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.


Item 1:

List of current plantings:

Fruit trees:

Granny Smith Apple.
Red Delicious Apple.
Montmorency Cherry.
Bing Cherry.
Elberta Peach.
Tam-o-Pan persimmon.

Vegetables and Fruits:
(Caution: Succession planting at work.)

Baby Sweet watermelons.
Bibb lettuce.
Butternut squash.
Garlic. Variety unknown.
Great Lakes lettuce.
Green beans.
Heirloom watermelons.
Sugar Baby watermelons.
Jumbo garlic.
White and yellow onions.
Sweet potatoes.
Mustard greens.
Collard greens.
Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes.
Five types of potatoes.
Early season strawberries.
Purple Passion asparagus.
Mary Washington asparagus.


Broad leaf sage.


Blazing Star.
One climbing rose.
Surprise lilies.
Three tea roses.
Plus, a very few shade tolerant wildflowers.

Item 2.

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.

Item 3.

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), 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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Jun 24, 2013
wonderful layout & variety
by: Debbie Zwirtz

It's always a pleasure to see what folks can do with 'bare ground'. You have a good variety too if the list given indicates all you have planted.
Have to say I'm envious-I live in an apt. that fronts the street with no yard in the middle of Tucson. No place to plant any veggies that wouldn't fall victim to theft when they matured.

Jun 06, 2013
Awesome Inpiring!
by: Gretchen Walkup

This garden is beautiful and inspiring on many levels! I'm glad to hear so many people are interested in it, like it, stop to look and talk about it. Hopefully they'll be inspired, too!

Jun 03, 2013
by: Luvabasil

It is so inviting! You want to stroll, touch, smell, gaze for awhile and It is even the perfect place for Memes and their grandchildren to have their picture taken. Awesome. Simply awesome

Jun 03, 2013
Simply wonderful!
by: Charlotte

I am very impressed with Mr Bonesteel's formally informal garden. I also live in Oklahoma and the last two years have been exceptionally challenging weather to start a garden in; that Mr. Bonesteel has managed to make his garden not just survive but thrive shows some true skill!

I love that it is in your front yard too, encouraging passers-by to think about what can be done within the constraints of a front garden. The design is beautiful and I find the photos very inspiring.

Jun 03, 2013
Simply Amazing
by: MomofSteelex3

This edible garden simply amazes me! I love the design, the varying colors, the pathways. Its a bright and creative use of a front lawn that originally had drainage problems. I can not believe what has been done to this front yard, and it has opened my eyes to a whole new level of gardening. Well done Mr. Bonesteel!

Jun 03, 2013
by: P-mac

I'm inspired by just the first look!!! (and I garden!) I agree that is such an inviting look...I just want to stroll those paths and check-out whatever is growing. It's an added bonus that vegetables come from the beautiful landscape!!

Jun 03, 2013
by: ksue2

I admire and appreciate the hard work and dedication to creating this beautiful and functional front yard garden. .my sister lives under a strict HOA and I believe even they would agree this is beyond amazing and so much better than grass.

Jun 02, 2013
by: Wulfletons

I love how the garden walks the line between Formal and informal. It is beautiful, but not stuffy. Such a great job!

Jun 02, 2013
Long time observer
by: Anonymous

I have been watching as Bones and his wife have been doing everything they could to make their land their home. I have watched and read how he had to figure out how to make the land drain so that his lawn and plants could benefit from the watering. He asked many of us that he knows over the internet to give little tidbits of advice on different things. Some worked and some didn't. Which is normal. I have really enjoyed watching how it all came together. I had seen pictures of how it had looked before and I see how it has turned out.

It is a very lovely looking ensemble of plants and vegetation. I am as proud of it as Bones and his wife are. It looks beautiful. I am half tempted to try and have him come up here to Idaho and fix my place up as he has done there in Oklahoma, on a budget. I like it.

Jun 02, 2013
by: Jennysweet

Love the layout and functionality. So beautiful. Makes me want to try harder to make mine look as good as it can.

Jun 02, 2013
Simply Beautiful and Yet Functional!
by: Okiedawn

This garden is beautiful and shows what can be done with a front yard edible garden design even in the very hot and dry, somewhat garden-unfriendly climate of southwestern Oklahoma. One amazing thing that Mr. Bonesteel didn't mention was that during the last two years as he has been turning his front yard into this beautiful edible formally informal English Garden, Oklahoma has been enduring some of the worst drought years on record with both record-setting highs and drought periods. To me, that makes his achievement in designing and implementing this design even more impressive.

I have enjoyed watching the design and development progress over time. In every photo I've ever seen it always looks not only beautiful, but peaceful, restful and serene. It is the kind of garden you want to walk through end enjoy. The design is soothing. It is so neat and orderly and yet also very productive.

Jun 02, 2013
nglish garden
by: forzen North

It's beautiful and it's a winner in every respect.
The amount of planning and work that went into this garden is amazing. Good job !

Jun 02, 2013
Miracles, Muscle & Vision!
by: thedametruth

Inspiring beyond words! Just one look at the Before & After pictures say it all! Testimony to the limitless possibilities of Mind & Body & a happy reminder to us all that our only limits reside within. Seeing progress pictures over that last 2 years has been a joy & an inspiration. I feel.the smile creeping across my face each time a photo.comes in! Sheer brilliance!

Jun 02, 2013
Leveled Livin !
by: TJ

The work that has been done to develop this property is excellent and well thought out. Managing terrane and elevation problems and using the design to not only create a English garden, but to use and design it in such a way the functionality of the echo and draining problems enhance not only the property but promote the growth of the many plantings on this property.

Well done and functional for harvesting the fruits and Vegetables of one labor !!

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