6 Green-Roof Myths – Busted!

I’ve had a keen interest in Green-Roofs for over 20 years and with the current changes coming in my life it may be the perfect time to explore this passion in more detail!

Front Yard Makeover Progress

I’ve spent the last 5 years updating the inside of my house (new floors, new walls, new paint, new kitchen, upstairs master bath, etc…), building a garage, siding the house, and completely re-landscaping the backyard. Now it’s finally time to turn my attention to the wofully neglected front yard.  I’m starting with the left and right front patches between the side-walk and the house (parking strips will come later) and just starting with the basics.

Accomplished in the last 6 weeks:

  • Removed all the foundation plants from the front of the house
  • Replanted the foundation areas with size appropriate, local habitat supporting plantings
  • Carved out over 300 sq. ft. of planting beds & mulched
  • Planted a berry patch between my property and the neighbors (3 Blueberry and 2 Huckleberry bushes)
  • Planted pear trees across the front boundary as a living fence
  • Relocated the rain barrels

Now for some pictures!

Corner View Progress

Left Fondation View Progress

Right Front View Progress

Right Side Foundation Progress

Yard Boundary Progress

Pictures of the berry patch to come, it’s not quite finished, but as for the rest of the beds go now I just need to wait and watch it all grow!

Cheap Support

My body needed a break from sitting at my computer and my mind needed a distraction – which I took as signals it’s time to get outside and build something.  I rooted around in my garage and found the following:

  • String
  • Some left over nails
  • Some left over random pieces of wood

After about 20 minutes of tinkering I completed a much-needed pea trellis.  I think it turned out pretty good!  Not only do my peas now have something to climb up and support them, I feel revived and ready to get back to work – cheap support all around!

Pea Trellis Finished ProductPea Trellis Top DetailPea Trellis Bottom Detail

Moldy Seeds and other Lessons Learned

Seeds expire? What?  You can’t just leave them in any old container in a damp and cold space all winter and expect to use them the following year?  Who knew?

Clearly you can tell I’m new to starting plants from seed.  Upon opening up my trusty seed box (Kermit the frog metal lunch box), which I kept outside all winter on my potting bench in our cold and wet NW climate, I was almost knocked over by the smell, and sight, of some very moldy seeds.

Even though that was a disappointing shock, it also presented an opporunity to start over this year (recurring theme in my life) with a new batch of seeds and little more experience.  To that end, let’s start with a review and update of the original plan set forth last year as outlined in my Mini-Project:  Learning from Seed post.

Mini-Project Name:  Learning from Seed

Project Start:  April 2012

Goal (RESULT):  Grow 90% of the veggies this season from seeds (MET – Thanks only to my prolific Sun Gold tomatoess, they completely skewed the numbers.)

Objectives (RESULTS):

  1. Have more appreciation for what happens before I buy my plants “ready to go” (OBJECTIVE MET – I now totally and completely appreciate the ability to buy healthy starts at my local garden center.)
  2. Grow plants I can’t typically find at the local garden store (NOT SO MUCH – Unfortunately my more exotic veggies did not survive my neglect – turns out they are harder to grow – who knew?)
  3. Practice Patience (UMMM)
  4. Save Money (COMPLETE FAILURE – Besides my 4 awesome Sun Gold tomato plants, some radish and beets that were started outside, and my herbs and flowers, I had to buy veggie starts for everything else.  And to compound the failure I didn’t care for my leftover seeds and had to throw them all out this year!)

The “Insiders”

OK…so perhaps starting 247 plants indoors is a bit ambitious…here are the results.

  • Marigold & Alyssum (SUCCESS – These fall into the “Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy” category.)
  • Basil & Sage (FAILURE – They Started out great in the grow pods but then stunted in the ground.)
  • Thyme & Oregano (JURY STILL OUT – They disliked their 1st location so I moved these from pots into the ground and they finally took hold.  They wintered over so I will watch them this year.)
  • Chives (SUCCESS – These are a fantastic herb, they wintered over and grow great in pots, although I really don’t need many so a package of seeds was overkill.)
  • Oak Leaf Lettuce (COMPLETE FAILURE – I moved these outside too early.)
  • Spacemaster Cucumber (COMPLETE FAILURE –  These started out fine in the pods but then stunted in ground.  Although the one I gave to my Mom grew great…operator error?)
  • Onions and Leeks (PARTIAL SUCCESS – I used these as companion plants. They fulfilled that part of their mission but they never did mature into something worth eating.  I think they were crowded out.)
  • Black Tula & Tumbling Juniper Tomato (PARTIAL SUCCESS – These never really did mature, I think I put them out too early and they got “stressed” but I did get some decent fruit that made a yummy sauce  – see Saucy!)
  • Sun gold Tomato (MY SHINNING STARS – although I only grew four and these are VERY easy to find as starts…not really worth starting from seed.)

