Sallie Boge is sharing her garden with us today.
We garden in Riverside, a nearby suburb of Chicago (zones 5a–6b). In April 2020 we created two new 11×16 garden beds to thin out our Kentucky bluegrass lawn and add more plants for beneficial pollinators.
My husband Mark used a straight edge saw to cut the new bed outline. We also changed the gently curved outlines of existing parameter beds to straight edges. This required lifting and re-potting many of the existing perennial and spring bulb plants in the garden beds.
In the image above, 1×1 pieces of turf grass are waiting to be removed. One way to dispose of turf pieces is to place them upside down in a secluded corner of the yard and allow them to decompose over time. Our property is not large enough to have a secluded area, so we cut the soil with our garden hands and distributed it over the existing and new garden beds. Of course, an easier way to dispose of the turf would have been to hire a landscaping crew to haul it away. But we did it during the first weeks of the COVID lockdown, when it was extremely difficult to get staff. Plus, we had a lot of fun and satisfaction completing the project ourselves.
Look at the middle of the image in the lower foreground. You may see a robin patiently waiting for a “snack” (an insect). Every time we dug more of the lawn, a small flock of robins gathered. One robin even caught a bug that I threw in his direction! Spending time in nature provides a lot of fun.
Before we finish digging the turf grass, 36 Buxus Seneca var insularism, ‘Franklin’s Gem’ (Boxwood, Zones 4-9) arrived via Federal Express. After unboxing, we gave the cardboard boxes a second life: we manage a charity vegetable garden at our church, so we laid the boxes flat on top of raised beds and covered them with cow manure and clippings. Covered with leaves. If you research “lasagna gardening” you’ll find that cardboard is one of the moth’s favorite foods. It helps improve the soil as it decomposes. You can also plant vegetable seeds after covering the bed with cardboard. Just make a hole in the damp cardboard and put the seeds in the hole.
The photo above from our second floor window shows the new garden beds through the turf cutting process. A line of boxwood plants is planted around the perimeter of the space. If you’re wondering what’s in the window box at the bottom of the picture, that’s mesclone mix lettuce. Lettuce was one of the foods in short supply in the Chicago area during the first month or so of the lockdown, so we grew some ourselves.
In the above image, two Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ (zones 3–8) and boxwood are already installed in the center of the new beds, while 56 Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ (Zones 4-8) await installation in their white nursery pots. Nepeta blooms in our garden from mid-May to June. It still continues to bloom into September, especially if I cut off the spent flower stalks, but the color is more muted. We still enjoy the geometry that comes from mass plantings of Nepeta even if the color isn’t as spectacular. Many species of bees and butterflies also enjoy it.
The next phase of the project, in the fall of 2020, involved planting hundreds of mixed plantings. Crocus chrysanthemums (early snow crocus, zones 3–8) and Crocus vernus (large cupped crocus, zones 3–8), including ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and others. Now we see and hear spring bees buzzing around both types of crocus in these beds. We also planted dozens of alliums inside each boxwood parterre. We bought about nine different allium varieties to get a wide range of heights, bloom times, shapes and colors. There are subtle differences between the types. The above photo was taken in spring 2021. I timed the design so that the alliums and nepeta bloom at the same time.
This photo shows the garden beds in the spring of 2021. So far there was no problem getting lettuce from grocery stores, so I planted pansies (Viola × vitruciana, cool-season annuals) and ‘tit-a-tit’ daffodils (Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’ in the window box in the foreground of the photo, Zones 3–8) that attract early butterflies and bees. In this photo, the daffodils have completed their flowering. Because we designed the beds to have space between each plant, we top each bed with hardwood mulch each spring to create a dressier look, suppressing potential weeds. Reduce the need for irrigation and supplemental water that some drought conditions can cause. July and August. We reconfigured our underground sprinkler system to accommodate the new beds and the existing beds. If you have an existing underground sprinkler system and are considering replacing or adding beds, it’s best to plan for the additional cost as part of your overall plan.
Our new beds are a joy to behold even during the long Chicago area winters. We love the shapes the snow creates with the individual boxwood plants and the “frosting” it puts on top of the snow. Hydrangea Panculata ‘Limelight’ dried flower heads. We hope you enjoyed our three season gardening process as much as we did. Happy gardening at your home.
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