Wednesday, July 3, 2013

mary mary, quite contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
This summer, we decided to re-do some landscaping in our backyard.  The previous owners hadn't done much with the yard, and it was ridden with weeds by the time we moved in at the end of last summer.  Steve has a pretty extensive knowledge base for gardening (his parents are both avid gardeners), so while my exposure to midwest plant-growing was minimal, we felt confident that we could tackle the yard and plant some new pretty plants over the course of a weekend or two. 
 
Boy, were we wrong.
 
Before I get ahead of myself, we began with three primary target areas:
1) Backyard flower bed (we deemed this the redbud kingdom. More to come on that.), 
 
2) Patio flower beds (sadly, I never took a "before" picture of these bad boys, but essentially if you envision a weed-infested patch of mulch, you've got a pretty good idea of what it looked like), and
 
 3) Overgrown vegetable garden (or shall we say, weed forest?),
 
We visited our local Lowe's to stock up on pretty new plants.  It was actually quite fun planning out what we wanted to go where - not to mention the flower section in the store is so colorful and fun to explore! 
 
Once all of our new plants were purchased and ready to go, our next step was to pull out all the weeds and prepare the soil for planting new plans.  This is when we encountered two unfortunate realizations:

Realization Number #1: Our backyard was actually a baby redbud forest in disguise. See the lovely tree on the right side of this picture? 
 
That is a redbud tree, which releases seed-pods every year. Apparently our particular redbud has been especially seed-pod-happy over the last several years...and the previous owners never cleared the pods out when they fell...which resulted in baby redbuds growing everywhere. See all of those tall weed-looking things? All baby redbuds.  There were also redbuds under the patio, in the vegetable garden, and pretty much anywhere a weed was growing. 
 
Here's the difference between pulling weeds and pulling redbuds - the redbuds have big roots.  A lot of them.  Can't really blame the poor things, they were just trying to build an entire redbud forest so of course their roots would be huge and deep.  But that clearly did not make the job of clearing them out any easier for us.
After fighting with the redbuds for several days weekends, we finally cleared a majority of the redbud forest.  Whew!  Here's the flower bed in progress:
Much better!
 
Realization #2: Gravel in a flower bed is never a good idea.  Turns out the previous owners must have really hated landscaping, because directly underlying the mulch in the patio flower beds was a thick layer of gravel.  Our best guess is that, since our house was used as a rental in the early-mid 2000's, the owner dumped gravel everywhere to keep the landscaping as low-maintenance as possible.  Which is great and all, except 1) weeds still managed to grow through the gravel and 2) to cultivate a healthy flower bed, we had to remove all of the gravel and refill the holes with healthy soil. Terrific.
We dug down until we hit healthy soil - probably a good two feet below the surface - all the way around the patio beds.  The process took several weekends to complete and was pretty intense manual labor for us.  I don't know how landscapers do it...the work is exhausting! 
(Note Steve's "I'm exhausted, please stop taking pictures" smile below - he's a good sport)
We dumped the gravel next to the pond in our backyard.  All in all, that pile was about 2.5 ft high when we were done.
 
Once the gravel was removed, we were left with a clean slate for building up a new flower bed.  (As an aside, Lyla was very intrigued by the entire gardening process.  She followed us all around the yard each day, tromped through the newly-uncovered dirt and even posed for pictures.  Silly girl.)
While I was out of town visiting family, Steve took on the task of building up the flower beds with new dirt, peet and manuer.  I am blessed to have a husband so willing to work for hours to beautify our yard - he worked very hard and had everything waiting for me to plant when I got back! 
 
He also tackled the vegetable garden while I was gone.  I was a little skeptical about the vegetable garden, since I've never had one before, but he was very excited about the prospect of one so I let him run wild with it. 
 
 He cleared the weeds, cultivated the soil and planted beens, sunflowers, a pumpkin, squash, tomatoes and a jalapeno pepper.  When he was all done, the weed forest was completely transformed - and the vegetables have really thrived in the new garden bed!  Excuse the bad-quality photo, but you can see the beans growing on the right and tomato plants climbed their way up on the left.  It's been exciting to watch them all grow from just seeds!
 
When I got back into town, we finally got to put all of our new plants in the ground - a good 1.5 months after the process had begun.  Oh sweet, sweet victory!  It may have taken us a while to get everything done, but we are very pleased with the final results and now feel like we can really enjoy our backyard this summer! 
Before:
After:
Before:
After:
 
We are still working on a couple of things in the yard/patio (aka a new grill and new patio furniture that we ordered last week!), so I'll post more comprehensive pictures of the backyard once everything is complete.  Until then, you can find me outside enjoying our new gardens :)

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