Preamble: 2015 was a busy year. I didn’t write much here—being busy and all—but I swear: we worked on the house. In fact, when I started to write this “2015 year-end review,” I quickly realized that 1) I had way too much ground to cover, and 2) nobody would ever want to read it all in one sitting. And so I divided the year-end review into multiple parts—enjoy!

It’s strange to think about gardening and yard work when we’re currently riding out Snowzilla 2016…


…but, that I will do. Let me take you back to sometime around April, 2015. When the weather turned lovely in the spring we spent nearly every second of spare time outdoors. We started a “house journal.”


We wrote down all house and yard work—no task too small—and house purchases. The rules were loose, but basically: no chores (taking out the trash is not House Journal-worthy) and no wedding tasks. Because, oh yeah: we hosted our wedding in August.


above photo by Michael Tallman

I think planning a three-day wedding might be a reasonable excuse for lackadaisical posting?


Yeah, we made that sign. It’s amazing, isn’t it? But back to the House Journal.

Often—or all the time—we feel like we’re not finishing any projects or our little projects are boring and not “blog worthy” and at the end of the day we have nothing to show for what feels like unending work-work-work. But then we write down the day’s activities or—better yet—look back through the journal and it’s heartening to remember, “oh yeah, we HAVE been making progress!” For those of you out there making your own painfully-slow progress on house renovations: Journal that sh*t. It’s good for morale. Also, House Journal: the reason this post is even possible, because memories fail. Thank you, House Journal.

Reflecting back on the landscaping goals we set for 2015, we didn’t hit them all—we didn’t do anything with the “triangle” (the intersection of our driveway and the road) and we didn’t get around to making that site plan (for tracking our plantings)—but we did plant A LOT of trees/shrubs, more than 300 in the past 14 months. These are just the edibles:

• 4 Blackhaw Viburnum
• 4 Wild Black Cherry
• 4 Choke Cherry
• 4 Sand Cherry
• 4 Black Chokeberry
• 11 Elderberry
• 4 Black Elderberry
• 2 Goumi Berry, Sweet Scarlet
• 4 Filbert (American Hazelnut)
• 4 Common Hackberry
Chinese Mayhaw, Red Sun
Mulberry, Shangri-La
Mulberry, Illinois Everbearing
• 3 Trifoliate Orange
• Paw Paw, Summer Delight
• Paw Paw grafts, Overleese, Sunflower, PA-Golden 1, and University of Evansville (grafted scionwood; you can read about the process here)
Pear–Mountain Ash Hybrid, Shipova
• Asian Persimmon, Tanenashi
• Asian Persimmon, Saijo
Orange Quince
• 2 Thornless Boysenberry
• 2 Gold Raspberry and 2 other raspberry varieties
• 2 Blackberry
• 4 Hardy Apricot (these didn’t survive winter 2014)
• 3 Dwarf Yaupon Holly (these didn’t survive winter 2014)

A little much! Many of them were tiny when we planted them (1–2′ tall) and it will be years before they’re mature. We really should get a sense of which trees will survive and thrive before we plant any more.

We planted non-edible trees as well: 25 Redosier Dogwood along the road for the “visual interest” of their red stems and berries, and nine Buttonbush in the back yard, where the property dips down and many of our downspouts drain—they like wet grounds—for their beautiful, distinctive flowerheads that look like Sputnik starbursts. The flowers attract birds, bees, and butterflies.

And Jamie’s still working on a living fence (or “hedgerow”) to the north of the house, using a variety of trees: 64 Willows (Silky, Shiny, Pussy, and Black varieties); 54 Black Locust; 25 Osage orange; 25 Rugosa Rose; as well as seeds: Devil’s Walking Stick and Witch Hazel.


The actual planting is only part of the work—all these baby trees need protection from deer, and we’ve experimented with tree tubes and wire cages. The tree tubes (or “grow tubes”) are easier and faster to assemble than the cages. You just thread zip ties through pre-cut holes and zip them up. But they’re an eyesore. (Bright white plastic tubes dotting the lawn? Yuck.) We prefer making our own wire cages because they blend into the landscape and don’t fall over nearly as often—BUT, they are more work to make. We cut lengths of “welded wire fabric” (4′ tall, 4 x 2 openings, 12.5 gauge, galvanized; here’s our source) from a roll and fold over the cut ends to form columns. We cut off the bottom wire and stick the sharp ends into the ground, like in the photo below, on the right.


Beyond trees, we’ve planted Victoria rhubarb, Mexican Bush Sage, lavender (a number of different types), germander, ground cherry, and milkweed in the yard…and we’ve spread wildflower seeds everywhere. We had our typically lively herb garden on the deck: four types of thyme, two types of rosemary, three types of basil, three types of mint, oregano, marjoram, curry plant, lemon verbena, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, three types of sage, tarragon, savory…and I’m definitely forgetting others!

We built two garden boxes using lumber from the former deck roof. We first leveled our chosen spots, then built the boxes in pieces. I think these photos should give you a rough idea of how the boxes were built (they’re nothing fancy):


We then filled them. First with a few layers of chopped wood (to fill up most of the box without using a ton of soil), then layers of partially-decomposed wood chips, composted leaves (leaf mold), kitchen compost, more wood chips, more compost, more leaf mold, and finally a potting soil we mixed ourselves from equal parts vermiculite, peat moss, Pro Mix growth medium, and manure and finished compost.


In the larger box (11′ long x 3′ wide x 1′-4″ high), which we set in the sun, we planted: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Greek Valerian (Polemonium reptans), Primula/Cowslip (Primulax media), Bouncing Bet/Soapwort (Saponaria officinal), Lamb’s Ear (Stachys. b. ‘Helene von Stein’), Mullein (Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’), Rosemary, Mugwort, Wormwood, Anise Hyssop, Horehound, White Sage, Tansy, and Feverfew. The bees loved the Hyssop.


We placed the smaller box (4′ x 4′ x 1′-4″) in a shady spot and planted some similarly medicinal herbs. (In this instance, the House Journal fails me—I don’t have a list of them!) We also “planted” some logs inoculated with Phoenix Oyster and Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.

Away from home, in the Community Garden, we moved from a half plot to a full-sized plot (approximately 8′ wide x 34′ deep). We installed a couple of paths, using stone pavers dug up from our yard, which you can catch some glimpses of in the photos below. We plan to put in a third path this coming summer.


What did we plant…red and green romaine lettuce (really, too much romaine), two lettuce mixes, asparagus, ground cherry, Chioggia beet, pak choy, green onion, Early Scarlet Globe and Rat’s Tail radish, Dwarf Siberian and Russian Red kale, Giant Southern Curled mustard, Chinese mustard, Mizuna, garden pea, chives, five types of tomato, hardy kiwi, leeks, two types of sweet pepper, summer squash, zucchini, watermelon, celery, dill, Snowball turnip, Egyptian walking onion, Contender green bean, tomatillo, yacón, broccoli rabe, garlic, and marigolds.


We built a large trellis for the hardy kiwi plants, which the Super 100 tomato also took a shine to. The Super 100 was our best performer of the tomatoes. (For what it’s worth, last year the Super Sonic and a volunteer Sun Gold were the champion tomato plants.)


We think we did pretty well with the garden plot (considering we had so many other projects fighting for our attention) and we’re looking forward to improving it next summer.

Strike that. We’re just looking forward to summer.