Our gardens in many lights

dimanche 21 avril 2013

Garden, The Third

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Hélène and Louise : We didn't forget our blog's name, but life's unexpected adventures (including a change in the ownership of the aforementionned garden) have postponed greatly the creation of this superb little garden, a raised bed vegetable garden made for a first floor apartement, that completely receive the south sun.

Right at the start of it, it was established that the garden would need protection from foot (and paw) traffic. The solution was to make use of comfortable high-raised beds since it's within the neighbors and guests' reach. Furthermore Geneviève, the new owner, has a big dog that's sometimes very clumsy. Let's not understate the soil itself, a very poor soil that's mixed with too much gravel and that passed most of the last 20 years under the shadow of a giant wood deck. Constructing raised beds - wood boxes made of cedar boards, as it turned out - makes it possible to move the garden elsewhere should the owner move. Considering all this, it was easy to decide on wooden raised beds even though it is more costly in terms of materials and time. Here's the evolution in a couple of pictures.
This apartment had a huge deck that was in dreadful condition. Once it was removed, we salvaged some of the wood, like the railing you can see here that was used to support trailing plants. The wooden raised beds are made of brand new cedar boards. The biggest one measures 4x4 feet (you can see it in the middle of this picture). We also salvaged cement slabs, whole or broken. The whole ones were used to make a tiny terrasse and a floor for the bottomless wooden boxes, while the broken ones were used to make stepping stones around the raised beds.
The central raised bed is now in position on top of its cement slab. The raised beds against the wall measure 4x2 feet. The one under the window is the bottom part of a gymnastic apparel while you can see the top in the foreground to the right. These two elements were finally replaced by two other cedar boxes because the angles of the walls made it too hard to dress them like the others : with a salvaged swimming pool liner. Indeed, all the boxes are lined with such a liner up to half-height. The boxes were then filled with the salvaged gravel. A white PVC pipe was positionned vertically in a corner to permit easy watering to the bottom. By imprisonning gravel within a liner like this, it creates a reservoir that can hold lots of water. On top of the gravel, there's a thick layer of dead leaves to prevent soil sifting through the gravel in excess. Finally, everything is topped-off with a mix of good soil, compost and sheep manure. This mix stops at 10 cm under the top of the walls.

Even though the yard is very small (9-10 by 28 feet), it can still accomodate a good gardening area. There are 3 medium boxes against the wall, the big one in the center, 2 other boxes with covers that allow storage for gardening equipment and work also as sitting benches, and 2 small boxes of 3x2 feet that support an arch made of three portions of the old deck's railing. This last element is placed at the garden entrance and frames a small sidewalk that leads to the sliding door of the apartment.

This picture shows the white PVC pipe used as a "chimney" to see through the bottom of the box : one look and the owner quickly knows if water is needed. This way of watering also prevents the soil from being compressed by repeated waterings and thus the roots of the plants remain undisturbed (besides the unavoidable - and necessary - rainfalls). You can also glance in this picture the stepping stones path.

Like any construction work, this one took longer than expected, so some of the tomato plants, the eggplant and cabbage plants used were already sizable transplants, else there would have been no harvest! Most of the rest as been planted from seeds, however.
Three Sweet Berry Honeysuckle shrubs (Lonicera Caerulea, a species that produces edible berries in the middle of June - before strawberries - and can reach 6 feet (180 cm), but they can be pruned if necessary) and one dwarf cherry tree have been planted on the outskirt of the garden, they will do a bit of shade for other plants when mature.

The delicate eggplant flowers.
Once well established, this garden produced a surprising amount of food! In the picture above (taken in August when the season was already well advanced), from left to right, nasturtium leaves can be glanced (the round leaves) next to the cucumber vine; in the two background boxes, tomatoes already have achieved a respectable height. In the center one, there are dwarf beans called "Soleil" ("Sun" - a yellow variety), the immense plant parading green-blue leaves is a cauliflower and the barely visible purple leaves are those of eggplant. There's another eggplant hidden in there, a green-leaved variety (the flower is pictured here, at your right) and a couple of bell pepper plants.

Hélène : Tomatoes companioning with marigolds, which have the reputation of
warding off certain nematodes because marigold roots produce
sulphur-containing substances called thiophenes that kill these nematodes
when released into the soil. However, note that tomatoes are not known
to attract these specific nematodes and according to some specialists,
for the marigold to be efficient, you would have to make a rotation
between these two plants; so marigold one year, susceptible plant the next.
Yes, companion-planting is sometimes complex. Personnally, although
I appreciate the advantages of rotation crops in the garden, I'm not
fond of monocultures.

The tomato plants have been tied to the railing as
they grew. And grew they did, to an astounding speed,
like the garden overall, actually. This success is due to
2 or 3 things : First there was no compromise on the quality
of the soil and amendments (compost and manure). Secondly,
the water reserve at the bottom of the boxes kept an acceptable
and constant level of humidity. Finally, this garden benefits
from an exceptionnal microclimate, favorable for fruit plants
like tomatoes that were thriving against the warm brick of the wall.
However, this is no good for vegetables that require cool conditions, like
lettuce which died quite fast.
At the beginning of the season, here's the box containing the cucumber plants with fellow companions marigolds and nasturtiums, both having the reputation to ward off pests. Nasturtium leaves, flowers and seeds are edible and the plant itself can be used as a sacrificial plant - also called a trap crop. The nasturtium is one of the favorites for the aphids and by sacrificing her to them, the aphids will not bother other crops (or barely). The white PVC pipe for watering is very visible in this picture too.
For the best cukes, a soil rich in organic matter is a must : the fruits
of that labor are evident in this picture.
The cucumber vines climbed the railing rather well,
helped by the gardener, as the tomatoes were. They too
enjoyed the warmth of the brick wall, especially at night.
It's called thermal mass : By day the wall accumulates the
heat of the sun ; by night it releases it ever so slowly, creating
a temperature that's much more stable throughout a
24 hour period.
The corner next to the door and under the second floor balcony is more shaded than the rest of the garden ; consequentially, shade tolerant plants were placed there. The rhubarb and strawberries are only in their first year but will occupy the entire place soon enough. This spot is not an area where people and dog thread either, so a box was unnecessary, direct planting was sufficient. If you have pets that eat plants however, be warned : rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Luckily, Geneviève's dog has never shown interest in munching plants.

The arch is surrounded by flowers like begonias, purple coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed susan, blazing star (Liatris) and marigolds. This arch was the perfect spot for pole beans. Two varieties were seeded on site : Blue Lake (green shelled) and Trionfo Violet (purple shelled).
Both climbed the railing by themselves.
At the end of the season, the structure was entirely covered by these vines.
One of the many harvest of cucumbers and "Soleil" bush beans.
A rainbow of tomatoes and Blue Lake and
 Trionfo Violet beans. This last variety is easier
to harvest than the previous because its
purple beans are easier to spot through
the green foliage.
This garden definitely had its share of challenges, from a clumsy dog to the restricted space; creativity was indeed needed to surmount them. But as this tiny garden can attest too, it's possible to have abondance. Not to mention this was Geneviève's first garden! This little piece of heaven gave her such a bounty she could share it with neighbors and friends and freeze part of it for winter use. And after all, isn't this one of the magics of gardening, getting people together and making friends along the way?

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