Monday, May 31, 2010

The house.

The husbeast wanted to visit the house today - he had the day off and tends to get stir-crazy in good circumstances. Trapped in this tiny apartment, counting down the days until we move, is making him totally nuts. So we went.

There it is. It needs some trees. The area all around used to be farm land, so other than the occasional fence row, there were no trees until the houses were put in about twenty years ago. I'm thinking an oak in the front yard, and a catalpa in the back. Maybe a rowan in the side yard. For those of you going "WTF is a catalpa?" it's a tree unique to the eastern part of North America. There was one in the back yard of the house I grew up in, and I've always loved them. It was my 'climbing tree' of choice, so they always say 'best parts of childhood' and 'home' to me. Plus they're beautiful shade trees and look wonderful when they flower. They also grow fast enough that I might get some decent shade in this coming decade.

I intend to plant the catalpa along the slope in the back yard. This is the view off the back porch, which is off the dining room:

...that's a very small maple off to the left, barely visible. If I plant the catalpa at one side or the other, and put terraced, raised beds all along the slope, that will give me well-drained soil to plant anything I want. With the tree, part of it will be shaded and part of it will be in direct sun. Along with planting along the half-wall of the back porch, that will give me a huge range of micro-climates and I should be able to grow just about anything that this area will support.

Which leads me to a question. Other than "Square Foot Gardening", anyone got suggestions for gardening books? I've got hard-core botany books, but nothing much aimed at back yard level things. (On the other hand, I can lay in an irrigation system with no trouble, if I get a wild hair.) I'm mostly wanting to grow dye plants and a few foods. Some flowers. Nothing extreme. Plus composting; I want to put a compost pile back in the back near the blue blob to the right side of the photo above (that's the neighbor's boat covered in a tarp, and about the limit of our property at that corner). For landscaping, I intend to stick with plants native to the area, or as close as I can come. Normally that leads to low maintenance grounds.

So, suggestions? Books, web sites? Composting, raised beds (building and using), organic gardening, low-maintenance landscaping? E-mail or leave it in the comments. Thanks!


For those of you in the "exotic is where you're not" category, here's a photo I snapped today, of a typical western Pennsylvania village:

They're scattered all through this area. We're moving to the fine line between the end of bedroom communities for Pittsburgh, and the surrounding farms and mountains and mines.

It was hazy today, but you get the idea.


The story on the house is (some of you were curious), the owners are older, and both beginning to have health problems. They're moving to Ohio (ironically, one county north of where I grew up, practically in my back yard) to be near their children and one parent in their nineties. They don't want to sell the house, but are facing the fact that it's time to get something smaller and with less ground to keep up. Which is why we're trying to be tactful about the whole situation and not do booty-shakes through the house, cheering about scoring such an awesome house. Though we HAVE made all the very polite an admiring comments on what excellent shape the house is in. In fact, that's why they were there for the house inspection: the gentleman of the house was damn well going to be on the spot for anything said to be wrong with his house, because he wanted to know. It gave us the opportunity to politely explain why we need them the hell out by the deadline, so it was all good. I think they feel a little better about the situation, knowing their house is going to a couple of people who will appreciate it and not knock holes in the walls.

So, at this point, it's just a matter of getting through June without killing any of the assholes who are smoking in the laundry room here. Then I get my couch back. I miss my couch.


amy said...

I wondered why they were at the inspection. That's discouraged here. Usually the Realtor stands in.

I grew up with a catalpa, too. Did you suck the nectar out of the flowers? Did you call the long seed pods (I think they must have been seed pods, yes?) "Indian cigars"? I know, so politically incorrect. We didn't know any better at the time.

oneofestelles said...

My dad has composted for about 30 years. That blue trap looks a long ways from your kitchen. Do you really want to walk that far with your food scraps every day or two? (Maybe it isn't as far as it looks in the photo.)

ChiaLynn said...

You might check out "Gaia's Garden," by Toby Hemenway. Lots of info on deep mulching, and building berms to direct and hold water, and building plant communities that play well together. He's got an interesting zone system for large lots, too, where the plants that require the least input are put furthest out. He also encourages you to look at things like, "Which path do the deer take to my house?" and offers suggestion on deer resistant plantings to block that path. (I'm just guessing, with the large lots and the mountains right there, that you might have some deer issues.)

It's got a great bibliography, too.

Alwen said...

I wouldn't let the DH cut the one the storm pushed half-over, because of the microclimate it creates next to the retaining wall by the driveway.

