Monday, January 20, 2014

GROWING A GARDEN from a seed of inspiration

I am often inspired by things I see.  I am a very visual person....So, when I came across this little gem,  The Summer Book by Susan Branch, I was immediately inspired.

I ended up the lucky owner of this book for only $4.00 at the local thrift shop (I'm a regular there).  For me, four dollars was kind of a splurge for a used book --it is the thrift store after all... But, I just couldn't pass up this book.  The stunning watercolor artwork, (all done by Ms. Branch herself)...gorgeous font, which I have come to find out also is the creation of Susan Branch --she is a true talent. The book has proven to be worth far more than my initial fact, I would say it's priceless.

The photo of Susan Branch's garden from her home on Martha's Vineyard
Besides this book being charming all on it's own, with it's blue gingham, tablecloth-esque dust jacket, full of summertime wisdom, recipes, quotes, and lovely artwork...I found my inspiration.  Susan Branch shares a photograph of her very own garden, complete with picket fence, straw hat and tall peach gladiolus at the very start of the book.  There is something so New England and timeless about a picket fence.  Everything fabulous about summer nestled inside those garden gates...fresh herbs, flowers, and home-grown produce.

The inspiration on page nine of The Summer Book, sent me in a new direction.  It wouldn't be long until I (along with my trusty husband) created our own charming garden, right in the middle of our back yard.

The hottest day of the summer

I am certain it was the hottest and most humid day of the entire year...the day we built the garden.
I decided first to start slow...or as slow as a creatively inspired and typically impatient person can be.  Weeks before, we built one raised bed, --a garden try-out.  I wanted to see if I liked the look of something right smack in the middle of the back yard.  The middle of the yard is where we get the most all day sun.  After a few weeks, the few tomato plants in our raised bed were off to a great start, we knew the garden had found a home.  A last consideration was space, we are fortunate to have a large back yard and even with a sizable garden, there was still plenty of space for kids to play and swings to swing.
This is the hardest working, nicest man I husband.  He was so kind and so helpful in making this "big idea" happen.
I originally thought we could use an old post hole digger to dig our holes... Umm, digging by hand, is really hard work, especially if you have hard clay soil AND it also happens to be the hottest day of the year...
"The Team-builder" better known as a two-person auger.
I rented a two-person auger for one day from our local tool rental.  Renting the auger increased our overall investment by about $100... it was a small set back, but it was very much worth the time it saved us...not to mention the back breaking work it saved us from doing.  (A two person auger is still hard is also a great "team building activity" for married couples...thankfully we survived building the garden together and thankfully we can laugh about it now too.)
(Before digging, we checked with our local utilities to make sure digging would be safe.  If you dig, checking the location of utilities needs to be the first step of any project.)

At last we had all the holes dug...a day I will never forget due the hours of hard work I hadn't fully anticipated. Through the experience that his project provided, I have learned to allow myself more time, more budget and more patience than I ever expect will be necessary.  I always need a little extra of one of those three...
Next we were able to start the fencing.  We selected the gothic style picket fencing.  Lengths of 5-6 feet are sold at most big box home improvement stores.  We found that our yard slopes slightly...not a great deal, but enough that the fencing had to be racked slightly to give the garden fencing a uniform look.
Eventually we added a second raised bed, I painted the pickets white...Our gardening adventures were about to begin.

The evolution of our garden

Our first season, a success...

Our watermelon.


Still plenty of room to run and play.
Our FIRST watermelon, our garden worked!

We planted watermelon, pumpkins and tomatoes.  I don't think I would choose such leggy plants for an enclosed garden space going forward. The watermelon and pumpkin vines took over the garden by summer's end.  Those types of  plants like zucchini, pumpkins and watermelon need a large amount of space to sprawl.  We did grow two watermelons. Funny enough, the kids were horrified to find huge black watermelon seeds inside...until that point, the watermelons from the market were always seedless or nearly so, and they NEVER had big chunky black seeds in them.  Having a garden has been such an education for our children.  They plant seeds, tend them and get to eat what they grow...and yes, often what we grow at home is very different, from what is sold at the grocers.  The flavor of ripe, sun warmed tomatoes; the crisp, sweet lettuce we grow in the springtime, the flavors from our garden are simply unmatched.  A good lesson for us all, I suppose.
I know they are smiling, however I believe the first words upon cutting open our watermelon were
"Eww, something is wrong with it!"

We have had a lot of luck with tomato plants.  We use composted soil from the wooded area of our yard.  For us, our compost is composed of leaves, mulched sticks and brush and yard clippings...we have not graduated to composting food waste just yet.  The composted soil in the raised bed is rich, so dark it's almost black in color and requires very little watering, even during the very hot summers.

Thriving tomatoes
What eventually became the BEST B.L.T. of my life

Growing a garden has been and continues to be a joy. The kids dig for worms, learn how to care for plants and learn what it takes to actually grow food.  I enjoy the garden all spring, summer and fall...then in the winter I daydream about what good things we will try to grow the next season.
This family must really LOVE their garden...ha.  A family photo by the garden.
Just this past spring, I planted morning glory's.  They remind me of my grandma, she had some in her back yard too.
All summer I grew the most impressive vines... --but not one single morning glory --not one.  I found out, morning glory's only bloom in poor growing conditions.  I had given these poor plants the worst possible conditions for blooming--I even fertilized them... Vines, lots and lots of vines were what I figured I would have to settle for until I could find "better-worse" growing conditions in our yard. 
About mid September, while looking out our kitchen window-- I saw a tiny bit of the most beautiful blue on the garden fence...My very first morning glory--it finally bloomed.

 While I wasn't looking...the morning glory's decided their growing conditions were not optimal--and they flowered.  Before long, the vines were covered in morning glory was gorgeous!  What a great reward, especially  knowing  how close I came to cutting those vines down on a few different occasions...  The morning glory's lasted until the first hard frost in mid October...I enjoyed every single one of the blooms that graced my garden fence.
I'm looking forward to finding seed catalogues in my mailbox very soon.  In the meantime, if you too would like to be inspired by Susan Branch, her artwork, books or other charming tidbits, she has a darling website, Susan Branch Blog

 Anytime you dig...whether it be for a fence post of a swimming pool,
 be sure you are free and clear of all utilities.  Check before you dig.


  1. Great project, loved all the pics!

  2. This is beautiful! I wish my yard wasn't a giant hill so I could do this! Thank you for sharing.