Tagged: landscape design

A New Start

I’ll take the moving of the green house May 2013 as the time that begin my drive to firm up my finances so that I could once again support my father and I without my having to work at my tedious job. It also symbolized a new willingness to take chances and make greater efforts to find my place in life, four years to the month that I returned from California and began this blog to document my efforts to create a 10 acre garden. I finally quit my job in early September, and found a new peace with myself and my search for fulfillment that remains somehow grounded with this territory that is now mine.

How Do You Move a Greenhouse?

This glass monument to new beginnings was originally erected behind the main house beneath towering Douglas firs. Over the 30 + years that the thing sat there, essentially unused, the trees grew to completely shade it. When I returned, I built planters and grew seedlings that, in the absence of enhanced light, grew tall and spindly. Basement tenants used it to store junk.


On the eve of the arrival of new tenants and my renovation of the entire house, I hired the same contractor that redid the deck to move the greenhouse. None of us knew quite what we were doing. The original idea was to jack up the 10′ x 17′ structure and move it, glass and all, on a low trailer.  This was later abandoned when we concurred that the twisting of the aluminum frame would shatter the glass. That, and the sheer weight of the glass would have made it unmanageable.

After a day spent removing glass, the contractor – a very lively 79-year-0ld – and his co-worker son used ladders and plastic pipe to alternately lift and roll the structure up onto a flatbed trailer.  The frame tended to twist and bend, in addition to being heavier than we’d imagined. Furthermore, the wheel wells of the trailer prevented the frame from sliding all the way to the front. The front end of the greenhouse began to sag down to the ground, door flapping, as we descended the first hill.

At the time, I had two real estate agents looking at the house. Together they, plus myself, jumped onto the tongue of the trailer while the son walked behind to hold up the end. We proceeded this way at about 3 mph over the 1,000 ft distance to the top of the hill and the sunniest place on the property.

The old foundation was a brick patio with low cement walls. The new one is made of 4×4’s upon which the frame now sits. I am now in the process of installing a brick floor over sand. Most of the brick was free; the rest I had to buy at a local used materials yard for .50 each. Most of the glass survived the removal, but quite a bit of it did not survive my clumsy efforts to relocate it by wheelbarrow (you’d be amazed how much the stuff weighs – I’d say the glass alone was at least 1,000 lbs).

The contractor loves this greenhouse! He figured it was cheaper to move it (about $1,800 including replacement glass, 4×4’s and brick) than to buy a new one of the same quality. It appears to have been custom made, which has proven to make reconstruction slow as we hunt about for the correct size of aluminum strip to fit over the edge of each glass panel. The son started out labeling the glass panes with tape, but it turns out that all of the panels are interchangeable and have been merciful cut to even sizes with no fractions of an inch.

I’ve got about 15 panels left to replace, some of which I will attempt to cut on my own.

The electrical system once powered fans and a heater, but my father abandoned these long ago and they have rusted beyond repair. I’m looking into the possibility of solar fans, and a cheaper way to heat it than electricity.




The Design Possibilities

This is my new start at marketing landscape designs. I want to integrate the greenhouse into a larger scale design that compliments its straight, clean lines. In other words, the structure demands a level of uniformity that I’ve not yet achieved in my free-flowing, more naturalistic designs. Plus I’m seeking more enduring solutions to reducing weeds, which take up much of my time to control at the moment.  Considerations include cement or brick extensions along the sides that will reduce mud and weeds, and allow the placement of outside planters. Grass strips and a more formal pathway to the barn will also create a sense of formality and organized progression from one part of the garden to the other.

And the frame over the oil tank will have to go. Sorry Dad. They call it progress.




How to Move a Greenhouse

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical GardenThe Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden: a landscape like this can take a lifetime to grow

Gardens take a long, long time to establish. A year and a few months have shown me this valuable lesson. Somehow, I’d been led to believe that three years later, the trees and shrubs would be approaching full size, groundcovers would sprawl verdantly about the landscape, and everything would be well on its way to looking like the landscapes in my favorite parks and gardens.

How wrong I was. Somehow, the jarring realization that it decades to achieve mature garden status had not occurred to me until sometime earlier this year when seeing that one year had passed with only mere inches of growth achieved led me to recognize the obvious. I suppose that I’d been too focused on the plants to see the garden, so to speak.

The trees I’d planted – the peaches, the pawpaws, the redbud, the Kousa dogwood, the katsuras, maples, cedars and crab apples – take a decade or more to reach a mature size sufficient to dominant or fill in a landscape. So I do the math, and realize that at 43, I’ll be at least 53 before things look they way that I wish. In the meantime, I’ll be finding ways to fill the spaces between the long-lived plants that will someday expand into one another to form the green jungle that I had envisioned. 

