2020 Seed Starting and Garden Plans!

I started this post a few weeks ago. When I reopened the draft, I realized just how much has changed.  Last year was a bit of disappointing growing season. Between work, bad weather, and a number of other things, a lot didn’t happen.  This year, my original plans were to focus on the infrastructure our garden and scale back on growing. Well, beyond just my inability to actually cut back on seed starting, current events have made me realize the importance of my garden. Even though garden centers are still open, who knows what the next few months will bring.

Just before the COVID-19 crisis began, I put my two weeks notice in at Target, where I had been working just over a year. My last day was March 21. It was a bit surreal to be in the thick of the panic buying. I am thankful that we have to opportunity for me to stay home this summer. Todd is a railroader and he is deemed essential, and there is  a lot of stress there during the best of times! So, this summer it really is going to be about our house, garden, and spending quality time together (and hopefully some family history sleuthing too).

We plan on expanding beds, building the raised beds, and just working on a lot of the projects that need finishing up. While we do plan on going to the hardware stores and garden centers, Todd and I have been diligently making lists and checking inventory, to make as few as possible trips. Only Todd is going to the hardware store and I do the grocery shopping.

So….here is how my ‘cutting back’ on seeds went and how I’m growing them this year:

This past fall, I used some pre-made supports and 1″x 6 “boards, stained with deck stain, to create two different plant stands. Since, I can’t quite reach my little green houses, and don’t want to completely take over the kitchen again, I’ve added an extra shelves to the larger of the plant stands. I also, for the first time ever, bought grow lights. These ones on Amazon.com.  They have several different options and the best part is how affordable they are! It took me only about a half hour to have mine set up and going. So far, I love them.  Here is my set up this year…

I started a few of my flower seeds earlier, then the majority of peppers, tomatoes, and herbs on the first day of Spring.  I decided I should start more. So, I added one more flat of herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s a little late for a few of them, but I’ll give it a go. I also have all my summer bulbs potted up. While it’s a bit early for them, I typically just let them relax in there dirt and gradually pick up on watering as I get closer to plant times. So far, my set up has worked pretty well. My biggest complaint is not having quite as much control over the humidity and temp as I do with my little green houses.

Here is what I started this year  with links to where I’ve purchased them!

Here are my seeds I have picked out to direct sew (if it actually happens):

I also have big dreams to put in lettuce/greens, grapes, strawberries, garlic, potatoes, onions, and start an asparagus bed also. We will see. I currently have five urban and columnar apples planted. Two of the apple trees were cast-offs and may or may not survive. The other three are planted into my flower beds. I’m hoping for a first small crop on the Scarlet and Golden Sentinel apples.

What to Read: Some of My Favorite Garden Books

I have been pretty lucky to score a number of great gardening books from local books sales and Goodwill. I also have a nice long list of books on my Amazon Wish List (especially more related to historical gardens). Some I pickup just by chance, others I find out about through magazines, blogs, and from suggestions of friends! I am always excited to hear about a great garden book, especially if it involves history, iris, or is just really well written.

Here’s a few of what’s currently on my bookshelf:

  1. Epic Tomatoesby Craig LeHoullier: Reason to love it? If you have ever tried and loved a Cherokee Purple Tomato, you better be thanking Craig. The book highlights some great tomato varieties, troubleshooting, and was my inspiration for trying grow bags. I’ve followed Craig’s tips on growing tomatoes in containers and I’m hooked!
  2. Founding Gardeners, by Anderea Wulf: This was the first book I read of hers and I can’t wait to read more. It’s an interesting and engaging look at some of our founding fathers’ obsessions with horticulture. I most loved references to era contemporary books and the amazing Bartram’s Garden.
  3. Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, by Joseph Tyconievich: I am all about historic plants, but the idea of creating my own cultivar to pass down is pretty exciting. All these heritage flowers we collect started somewhere. Being a ‘blooming heirloom has to start somewhere, why not with you or me? This book inspired me to try ‘selecting’ pansies…um…it didn’t work out. I do still have a dream to create my own iris or tomato. This is the book I’ll be using for guidance.
  4. The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, by Stephen Buchmann: A great quick reference for all the cultural history and significance of flowers. It touches everything from prehistory, pollinators, fads across the world, and cultural practices that use flowers.

  5. A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts, by Kelly Norris: I feel like this is a must have book for any Midwest iris gardener. Kelly is based out of Des Moines, Iowa which means he has first hand knowledge of the wackiness that is Midwest weather. His love of iris began with his grandmother’s garden, and he’s an experienced and active iris breeder. Best bit of the book? The TENACIOUS tip to go ahead and dump a little straight bleach on iris rhizomes showing signs of rot. I credit this tip, and the tenacity to do it, for saving many of my iris this past spring.

  6. Plants with Style, by Kelly Norris: If you live in the Midwest and are looking for some fresh perennial ideas, this book is great. I happened to get at Goodwill for $4 and enjoyed the suggestions.
  7. Projects for Small Gardens: 56 Projects With Step-by-step Instruction,  by Richard Bird and George Carter: I picked up a slightly older, spiral-bound version of the one in the link, at Goodwill for a couple of dollars. It is awesome. There are specific plans for a lot of cool containers, fences, and raised beds. There are even suggestions on what to plant. I haven’t had a chance to build anything yet, but I do have at least 3 projects picked out!

