Thursday, January 15, 2009

Putting down roots

Last year we gave up some of our more ambitious ideas about quickly saving a sizeable downpayment and moving from being renters to homeowners in, say, three years, to a more content-to-stay-put-awhile mindset. And that influences the way I think about gardening.

It's not unusual for me to start thinking about and planning my garden in the middle of January, even though spring doesn't come to Minnesota for about three months. It's the combination of having the busy-ness of the holidays behind us, the increasing sunlight, and the arrival of seed catalogs that turns my thoughts this way. Besides, on a day like today, when the air temperature isn't expected to even get up to zero, garden planning serves as a kind of balm for my spirits. It reminds me that winter is ephemeral, and immersing myself in catalogs and maps of my yard makes this finger-numbing time pass more quickly.

When we first moved in, I was sure we would be moving out again soon, and so didn't look at this yard as truly my own, nor did I take a long-term view to gardening. I did some landscaping and planting that, though it pleased me, was designed to be more generically pleasing as well as low-maintenance, because I wanted to leave behind an asset, not a burden. I was reluctant to plant anything that wasn't going to look good right away. That was OK for awhile, because I dug up and moved a few shrubs from my old yard, and those were already a few years old. Taking some of our shrubs with me also made me feel better about leaving my garden behind. But buying trees and shrubs that are big enough to look like an instant landscape is prohibitively expensive -- I couldn't spend that kind of money, and I knew our landlords couldn't afford it either.

But now that I realize we are going to be here awhile, I feel less urgent and more patient in shaping my surroundings. Last summer I planted a hedge in back, for which I ordered scrappy little bareroot stock that will take more than three years to amount to something, and thus didn't try to talk our landlords into spending a few hundred dollars on plant materials -- the total cost was less than $100, an easy sell.

I have some more ideas about what I'd like to plant this spring, and I'm really enjoying thinking about it in both short and long-term ways. What shrubs and small trees would be fun to grow and an asset to the house, and where can I fit in more vegetables, herbs and annuals for this year's harvest? I'm thinking more in terms of edible landscaping and less about a separate kitchen garden. Not only could a neglected kitchen garden quickly become an eyesore once abandoned, but in a city yard it doesn't make much sense anyway -- there isn't really one sizeable spot where the sunlight is just right for such a garden, but there are several small places where sun-loving vegetables and herbs could grow well.

Mixing culinary plants in with ornamental ones can actually make for some very aesthetically pleasing vignettes, and it serves an additional practical purpose -- the flowering plants attract pollinators and other beneficial insects and serve as buffers between like plants to keep diseases from spreading, as diseases will do when you plant a single species all in a row.

Of course, the old-fashioned term for edible landscaping is cottage gardening, and that's more the image I have in my mind as I begin making my plans for the greening season to come. Just thinking about all this makes me feel warmer already.


  1. When do we start digging?

  2. I can relate a bit about the planting thing Sharon- when Ron & I moved out here- we tried to plant a few things but as the boys form the city discovered- we were providing a tasty buffet for the deer. After our huge gardens in Minneapolis- not to mention our tundra zone up here! We we gather wild seed from flowers in the woods. It's above zero!!!!!!


Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.