The “Outsiders”

My outdoor seed starting results were much more impressive.  I attribute this to not needing to transplant the pods, which didn’t work so well once in the ground, and that I used a square foot gardening template to place my seeds.  I also believe that the type of template I used encouraged me to the use the right amount of seed starter soil and easily plant the seeds at the correct depth.

  • Beets (OK – Only about 25% matured, this could have been due to the location and planting too deep)
  • Carrots  (FAILED – These didn’t mature , my lack of patience may have played a role here.  Plus I planted these prior to learning about the square foot gardening technique so I may have planted them too close together.)
  • Mesclun Mix (FAILED – I started these outside too early.)
  • Plum & Red Radishes (SUCCESS – Plus I learned hot to make awesome tarragon pickled radishes!)
  • Snap Peas (SUCCESS – freshly picked and steamed peas is hard to beat!)

Seed Plan 2013 – Guiding Principles:

  • I will only grow lettuce from starts
  • I will resist the urge to buy 20 different types of tomato seeds when I can only realistically fit 8 mature plants in my yard
  • I will focus ONLY on those special plants I can’t buy as starts
  • I will be patient and let my slower growing root vegetables fully mature before picking
  • I will share seeds
  • I will store any important, left over seeds, properly…sorry Kermit


How My New “Living Fence” Has Connected Me to My Neighbors

My front yard “Living Fence” idea was inspired when I planted my backyard pears last year as a replacement for the bamboo I extracted.   I wanted a way to create the impression of a “fence” in the front yard without actually putting up a fence.  My front yard has been a pretty dismal place – overgrown and thorny foundation plants, weedy grass and no real habitat to support local birds, bees and animals.  I live on a highly visible corner lot with a significant amount of foot traffic, so the idea of an open type of fence would not only protect my yard from “short cutters” but also define the space and better tie the landscaping in with the other cosmetic improvements I’ve made recently.

Over the last month I’ve been whittling away at my “Living Fence” project and I’m almost finished (just need to stain the supports).  The results are better than I could have predicted.  Not only does it look fantastic, but folks that would normally stroll right by are stopping, taking pictures, reading the tags, chatting with me – I even had a cars stop!

Since I’ve been on working on this project in the evenings, when most people are out for their after dinner strolls, I’ve met at least a dozen of my neighbors in more than a just “friendly wave” kind of way.  They are compelled to stop and talk (in some cases invite me to their homes), and many have told me how excited they are to watch the new trees grow.  One evening last week I talked to 6 different people – and mind you I wear headphones when I’m working so it takes an effort to get my attention!

Interestingly, some have expressed concern that I’ll “lose fruit” to people stopping by and picking it.  My response has been “great”!  With the addition of these pear trees I now have strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and huckleberries all in easily accessible places that anyone at anytime can pick and enjoy.  I have no desire to “protect” or “guard” the fruit that is produced – which is a very freeing feeling!

Ironically, my “fence” project (Do good fences really make good neighbors?) has connected me more to my neighborhood – what a curiously wonderful gift these trees have been both to me and my neighborhood!

My Orchard

As I mentioned in my Riddle:  How Do You Fit 12 Types of Fruit Trees on 1 Average City Lot? I have managed to plant 12 different types of fruit trees on my average city lot – see the list of currently planted fruit trees and pictures below:

Bryce Street Orchard

Front Yard Pears 1 April 2013

Backyard Pears 1 April 2013

Backyard Pears 2 April 2013

Backyard Applies April 2013

Stay tuned for an update on the rest of the front yard transformation!

I Have Found the Elusive Raspberry Shortcake!

