Formally, Informal English Garden
by Warren Bonesteel
(Duncan OK USA)
Before the design process began we examined many types of traditional designs, including French box gardens, English cottage gardens and Renaissance gardens from around the world. We have incorporated many aspects of these traditional ideas into our edible landscape. In our opinion we have successfully captured the feel of meditation gardens, as well. When fully mature, the plantings in our landscape will be 'bio-intensive', as is often seen in traditional European and English cottage gardens. Our primary goal is to transform every square inch of the front yard into an edible landscape. In time, the sod will be replaced with edible ground covers. Other than concerns for soil compatibility and allowances for available sunlight, we are planting annual herbs and vegetables in concert with all of the edible perennials. The nutrients provided by each edible plant have been taken into consideration in the planning of this project. As a result of the design and installation, the result will be as maintenance free as is possible while remaining within our budgetary constraints.
The overall design includes a labyrinth, which is more complex than it might seem at first glance. We have also incorporated a simplified rectangular mandala. A Celtic Cross, or Solar Cross, can be also be seen in the layout of the pathway. Some have asked why we chose persimmons as the centerpiece instead of the more traditional water feature. Persimmons are known as the 'food of the gods'. This concept fits with the imagery of the solar and Celtic cross(es) and reflects the overall themes and histories of labyrinths and mandalas. The longest part of the pathway lines up almost directly east/west, and conjoins with the autumnal equinox. That was a matter of happenstance, rather than planning, but it is incorporated into the design. These concepts were part of the original design and remained a part of every consideration during the process.
Philosophically? (Offered as questions, of course.) Why do the green-ways in the garden narrow around the tree beds? Why did we bother with all of the straight lines, when the garden will be so 'bio-intensive' at maturity? Many of the mature plants will -eventually- constrain the walk through the garden, making it necessary to dodge branches and step around plantings as you 'dance the labyrinth' of this project. Why did we design it that way? How will the rise and fall (remember the grade and level mentioned above) of your path through the garden also reveal your path through life?
In the design of this landscape, the ground is neither flat nor level. The four outer edges of the garden do allow enough grade to maintain the original drainage on the property. Each of the four 'rooms' of the garden tilts towards the center. This aspect of the design will hold and retain water and prevent excessive run-off during the region's normal rain showers. The plans include eight raised beds which provide five hundred square feet of space for 'square foot' vegetable gardening. The boxes around the raised beds will be leveled and plumbed. The shorter raised beds (fourteen feet in length) are each on the same level. The four beds that are twenty-two feet in length will sit approximately three inches lower than the shorter beds. In this fashion, by using straight lines and manipulating the grade and level, the space has become a three dimensional geometric sculpture. We kept the traditional circular tree beds in order to provide relief from (and contrast with) the straight lines.
The major plantings will add contrast and beauty to that geometric sculpture with their naturally occurring 'fractal' growth habits. Although the fruit trees will be pruned and shaped, they, too, will form a component of this fractal contrast and beauty. We are pruning our young fruit trees using a combination of vase shape and espalier techniques. The exception will be the persimmon trees which will be maintained in a semi-open shape. We have double planted our fruit trees in order to provide a greater variety of fruits, vitamins and minerals in our diet. Double planting ensures cross pollination and offers more and better fruit than might otherwise be found in such a small space. The competition for resources will help to further reduce the size of the trees when they reach maturity.
Budget and other considerations:
This particular design is not a project for a novice gardener. We recommend that a novice utilize the services of a professional gardener and/or a landscape designer to achieve an edible landscape of this complexity. Thus far, we've invested $2,300 over two years. With our current budget and schedule, we plan to spend an additional $1,500 to $2,000 over the next two years. Costs include soil amendments, compost, peat moss, edging, stakes, sand, mulch, plants and seeds. In keeping with the idea of not breaking too many shoestrings, we provided our own labor and we used nothing but hand tools to implement this project.
Most of the one thousand flower bulbs installed in the beds around the property lines were gifts. We saved money on the gravel for the walkways by re-grading and leveling the driveway, which was considerably above grade when we bought this property. We've used two tons of homemade compost in our beds, saving even more on our installation. ROI? Last year we filled two freezers with fresh fruits and vegetables and had dozens of meals of fresh produce from our garden. In short, over the last year and a half, the garden has returned our current investment. In addition, in a few short years, this garden will be valued at several tens of thousands of dollars. Increasing the equity in our homes seemed like a good idea when we began to plan and install our Formally, Informal English Garden. In view of the quick return on our investment, it seems like an even better idea, today.
List of current plantings:
Granny Smith Apple.
Red Delicious Apple.
Vegetables and Fruits:
(Caution: Succession planting at work.)
Baby Sweet watermelons.
Garlic. Variety unknown.
Great Lakes lettuce.
Sugar Baby watermelons.
White and yellow onions.
Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes.
Five types of potatoes.
Early season strawberries.
Purple Passion asparagus.
Mary Washington asparagus.
Broad leaf sage.
One climbing rose.
Three tea roses.
Plus, a very few shade tolerant wildflowers.
The neighbors love it. The family loves it. Complete strangers love it. People in their cars and trucks stop to admire it and ask questions. Every pedestrian who walks by our garden stares at it. Bicyclists? The same. We have anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen 'uninvited' guests every month who stop by to ask about the garden.
Two crippled up old farts, on a fixed income, installed this garden while using nothing but hand tools. If we can do it, anyone can do it ...if they truly want to do it. (depending on local codes, HOA's and such.)
Oh, yeah. Meals. We've had everything from a variety of salads to stews and mashed potatoes. We've had french fried sweet potatoes and pumpkin soup (it was wonderful.) We've used our produce in all of our cooking and in almost every meal. The butternut squash pudding was especially nice.
Story? Well, it all started after we retired and moved from zone 5a to zone 7b. We bought a small fixer-upper on the edge of a small town in Oklahoma. The price was right, the terms weren't completely egregious, the roof didn't leak and everything worked (mostly)...so, we moved in three days later. The property had a horrid, neglected, landscape. Then, there was the small matter of the grade and level on that property. Everything drained to the foundation of the house, where there was a great big hole in the ground. We had to fill that hole and get the run-off to drain away from the foundations. In the process of moving all of that previously misplaced dirt, we somehow ended up with a fancy garden...
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