New Priorities for a New Dad's Garden

After a year in my new home and the arrival of my baby boy, my priorities as a gardener have changed. Getting my son and ourselves into the habit of eating fresh vegetables every day is of tantamount importance to me now, and I'm also desperate to bring order and predictability to a life filled with this beautiful chaos called parenthood. I want to simplify and focus on what matters most.

Summer for Floridians is like winter for northerners because the extreme temperatures and humidity keep you from getting much done in the garden... and fall (rather than spring) is the beginning of our gardening season. Now that the weather is cool enough for my son to join me in the garden, I'm able to get to work on the things I've been planning all summer. Now I can turn the weedy and somewhat random backyard into something resembling a garden, with two small lawns divided by a path and a patio. I also get to break ground on a veggie garden! Here are some of the things that I hope to accomplish for a new year and a new garden.

Goal 1. Simplify
The scene above is a good example of what I'd like to change. It's not a bad look, but the screen of gingers, ti plants, elephant ears and palms is too cluttered and gives the eye no place to rest and take in the scene. This is thanks to the limited time and space we had for our first year as homeowners, and it wasn't really supposed to be set in stone. My goal last year was to get as many plants as possible into the few beds that I was able to dig, but this year I can spread things out and simplify. I can now move the tall gingers and ti plant against the fence and replace them with an affordable and practical bed of lilyturf (Liriope muscari) to offer a seamless view across the garden. The cold hardy bamboo palms (Chamaedorea microspadix) to the right will remain as a light and airy screen to provide privacy without compromising the entire view.

My original plan called for the lawn to take on the shape of a sweeping curve, but I really think that a more formal layout of straight ninety degree angles will help my jungle look more orderly. A clear view across the garden will also make it seem more spacious. Another benefit is that a lawn with straight lines is easier to mow and edge!

Goal 2. Feed my Family
I'm sick and tired of buying produce only to find that it's gone bad the next day. It's really hard to plan healthy meals when you practically have to buy your veggies on the same day for freshness, but the few vegetables I planted last winter were always at the ready when we needed ingredients. I wanted to plant a potager garden but the only sunny space in the backyard will be set aside as a small lawn for my son... so I'm planting a formal potager garden in the front yard.

I'm not against those who choose to replace their whole front yard with veggies, but I am personally choosing to meet halfway (from the fence to that utility box) and keep most of my front lawn as turf so that our house doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. I'm doing a few other things to help it blend in too. I'm surrounding it with a low hedge of Schillings holly (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana') for year-round structure, in much the same way that you would surround a parterre with clipped boxwood.

As if you couldn't tell from the above photo from Trad's Garden Center, edibles are actually quite beautiful, especially in the winter garden when frost has turned all of the lawns to the color of straw. The vegetables that I chose for the front yard are also very ornamental; from the red foliage of Bull's Blood beets to the feathery tufts of Mizuna greens. Garlic and multiplying onions have spiky and grassy textures that are hard to distinguish from ornamentals from the street, and big 'Lacinato' kale plants create the same kind of architectural impact that one would expect from cordylines or agaves.

Goal 3. Enjoy my Plants
I still do love my bromeliads, Alocasias, gingers and palms, and my garden will never stop being the 'Rainforest Garden' at heart... but to enjoy them even more, I'm consolidating and showcasing them to the best effect so that they can be seen from the living room and kitchen. Since bromeliads have this nifty ability to grow vertically without soil, I'm mounting them on my tree stump, trunks, fence and EZ-Gro plant stand to save space and show them off.

It's a bit of a mess right now, but I plan on replacing the gingers with liriope to frame the bromeliads.

Goal 4. Room to Play
I've never found lawns to be all that appealing compared to gardens, but now that I have a kid, things have changed. After all, where else could we pitch a tent or lay on our backs to stare at the night sky? A kid can certainly have fun playing outside without a lawn, but I'm choosing to give him the option. If he wants to replace it with another veggie garden, then I want him to be able to make that choice on his own.

The placement of this lawn has a hidden purpose too. You can't really tell from this photo, but it lines up perfectly with the master bedroom's two windows, making it feel like an extension of the patio and house. We can also see the yard from every window on that side of the house, so keeping a eye on things will be easy. There is another small lawn on the other side of the back yard. This might not seem like an important detail, but when you're a kid who likes to play make-believe, the extra planet/country/city/hidden temple becomes an extra scene in the stage of your imagination. A lawn by itself doesn't give a young imagination much to work with, but the surrounding garden on the other hand...

1 comment:

  1. What ever you do Steve it will be fantastic! I love your bromeliads on the tree stump. They look so pretty.


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