Feb 242014
 

by Avis Licht

A curved path creates wonder and surprise. You can't see what's around the corner

A curved path creates expectation and surprise. You can’t see what’s around the corner.

When designing your garden, in addition to the obvious considerations of sun, soil and site, you want to make it beautiful  with harmonious color and form and movement . To this I want to add Expectation and Surprise.

I was happily reminded of this when a friend took me on a new hike. She said it was special.

We went to an ordinary looking trailhead and walked up the dirt road through the trees and across the hills.  At a certain point we came to a place in the road that had recently been worked on, with very large stones laid at the edge of the road. Two small seasonal creeks came together and went under the road through a culvert as is common here. Before going across the road my friend turned hard right down a trail.

“Where are you going?” “Just follow me,” she said. So I did.  After just a short walk down into the woods, we turned around, looking back to the road – excuse the phrase – Lo and Behold! we saw the most amazing stone egg sculpture set under the road and surrounded by a 360 degree circle of stones.  The sculpture was more than 6 feet tall.

The surprise was enormous and added to the joy of the vision in front of us. It was so out of the ordinary and so unexpected that we couldn’t stop exclaiming.

Andy Goldsworthy Egg

The Surprise in the Culvert

Although we cannot all present a surprise of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture on our property, we can surprise our visitors with unexpected beauty and form. A fragrance, a place to sit, a view that is slightly hidden and then unfolds is a sweet gift.

Imagination and Surprise

Imagination and Surprise

 

Feb 032014
 

by Avis Licht –

Paths save the soil

Paths create a line of view and protect the soil from compaction.

Here is one ridiculously simple way to save your garden from compaction, drought and confusion.

Create paths exactly where you want people to walk. That’s it. That’s the ridiculously simple and effective way to save water, improve your soil and avoid confusion.

Compaction makes it difficult for water to penetrate, for air to infiltrate and for roots to grow in a healthy manner. Different soil types react differently to being walked on.

Sandy soil has the largest particles among the different soil types. It’s dry and gritty to the touch, and because the particles have huge spaces between them, it can’t hold on to water and does not compact so easily. So you folks near the beach can worry less about this. The rest of you, listen up.

Silty soil has much smaller particles than sandy soil so it’s smooth to the touch. When moistened, it’s soapy slick. When you roll it between your fingers, dirt is left on your skin.

Silty soil can also easily compact. It can become poorly aerated, too.

Clay soil has the smallest particles among the three so it has good water storage qualities. It’s sticky to the touch when wet, but smooth when dry. Due to the tiny size of its particles and its tendency to settle together, little air passes through its spaces. This type of soil is also prone to major compaction.

Just the one action of NOT walking on your soil can help immensely. Reducing compaction allows water to penetrate, saving water; increases root growth, creating conditions for healthier plants, reduces confusion by showing people where to walk.

By building paths, you tell your guests, and yourself exactly where to walk, thereby reducing all confusion. (See first sentence).

Here’s a post I wrote on how to make a simple, safe and sturdy path. The Well Made Path.

Raised beds are a great way to keep your soil from being stepped on continuously.Click here to see a variety of Raised Beds.

Mulch, stones, brick, wood rounds set in a clearly marked path will all work to reduce compacted soils.

This image comes from the University of Kentucky; 

They write: “Compaction results when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore space and aeration.  The damage to the soil structure reduces the soil’s ability to hold and conduct water, nutrients, and oxygen.  Rate of water infiltration is decreased and more water is lost to runoff.  Other effects of compaction include decreased organic matter, reduced microbial activity, poor drainage, increased erosion, and nutrient leaching.

These undesirable effects on the soil directly affect plant growth.  Roots have increased difficulty when penetrating the soil which often results in reduced root growth and reduced ability to take up water and nutrients.  Compacted soils can slow forage establishment, cause short and stunted plants, decrease drought tolerance, and reduce overall yields.  Severely compacted areas often have sparse growth or are bare due to these problems.”

Even a simple stone path, planted with ground cover is beautiful and effective. Paths: you don’t want to live without them.

Jan 202012
 
Raised beds


By Avis Licht

Raised beds have many advantages.  They  provide better drainage,  better access, better plant growth and reduced soil compaction.  There are many ways to build a raised bed.  Let’s  see what would be best for your garden.

