If anyone has been following us for a while you may recall the great deer battle of 2012. It was a horrible experience (our crop was dismal) but it drove a few lessons learned. As the weather FINALLY starts to break here in the Greater Cleveland area this year we sat down to figure out what the hell we’re going to do with the garden.
We had a plan to build an enclosure around the entire area. It would include an 8-ft tall barrier around a (roughly) 40×60 plot complete with a nylon or wire extension on the top to prevent the deer from jumping in (picture the top of a prison fence but reversed) and chicken wire in the ground to prevent tunneling under. The design had been in the works since “the trouble” started last year. It would be a big investment and a large scale build and would commit us to farming a pretty large plot for the season. I, myself, was intimidated. There are A LOT of projects on the exterior (as in – outside of the house) list right now. Spending quite a bit of time and money just to create a space that would require we spend even more time and money wasn’t resonating with me this time around. It made me a little sad. Was the gardening bug really a flash in the pan for me?
See, last summer we didn’t just miss out on a large-scale garden crop. We basically missed the summer. Sure, we took the kids on a great “wilderness” vacation. But looking back on it, it feels like that’s almost ALL we did. When we started looking at pictures again from 2010 or 2011 we realized how little we actually did last year. Our entire summer was spent protecting, battling and weeding for pretty much nothing at the end of the season. It wasn’t completely miserable all the time, though. Being in the garden for the first portion of the summer WAS rewarding. …But all the hard work wasn’t anything we wanted to repeat. This revelation led to a somewhat lack-luster trip to Washington, DC and a decision to spend this year vacationing at home (all of which you’ll hear more about in soon-to-be-written posts). It also resulted in a whole lot of anxiety for the mama (and the papa I found out) as we got closer and closer to building Fort Green.
When we were sitting by the fireplace one work-at-home morning and Bryan said, “I think I want to cut back on the gardening plan for this year.” I was immediately on board. I had been reading a lot about small plot gardening and vertical gardening trying to crack the code and come up with a solution that would be – A) manageable to maintain and – B) more easily protected. Every time I started to talk about it, though, it was obvious that Bryan and I weren’t on the same page yet. This was the turning point and after another little boost, our garden/yard plan was in place for 2013.
What are our new rules to live by?
1. Deer around here will eat everything, even most of the things people tell you they won’t.
2. More plants DOES NOT EQUAL more yield (especially when the deer are eating them).
3. More space may equal more plants, but does not necessarily equal more yield.
So, we’ve simplified. Would we love to grow a field of ornamental corn and gourds? Yes. Is it worth the money and time this year? Not to us. Our focus is on what we consume the most and that, my friends, amounts to anything that can go on or in a salad. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. We have isolated a plot that is of much more manageable size for this year (approximately 50 x 6 between the back of our garage and the chain-link fence along our neighbors driveway) which means it will be easier to maintain and easier to protect. Frankly, if we grow vertical, there probably still is enough room for the melons and squash that we would love to have but that isn’t going to be the primary focus.
We will, however, retain space here for two pumpkin plants.
After reading Square Foot Gardening and snippets of Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening I figured out that if we focus on a limited number of plants spaced the way the directions actually indicate (yes, it’s probably there for a reason) we could pay better attention to and therefore yield more volume from this limited space.
So the edibles will be somewhat more contained this year. We will still plant the courtyard in a way similar to last year – nasturtium, chard, zinnia, etc. We’ll be moving the ever-blooming lilac and maybe some of our roses back there as well so we can actually seem them bloom. The hops are TAKING OFF already and it looks like the hollyhock will actually bloom this year, too! We’re going to expand, though. And we have a theme.
Actually the entire yard has a theme.
This it isn’t going to be some cheesy, chotchky theme. We’re not going to fill up our yard with gnomes and gazing balls. We’re looking at it simply as a way for us to have a little fun and keep focused. The focus part is the big win. We definitely need help in that arena. So the theme for the yard is Alice in Wonderland. Mad Hatter Tea Party in the courtyard, Queen of Hearts in the front. There is the possibility there will be a flamingo as a result and that will be the limit to the chotchky.
We’d like to add dinner plate dahlias and giant allium to the courtyard alongside hand-crafted teacup flowers, crystal mushrooms and hidden Wonderland treasures. In the front we will succumb to the deer and turn to more (supposedly) deer-resistant plants. I’d love to bring in black bamboo to flank the porch, with white azaleas for the spring. We found awesome Cafe Au Lait Gladiolas that bloom in white and deep black-red.
Ideally I’d add black violas although I don’t think those can pass the deer test. I’ll be transplanting some of the thyme to provide ground cover and hopefully act as a deer repellent. Plus we could go nuts with castor plants and dill. I’ll accent with red and white begonias and see what else we can find along the way.
So that’s the grand idea, at least. We’ll see where it leads. The way the deer have decimated our front landscape I’d probably be happy just with weed killer and mulch right now.