking around" was The Great New Thing. The bloom might be off that particular rose, but I don't think there's anything like gardening by walking around. I agree that in theory it is possible to commit a 3-D endeavor to paper (or monitor) and landscape architects do it all the time. For me, though, envisioning is not at all the same as moving the pots around on terra firma.

  5. Mary, I'm glad to know I'm in good company with the real life method!

    Pam, I do love the puttering...but yes! The front garden is a stage. Especially this time of the year when the park at the end of the street is alive with activity. I was very happy to have a couple weekdays to work.

    Darla, really? That is kind of you to say.

    Patricia, oh my husband still swears by "management by walking around"...nothing like it for keeping people on their toes!

  6. Same here, produce maps on computers for a job but can not get to grips with the garden software! When I designed my front garden I got an artist friend to draw it for me, I now have the sketch framed.
    Anyway the garden looks great and no doubt will be getting lots good comments from passers buy in the future.

  7. Your xeriscaping will look so much cooler than a lawn. In fact, having a lawn is actually high maintenance, much more so than what you're doing. Over burying plants can be a problem here too, mostly done by clueless nursery staff as they over top dress their plant stocks.

    Looking forward to your next installment. Fantastic plants btw!

  8. Looks great! And good on you for going all out with our agaves in the ground all year. It will be fun to see how they all fared next spring.

    I've spent a good bit of time designing "on paper" and have found it of limited use. I think your approach works marvelously.

    Cherry Stone Grit is new to me. Is it anything like chicken grit?

  9. Spiky O, thank you. I am really surpirsed how many people stop to ask me what my Euphorbia is (when it's in bloom of course). I love answering garden questions!

    Mark and Gaz, thanks! I don't know if people water lawns in the summer in the UK but here they let them go dormant...brown grass is so ugly! Gravel rocks.

    Van, the Cherry Stone Grit is chicken grit...I was just trying to be all proper and use the actual product name. It's the best!, or torture (agaves next spring) we'll see....

  10. Great set of plants and nice to work with a blank canvas. I cam wait to see what cooking next in th spring planting. Matti

  11. Nice job. It's looking great.

  12. I did notice in one of your pictures where the neighbors across the street all had "normal" green yards. Quite a contrast to you "gravel pit". Can't wait to read Chapter 3.

  13. Way to go - next heat wave, your neighbors will go "wow, that looks great in THIS heat." And "why do you get all the butterflies and birds?"

    I covet your damp pavement...

  14. Looks very promising. I'm definitely looking forward to planting everything in my plant penitentiary as well! Glad to know I'm not the only one who eventually ends up just placing things around and moving them until I'm happy...all the plans and blueprints in the world seem to fall short once the actual planting starts. Can't wait to see the final results...btw...what's the reddish/pinking plant in the 4th pic from the top?

  15. Matti, personally I would have liked the canvas to be a little less bare...some mature things would be nice!

    Thanks Grace.

    Bom, yes! And right this very minute is when they are all looking their very prettiest. All bright and green. It makes my gravel look so drab by comparison.

    DD, exactly! Once their grass turns golden who'll be looking like the smarty pants! (I wish I could share the damp pavement, really I do).

    Scott, that's a Yucca aloifolia 'Purpurea' they are starting to show up more and more in nurseries. I think Portland Nursery as very small ones currently for $9.99, I got mine at Tsugawa Nursery off I-5 north of Vancouver. A steal at $7.99!

  16. Thanks for that tip about planting higher in the hole. Maybe that's why there has been a high failure rate here. Now I have a reason to try again.

  17. Catching up on your posts here: The plants look great! I see you went for the spendy Yucca rostrada, and now that I see them here again I'm a little wistful that I didn't push myself harder... They will look wonderful in the garden! And you can plan and draw all you want but there's no sub for the real thing on the ground.

    Just for the record, if I were your neighbor I'd be cheering seeing you move stuff around in the "gravel pit".


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