A Home for Your Gnome

Gardening Advice from a Fan of Fun!

The Evolving Garden

As time moves on, our gardens WILL change

Time flies when you’re getting old!

Have you ever remodeled a room in your home because its current appearance and function no longer fit your lifestyle? Perhaps you’ve converted a no longer-used bedroom into a home office or transformed a basement room into a home theater or rec room. When it comes to our gardens, many folks seem to be more reluctant to radically alter their appearance aside from changing a few plants here and there.

The fact is that as we and our families grow older, our outdoor environment should evolve to suit our current needs. I’m not talking about ripping out a spent azalea in favor of a better plant. I’ve always considered plantings to be icing on the cake when it comes to garden design. My focus today will be on changing the overall function of a piece of your landscape or garden including circulation, structures, and vegetation.

It All Begins with a Plan

Ours is not a large backyard but a lot is happening on 2200 square feet. There is the recirculating pond, brick patio complete with baseball bleacher seats, grill area (gas and charcoal of course), hammock, perennial border, privacy fence with its multitude of “decor”, brick walkway, and play structure. It is the latter element that inspired a major change in our garden. I designed and constructed the cedar fort-like fun house when our kids were very small. Now our two daughters are grown and the nights of sleeping in the “fort” are but great memories.

I once read a great book entitled Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. While I’m not exactly off the grid with regard to sustainability as the author did with her family for a full year, her writing inspired me to make better use of the little space I have. I decided the play structure had to go and, in its place, would be raised vegetable gardens with the necessary pathways. An additional feature that came about as a result of working with an existing rain gutter outflow pipe was a small rain garden on one end of the new design and a rain barrel collector on the opposite.

Our girls outgrew their play structure, so to the neighbors, it went (behind fence) Time to plant some veggies!

As a landscape architect, I’m a big believer in planning and design before you turn over the first shovel of soil. Since this project was so close to home, I’ll confess that my main design tools were a can of marking paint, a tape measure, and some stakes and string.

Finding Homes for Reusable Things

My biggest dilemma during the early implementation stage was what to do with the play structure. I’m a sentimentalist and am having a hard enough time coping with a daughter who is beginning to drive so in my mind, getting rid of the fort was not an option. Fortunately, our very good friends and neighbors immediately behind us had 2 small boys who made the most owner of the slightly remodeled play structure so everyone won. And yes, those two “small boys” are small no longer. Someone please slow this clock down!

If you should ever find yourself in a similar garden remodeling situation, I urge you to recycle whatever you can. Too often we take the easy way out and simply haul out junk to the curb to be gathered by the trash truck or haul it to the landfill ourselves. Remember, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”.

Bringing in New Materials

For our raised bed garden project, I wanted to use a material that could conform to the crazy shapes we landscape architects concoct and I wanted it to be permanent (because I don’t really want to do this again in 10 years). Therefore, I opted to use stack stone. Our backyard is pretty landlocked so this meant a lot of trips with the trusty wheelbarrow for yours truly. Six tons, of stack stone, five tons of topsoil, sand, and compost, and three tons of #10 crushed stone later, I had nearly everything I needed to keep myself busy for a few hours.

There was a little planning ahead needed as I constructed the rain garden. I wasn’t very keen on the idea of my crushed stone paths being washed out should the rain garden ever fill to capacity. To prevent this, I ran an overflow pipe under the main path where it now empties near the base of my red buckeye (again, everyone’s happy). I also retrofitted my existing irrigation system and low-voltage lighting to enhance this new garden addition.

A little marking paint and a lot of sweat and then it’s time to relax.

Enjoying the Fruits (and Vegetables) of Your Labor

The last step was to add the plants, oh boy! Again, 250 square feet of raised beds isn’t all that much if you’re planning on providing sustenance so every square inch has to count. Currently, there are tomatoes, sunflowers, herbs, strawberries, peppers, zinnias, and nasturtiums elbowing each other for light and water. Mind you, there aren’t a lot of any of the above. Just enough for us all to check their progress daily and eagerly await some mini-harvests.

The point is we took a portion of our yard that no longer served much purpose other than mowing a little patch of it every so often and transformed it into a beautiful and functional part of the complete landscape. We’ll learn from our over-planting mistakes and scream a few obscenities from the window as the squirrels and chipmunks make some early morning raids. So, look around your yard and ask yourself this question, “Is this the best this could be?” If not, it’s time to evolve.

Before and after of our pond. Water flowing over the perfect rock for 36 years!

My “Adopt-a-spot” (early and presently) down the street. When you run out of room in your own yard…….

Till next time,


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