This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Our Secret Garden Takes Shape

I have always loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's book The Secret Garden and my summer 2008 garden project takes its inspiration from this story. The point of my Secret Garden is to create a defined garden space that would be set aside for future grandbabies. This should not be taken by my daughter as a challenge to speed up her biological clock as it will take the garden several years to mature! On the other hand . . .

My Secret Garden is the southeastern corner of our backyard. Its footprint is an approximately 25' X 40' plot running uphill from east towards west. It gets full sun during the morning and part of the afternoon which is really good for our yard.

This garden will be inhabited only by plants that children love and that can be easily grown, easily harvested and eaten right on the spot. Strawberries, blueberries, currents, sunflowers, carrots, radishes, green beans, apples, plums, etc. will be the mainstays of this garden along with flowers. It will also be hidden away from the rest of the yard surrounded by an English-style privet hedge. You enter through a garden path framed by an arbor. Many of our family are performers of one type or another, so I am creating a stage where plays or other performances can take place. At the crown of the hill overlooking the garden and stage, a summer house will be constructed. It will be a retreat for anyone wishing a place to go to write, sketch, meditate, nap or just to use your imagination! Grandbabies will find their own gardening tools, gloves and hats waiting and it will become a place for their imagination to take flight. The architecture for the structure hasn't been selected as yet, but the structure is a couple of years in the future so we have some time to think about that.
Step one was completed earlier in the Spring when I purchased and planted 2 new apple trees (I'm especially proud of the old-fashioned Gravenstein), an Italian Plum and 2 beautiful hazelnut trees. These trees define the north and south boundaries of the Secret Garden.

Step 2 was building 2 new raised beds seen in this photo looking east towards the barn. The beds were built of 2" X 6" cedar and anchored in place with 2" X 2" stakes on each corner and at the mid points along the long sides. Each bed, measures 4' X 8'. The difficulty in actually placing them in their permanent location was getting them level in a location that runs down hill both east/west and north/south. Yikes! On the uphill side of the beds the top edge was nearly at ground level while the other side stood at its full 12" height.

I found my arbor, which will serve as the entry into the Secret Garden, at a local garden center. I was especially proud of this purchase since I had almost purchased it earlier in the season when it went on sale the first time. For some reason I didn't buy it and it went back to full price for a time. A couple of weeks later it went on sale again, this time for a significantly lower price than the first time. As an added incentive it was already put together. It sat upright at a funny angle in the yard for several weeks until I could get to that part of the project.

Here the arbor has been put in place. As with the raised beds the slope of the hillside made placing the arbor level a real challenge. I dug a hole, removing sod, rocks and dirt down to a level so that the arbor would stand level front to back and side to side. Doing this required that I build a small retaining wall on the uphill side of the arbor since the proximity of the hole to the nearby hazelnut tree could be a problem down the road. The wall was built on a bed of gravel and constructed of the pre-made concrete decorative blocks popular today and available at most garden and hardware centers.

Then I drove long stakes through the holes in the base of the four legs to give it some stability. I buried the base with soil up to the level where the gravel path would be laid. Black ground cloth was cut to fit the area and then the limestone gravel carefully shoveled onto the cloth creating a 2 inch thick gravel path. This added to the further stability of the base.

Walking through the arbor lands you on a downhill slope which immediately put you off balance so I cut further into the hill to create a terraced entry space. This created a 4-6 inch drop in elevation which was a problem if you wanted to turn and walk uphill. So I purchased more of the retaining wall blocks and used them to create a single step defining the beginnings of a stair system which will be added to if needed. The step will lead uphill to the right and to the future location of another building for children.

I decided I wanted a gravel path at the bottom of the garden space leading along an already established flower bed and ending with a wide, open space that would serve as a stage where kids could put on plays. It is backed by an already established shrub 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide covered with beautiful purple flower spikes during the mid-summer. On either side I will plant a arbovitae to define the sides of the stage and give it that Greek amphitheater look. At center stage will sit a cement Greek-style bench for those who just want to sit in the garden. Below the path is completed and wraps around the back of the barn where a small lean to greenhouse will be built for growing starts for annuals and for the vegetable garden beds. At the far end of the path you can see the widened area that will be used as the stage for the amphitheater. The cedar 2 X 6's leaning against the barn roof will become the audience bench seats along the long side of each raised bed facing the stage.

I am now in the process of tilling the north side border of the Secret Garden so that I can plant a hedge of Golden Vicary Privet. This will lend an more formal accent to the Secret Garden. Along the southern side of the hedge, on the inside of the Secret Garden, will be enough bed space to plant more flowers and some blueberries. I planted 2 blueberries many years ago but located them in a too shady location, so I am hoping that I can transplant them and have them become much more fruitful in the coming years. The photo at right shows a portion of the new bed and the planted privet hedges which will eventually be about 5 feet high and wide sequestering the new garden from the rest of the yard. An underground automatic drip irrigation system runs beneath the bed.

When I have finished my projects for this summer in the Secret Garden, I will have only one major hardscape portion to build in order to finish off this garden space. At the top of the hill overlooking the entire Secret Garden, I will construct a playhouse. The architecture is yet to be decided as are the final dimensions. I haven't decided whether to make a summer retreat large enough to be able to go take a nap in or sit and write or sketch, or whether to just keep it simple as a child's playhouse. I'll post more photos as the garden grows and I add significantly to it. In the meantime, I need to get back to the garden!