A Blank Slate - Windermere Studios

Breaking Ground

We bought a blank canvas, for the most part. There's  lawn everywhere, some coniferous trees planted along the driveway and the east property line, a single maple shrub plunked down in the center of the front and three ninebarks in the back. The western side of the property does have a beautiful aspen grove, and my observations from this summer suggest it's full of native species in the undergrowth. There's a few coniferous trees in the forest that may have been planted by people rather than squirrels as they're in a pretty straight line on the western edge. Many of the aspen close to the house/yard have borer beetle damage. This might be the result of stress on the trees from clearing the ground around the garage and house, though I'm speculating about that. The upside is that the aspen grove is home to a lot of woodpeckers.

So, back to the blank canvas. It's not our first time building the landscape from scratch. We've owned and nurtured a 70 yr old property that was totally overgrown, a new build without any soil, and a 40 year old property that was also totally overgrown, so we are sure we'll be able to transform this barren plot into something full of life with time. 

We started by hiring a landscape designer to make sure my ideas were sound, for inspiration, and to give structure to both the landscape and our job of nurturing it. She provided us with an overall plan for the infrastructure of the garden, the framework in which we can make our choices for shapes, sizes, colors. Like all good plans, it's not so much rules as guidelines and it will evolve as we listen to the land and figure out it's best uses.     

In 2018, we built a planter off of the back deck. Four plant boxes and three spots for fountains between them. Four roses, one per planter along with various perennials from Windermere. We placed the stair riser planter that Daryl built at Windermere on the other side of the deck stairs and grew flowers and veg in pots there.

Originally we'd planned to remove all of the grass from the east side of the garage and build our gardens in a series of tiers sloping down the east side of the yard. It would have looked amazing, but in the end we came to realize that would have created a huge garden that we just weren't ready to manage all at once. 

2019 started, in the dead of winter, with the ordering of 90 (mostly fruit) tree saplings! They were scheduled to arrive first week of May, providing a deadline for preparing the garden beds that they'd call home. 

Daryl built a huge hexagonal herb planter for me in the garage over winter, and we moved it out beside the firepit in early April. 

Up next, a 4 ft wide, 24 ft long bed for the raspberries. haskaps (because why not?) and saskatoons. We first rototilled away the grass, early enough in spring that the rototiller could bite and till the ground. We built a 2x8 border around the tilled ground, and dug some landscape barriers into the ground around the outside of the border in an attempt to keep grass out.

The raspberries fit in the first half of that garden, and it's their permanent home. I companion planted a couple of yarrow plants between the varieties, and a patch of daikon radish, nasturtium and borage. The idea behind planting daikon is that it is a very long, strong tap root that will break up the soil. That didn't happen. Instead the daikon produced lovely tall foliage with pretty pink flowers but no roots. I let all of them go to seed and am interested to see what comes of that. But I'm more interested in a thriving raspberry patch. We added manure and bark mulch to the patch and that was relatively successful in preventing invading grass and weeds. I originally planted the saskatoons and haskaps in the other half. Later in the summer I moved them to a different spot, and planted a bunch of raspberry canes from Windermere in their place. This half of the planter didn't have the mulch layer, and saw a good crop of clover invade it. I expect that the raspberries will out compete the clover with time. 

The third build was two 4 ft x 12 ft raised vegetable beds, about 2 ft high.They're built on the sloping side of the yard, so are deeper on the east (but of course level). We'd tilled the grass for these as well, then layered cardboard followed by some scrap pallet wood before adding garden soil. Filling them required four truck boxes of garden mix (1/3 soil, 1/3 sand, 1/3 compost) from the local garden center, and quite a lot of elbow grease. These were ready to use, and had seeds in ground, by early May. 

I didn't want to over do the amount of garden we built, in case it either produced far too much or was more work than I could manage. This gave me 96 square feet of veggie garden to start the year.

We'd decided to add structure to the steeply sloping east corner with a stairway. That was built with 4 x 4 frames and filled with gravel. It solves the problem of trying to mow along the inside of the fence on that steep slope while also giving the corner structure and a defined walking pathway. Wrapped this up in June, and were definitely able to say we were making great progress building ecosystems from the monoculture of lawn here. 

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