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My Backyard Garden #4: 8 Months In...

It’s definitely evolving, and I couldn’t be more excited to see how things are growing in our garden now that we’ve had our little place in the Skagit Valley eight months.

The first 90 days were HUGE in getting the basics taken care of, and the five months that have followed have taught us so much about how this plot of land behaves, from how the sun tracks over the seasons (what feels shady in March will often see sun by August, something we learned in our unique spot in the Emerald City that made me hypersensitive to how the trees of neighbors and even slight slopes affect how the light falls), where rainwater flows and gathers, to the diversity of soil types depending on where you stand, from crazy clay to delicious loam to even sandy bits in the front that I cannot even explain. It’s the first home I’ve owned where there is an entire section for plants that like ‘wet feet', and the first time I’ve watched our normally Zone 8 dip into Zone 7 due to single digit temps hit this past winter…with unexpected plant damage and/or losses experienced as a result.

Here’s a few before and after shots from the real estate listing last summer to now and an overview of what I’ve been focusing on...

Looking towards the Southeast corner of our property, you can see how there’s an oh-so-slight incline going uphill towards the back fence. On the far left, the barely-visible arbor vitae were removed and replaced with lilacs, ceanothus, climbing rose, clerodendrum, rosemary and tulips, then this spring supplemented with tons of yet-to-emerge gladiolus and dahlias, plus a small pawpaw. The 10 galvanized stock tank raised beds have holes in them and sit atop bricks to assure drainage, and the 250 gallon rain tank is one of two in the back collecting water from the roof. Lots of moisture loving plants are newly planted, including Orange Mint groundcovers, Joe Pye Weed, Dutch Iris and native Red Twig Dogwood. We can’t wait to see how these all fill in over the mulch as time progresses...

Looking towards the Southwest corner of the yard, you can really see how the almost completely blank slate we started with has begun to thrive under all the life. In the foreground is part of our burgeoning Fruit Forest and partially buried compost bins, on the site of where were previously just old tree stumps. This time next year should be pretty spectacular as I’ve been working to add lots of ‘understory’ to this, from currants to columbines to chives and more. As my husband likes to say, “let’s make it so we can’t see any mulch”. While I can’t speed up the clocks, I do choose plants which are nearly all hardy to Zone 7 instead of our 8b to protect against climate change’s colder winters, and invest in more established plants to ‘buy time’ and see a bigger impact, faster.

Looking directly west towards the house, you can see how the veggie garden has taken a prime position in the former grassy nothingness. I designed trellises connecting two beds all the way down, using PVC pipes painted gray (using cut pieces of pipe for crossbars that my husband and I connected with repurposed fabric), pounded into the ground over rebar (far easier than connecting to the actual tanks. Being early spring, not much in this section has sprouted/bloomed, but there are actually a number of plants there, from ceanothus to pomegranate to crocosmia and more. As you can see, I painted the house blue as well (which looks far more crayola than it is in real life, trust me), but I still need to finish off the white trim next…perfect spring project! Just past the raised beds is the standalone deck I built, a much-easier-than-you-might-think project that came together in a day, a larger version of the deck I built for our front yard at our last home, which has already proven to be the best place ever to have morning coffee on sunny spring mornings thanks in particular to not only the AM sun but also to the kickass outdoor recliner chairs we adore.

Looking towards the Northwest corner of our backyard, you can see where we left a patch of grass that our dog adores napping on (and scratching his back against when it dies off in summer!), the huge difference visually it makes without the arbor vitae, and the new curvy path leading from the patio to the back gate. Originally I was thinking of eliminating the one on the left, but it’s such great drainage that for now it’ll stay. The other rain tank is filling the duck’s water and watering the garden as well, we’ve got a table and chair on the patio, and up against the house is our new heat pump and solar inverter, along with potting benches that are being put to good use. In the foreground there are the honeyberry bushes, pear trees and roses that line the path. A couple months from now, the colors from everything in bloom along with the updated trim on the house should be pretty amazing!

The back yard is not quite done (but a garden ever truly “done"?), but in eight months I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been able to do with the space we started with and where we are headed. Waiting for so many of these plants to get some height and fill in a bit before we add more is the next step. We also have our eye on a smokeless (and portable!) fire pit and with plants, are kicking around some patio landscaping ideas to eliminate some of the cold concrete vibe you see above (I actually had the duck pool on it but they are such slobs that splashing around and pooping on the concrete so close to our dining area was not going to fly…), and I’d love to have a few twinkle lights for summer evenings...

Stay tuned for the next chapter of our backyard garden evolution!

"There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.” ~ Alfred Austin


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