Project update: The rain garden, one year later

Last spring, I built a large rain garden to handle runoff from my roof. Here are a few photos of it, one year later.

rain garden looking NE 1 YO

Rain garden, looking northeast.

rain garden looking NW 1 YO

Rain garden, looking northwest.

Rain garden looking SE 1 YO

Rain garden, looking southeast.


Garden planning: Enough of this polar vortex business.

Just a few images I’m entertaining in my mind as I wait for the Snowpocalypse (of which there’s no sign as of 4 p.m. EST). Still planning what to do in the new garden space adjacent to the house addition.

Cloister garth of St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, MA.

Cloister garth of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA.

“The Water of Life” sculpture in Chester Cathedral cloister garth. Photo by Harry Mitchell, 2 September 2013, by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Chester Cathedral Cloister Garth, Chester, Cheshire, England, UK.


Garden plans: Sketching

I have been thinking more about what I’m calling my cloister garden, for want of a better name. I don’t possess the time or discipline to maintain a cloister garden properly, but I still think that this space could provide the calming effect I desire without being terribly manicured.


Here is a little design I came up with, using the SketchBook Express app. (There went an hour when I wasn’t looking.) It started out as an aerial view, but then as I explored the app’s features I forgot to apply an aerial perspective. Please pretend with me. If you need further references, see my mockup.

The two brown blobs on the left represent overhead views of large trunks of post oaks. The long green vertical strip on the right is the aerial edge of the new house extension (not yet finished, but well on its way).

Rehmannia, Chinese foxglove

Rehmannia, Chinese foxglove.

In addition to the plants listed, I think I need to include some Rehmannia, a little plant I fell in love with last year at the Duke Gardens plant sale, and some nicotiana. However, this is prime territory, sunlight wise, for a tomato or two, and tomatoes and nicotiana don’t mix. They are from the same family, Solanaceae, and the nicotiana can promote tobacco mosaic virus in the tomatoes. A little quandary to resolve this winter, I guess.

Species: 'Nicotiana × sanderae' Family: Solana...

Species: ‘Nicotiana × sanderae’ Family: Solanaceae Image No. 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lawn will be Carex, and in the winter, cyclamen will bloom in it. And maybe snowdrops. In the spring, those will give way to crocuses, then grape hyacinths. In fall, more cyclamen and colchicums. I plan to mow once a year. The rest of the time, I will let it grow long and lazy, offering a haven for beneficial insects. That’s the dream, anyway.

Garden planning: Make a mockup

The house addition inches onward. Now that the sheathing is on and the windows are installed, I am able to grasp how this developing garden room may relate to the house. I can clearly watch patterns of light and shade, and notice where water collects and what stays dry (of course, that will change a bit when the gutters are installed).

The new addition with windows installed and wall and roof sheathing.

The new addition with windows and wall and roof sheathing installed.

As much as I love to rearrange my plant furniture, I recognize that if I am to  embrace my goal of producing more of my family’s food, and particularly fruit, I had better devise a plan and stick with it. Fruiting trees and shrubs do not appreciate being moved, nor do I appreciate a lack of production from them.

For once in a rare time, the plants and I are in agreement.

I like to sketch a bit, but I’m not terribly talented at it. I do love a good mockup, though. In the past this has tended towards my scrounging bits of  junk, like fallen tree limbs, lumber scraps, and overturned buckets, and placing such objects around the garden to simulate borders, edges, and large shrubs and perennials. Then I live with it for a while. But it is an uneasy existence, as I have to explain to visitors and neighbors that really, I don’t mean to live in an untidy dump. There’s a purpose to it. I’m visioning.

There is, however, a better way.

Making a Garden Mockup

Exploring the attic recently, I found a long, narrow piece of plywood. Dragging it down the rickety attic stairs (not advisable), I dug out a copy of our plat map, a calculator, and a tape measure.

A quick cut or two with the circular saw and I have a board whose proportions mimic our lot by a ratio of 1″: 3.75′. Time for nerdy arts and crafts!

mock up of west-facing view of house and garden

I raided the recycling bin and the kids’ craft supplies, commandeering some cardboard boxes, a bag of drinking straws, duct tape, toothpicks, paper bowls, paper towel rolls, and modeling clay.

First I assembled the house, measuring to scale, cutting out the cardboard, and duct-taping it together. The real roof has a relatively shallow slope, and the corresponding cardboard roof doesn’t sit well on the walls of the house, but as the cardboard house doesn’t have to pass any safety inspections, we shall give it some grace.

Paper towel rolls (cut and slimmed down to approximate diameter scale) topped with upturned paper bowls represent, if you will, very tall oak trees. The bowls, when they stay on their trunks, provide reasonable representations of the shade cast by the trees.

A view over the proposed hedge

Time to play with the clay. The red snake at right represents a low brick wall, roughly 12 inches high. The bizarre drinking straw forms are Lonicera fragrantissima, or winter honeysuckle, which is an ungainly but gorgeously smelling evergreen shrub whose long, thin branches sprout from the base like a forsythia’s. Pipe cleaners would be a more appropriate craft material here, but alas, we are all out.

The three dark green pyramidal lumps in the foreground are proposed Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Northline,’ one of the fruits recommended by Lee Reich in his book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.  It’s probably a little hopeful to model them in dense pyramidal shapes; open blobs might be more accurate.

On the left (above), near the house, is Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk,’ which already lives on the property but needs transplanting. I put some gray rocks nearby, which would need to go in before any planting gets done. And the green smudge in the middle is my proposed Carex lawn.

view from the kitchen window

The proposed view from the kitchen window.

This design is the rough outline of one option, playing with my idea of a cloister garden. The space would also be filled with a mixture of vegetables and perennial and annual ornamentals, but modeling that level of detail requires both more clay and more leisure time than I have.

I welcome your ideas and comments.

Dreaming and scheming

The house addition progresses despite frequent rain. Thanks to an unusual dry week last week, the framing is up, and sheathing is on.

house addition framed and sheathed

And with the sheathing, I can finally get a fair sense of how light will fall in the emerging garden space. It gets good morning sun, but the space 6 feet out from the wall is deeply shaded from about 11:30 or so in the morning until about 3:30 in the afternoon. Then it gets harsh sun again. And of course, the light will be very different in the winter.

shade 6 feet deep against north wall

The new garden space measures 25 feet deep and 22 feet wide, almost precisely (that is to say, give or take 5/8 of an inch or so). I do love when that happens.

And so I am beginning to explore what I can do with this area. I would like it to give some sense of enclosure (still dreaming of my cloister), so some kind of screening towards the back is called for, though it does not have to be a solid evergreen wall, necessarily. I have five roses that are calling to be transplanted here (2 ‘Abraham Darby,’ 1 ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’ 1 ‘Sophy’s Rose,‘ and 1 ‘Generous Gardener’ climber). I also have a Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ that wants re-siting.

Although the left side of this space, opposite the large window, has a staggered planting of  three Lonicera fragrantissima which are mostly evergreen here, I am going to need additional evergreens. And I am craving more homegrown fruit. I’ve had my mitts on Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and am now trying to decide how to cram all these fascinating foodstuffs into 550 square feet.

I do want a bit of grass in this spot, although nothing I have to mow frequently. I am thinking of putting in a small Carex lawn, and planting it with crocuses and colchicums to give it a little kick. And I need to reserve space for lots of spring ephemerals, minor bulbs, and maybe a Melianthus or a Rodgersia. Gunnera, alas, can’t take the humidity here. Who can blame it?

What fun to plan! If you have any thoughts on how to gracefully cram in a medlar orchard, do let me know.