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The Back Garden Project: New Plans, New Plants

This is the ninth post in The Back Garden Project, one GOOD community member's effort to turn a neglected corner of the city into a thriving garden.

I thought it was time for a general update on the garden. As you can see in the image above, everything is very, very green. With the trees completely filled in, I have a better impression of what the shade situation really is down there. And, lo and behold, the movement of the earth relative to the heavens means ever-changing light patterns in the back garden. So, I've created a new shade diagram for mid-May to give you an idea.

The spraycan effect is an attempt to show where the sunlight is filtered through the canopy above. As you can see, it's actually a fairly different situation from mid-April.

The biggest difference is that what was my sunniest patch, the very bottom of the garden, is now much shadier, and no longer suitable for wildflowers and potted veggies. Instead, I've planted a bunch of lettuce seeds there in a small soil restoration effort. The sunniest area is now most definitely up against the garden's eastern wall, which gets sun for most of the afternoon and into the early evening. This is where I had already built my planter out of recycled Ikea bits, and I've now also added a fiberglass "barrel" (from Home Depot) for my onions and garlic, some plant hangers from Ikea for herbs, and a nifty little plant stand that I got for a dollar from a neighbor who's moving out.

My initial shade garden is still mostly shady. It's been coming along very nicely. Here's an image of it catching a bit of late afternoon sun.

On that note, despite some frustrations, I've had some great successes in native plant purchases over the last couple weeks. The first was a very productive trip up to Connecticut. I visited some local nurseries in the Guilford area, including Natureworks, an absolutely lovely little independent garden center in the rolling hills of Northford, where I scored several native berry plants, some Tiarella (also known as foamflower, a beautiful, shade-happy native flower that's actually relatively easy to find), and a dogwood plant.

My partner's grandmother, a lifelong gardener and garden designer who lives near Guilford, also gave me some wild ginger from her garden and a couple more ferns to transplant from the wooded grounds nearby.

Back in Brooklyn, I had another successful trip to the Gowanus Nursery, where I scored a beautiful wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis; at left in the background), a native poppy called Stylophorum diphyllum, a meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis), and a lovely little Smilacina racemosa (or "False Soloman's Seal").

And we can't forget the few natives that I did manage to find at the Botanic Garden plant sale: a small "lady fern," a lovely Thalictrum aquilegiafolium (meadow rue; at left in front of a Salvia place-holder), and a Tiarella cultivar called "sugar and spice" (below, behind the bearberry).

So a lot of this stuff has yet to go in the ground. Digging through the rubble remains a substantial challenge, particularly by the wall there, and I'm trying to decide if the edible berries should be potted so that they remain edible.

Meanwhile, I've also begun thinking about some "vertical gardening" possibilities, not only along that sunny eastern wall, but perhaps even up on the window bars in my apartment. Though not shown in the diagram, these bars and the fire escape beyond are now starting to get a tiny, curious bit of morning sunlight (just from about 8:30 to 9 a.m.), which then disappears only to return (from a different angle of course) at about 6:30 p.m. for another 40 minutes or so before the sun sets. It has no impact on my garden, but a few soil bags on the window bars might let my kitchen herbs take advantage of this direct sun, brief as it may be.

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