March 30, 2011

Something I've Been Avoiding

What might that be, you ask? My front yard. To be more specific, a goal that's been hanging over my head, namely, a design plan for my front yard herb garden.

If you look at our longterm (needing to be updated again) master plan, you will notice that the entire front yard is designated "Herb Gardens." I made a serious analysis for this project, Planning The Herb Gardens, after our first summer here. That fall, we prepared two small beds....

November 2009

I planted a few dye and medicinal plants in one, and some culinary herbs in the other. I planted petunias and zinnias as fillers. In an existing bed to the right of the front door, I planted echinacea purpurea, hollyhocks, and more zinnias.

Rudbeckia, calendula, petunias, & zinnias
July 2010

The goal is no lawn, and our front yard is perfect for sun-loving herbs and perennials. However, when I try to visualize the entire front yard planted in herbs, small shrubs, and flowers, I can't see it. I, who have a squillion ideas when it comes to things like remodeling the bathroom or designing the kitchen, have been stumped.

Butterfly weed, calendula, more petunias
July 2010

So what's the problem. I have herb books with lovely plans for small herb gardens; The New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses and The Complete Book of Herbs are two of my favorites for that. The library has numerous others. My front yard though, is huge, 45 by 108 feet plus. I could borrow ideas from various books and create a series of small gardens, but I couldn't visualize how to connect them as a whole.

The first break-through came from Edible Forest Gardens , I think it was volume 2, Ecological Design And Practice For Temperate-Climate Permaculture  (the one that's missing from my library.) In creating permaculture pathways it said, one idea is to mimic the roots or branches of a tree, with smaller, narrower paths coming off of main ones. That appealed to me because I tend not to go for the formal, symmetrical look. Deciding on a main path around the garden may not seem like much, but it was a major first step for me.

You can click to enlarge if you want

The secondary paths which shape the beds will come off of this. Though I don't have all of that figured out yet, at least I have the backbone.

The second really helpful book I found (also at the library) was Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School. As I read it, I began to understand some of the problems I was having, and why it's harder to design a perennial garden than a room in a house.

When remodeling a room, one can experiment with picture or furniture arrangement. Color schemes revolve around a limited palette. A permanent garden however, is multi-dimensional, multi-seasonal, polychromatic, and changes as the plants grow. The final result isn't realized for a long time, and if the design isn't pleasing, it's no small task to change it.

Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, lavender & pink petunias
September 2010

I've had haphazard looking flower and herb gardens in the past, and don't want another. As I've worked through the exercises in the back of Ann Lovejoy's book however, I find that I'm worrying less and enjoying the process more.

Slow progress on a project doesn't bother me, but a standstill does. I'm just relieved that it finally feels like we're getting somewhere, and I can move forward on the herb garden again.


Hazel said...

I went formal and made a potager herb garden. But I love the idea of a herb meadow and will enjoy following the evolution of your front garden.

Anonymous said...

That is a big space to fill and I can see why it is so difficult to begin filling it- a very large, long term project.

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

I have always wanted someone to come and design my yard to look presentable. I loved the 2010 pics. I am sure when you are done it will look fantastic.

Katrien said...

I have the same problem.
Our front yard at the bottom of the hill is 55 x 100 feet, and we'll be adding a 10 x100 strip to that on a slope as we take down the trees for the solar array. It's a shady frost pocket, 1/3 of it septic leach field, catching all the run-off. It is rocky, bad soil that was choked with brambles and poison ivy - which we pulled last Fall, let's see if they return. The street end gets all the snow the snow trucks push off. This year we had a 4 foot wall of rock hard snow all along the line.
Lots of complications.
And it's huge!
But luckily we won't have to deal with grass, eh?
Edible Forest Gardens and Lovejoy's books: we think alike!

Benita said...

Of course, I love the idea of planting dye plants even more than the herbs. I'm looking forward to seeing the planting guide to see what you chose to plant and where. You have plenty of room to have some fun with and plant some unusual stuff, too.

Mama Pea said...

Yes, I think the very size of the space would be daunting to me. Maybe that's why I like raised garden beds. "Here! You have a 4' x 8' space to work with. Go to it." So much easier to visualize one small space, and then another and then another.

But I know you'll figure it out. And we'll all enjoy the journey.

Leigh said...

Hazel, it's interesting you should mention potegers. Parisienne Farmgirl recently had a Poteger 101 class. I'm behind on it, but have been taking notes!

Evelyn, it's huge. So huge that I wonder if it will ever actually be finished!

Jane, thanks, the color makes all the difference. I figure I'll just chip away at this one bed at a time. Still can't picture the whole, but if I wait on that, I won't get anything done!

Katrien, they are wonderful books aren't they! So many challenges though. We've been battling brambles and poison ivy too. And kudzu. I think diligence is key. We can encourage each other along as we work on making progress.

Benita, the dye plants are a must! LOL. Thanks to Edible Forest Gardens though, I'm really expanding my understanding of the usefulness of various plants.

