We Made A Garden:: Part One

In this series of posts I'll be laying out some of the practical aspects of the garden we are installing in the courtyard of the Abbey Coffeehouse, which is part of our church, Vintage Faith Church, 350 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA. The courtyard is expected to open at the end of April 2009.

We started planning it last year, and expected to open along with the Abbey itself, mid-July. We built a large curving wall to enclose the space. A week before we were to open, we found out that we had been erroneously assured that we didn't need a permit to build this wall. Well, we did. So, almost a year later and whole lot wiser (thank you, City of Santa Cruz for this eye-opening experience) we are ready to plant the garden out, and officially open the space.

Design: Monastic

This is meant to be a monastic garden, in keeping with the Abbey theme, and so we are incorporating elements from these old monastery gardens: function & form, culinary & medicinal herbs & fruit. Wild and tangly with areas of quiet simplicity. We're trying to walk that line, design-wise, between free-form and ordered. We'll see where we go with this. Its really not so removed from our California heritage either: the California mission gardens had similar elements, and our Mediterranean climate lends itself well to many herbs-at least everything in the lamiaceae family, which makes up the bulk of most common culinary herbs. In addition, our climate works well for biblical plants like pomegranates, grapes & the (non-fruiting) olive tree that is a focal point in the garden.

Design: Problems

This garden is mostly concrete, so that's been a challenge. Against one long brick wall there are two beds that once held miles of box hedges. Last summer, we pulled the hedges and tried to dig in the soil. Our shovels bounced off the ground. It was terrible. And depressing-this, practically our only free (i.e. non-concrete) planting space in the courtyard, filled with nasty, impenetrable soil interwoven with 50 year old box hedge roots. So we decided to build up: we built planters over the beds, with open bottoms, just false-fronts really. They're backed by the brick of the building, and we decided to line the backs to protect the brick from the soil's moisture. Instead of spending the money on the wood for the back, we used a 1x3 strip of redwood across the back and hung heavy plastic from it, so that it sloped away from the brick. Instead of filling the entire planter with lovely and expensive soil, we used fill dirt and pieces of concrete and brick from around the back of one of the buildings. The milkweed and other weedy grasses that sprouted up from last summer we hacked down and then forked into the soil to add organic matter. Also tossed in were various dead rosemary plants we found littering the church work yard. I love the free section of Craigslist, yesterday evening someone came and delivered a truckload of clean fill dirt onto the doorstep of the garden, we paid a nominal $40 for delivery. In addition to B, Phil Barrick and Dave Boschen, we got a college student who was taking a break from studying calculus in the Abbey next door, and the mighty TJ, Master of the Brew Bar, to lend a hand at the shoveling, while I sat back and directed. Sometimes being pregnant has its benefits. We need a good bit of compost in order to amend the soil, I'm still working that angle.

Design: Turn Down the Sugar!

This section of the garden gets only morning sun, so its been a challenge to find plants that fit our monastic theme and low-light requirements. We put in the jasmine to climb the red brick walls
on wire trellising-the idea is to create arches with the jasmine and a few shade-tolerant heirloom roses and bleeding heart. It looked dreadful. So sugary sweet, way too saccharine. It was like a Disney Princess flick, done in plants. I wanted to gag. So I'm adding Angelica (angelica archangelica) which has a strong, architectural form and an umbelliferous inflorescence (like Queen Anne's Lace) atop 6 ft stalks. It sounds like Giant Hogsweed without the searing, painful sap and invasive nature. It's medicinal as well, which is a plus. I've not grown it before, and it's a little hard to get a hold of: I have my name down for it at 3 different nurseries.

Also, in one corner I decided to add an elderberry (Sambucus nigra). There is a dark purple-leaved form called 'Black Beauty' that might do. I'm still a little unsure of how the foliage will look against red brick.

So that should help tone down the saccharinity (new word!) It feels so cobbled together at this point: weird pipes run along the walls, and mysterious conduit & electrical boxes inexplicably stuck here and there. It almost makes me want to plant a box hedge in front of it......
But overall I'm encouraged, and am trying to keep in mind that all gardens are a work in progress, constantly changing, and few or none are planted in ideal conditions.
(and thanks to JR Crellin for the lovely angelica photo.)


Katie Hund said...

things like this make me miss vfc. will you get the kids to help and teach the life lessons thru gardening? That was a dream of mine--i hand it off to you!

rosa said...

What a great idea! We could harvest herbs together with the kids and donate them to the Family Shelter down the street.

And I decided that I do not like the purple-foliage form-it's too frilly, and dark. I'm going to check out Native Revival Nursery in Aptos for sambucus mexicana, the mexican elderberry, which is a CA native, and green-leaved. It should lighten up the corner, and be wild and shaggy too. Good for jam & tea!

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.