So many exciting things are happening!!

  1. The tulips are poking up!
  2. The snow is gone!
  3. My brain is going crazy with gardening stuff to do!

I plan to build some stuff this week:

  1. A window-box type holder for the back porch railing
  2. Trellises for the alley garden
  3. Maybe work on converting some planters to self-waterers

Also need to further plan my beds!  Also need to figure out how to get the manure from my parents’ down to my house!

I have a call in to the Capitol Region Watershed District about their rain barrel grants.  I am hoping we can install several since they match what you pay dollar for dollar.

My thoughts are also turning to hardscaping – flagstone paths and edging in the front yard.

My wildest dreams are trying to figure out how to espalier a fruit tree on the front of the garage.

Some bummers, too:

  1. The bunnies chewed off the climbing roses so we only have one cane of old wood now.
  2. The hydrangea planted last fall is not showing any signs that it plans to come back, though I may not be looking for the right signs.
  3. No crocus or daffodil action yet.  I am, however, encouraged by the tulips.

Today’s item of research has been organic lawn care.  Should I aerate or not?  Should I apply fertilizer (Ringers was recommended) or just compost?  Bah!!  Although in the process I did find a nifty new permaculture forum that seems pretty active and welcoming.

Overall, though, a Yippeeeeeeeeee!


Wow, I see that it’s been over a month since I last posted.  That doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy, busy, busy in the gardens.

First of all, the alley.  Oh, how it has changed.  We have covered the entire 31′ x 7′ strip with cardboard to smother the grass and added layers of leaves and organic waste matter from my SIL’s floral business, which is conveniently located two houses away.  It’s a win-win because she has avoided surcharges on her garbage bill and I don’t have to haul the stuff in or pay for it.  Some patches of this still need more organic material, but we have plenty of leaves so it shouldn’t be an issue.  Then on top we have placed burlap sacks with the hope that they will assist in preserving the moisture needed for the organic materials to break down.  While they will help keep the moisture in, they will also LET more moisture in, something black plastic wouldn’t have been able to do (we also considered this).

My hangup with the alley is:  once all this beautiful material has decomposed and we are establishing perennials in it, will it get washed away?  Do we need to do some kind of edging or ground cover to keep it in place?  This is cheifly a concern down by the driveway.  Ideas?

The sheet-mulched alley

The sheet-mulched alley. Sheet-mulched because it has layers, or sheets, of organic material under the fabric, not because they happen to be bedsheets! 🙂


We have done a similar project in the front yard, but only with leaves, and I don’t think enough leaves.  We plan to have a flagstone path installed in the path-y looking opening next year.

New beds in the front yard that will get full sun.

These new beds will get full sun for edibles and ornamentals.

I am currently researching if we should mulch some of our leaves and allow them to remain on the lawn.  The unclear point is how many you can actually leave on and benefit rather than damage the lawn.  I guess what I have to remember is that the backyard grass is pretty darn junky anyway, with a number of dead patches – and I mean, bare soil dead – so if I kill off a little grass, it won’t be a big deal.  But clearly the preferred result would be healthier, greener grass.  Our backyard is the epitome of the term “green concrete.”  There is really nothing to that dirt.  It’s packed and pathetic.  Hopefully adding the leaf material would attract some beneficial organisms to the soil which would aerate, decompose the thatch, and make the grass grow even greener.  But I don’t hold my breath that one batch of chopped up leaves will have that all happening next spring.  Will keep researching.  At any rate it is raining and we are going out of town for the weekend so we have a few days to develop the game plan.

Also still thinking about and learning what to do with the boulevard.  Found a nice information sheet at the Union Park Council Website that has given me some food for thought design-wise.  I think we’d have to remove some soil if we were going to create richer soil lasagna-style in the leftover space.  And of course then you have to put it somewhere . . . so will continue to think about this over the winter.

We got a new shrub!  It is the first element for the alley renovation.  Hopefully it will grow nice and big and be a screen for the garbage can.  It is a Little Lamb hydrangea.

I should have taken a close-up, but wanted to give the feeling of the alley overall and its progress.  Shrub is up by the garbage can.

I should have taken a close-up, but wanted to give the feeling of the alley overall and its progress. Shrub is up by the garbage can.

We got so much done! So much! Yippeeeeeee!

Remember the alley? I shoveled the rock into three piles, pulled the weeds up, pulled the plastic edging up, removed some plastic. Next: lay pavers to have a pad for the garbage can and to access the behind-the-garage space. Then: slope land appropriately. Following that: sheet mulch the heck out of the whole strip. Here’s hopin’ for some black gold!

Alley before

Alley before

Alley now, although this picture doesn't do the work justice!

Alley now, although this picture doesn't do the work justice!

