Rixie Rixie Quite Contrixy, How does your garden grow?

After visiting my friend Richard’s house and seeing what an amazing garden he has built up over the past few years, I got really inspired.  I had spent some time the previous winter wondering how I could encourage some desirable herbs to grow in my yard, but not until I saw my friend’s herb and vegetable gardens did it dawn on me that I could actually just sow the plants in my own garden.



Tomato leaves (top) and flowers (bottom) from my garden.

The soil in my yard consists of a gummy clay.  Situated so close to the creek, I generally have drainage problems, and the soil often feels squishy.  Richard recommended that using raised beds would help with drainage, especially if I mixed sand with compost to help the soil drain even more.  So I needed compost, and I needed sand.

Richard took me to the City of Fayetteville compost facility with his pickup and helped me haul a load to my house.  He also let me borrow a digging fork (like a pitchfork, but for “digging” instead of “pitching”) for upending the sod to loosen it up and turn the grass growing in the yard into organic soil matter for my garden plants to consume.  While talking to my friend Luke about needing some sand, he said, “We have a huge pile of sand behind where I work.  You can get some of that.”  So I had compost and sand.  I just needed to get to work.

The neighborhood kids loved that I had a big pile of black dirt in my yard and buckets full of sand.  I let them play in it as I used the fork to turn over the sod where I wanted to make my raised bed.  Then the kids helped me mix the compost with the sand in a wheelbarrow and dump and spread it over the spot.  They also had fun helping me plant the seeds in the soil and water them.  At my neighborhood grocery store, I found several discount tomato and bell pepper plants, as well as onions and squash.  Since the main planting season had already passed (I didn’t start my gardening endeavor until June) I got them for less than a dollar per plant.

Aside from “The Rectangle” (my main raised bed), I have a few other garden spots.  The tenant who lived in my apartment before me had grown spearmint and sunflowers next to the front porch.  The sunflowers all died from the heat last summer despite my desperate attempts to water them with bucketfuls from the creek.  The mint, on the other hand, proliferated despite the fact that the other tenant had tried to rip them all from the ground before she moved out.  In fact, by last autumn, they had already started making themselves known again.

The spearmint grows in a roughly triangular patch on the right side of my front porch, right where the rainwater runs off the roof.  The wet soil seemed to really help the mints spring back, so I thought it might also offer a nice home for nettles, since they love wet ground as well.  I took some branches from the willow that fell last summer and made stakes to drive into the ground to separate the spearmint and nettles from the rest of the yard.  Then I wove long branches from that same fallen willow tree between the stakes to make a little fence.

“The Triangle” (left) where spearmint, nettles (right)
and maypop (see next picture below) grow.

I had also transplanted a little sprig of maypop next to the porch last summer.  The lawnmower man kept cutting it down with his weedeater (I should call it a “weed lacerator” instead.  It doesn’t do the weeds the honor of eating them; it just shreds their stalks and leaves them bleeding) last year, so now that it rests within the protection of the little willow fence, it has a chance to grow.  Since it took so much torture last year, I don’t know whether it will grow enough to produce fruit this year or not.  But I have hopes that as the summer progresses, it will start climbing the front porch support and display its lovely flowers and fruit.

On the other side of the porch, the ground started sloping down to the creek, so I used willow logs to make a square box to raise the soil level up to the level of the porch.  I planted a variety of herbs in “The Square” including oregano, fennel, catnip, cilantro, mesclun greens and a few other seeds that never took.  I had started making the box walls last summer (also from the fallen willow) and had put some purslane that I dug up from another place in the yard inside the box to keep it from getting mowed down all the time.  I feared that when I covered over the original ground with the sandy compost mixture that I might have killed my chance of having purslane this year, but it has started coming up as well.

Once I had made those three spots, I still had a little bit of compost left in the place where Richard and I had unloaded his truck.  I didn’t look like enough to make another raised bed anywhere, but I had too much left to ignore.  My first thought consisted of trying to transplant dandelions from other places in the yard and make a huge dandelion patch.  So I started digging up dandelion roots and planting them in the compost.  Then the kids found a few more packets of seed that I had not found room for in the rectangular bed: melons, pumpkins and sunflowers. We mounded up the remaining compost into four little hills and planted two of them with pumpkin seeds and two of them with melon seeds.  The dandelions already filled a little space between the mounds and the wall of the house.  Finally we dug a line on the north side of “The Patch” to sow with sunflower seeds so that they wouldn’t block light from the other plants.

We have had a really wet summer so far.  Not long after I planted the beds, we got a rain so heavy that it washed some of the soil off my seeds.  I don’t think any of my cucumbers survived, and only one of my sunflower seeds remained to send up a sprout.  I knew that I needed some kind of mulch to protect the soil from erosion, to continue to add nutrients to the soil, and to help control moisture loss as the summer gets hotter.  I bought a bale of straw at a local gardening store, and once I put it down, I could tell the garden really appreciated it.  Everything started growing more once I covered the ground.

Now I just have to wait to see what my garden will bring me.  The tomatoes and squash have started flowering.  The nettles and catnip have poked their heads through the ground.  My maypop reaches for the sun and sky.  The melons look like they might take over the yard.

You can see the similarity between the flowers of the tomato from my garden (left) and other members of the nightshade family such as the silverleaf nightshade (middle) and the Carolina horsenettle (right) which all have a distinctive star shape.

Aside from the plants I introduced to the yard, I also have some resident friends as well.  Last year, I barley got to sample the berries of the elder trees that grow along the creek.  This year, I have had the chance to sample their flowers, and now I eagerly await their fruit as well.  The willows support lots of summer grape vines and also shelter some jewelweed plants at their bases.  Along the edge of the creek, a few plantain plants grow without much fear of the mower chopping them down.

From left to right: elderberries, wild grape, jewelweed, plantain

Both wild and tame, I think my yard has some wonderful things to share with me this year.

~ I wrote this post in e-prime ~

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5 responses to this post.

  1. BEAUTIFUL!!

    i am so impressed by your gardening skills–great job, Rixie!! :)

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rix on 07/09/2007 at 9:21 am

    Thanks, Rebeekah. But you shouldn’t feel too impressed. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I way over crowded my plants. I think they’ll still produce something for me, but they may not feel as healthy as they should. But I definitely have learned a lot from my failures.

    Reply

  3. […] Plants « Rixie Rixie Quite Contrixy, How does your garden grow? […]

    Reply

  4. […] to cloud my mind.  I have started talking with some friends like Richard (who helped me with my garden) about our different skill sets and how we could make use of Open Space Technology to get […]

    Reply

  5. […] berries. The catnip and basil blooms have gone to seed. Other flowers have taken over, though. My maypop took off this year, and its showy passionflowers grace the twine trellis above my nettles and mint. […]

    Reply

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