  8. The Well-Designed Mixed Garden, by Tracy Disabato-Aust: I have a couple of her books, but what I like about this one are the illustrations and plant lists. She provides some great plant descriptions, including a lot hardy down to zone 3 (so important Northern gardeners, like myself). Lots of plans to take into consideration too.
  9. The Big Book of Garden Design, by Time Life Books: a little older, but worth it. Principles of garden design and different styles are presented, then tons of different layouts. There are a few that don’t work for my zone, but plenty of alternative planting options are given. A great source for landscaping ideas.
  10. Wildflowers of Wisconsin, by Stan Tekiela: I like to take country drives to look for patches of flowers left over from old homesteads, and to admire gorgeous gardens in general. I also love seeing the wildflowers. It helps being able to look them up to see if they may be something leftover from settlement or wild! Plus, I’m just a flower nut, so I like to know what I’m seeing.

I would love to read up more on historic gardening and design! One thing I find really interesting is the hunt for books that are relevant to my zone. I live in Zone 4B and sometimes the choices are slim or redundant. I love reading up about pioneers of the past and those pioneering our plant future too! What’s on your bookshelf?

2019 Garden Plans

Last week, I wrote about my dreams for my 2019 garden. In my mind they are pretty grand. Because Todd said he would help me with the hardscaping and remodeling of the garden…my imagination took off with big ideas. Now that we’ve talked more, and I’ve gotten my head out of the clouds, I feel like my plans are maybe not super exciting, but within in reach.

So…some of the basic plans:

  • Create a “holding bed” with good soil and good drainage while better permanent beds are made
  • Paint my existing shed, add better shelves inside
  • Move plants from the “Big Bed” to holding bed, and dismantle “Big Bed”
  • Replace the Big Bed with space/pad for new shed (coming in 2020?) and two new 8×8 square beds flanking each side
  • Replace existing raised beds with better quality materials, refreshed soil, and good drainage
  • Add two large 8×15 spaces with landscape timbers and mulch as pads for my grow bags
  • Add large row for cut flowers in front of the garden
  • The most expensive but the most important addition will be the privacy fence. It will probably the big project of the year
  • Pour cement for new patio slab (this is all Todd)
  • Extend and clean up the rock area along the backside of the house

All of these plans concern our backyard, I have some thoughts on the front of the house, but I haven’t really put any on paper, yet. Our biggest constraint is budget. This little house has been quite the ‘fixer upper’ and we are still working on the inside. Not to mention, this year we hope to replace the doors and windows, and get the fireplace working again. It leaves very little money to throw into the yard. Fortunately, most of our work will be rearranging. I have to remind myself, we are going into our 4th Summer here, and all great gardens take time. I’ve also focused this year’s garden plan to mostly the large backyard garden. I hope to eventually add a lot more beds along the fence lines, but will wait for the fence to be built.  I am sure there will be plenty of amendments to the plan and some final measurements need to be made too. Below is my basic plan for the year, some of last year’s map, and my garden sign hope to add at the front!

Aside from the practical and basic layout, I’ve been thinking about the aesthetics too. Todd and I sat down and tried to figure out what my garden style is. I have no idea how to pin it down…except for tons of pins on Pinterest! Above all, I like gardens that look like they’ve existed a long time. Old gardens are the best. Some are kind of wild, nothing overly shiny and new which is perfect. I like structure and neat lines, but nothing sterile or overly-suburban-cookie-cutter-landscaped. I love color and texture too with bright flowers and soft grasses.

I am of the belief that you should decorate with things you love, no matter if the styles conflict…so long as you like it and don’t cram a million things in, most things will balance out. I feel the same way about gardens.

Here are a handful of my favorite inspiration photos. All of these images and the links to their content and credit can be found on my shamefully huge Farm & Garden Pinterest board. 

2019 Garden Dreams

Todd and I got Netflix this week (yes, we are behind the times, way behind). I have been watching British gardening shows non-stop. My productivity is non-existent. My friend, Steph, got me started watching any Monty Don show. Considering how gloomy and cold it is in January, in Wisconsin, the garden shows have been wonderful. So much green. So much life.

Seeing the other gardens has really sparked my imagination. It’s also given me a little, much-needed, break from my genealogy research.

My 2019 garden dreams begin with a complete remodel of my established garden beds, which are really just old beds that I’ve stuck my plants into.

I have had two winters of really horrible flooding in my flower beds. This flooding doesn’t happen in the Spring or Summer, but this past year many of my precious iris have sat under frozen puddles for many weeks. Last spring, I lost nearly half of my varieties. It’s not a very old garden, but I have collected quite a few rare, and personally special plants that need safe homes. The beds have had little love other than me stuffing my new and old finds into every available space.

The plan is to level, build up, and to add drainage and space to my beds. One of our biggest purchases and projects will be adding a privacy fence. We plan on adding a few more beds a lot more hardscaping. Todd is all about hardscaping.  More importantly, we plan on making it feel like a proper garden with some sort of plan. After all is said and done, we hope to have a several beds worthy of the heritage flowers I have already collected and plan to collect.

Next week, I will share with you our plans for the garden and some inspiration images. I can’t share the plans this week because while we planned on adding a few beds this year, a complete redo was just decided last night. If you need to get your spouse on board with a garden upgrade, just watch some Monty Don together! What are your 2019 garden dreams?

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Above: the old large bed and make-shift new beds in Spring of 2016, our first year at the house. Below: last summer’s garden.

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