12 January, 2008

Thoughts of Spring, or Our Humble Garage

The "Shine in the Shade" collection by White Flower Farm,
an early contender for the garden around the garage.

As more and more flower, seed, and bulb catalogs arrive at our door (I sent business reply cards for, I'm not kidding, nearly 30 of them), I'm starting to look at the Box House yard as a blank canvas. Sure, it's only January, but with this freakin' weird fifty-degree weather we've been having in the Chicago area, it's hard not to think of spring.

I'm not sure what I want to plant; for the last five years, all Ted and I had was a small deck off the master bedroom of our condo. We had the top-floor unit and few things were able to survive the ever-present sun, which tended to bake everything. What Mother Nature didn't kill, our cat Pascal tried to finish off--she was forever balancing herself in the flowerpots to use as a summertime litter box, precariously hanging halfway off the deck in the process. In such harsh conditions and circumstances, we were limited to growing the most sun hardy, cat-repelling (and overused) flowers--geraniums, marigolds, and the like. Boring. Boring. Boring. I have no intention of ever planting an impatien or its kin in my garden again.

As for Mom, she has long kept a garden, and she's both looking forward to a smaller yard and new terrain. The Box House also gets much more sun than her previous house, so she'll get to experiment with new plants. Between the two of us, we should come up with something good. We've already had long, dreamy discussions of naturalizing crocus, snow drops, and daffodils in the lawn and planting wisteria trees and red horse chestnuts. But our budget is going to nip many of those ideas in the "bud" (Heh-heh).

So, yesterday I started taking pictures of the yard to share with family and friends and get ideas for what should be planted. Originally, I planned on scanning them into this computer program called 3D Home Architect: Landscape, but honestly, it looked like too much of an effort and I'm far, far too lazy. I'm good enough at visualizing things (I hope), and many garden supply centers sell pre-matched plants to take out some of the guesswork.

To begin, you see our saggy garage. It's a lot more solid than it looks. Really. I do trust putting our cars in it. Honestly. It's probably as old as the house--1928. The inspector seemed to think it had sagged as much as it was going to, but there were a few things we could do to strengthen it. But that's not what this post is about. Can you see how barren it is? It will definitely need some life, some color around it, next spring.

Here's the side adjacent to the alley. I think, once the sun passes its zenith, it will be fairly shady. So perhaps a morning-sun tolerant shade garden. Something bright yet simple to care for, as our neighbor across the alley will be looking at this more than we will. (Click to enlarge these pictures. I'm loading them as small pics to save on download time.)

But what the heck is up with all this sand? We'll have to dig it out and reprep the yard before planting.
There are also several weed trees which should be removed, but I'm not certain if we can do that ourselves or if we have to coordinate with Com-Ed; they come close to the electric wires (and block the back gate). Also check out the damp spot on the wall. I don't think the gutter was in the habit of being cleaned, the water backed up into the walls with snow melt. This would explain the efflorescence inside and the solid layer of mortar at the corner. Again, I'll save that for another post.

There's a small strip of grass and dirt alongside the driveway; it's practically begging to be landscaped.The side facing the house has two cast iron planters they left us, and a sidewalk that will only accommodate pots, unless we rip it out. Definitely ain't happening anytime soon. The bulk of the tiny back yard is comprised of bark chips where there was once a swing set. I think I'll be able to reuse those beams elsewhere as edging.

And finally, the back of the garage. Those doors have been sealed off for decades, allowing whole trees to come up through the sidewalk cracks. We don't anticipate using those doors anytime soon, but will clear the area of rubbish plants to at least make the place habitable, and extend the yard for our dog Maggie.

So, if anyone has suggestions for how we can "spruce" (heh heh) up this area, let me know. We have a ton of terra cotta and ceramic pots, a couple of trellises, and some assorted garden statues to get us started.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

My friend Charlie e-mailed me this morning with his thoughts. He's a Master Gardener who lives in Quincy, Illinois:

"I suggest you think in terms of using the espalier technique to raise fruit trees . . . Pears on one side of the garage, Peaches on the other side and apples on the back. Takes up small amount of land space to plant. Buy one year old trees and follow instructions on espalier technique. You'd have your own mini-orchard and it would dress up not only the garage but the whole neighborhood. Think Green !! Go to any of the web sites under espalier. It takes a bit of setting the wires, but once done and the trees planted and trained, it is years of fresh fruit right off the trees, without the labor of standard orchards."

I tried to attach an image here, but apparently Blogger doesn't allow it. Google "espalier" to see this technique, which looks kind of cool. It's a horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting in order to create formal "two-dimensional" or single plane patterns by the branches of the tree. The technique was popular in the Middle Ages in Europe to produce fruit inside the walls of a typical castle courtyard without interfering with the open space, and to decorate solid walls by such trees planted near them.

Thanks, Charlie!