Home & Garden

How to design a growing garden

Erin Owen

The southeast corner of the house became a starting point for a garden after the existing evergreen tree was removed. A white wedding arbor anchors the garden and creates visual interest. Vines, ground covers and flowering perennials join potted annuals and herbs in the garden. The plan is to extend the garden westward to the fence line.
Erin Owen The southeast corner of the house became a starting point for a garden after the existing evergreen tree was removed. A white wedding arbor anchors the garden and creates visual interest. Vines, ground covers and flowering perennials join potted annuals and herbs in the garden. The plan is to extend the garden westward to the fence line.

What’s left to do when the interior work is largely done?

Partly to spend more time outside and beautify the exterior, I have been tackling gardening projects this season. This has been a big change for me. My thumb is as green as the days are cool in the summer. Keeping plants alive has been a struggle. I’ve had bamboo plants and African violets come and go.

Inside, I’ve had some success with succulents. One that has thrived the most began its life in the Noelridge Greenhouse. I do best with plants that can be left to grow on autopilot. However, I’ve also had some that I hydrated too much.

I love the mature trees around our house, but they provide considerable shade. So much shade that we thought our yard couldn’t support a garden. For the most part, that is true.

The south-facing wall of our house is one sunny exception. The southeast corner was once home to a tall evergreen that leaned more than it should have. After that was removed, possibilities opened up for the plot.

It turns out we had the perfect focal point for the corner, but it took a couple years to make it there. Dave’s grandfather made us an arbor for our wedding ceremony. Instead of concealing it in the backyard, it now anchors a growing garden and provides a way to raise plants off the ground.

We envisioned vines crawling up the sides and over the top of the arbor. The first thing I planted was clematis on each side of the arbor. Each side has grown at different paces, but vines have reached the top on both. I’ve found the vines to be delicate and broken off a few while trying to direct their growth. This year at least 13 buds developed into large purple flowers.

This year’s work started with clearing out mulch from previous seasons. After that cleanup, I worked on creating an alternating rock border along the landscaping edging.

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That involved picking up white marble rocks I had placed as accents the previous year. I placed those between obsidian-colored rocks and limestone fragments.

While raking the soil, I had a moment of panic. I had planted some balloon flowers but was unsure about exactly where. Was I digging up their roots? I was relieved when the stems started emerging. After an Iowa winter clears signs of life, I now know the importance of using plant markers.

I’ve also learned other lessons.

• Don’t forget to deadhead. Removing dead blooms from a plant helps encourage new growth. This has helped me extend the life of hanging baskets.

• Don’t think you know better; follow the spacing guidelines on the plant tag.

• Digging up rocks to relocate them is time-consuming.

I have since dug up more river rocks I placed in the backyard to use as a border for some sedum plants. I like how rocks can define an area and how their smooth surface contrasts with rough mulch.

I’ve enjoyed being outside so much — even through the heat and humidity — that we’re planning to expand our garden area next year. We’d like to remove the grass along the south-facing wall and create an edible garden.

I planted basil and rosemary in pots this year, and the rosemary grew better than I anticipated. Having fresh rosemary sprigs available for dinner has been convenient and delicious. I’m planning to bring the rosemary in as it can winter inside and is safe for cats.

Spider plants, too, are cat safe, but it had no defenses against ours.

I can’t really blame his attraction to the plant though. Sinking your teeth into something green can be satisfying.

l Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: erin.n.owen@gmail.com

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