Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My Artful Gardens. Sort Of.

Peach Peonies, 2005, Oil on Panel, 5x7

Well, I had a very nice three day weekend, full of hard torturous labor, physical pain, sunburn and bug bites, one of which that has developed into a red area the size and shape of Alaska on my lower leg. Not to mention a cookout, Memorial Day parade and soccer games. While there was actually snow last weekend, this weekend was beautiful, perfect sunny and hot, 90 degrees.

We have lived on our farm here for 3 years now. The property used to be a dairy farm and a hops farm before that. We live in a 200 year old farmhouse and the family who owned it had about 100 acres of beautiful pastures and wooded areas. About 15 years ago the owner, Tony Yakos, sold the property to a couple who proceeded to subdivide the property, first into 5 acres lots, but when the neighbors objected and the town board got involved, the property ended up being divided into 20 (approximately) lots. The owners built a house on 20 acres and sold the other lots, including ours, the original farmhouse, with barn on 22 acres. The people who bought it did some (kind of bad) improvement to the house, lived here for a few years, moved away and then rented it until we bought it about five years ago. We rented it out for a year and then spent a year having it renovated and now here we are. We have been slowly working on the gardens surrounding the house which had been neglected for many years. Which is comical because I know little to nothing about gardening. Finally just this year I have figured out the difference between perennial and annuals. To make matters worse, one of our neighbors (not to mention many of the people we know here) is a master gardener and has gorgeous, stunning gardens AND she knows the name, the real name of nearly every plant, flower, shrub and tree.

This is our conversation:

Neighbor: Is that Heliopsis?

Me: Um, I don't know. The tag said it would have a yellow flower...

So despite feeling completely embarrassed whenever she stops by, I am plugging away, trying to choose easy care, hardy, self spreading plants that I can remember the names of (not doing so well with that I must admit). I love the Black-eyed Susans, Hollyhocks, Bee Balm, Daisies, Tickseed, Cosmos, Peonies and others, whose names I don't know yet. I am really enjoying the designing aspect of all of this, trying to get the colors to work, as well as the layout in each section. The gardens at the front of the house finally look pretty good if I do say so myself. There is a shade garden off to the side that I just cleared out and then added a few new plants. I will post pictures again in August or so when everything is all grown in and flowering.

The front of the house.

The front porch where we spend most of the summer!

The shade garden.

However, our current project is killing me. We have a patio area at the back of the house. When we bought the house there was a flagstone terrace that was overgrown and a hill with a flower garden that was also overgrown. All of that was torn up because we had to move the septic tank and so we spent a year just trying to decide what to do with the area. I built a stone wall about two years ago and then planted the area with sunflowers which were amazing and very van Gogh-ish. Last summer we gathered all of the flagstone we could find on the property, and because of a combination of him being slow and busy with his work and traveling, Doug literally spent the whole summer laying down the stone. We still need steps and the clay to press into the space between the stones, and will hopefully get to that by fall. Heh. I didn't want to do the sunflower garden again so this year I decided to plant a variety of plants and bushes on the hill. The area gets full sun, all day, which makes it really easy to choose plants, but holy cow, is it ever hard to get anything done out there! I work for an hour and I want to vomit, it's so hot. The most work I got done was on a rainy day, but I also pulled every single muscle in my body, trying not to slide down the hill in the mud. After this weekend, I had about half of the plants in that I bought, along with a sore back and a sunburn on my arms. Tuesday night I planted the rest and the garden is starting to look, well, like a flower garden rather than a burdock and dandelion garden. Now we are on the lookout for some sculpture to add to the gardens and to the top of our septic tank opening and I can sit back and just weed, right?! Ha. That's a full time job with the stupid, audacious burdock around here that just shows up where it feels like. We are using weed barriers in the vegetable garden, but I want my flowers to reseed so I don't usually use it in the flower gardens.

View of the hillside garden and the edge of the patio.

Doug is in charge the vegetable garden. He planted most of it this weekend, but still plans to add a few more things.

This is our lone garden sculpture, which we got at an art auction in Utah.

The upside to all of this is that it actually rains here, unlike in Utah, where everything I ever planted there died, because I just couldn't bring myself to use up so much water on the yard, plus we often had water restrictions, because of drought. So I can pretty much plant things here and providing I have read the tags properly, and put them in the right amount of light, the plants just grow. Cool!

Next year's project is the secret garden.......


Stacey Peterson said...

Beautiful - I'm jealous! I could spend all summer sitting on that porch reading a book :)

Like Utah, it never rains in Denver, so finding plants to grow without water here is a big challenge. And just getting a tree or bush to take root in the clay soil is a nightmare.

Lisa Call said...

What beautiful land. Nice job with the gardens.

I'm with Stacers - in Denver - I just expanded my raspberry garden - breaking through the clay soil is almost impossible.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Shan, Glad to know that others know what Bee Balm is-I never heard of it until last year! I like artist gardens too.

Stacers, I know, we LOVE the porch. The first summer we were here we literally sat there every day.

Lisa, Thanks. I am envious of your raspberry garden. We have one plant but it has yet to produce anything-it's either a dud or it is being choked by the weeds around it :-), probably the latter.

Schuivert said...

Looks like a very nice place and house to live Tracy! Nice to see.
I get the impression that the landscape around you is also very friendly.
So you not only take care of your 4 children, paint and blog - you also keep a big garden. Impressive!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Bart, Despite not being the outdoorsy type, I LOVE our surrounding landscape, and yep, I am pretty busy with everything that is going on these days!

martha said...

Oh, I'm so envious of the 'put it in the ground and watch it grow' thing. I grew up with that, and boy was it a shock to move to a place where it doesn't rain six months of the year. Your place looks absolutely lovely and I'm green with envy. And I've always wanted a porch like that. Also love the painting at the top.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Martha, Thanks and believe me I totally understand your envy, after living in Utah for ten years. We had rain last night and I swear everything grew 3 inches, including the grass:-)

Jeffrey Hayes said...

Naturally, we expect to see stacks of floral paintings all summer. Speaking of, that's a really engaging panel that you lead off with. I know you've said that glazing often plays a big role in your process, but this piece looks like there's a fair amount of direct handling in it as well... is that the case?

(PS - I read somewhere that Monet employed 6 gardeners. Personally, I think THAT'S the way to do it)

Olga Norris said...

We knew nothing about gardening when we started, but making mistakes for years and reading lots of books as well as doing quite a lot of things right has taught us a great deal.

One piece of advice I would pass on is that while it is glorious to have plants self seed, as far as those you DON'T WANT: one year's seeds = seven years' weeds! This is true.

I wish you joy of your garden, and I hope that you get a good crop of produce.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Jeff, Yes I am looking forward to doing some more flowers and am glad to have easy reference! This piece had quite a bit of glazing, maybe more that I usually do. Generally, I paint the middle ground and glaze in the lights and darks in color not value. I don't know if that makes sense, I just kind of do it so i don;t think about it too much.

Hi Omega, I have made a ton of mistakes! I have to be careful about weeding in the spring. I don't always recognize the plants when they come up and have pulled out good ones several time. UGH! Thanks for the tip about seeds and weeds, I believe it!