We also finished painting/staining birdhouses and putting them up.  Supa cute.  FINALLY!  This project has been hanging over me (hahaha) for well over six weeks.

Hard to spot them, but there are three birdhouses - one in the foreground tree, one in the background tree, and one on the garage.

Hard to spot them, but there are three birdhouses - one in the foreground tree, one in the background tree, and one on the garage.

Also marked the plants so I’ll know where they are in the spring, stockpiled green materials from SIL’s floral business (two doors away) for the above-mentioned sheet mulching, AND kept the kitchen clean throughout all of this.  If that doesn’t seem to fit, it does, because we still had to eat.

Yum!  Green garbage will feed the soil goodies!

Yum! Green garbage will feed the soil goodies!

Ah.  Labored all of Labor Day, but am all set for the first day of all kids tomorrow.

How could I forget one of the most important things?!  DH hung this cool old window for a decoration . . .

Window decoration.  Still has the glass.  Tres cool.

Window decoration. Still has the glass. Tres cool.

I am researching a shrub to plant in the alley that would screen the garbage can.  Last year we had someone report us to the city for having a sink sit out next to the garbage can.  We worked backwards and figured they would have had to call it in after one day. So anyway, a screen has been the back of my mind for a while.  I think if we hadn’t been on a corner lot, that wouldn’t have happened.

So I went through the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota for ideas (shrub chapter).  Then, I made a list of all the native shrubs that will tolerate dry conditions and part shade.  Berries or some kind of wildlife benefit is a plus, as well as a proper size.  More than 10 feet tall sounds a little big for where it’s at.  6-8 is better.

That list produced:

  • Common elder
  • Bladdernut
  • Snowberry
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Nannyberry
  • Canada Yew
  • Wild Grape (a vine, yes, but would screen effectively if we build a support)

Then I went online to see where I might actually be able to buy some of these.  I found this KICK-ASS plant finder at Halla Nursery out of Chanhassen.  That one turned up a few new ideas and made me think twice about some of the ones on the initial list, like Canada Yew (says it’s high maintenance).  Then what’s nice is that they have their little description with a lot better layout than the book – i.e. they use little symbols!  I love little symbols!  But, I do take a nursery’s advice kind of with a grain of salt.  I mean, I am not saying they are liars, but if I read in a book that a certain plant will do well only in shade and then I read from a nursery (whose goal is to sell stuff) that it will do well in all kinds of light, I am skeptical.

Now I have narrowed/morphed the list to (in no order)

  • Isanti Dogwood (Woo!  Isanti!  What are the chances?)
  • Highbush Cranberry (would need to pick the right cultivar)
  • Snowberry
  • Bush Honeysuckle
  • Summersweet (tolerates environmental salt – good on an alley when everyone’s sidewalk salt will wash past in spring)

Still need to investigate where to buy or if they would be good to use:

  • Nannyberry
  • Bladdernut
  • Common elder

There are a lot of areas I’d like to plant up next spring, which would mean lots of sheet mulching this fall.  The gap between the fence and the retaining wall, the boulevard, a sunny mixed vegetable-flower bed up on the top of the wall in the front yard, the alley . . . . and now is the time to be sheet mulching these areas.  But what if spring comes and it’s too much?  What if I don’t want to or don’t get around to doing it all?  Then what?  But it’s such an opportunity to have the leaf mulch break down over the winter and improve our crappy soil . . . however, if I don’t end up doing a lot with those spaces in the spring and all I did was kill the grass, DH will be pissed.

In priority order, the spaces would be:

  1. Alley
  2. Upper yard bed
  3. Gap bed between fence and wall
  4. Boulevard

In fact, the boulevard could wait.  I am not as pumped about it and it feels like overkill.  On the upper yard, I could manage the quantity of work by first starting out with a portion of the yard and seeing how it goes.  Like a 4×8 area rather than the entire section.  I really do want to sheet mulch that area, though, because I feel like if I just plant plants in among the existing grass then that grass will just turn itself into an unwanted later on.  It’s better to dispense with it and let it build soil quality as it decomposes and then mulch, I think.

Alley, oh alley.  DH did’t want the plastic and rock to come up because of drainage issues.  However, the rock is full of weeds and so it is clear that something has to happen back there, and he acknowledges that.  But what if my idea of how to do it (sheet mulch and mulch thick with wood chips, use containers for some plants and plant the rest away from the garage) doesn’t deal with the drainage issues or even makes them worse?  Our garage was kind of a swamp and I think it was things like gutters and fans that improved the situation rather than the plastic and rock, although maybe that made a difference at the time of installation.

So basically, DH has kind of turned over the yard to me, and I don’t want to screw it up for him!  Eekers.

Where the areas in question sit on our lot

Where the areas in question sit on our lot

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