Raised beds

Double dug beds are raised and need no edging

The Simplest Raised Beds

These don’t need any built up edge, they only need to be double dug.

This act of digging and moving the soil aerates it and raises it up. Here’s a more detailed explanation.  This is especially effective when opening up the soil for the first time.    By creating “beds” instead of rows, you leave paths for walking and you never step on the bed.  This prevents compaction and allows water and air to penetrate the soil, making for healthier roots. It also lets you plant in a more intensive manner.

Double digging is hard work, but doesn’t need to be done every season. In another post I’ll show you the many reasons for using this method, and different ways you can incorporate  fertility.

Stone for raised beds

Raised beds using stone for both low and tall walls

Stone Raised Beds

Stone lasts forever, and looks beautiful.  It is also easy to create  curving lines in the garden.

As you can see in the photo above, you can use stone to edge your beds, it defines the line and creates a clear path.You can use it to build a wall, which is especially effective on a slope. In this garden, the curved bed was built to 2 ft high, which helps the owner who has back issues.  We  used the opportunity of the height of the bed to bring in some good organic topsoil.

If you bring in soil, be sure to loosen up the bottom of the bed.  It doesn’t help to bring in good topsoil if you don’t have good drainage.

Cost is a factor in deciding whether or not to use stone.  It can be expensive if you have to buy it, and  it takes time to install it.

buildiing curves with stone is easy

This curved bed looks good even when the garden is dormant

Wood Raised Beds

Wood is commonly used for building raised beds in the vegetable garden. Use recycled wood if possible.  Buying redwood or cedar has many implications to the environment.  If you are only raising the beds a few inches, I don’t think wood is worth the effort or the cost.

If you do use wood, be sure not to use pressure treated wood. This includes old railroad ties. The chemicals in this wood are hazardous to your health and the environment.  This article covers the pros and cons of using wood.

Bamboo raised bed

Bamboo or willow can make a great raised bed, especially if you are growing it yourself

You can even find recycled plastic for raised beds. Kits with all the materials you need can make the project simple.  Gardener’s Supply carries all kinds of raised bed kits.

 

Raised beds with stone from the site

The raised bed just planted

 

 

 

When deciding whether to use raised beds in your edible landscape consider your site, soil, resources and aesthetics.

 

 

 

Vegetable garden

The raised bed a year later-- vegetables and flowers

Jan 022012
 
After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

by Avis Licht

After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

It’s possible to have a backyard that is both productive and good looking

Winter is a good time to think about designing, changing or tweaking your garden.

Instead of being knee deep in garden projects, you can sit back and take the time to consider changes to your garden. Your changes can be big or small, but make sure they fit into the grand scheme.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control

Your parameters will be:

1. Your site: Whatever you do has to work within the givens of your site. These include your climate, soil, sun/shade, slope, existing plantings that you won’t change, buildings and hardscape: paths, stairs, retaining walls, driveways and fences.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

2. Your finances: New landscaping can be exceedingly  expensive or fantastically frugal – it depends on how much of the work you do yourself, and whether you use new, used or recycled materials.

Redwood Picket Gate

Gate and Arbor from recycled materials

3. Your desires: What you need and what you want may not always coincide, but at least you can consider them and prioritize them. Not everything needs to be done at once.  Have a plan, then build it over time as you can afford it.

4. The sustainability factor: So hold on here, I have a couple of different definitions of sustainable. Hear me out. On a personal level, your garden is only as sustainable as you can take care of it.  If it takes more work than you can keep up with, then it is NOT sustainable on a personal level.  If it takes more money than you can afford, that too is not sustainable. If you put in plants that require more water than you have available both from nature or from finances, that won’t work either. Your personal input has to coincide with what you can afford on an ongoing basis.

On a more global level, sustainability is about the energy and materials you use to build, maintain and grow your garden. Whether it means reusing the wood from your old fence to build a new one, or using permeable pavers instead of concrete for patios and paths, every time you make a decision on what you will use in your yard, be sure to consider the larger impacts.

Brick step with Wood Edge

Using recycled materials we built a brick step

These bricks were taken from an old job and used by me at my own home.  You don’t have to give up on beauty when you reuse or recycle materials.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about specific designs for edible landscapes for small yards.

 

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