I have been on a quest to locally procure BrazelBerries’s brand new plant out this year, the elusive Raspberry Shortcake.  And yesterday while at Portland Nursery with my sister and the kids helping them shop – THERE THEY WERE!  They had a about 20 in total, they had just come in that day and the checkout person assured me that we were indeed was quite lucky, these would no doubt be gone in by the end of the day.  My sister and relieved them of 3.

rasberry shortcake in pot

My quest (OK, a strong word) has involved multiple trips to the PN (they are only being by a limited number of resellers both locally and online) only to find that they are out.   “When do they arrive?” I naively asked, and they said, “We don’t know.”  “Can you call me they do”, I asked, and they said “No”.  After the 4th trip to PN and getting the same answers I gave up.  I had not planned to go to PN yesterday (I was supposed to working and my wonderful boss gave me the day off so I could play around with my Sister and Nieces in their yard.)  I didn’t even want to go to PN, I wanted to go the nursery down the street.  I had been making so many fruitless (pun intended) trips there I was a little bitter.  And then yesterday – THERE THEY WERE!  (What is that saying about finding something when you quit looking????)

Why are they so special?  I love raspberries but don’t have the room or desire to have long, prickly, out of control canes popping up all over my yard.  These plants claim the following:

  • Dwarfed so they stay small and compact (3′) but still produce normal size fruit
  • Perfectly suited for containers and small yards/gardens
  • No staking since they grow as more of a bush

Clearly I’m a little excited.  All 3 are planted, 1 at my Sister’s house in a container, and 2 here in my newly tilled bed out front (stay tuned for a future post on that project).

This post also seems like the prefect excuse to thow in some more niece pictures…

Garden in Training

Riddle: How Do You Fit 12 Types of Fruit Trees on 1 Average City Lot?

Answer: You plant grafted, dwarf, espalier (es-pal-YAY) trees!  Well, at least that’s my answer.  So far so good, between last fall and this spring I’ve planted 12 different types of fruit trees in locations of my yard that were either neglected or just hard to plant.   Last fall I planted 3 trees in the backyard, and in the past few weeks I’ve planted 3 trees across my front yard to make a “living fence” (consider this post a teaser – I will go into detail on these projects in a future post). I purchased my trees already grafted and espaliered from my local nursery, each was $50, a bargain considering all the expertise and labor that went into developing these special trees.

Grafted and Dwarf:  Grafting is basically attaching one or more plants together – in this case fruit trees.  The scion is the upper portion of the grafted plant that will produce the plant’s shoots, leaves, stems, flowers.  The stock (or rootsock) is the lower portion of the grafted plant that produces the roots. (see image below for this is just one type of grafting) When you graft more mature trees this can create a “dwarfing” effect on the final tree.  Some advantages:

  • Faster time to first fruit since the grafted trees started out older.  This can reduce the first fruiting time from 9 years to 2 or 3.
  • Built-in cross-pollination since grafted tree can pollinate itself instead of requiring a minimum two separate trees. Cross-pollination is essential to fruiting.
  • Same size fruit as a “normal” tree but from a much smaller tree.
  • Allow for more variety of trees to be grown in the same amount of space as a single tree

Stem Cutting Grafting

Espalier:  The word espalier is French but it comes from the Italian spalliera, meaning “something to rest the shoulder against”.  It used to refer to the trellis or frame on which such a plant was trained to grow, but over time it came to be used to describe both the practice and the plants themselves.  It’s been around forever.  In Europe in the middle ages it was used to produce fruit inside the walls of a typical castle courtyard without interfering with the open space. Today you can see it most commonly in vineyards.  Some advantages:

  • More energy of tree goes into fruit production instead of trunk and branch growth
  • Space saving since it can be grown on a 2-dimensional plane, also allowing for planting in spaces that might otherwise go unused (i.e. hot sunny walls)
  • Visual interest.  There is almost no limit to the types of designs you can create.
  • Alternative to traditions fencing that also supports wildlife.  My new mason bees are going to be thrilled!

Trellis Espalier

My Current Orchard: So far I’ve planted 8 types of pears (5 grafted trees), and 4 types of apples (1 grated tree).  Stay tuned for future posts where I will go into details on my trees, the process of the planting them, and how the trees I planted last fall are progressing!

Bryce Stree Orchard