Monday, March 16, 2015

Edible Landscaping Part Two: The Backyard

Garden-dreaming, planning and plotting, is a wonderful thing to do in early Spring.  My long term goal is to turn the rather typical, ugly suburban yard we bought a few years ago into a "fruit and berry forest".  There will be a vegetable garden as well, but the whole family likes fruit better, and I find fruit to be much less work than vegetables.  Sporadic bursts of intense hacking and pruning, a bit of spraying, and harvesting seem to fit my personality better than the everyday micro-management that vegetables require.  Apple, plum and cherry trees grow unattended and wild all over the Eastern Washington town where I live, so I have assumed they must be fairly easy to grow here. And berries can also be had in our climate with very little effort.

Our backyard is composed of a wall of lilacs on the east side (which smell amazing in May but are too high up to pick), hard soil with bits of dry grass in the middle (playing host to a trampoline and a basketball hoop for dunking practice), and a wild-jungle of a hillside to the west. The hillside was formerly covered by a profusion of Oregon Grape, a few messy Mock orange shrubs, some gigantic overgrown juniper and Ivy growing through all.  When we started hacking stuff away, we found stems of Ivy as thick as my wrist in some places, and dense spiderwebs that would be right at home in Mirkwood or the forbidden forest at Hogwarts.  I never knew an ivy stem could be that thick!

A close friend came over one day not long after we bought the house and helped me tackle the wild hill with a pick-axe and giant loppers (that's her below). How awesome is that?! Just so you can see what we started with, here are a few pictures:

Fast forward two years.  For the most part we've cleared the hillside, though the Oregon Grape keeps sprouting new heads. I stuck a few plants in the backyard last year;"stuck in" being the right expression.  They languished in their tiny pots and were periodically flooded with icy hose water whenever I remembered for over a month before even that happened. Surprisingly, most survived. So we have two Triple Crown blackberries, a row of Tulamagic raspberries (highly rated for taste but they flop across the ground, how annoying!), and two cherry trees, a bright red Sweetheart and a yellow Nugent.  I also put some bean seeds, zucchini and strawberries beneath the retaining wall. As beans and zucchini will, they grew just great, and were barely harvested. It was not a good summer for the over-busy working Mama.

But this summer will be different.  I will not be working a day job, so will have lots of time to focus on the garden.  I just put in an order for more blackberries (Triple Crown and a few Kiowa), which will grow to form a high fence-like border at the top of the hill which will prevent the deer from coming down.  The deer decimated the two baby cherry trees last year, so something needs to happen. Blackberries can admittedly become rather jungle-like, but they are both my husband's and my favorite, and I am a zealous pruner.  On the hill itself I'll be putting currant and gooseberry bushes here and there, and a few patches of asparagus.  A ground cover of part clover (Alsike and Red Crimson) and Birdsfoot Trefoil, all which supposedly fix nitrogen and don't need a ton of watering, will be sown in between the shrubs.  Maybe I'll try some Lupine seed as well.  I've read a lot about comfrey and nitrogen fixing shrubs like goumi and silverberry which I might try to fit in to the scheme of things someday, but I'm still researching those.

Dunking practice!  And he'll be three 
inches taller this summer to boot.
At the base of the hill there will be a line of dwarf fruit trees (the two cherries and apricots), and the big long vegetable bed.  All of this faces east, so will receive the morning sun.  I haven't considered what to do yet with the west-facing side, backed by the wall of lilacs.  Right now it's the dunking court.  Nothing grows well there, so maybe when the kids have outgrown the trampoline and basketball hoop, we'll put in a large area for a fire pit and chairs.

In back of the house there is a large paved porch area, with plenty of room for an eating table and barbeque beneath the deck.  There are some large planting boxes in front of the deck posts, I put an Interlaken grape in one and Blue Moon Wisteria in the other, but the Wisteria never thrived and still looks like a little dry stick. So maybe I'll replace it with a red grape to go with the green one.

But before we can really move forward with all of this, we need to take out a giant shade-creating, sickly flowering plum, and two huge junipers that remain at the top of the hill.  I've been wanting to hire someone to do this all at once, but I came home today to find most of the tree branches littering the yard, so apparently my husband has other ideas.

If the kids had their way we would pave the whole backyard and create a basketball court--but--I'm just sayin' no to that one :).  And I haven't even mentioned the broken hot-tub which I am thinking of replacing with some kind of greenhouse someday.  Old though it looks, we were really enjoying it until its ancient and irreplaceable circuit board broke.  How much it is to remove, I've been too scared to ask.  Though all of the above seems like a lot, in reality it's been an almost three-year process so far, and at this point it's still looking less than stellar.  This is a compact and dense summary of those three years thus far.  We've really been plodding along, taking it one project at a time.

Something both wonderful and frustrating about gardens is that they are never "done".  Even once you've completed the major overhaul (still working on that part), there is always something to tweak or revise.  Some plantings work brilliantly, and others flop.  Building soil (ours is yukky clay) is a many-year process in itself.  The world of plants is endless and intricate, and I always feel like I'm learning new, incredible things about the created world.  That is one thing I love about it.  Producing our own food that is delicious, chemical-free, beautiful, and nurturing will hopefully be another.