I love the flowers - they're so exotic and orchid-y, plus so few trees such have a flowery flower rather than pollen-shedding catkins.

Can't believe we've lived here long enough that the "little" (formerly little) oaks are actually starting to look like something.

Kim said...

Looks like a great place! Love all that yard! I grew up in Ohio too...but we had a crabapple tree that I climbed. :o)

Barbara said...

Oh, I'd love a catalpa like the one in my grandma's yard, but they won't grow here in WI.

I picked up a copy of Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich last winter at Goodwill when I was desperate for green and growing things. He's got a few good tips for protecting your soil and reducing water needs.

I thought a photo of the PA village looked like it should be in Italy. Lovely looking house. You're lucky to have found it.

=Tamar said...

Ruth Stout's garden books on using mulch for everything.
Be sure to put the catalpa far away
from the house - they get huge, and
they also send up root sprouts.

My climbing tree was an oak tree.

KnittyLynn said...

Cool. Lots of open space. :)

As for gardening books, get the one for your zone at the local Home Depot. It's a good basic starting point.

an said...

There's a local publisher around here that I love, Lone Pine. They have amazing books, so informative and useful. They'd be a little 'hardy' for you, since they're based in Alberta (a zone 3-4ish). However, for basic how-to-actually garden, they're really good.

Or you could look and see if you have a local version of Lone Pine.

Shoveling Ferret said...

Oooooh, house! No suggestions on gardening books - I'm still at beginners level with the whole concept of gardening (and will stay there until we get our own house). I haven't read this one, but hope to one day: The Dyers Garden

historicstitcher said...

Ummm...have you done any research into the effects of the high-tension power lines in your backyard? I hae issues with them, and can FEEL when i drive under them; I can't imagine living that close to them. The EM effects can really mess some people up.

Roz said...

Get in touch with the local university extension folks -- they have great knowledge, and they're free! (Well, free, because your tax dollars support them -- and a fine use of tax dollars, if you ask me...)

So sad about the couple having to move away. Change is hard when you didn't order it up...

Emily said...

Oh, I am so pleased for you. You are going to have so much fun. That yard is like a blank canvas, waiting for you to design it.

ami10 said...

I like Carla Emery's "Encyclopedia of Country Living". Part gardening book, part recipes, with animal care thrown in as well.

Robin said...

Looks super! You're going to have to erase your Nomad from your Backstory soon.

Amy Lane said...

Wow-- as hard as that's got to be for them, I can see them feeling better about you moving in. And yeah... trees, glorious trees, all made up for climbing! Once you get your couch back, you'll be UNstoppable!

Anonymous said...

So excited for you guys that this is happening. The Goober is going to go nuts with all that space after being cooped up for a while. Well done!

Love that last pic. Gorgeous.

Betsy said...

I wouldn't suggest BUYING this book, but wandering through it from the library is very worthwhile when you are first setting up your beds...
Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza.

I second Gaia's Garden...

Congrats on the house!!!

Carol said...

Hands down the book to have is by Sunset.
I did a search on Amazon. It is called Sunset Northeastern Garden Book.
I live in California and I know that Sunset is a staple here. I have their Western Garden book. The book is more like an encyclopedia. They also show you landscaping and planters or anything you desire. Here is an excerpt from Amazon:
The book’s 1,500 illustrations make its implications easy to understand and follow. There is a plant selection guide and a plant encyclopedia that includes more than 6,000 varieties. This book is a must-have for northeastern gardeners!
This all-inclusive reference offers over 5,000 plant entries, over 550 full-color illustrations, climate zone maps, hundreds of how-to tips and techniques, and more all designed specifically for the Northeastern region of the United States.
I love just reading this book and looking at the colorful photos.
Sunset also publishes a monthly magazine and they have a website too.
Just put in your climate zone, I think you are zone 40 and you will find a lot of information for your area. Go to the drop down garden tab, then to plant finder and put in your zone. Scroll down and click on find plants. There are over 1200 for your area.
I'm excited for you.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I like The New Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour, who was a homesteading/self-sufficiency expert in England. In the 70s I think. The "New" version has been revised, and a lot of the material is useful for northern North America as well. He's a deep bed/raised bed person. I actually don't like raised beds very much, after trying them, because they dry out so much faster. But that might have been our soil, too.

I love the yard! Lots of possibilities!

Lee said...

Your Pennsylvania photo looks like a painting, very charming. Good luck with the new place.