The unfortunate thing about this is that unlike many of my generation and those previous, I have lived a comparatively rootless life with no more than three years in any one place. I have initiated many gardens, but seen none to fruition.  Now, choosing to settle for at least a few more years than usual, I see the time that I spend moving as having been frittered away from a gardening perspective. Nor can I easily return to the sold houses or torn down rentals to review the progress of my plantings.

Beyond the daunting linearity of garden time are the broader dimensions of spatial distribution. Like old friends or lovers, garden elements grow together with time, shaping each other, relying on another, building shade for some, creating soil for others. Dependencies develop, and relationships change as plants grow and senesce. How did I miss this? How did I mistake the photos for a singular finality? I feel as though I’ve missed out on a long-term marriage. Some things in life do take time, and are worth more so for the effort.


Yet, here I am, and my obsession with gardening is still strong and so I continue my efforts to design and landscape my own territory so that perhaps in 20 years, when I am a respectible yet spry 63, I can enjoy at least a semi-mature garden. If I can keep the deer at bay….but that will be the subject of another post.

The Barn Landscape Project: A Story in Photos

During the months of my silence, I have been building my new businsess, Belle Terra Landscape Design LLC www.belleterradesign.com , and working slowly but steadily upon my most recent project, the well-abused landscape that surrounds what was once my old horse barn. This is the first sight that greets visitors, not the main house. As a barn with surrounding horse corral, it wasn’t bad. After that, my father removed the fencing and added a few civilizing touches – a sidewalk and brick-and-lattice entryway, flowers along the foundation, and a tiered basalt planter on the left (south) side that held up a bank that was once a manure dump. The rest took care of itself to create a snarl of grass and weeds.  In the first photo, the front side is being used as a wood pile.

The full effort took about 8 months, and some $500 worth of plants, fine gravel for a path, basalt rock for the retaining wall, newspaper for mulch, and shredded bark topdressing (which I later got for free from the local tree grinding service working on county roads). Topsoil, goat manure, and large landscape rock was free, as was the excavator work to remove a large Douglas fir stump.  Deer and goat damage was an external cost which, along with a plant list and specific planting techniques, I will cover in subsequent posts.  The result is a drought-tolerant perennial garden and shrub border comprised of native hardscape materials that compliment the rather rustic surroundings and give visitors some hope for what comes next. Not shown here is the nascent berry patch that I have started around the right (north) side of the barn as a tribute to my dedication to permaculture.  That too, will be fodder for subsequent posts.   For now, I can’t help but smile everytime I see the colorful flowers that now grow here!Barn summer 2009

 barn - front yard 2009

 stump excavation

 Douglas fir root massself-portrait with excavated stump

essential landscape tools

first plantings at the barn start of basalt retaining wall cement poolconstruction planting mounds

completed front perennial bed

completed basalt rock wall with bark mulchcompleted wall with plant bedhinoki cypress in shrub borderrowboat planterfront yard perennial garden

Forever and a Day

Lake - summer 09The Lake – Summer 09


I defected to Southern California this Thanksgiving to visit friends. The weather was warm, as usual, and I spent two days drawing and taking photographs at the Los Angeles County Botanical Garden in Arcadia, one of my most favorite places. Still, I was glad to return to this place where I was raised, where the sun never gets much above the horizon in December, and the ground is already saturated and muddy. Of course, it is wet, chilly, and above all, gloomy in winter. Yet looking beyond the human need for warmth and light, it is only just another place on earth with its own grace and beauty beyond what we demand of it. Peace can be found anywhere, and the tone that we set for own lives makes us flourish despite the weather.

My outdoor activities have slowed considerably in the wake of the heavy rainfalls. I have injured my shoulder, and the soil that I had hoped to place in my new rock garden is too wet and heavy to haul. Still, there are numerous chores requiring less endurance that await me, one of which is planning.

Between my design and business classes, I have sketched and schemed until I have the layout for my penultimate garden firmly fixed in my head. How to get it onto paper is a far different matter. A back issue of Pacific Horticulture featuring a man near Woodinville with a 30 acre garden surrounding two wetlands that he restored after years of logging gave me hope. If he can do it, so can I.

I need a landuse plan first of all, something that inventories what I have and where I want to go with it. I know what the final outcome will look like, now, how do I get there?

lake narrow  - summer 09lake and south shore

The Lake – Fall 09


My goals are as follows:

  1. House and three acres: A Northwest Naturalistic landscape (after Ann Lovejoy) that incorporates both natives and non-natives in a mix of perennial gardens, rock gardens, meadows, and rhododendron gardens.
  2. The rest: A natural woodland devoid of invasives such as ivy and blackberry, with a few trails that allow an easy walk around the lake and up through the back of the property to the house.
  3. Around the barn: A small permaculture-based agricultural section with a chicken house, blueberry field, vegetable garden, fruit trees, and potting area. Some of this is already in place.