Mama Pea, that's what I'm figuring out, take it one bed at a time!

DebbieB said...

I would like nothing better than to visit one day and walk that path with you through your gardens.

Such beautiful flower pictures today!

Laura said...

Maybe you shouldn't limit it to herbs. Add rubarb - it's a lovely plant, takes up space and you can eat it (plus it's a perennial). Mix it up - if it's that sunny and warm, add tomatoes on trellises.

One year, I had a small garden - four 4 x 4 squares, and an "L" shaped bed of about 20 linear feet by 2'. I grew so much! I had herbs, tomatoes, beans, peas, bok choy and lots of dye plants, scented geraniums and lavender (obviously not in Oregon or Reno!!). I really enjoyed having everything mixed up - the visual effect was really cool.

Sometimes you have to think outside of the box that you made for yourself...

Toni aka irishlas said...

You've at least started to wrap your head around ideas. That's such a huge step.

It is a huge space and I'm sure it will turn out wonderful like everything else you have done!

Woolly Bits said...

I like formal herb gardens - but only when they fit the house they belong too! with our small cottage that's not the case, so we didn't go for box hedges etc... I did built a herb spiral (good for using the stones we dug out of the soil), but it's not terribly practical as the darn grass is hard to keep out between them:(( and it needs to be very big if you want to grow a lot of herbs! by now I have spread herbs all over the place, those that I need often for food are on "stairs" in window boxes leaning to the front wall/seating area. those that are rather like shrubs, go where soil and light suits them and the annuals go into the veggie plot. sometimes it takes some hunting to find more elusive things, but in general I know pretty well where I'll find my stuff:)) this also takes care of odd requirements, such as shade for wild garlic etc...

Michelle said...

I'm right there with you in the throes of designing my front yard landscape, which I want to include lots of edibles. It's so hard!!! I can't wait to hear more. :D

Leigh said...

Debbie, all I've got to do is to get those paths made! LOL

Laura, actually, that's what I'm planning to do. I'm working toward a perennial garden with an emphasis on herbs, and some edible annuals thrown in. You've got me thinking about some fancy trellises for those tomatoes!

Toni, thanks! I appreciate your vote of confidence. :)

Bettina, sounds like you've adapted your garden to your situation! Keeping track of things is a concern of mine. I tend to forget what I've planted where.

Michelle, it is hard! I think it's the most challenging thing I've done so far!

Margreet said...

That is a big space to design and fill. You are truly amazing what you have achieved so far, inside and out, since moving in. I'm sure you are on the right track here and get your designing done as you would like your front yard to be in the end.
I enjoy following you in your process.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, post some pictures of progress so we can see how it comes together.

Leigh said...

Margreet, thank you for your kind words! The front yard has been the hardest so far. Now that I have a main path, we're going to go ahead with some beds. Hopefully summer will bring a yard full of blooms!

ElsieMay, thanks! I will. I apprecite both the encouragement and the feedback.

Anonymous said...

I have sunny yard envy. It seems all the perennials I want to plant need more sun than my tree surrounded yard can give. So don't forget anything that is red (red leaf maple--there are smaller versions), or something like burning bush that turns red in the fall.--Sue in MA

taio said...


Leigh said...

Sue, it's a challenge trying to figure out where to put things, isn't it? That's the wost part. My red is my nandina bushes! Red berries in summer, red leaves in autumn. And of course I'm planning lots of red flowers too. :)

Taio, thanks!

icebear said...

This morning i got a catalog in the mail, as i was reading it, i remembered you mentioning your front yard project. I wondered if it would help you a bit. Its the Oikos Tree Crops catalog. They have a section in the catalog for "alternative lawns". Its not very large but i thought a couple of the plants might be useful to you.
One is called Running Sensitive Fern. Its a weed suppressant plant with edible fiddleheads- the other is Equidistance Horsetail, Tiny tubers are edible and horses can graze a little of it. Also English Lawn Daisy, low growing and edible flowers (in vinegar a sub for capers)Leaves are a pot herb. Evergreen.
I was thinking those particular plants would help to fill in some spaces and be useful as well.

Oikos has reasonable pricing. I got Jerusalem Artichokes, Big Hip Roses and Beach Plums from them. Just google them, browse their site, i think you will find many fascinating and useful things there.

You may already know of them, but just in case :o)

Leigh said...

Icebear, thank you! I haven't heard of them but "alternative lawns" sounds right up my alley. I've definitely got some areas that need something else besides lawn grass.

icebear said...

oh and i just remembered that i have heard of people planting Thyme Lawns. Choose a low-growing type i understand. I have seen photos of a pink flowered thyme lawn in bloom, its quite pretty and i'm sure it smells amazing especially when it gets walked on.

Leigh said...

I actually have some creeping thyme seedlings! I love the idea of a scent when they're stepped on. Hopefully mine will grow well and thrive!