The Easy days of Summer in the Garden

Donnie in our garden. He loves the strawberries.

This time of year in the garden is a sort of chill time.  All the hard work and planning is done.  You’ve already harvested some of your veggies and berries.  Your greens are looking for a salad bowl to call home and your friends will be enjoying your bounty at your July 4th barbecue. You’re not yet over run with tomatoes and squash and beans so you don’t need to turn your kitchen into an assembly line, canning and freezing your harvest.  Here in Oak Lawn we’ve had enough free water from mother nature this past week so that I haven’t had to turn the hose on until today.
If you find yourself bored and in need of something to do in your garden in this lull, you can add mulch!! The grass mulch in our beds has started to break down and become one with the soil, which is what it is supposed to do. In most cases your greens should have filled in or grown tall enough to shade the soil so that little or no weeding is needed. However, the beds in our community garden haven’t filled in as much as the beds in our own yard. This is because the soil used in the raised beds  is mostly compost and has not broken down to a fine soil yet.  This is only the 2nd year for our community garden and some of the beds, like ours, are brand new. This means the soil is pretty rough so the vegetables are just taking a little bit longer if planted by seed, which ours are.
Here are photos of the progression of the community garden from May through today.

These photos above are from May. Some of the gardeners were early birds and got their goodies in early. Some of us were left in their dust.

These photos are from early June. The first bed is our  bed, with the onions at one end and teeny tiny peppers at the other end. The middle bed is a smart gardener who used straw and grass early and the last bed is the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Bed (from yours truly). This bed has only drought resistant plants.  All the beds have only organic fertilizer, mainly Dr. Earth brand.  This Community Garden is organic fertilizer only and no pesticides.
Here are photos of the community garden taken today.

The tall metal tubs are for the seniors.  We also have nearly 50 beds for the local food pantries.  Everyone with a bed has to contribute volunteer hours on the pantry beds and the senior tubs.
We also have a beautiful large raised bed full of herbs for everyone to use.  You name the herb, we got it! The tall plant with the yellow-green tops is glorious Dill, which the caterpillars love. The smaller ground cover with lavender flowers is Thyme in bloom.

Here is a closer look at the U of I Extension  Demonstration Bed with only drought resistant plants. It has one cherry tomato plant – extremely hardy and off the charts drought resistant. The bamboo teepee has Scarlet Emperor (Phaseolus coccineus) pole beans growing up it. The flower is, what else, scarlet. The pole will be covered in scarlet flowers in a week. The beans are sweet when picked young, but can also be shelled and used for dried beans. They’re delicious in minestrone.  Next to the pole beans are bush beans, purple, yellow, green and black.  Next to the bush beans are sweet peppers, next to them are a variety of hot peppers  and bringing up the rear are all kinds of onions. Between the rows I’ve squeezed in lettuce, beets, basil and parsley.  My sister did 2 tours in Afghanistan with the embassy. I sent her many different seeds and the one that outlasted all of them through the extreme heat of their summer was the Basil.  If you like Caprese salad and sandwiches, then try some basil in a pot.  It’s nearly indestructible

End of June

The land our Oak Lawn Community Garden sits on used to be a baseball field, which is why the gardens are in raised beds. The ground itself is lousy for growing much more than weeds. It is compacted clay and sand. Yep, the worse of both worlds. The park district  has seeded the area between the beds with clover, which grows fast and over time will change the condition of the soil.
It’s a beautiful open space and a great place to make new friends.  Garden geeks are comfortable in their own skin and always eager to share growing tips, recipes and extras.  If you love the vibe at you farmer’s market you will love it at your community garden as well. The fees are roughly $15-30 depending on your area. Many community gardens offer assistance if needed. Our park district has free seeds, free mini classes, and the soil is included with the bed.
And the view is amazing . . .

Winter Gardens in France

I have missed the last two week’s design post because my family had a little reunion in France.  My sister works outside the states more often than not. We can go many months without seeing her.  This year  she  shared her frequent flier miles with us so we could spend a week in France with her.  Yep, she rocks!! and so does my Mom who at 79 did a fab job keeping up with us through Champagne (the region in northeast France, not the bubbly) and Paris. Unfortunately Mom and I both came home with colds. So one week in France and nearly a week on the couch with tea and cold meds. Boy was it worth it though. I’d take a few nights with Nyquil for a week in beautiful France any time.
So, being the garden geek that I am, and having dirt and design running through my veins, I photographed the gardens to share with you all. The design principles are the same no matter where your garden grows.

This is a raised garden bed, which was inspired by  the medieval garden Jardin Riomet for the  medieval fort/castle  erected on that site in the town of Chateau Thierry, in the mid 1400’s.  A good part of the structure still exists and while my sisters and hubby were trekking through the remains, mum and I marveled at the garden.

The garden includes  herbs which were used for medicinal purposes before they were used to add flavor to our meals. For example, we use Sage  (Salvia Officinalis) in our Thanksgiving stuffing. However,  hundreds of years ago Sage was used by herbalists and physicians for wide ranging maladies, such as cleansing ulcers, treating lethargy, soothing sore throats (and some other rather gross bodily functions described in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal – 17th century physician).  Because of modern science we now know that Sage has antibacterial properties and drying qualities (which is why it’s good for a cough and a sore throat).  In the photos above, the larger picture has Rosemary and Lavender in it and the smaller pictures show the bed with the Sage. The winter is mild there so there is actually sage ready to harvest. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted ♥♥♥

I loved the use of space in this garden. The center of the plot is filled with the raised beds. One of the raised beds has twigs tied together for veggies on the vine, like beans. A decent sized simple wood pergola was near the front of the beds, in which annual vines could grow. Fruit trees were on the other side of the beds. Berry bushes were along a brick half wall (fencing) on one side of the garden and grape vines were on the other side. The garden was on a hill over looking the town so there was a beautiful open feel to the garden, even though two sides of the garden backed up to exterior walls of old buildings. There were two simple wood pergolas marking entry into the garden from the street.
In the middle of it all is a light colored circular brick fountain with brick benches on four sides. You can see it in this photo.  As a focal point, it ties the various garden structures together, giving the garden a resting place and hardscape structure.
We don’t all have spaces this big to devote to our fruits, veggies and herbs, but we can take inspiration from the literally age-old design techniques.   Instead of a fountain, you can use a bird bath, or any upright structure that  catches your eye, to tie your veggie garden to your flower garden. Use a bench in the corner of your veggie garden to transform your space from one of work to one of relaxation. Plant some annuals and perennials at each end of your bench or around your bird bath to add colors other than green to your veggie garden.  Plant Lavender, a perennial in most parts, to add silvery purple color and soft perfume of the Lavender flower. And Hey – you’d be on your way to a medicinal garden that totally chills you out (Lavender is a calming herb)lavender-in-provenceI
This week I  will post recipes using Lavender and Rosemary in something other than soup. Think sweet.