The information that I need to map so that I can develop a plan for where things should be placed will be:

  1. Gradient – I have a contour map in AutoCad that I can start with.
  2. Soils – based upon the web-based Natural Resource Conservation Soil maps.
  3. Vegetation – my own inventories of vegetation types, mostly upland Douglas fir with evergreen huckleberry, swordfern, and salal, lowland redcedar and red alder, willow riparian, and wetlands ranging from skunk cabbage marsh to seasonally inundated sedge and cattail wetlands.
  4. Exposure – based upon observations of wind and sun.
  5. Wildlife habitat – the deer bed in the lake, pileated wood pecker nests, barred owl nests, etc.

 future lakeside parks

 Future sitting area by the lakeshore

 I am fortunate enough to have already spent 10 years on the property in the 70’s and 80’s, so that I already know the lay of the land. Now, I view it not through the eyes of child, but as an adult ecologist, so I see it quite a bit differently now.

My rules to live by will be:

  1. No deliberately introduced invasives (including ivies and periwinkle (Vinca))
  2. Maintain areas of no non-natives, particularly around the lake.
  3. Maintain snags and wood piles for wildlife.
  4. Restore and maintain the original channels that feed the lake.
  5. Maintain soil integrity to the extent possible, which translates into minimal grading.


Each day, I observe the patterns of the sun, the shady areas, the wet areas, where the water flows in winter. I have noticed that the driveway has potholes in the low areas and have planned where the water bars should go. I’ve learned where the seeps area and planned how best to allow the water to cross the driveway and reach the lake. I’ve noted which Douglas firs are too spindly and close-set to survive and should be removed. I see the barred owl pair that peers at me in the thin light of dawn from an alder, and wonder where they nest. I mull over which snags the pileated woodpeckers prefer, and I see the Douglas tree squirrels moving to warmer quarters under my father’s shop.

My head spins with plans. It will be my challenge, both with this project as with my life, to take a deep breath, set my priorities, and find the strength and tenancity to see each one through to its conclusion.

Winter Planning

The site of the future (now completed) detention pond above the house. At present it is a bit ragged, but will be completed with a mixture of obligate and facultative wetland vegetatio

The site of the future (now completed) detention pond above the house. At present it is a bit ragged, but will be completed with a mixture of obligate and facultative wetland vegetation.

When I first arrived in late May, progress was easy because there was everything to do and anything that I did looked good relative to the way that it was. The front yard was re-established with an attractive perennial garden on one side, and a burgeoning woodland garden on the other. I rebuilt the retaining wall by hand using a two-tiered approach to add planting space for ferns. A nasty weedy area by the garage has become a perennial garden fronted by large red dahlias I got for free from a local garden giveaway. I built pond and waterfall, and oversaw the construction of a detention basin (below) for controlling runoff such as what flooded the basement last year.

Now, as it turns September here and the fall rains begin, I look upon what I have done and realize that it is no longer so easy to prioritize. I’ve gotten to the easy stuff and left the trickier elements for last. For instance, the crumbling walls of stone along a weed-filled planter with rock-hard clay soil which greets the visitor long before the gorgeous new perennial garden. Then there are the other elements of the larger plan, the back 20, including the 2,500 square foot vegetable garden that required tilling and mulching, and I realize that 1. I need a plan that will best use my resources to complete the creation of my 10-acre garden, and 2. I need a business plan to earn some money at this rather than watching my recession-tattered savings drain.

There are some rays of hope. I am applying for a Master Gardner class that will provide me with opportunities for volunteer work and networking. I will start two community college classes this month, one in business and another in executing landscape design drawings. I also plan to get a business license and begin advertising.

Ultimately, I see myself being a landscape designer and writer, but also the conservator of an amazing 20-acre preserve that includes gardens and natural areas accessible by modest trails flanked with a diversity of native plants from throughout the region. The task before me seems so overwhelming at times, though, I almost don’t know where to begin. Each day, I step outside my door and think of the thousands of things that I could be doing and wonder which is the most important. And even this question has two parts:
which is most important for bringing me to the point of being fiscally sustainable, and which is the best for my heart. For in the end, it is not the money, but the creation of a dream, a garden of my own, that draws my heart. For that I would work endlessly without pay, at least in an ideal world.

The First 100 Days