Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jason & Julie's Peaceful Diesel Garden Gets Built!

Garden area after tilling
It was very exciting to see Jason & Julie's garden convert from the planning to building stage last week.  Both had busy schedules, and the weather in Colorado this May has been more like late winter than mid-Spring.  But, they overcame the challenges, and on May 22, got the planters installed in their garden.

Let's first review the space they were building this garden into.  It is an open corner of their expansive yard, with a triangular shape.  It has plenty of Southern exposure, but trees and shrubs to the North and West will give planters near their fence some relief from the late afternoon sun.

Jason and I had a last-minute conversation to confirm the construction methods and ideology of my 2x12 and 4x4 design, and sourced the materials from Home Depot.  In addition, because their design was not focused on custom dimensions aligning planters with each other, or any mitered angles, they were able to give a cut list to the people at Home Depot.

As a result, the on-site project didn't include milling of the wood, and didn't require renting a trailer or truck to get the materials to their site.  It essentially came down to an assembly project.

The whole family helped with assembly
Posts secured by digging holes into the soil
The Simpson Strong Tie A34 angles were used to hold the 4x4s together, and as you can see from the photos to the left, it only required one person to hold the board to get the boards to be fastened to each other squarely.

The photos also show a design aspect that Jason and I discussed before the final dimensions were given to Home Depot - whether or not to secure the posts by digging holes.  Obviously, with the extra material sticking out the bottom of the frames, the decision was to secure them.  But, I should give a not to the notion that these planters will eventually be filled with hundreds of pounds of soil - they aren't going to blow away in the wind under any circumstances.

One of the challenges, however, with Colorado's notorious clay soils is that they react strongly to moisture.  They can be as hard as concrete when dry, but once there is enough moisture, the soil tends to swell, with some interesting consequences.  Without getting too bogged down on this point, suffice it to say that the soil has the ability to move even heavy objects - like your house.

While the original planters in The OctoGarden are actually sitting on top of the soil, leveled by adding wood underneath the corner posts, the bean/cucumber trellis, and the new Berry Garden have all adopted the technique of securing the corner posts into the ground.  It's certainly something that leads to a cleaner overall look once the planter is in place, and gives me confidence that the soils won't allow the boxes to move around much, even in the presence of excess moisture.

Another forward-thinking element of this garden design is the high corner posts.  At first, I sent a message to Jason asking if they were there to allow for throwing tarps over the planters when hail storms come.  Colorado is also notorious for storms that can lay waste to your garden in a matter of minutes.  We learned the first season, with 5 major hailstorms, that you need something solid to put a tarp over a planter so that the plants beneath don't get crushed by the weight of the tarp, particularly if rain or hail accumulates on top.

But, no, the actual reason was for future expansion.  Jason and Julie wanted to make sure that they were able to get their crops in this season, but eventually want to expand the planters to be taller.  The corner posts are then in place to hold the next level of 2x12, when they want to get to that project.  As Jason and I have discussed, taller planters are much easier on the back, and put the plants at eye level for tending throughout the season.

Their forward-thinking isn't limited to just the vertical changes they will make in coming years, but also in terms of the layout of the planters themselves.  Knowing how to live within your budget doesn't mean you can't plan for the ultimate.  For this year, they wanted to get installed as many planters as they could afford, but in future years, they will add additional planters.  When we first discussed the layout, one of my suggestions was to fill the garden in from the back, and leave the area closer to the house open for future development.  That way, the existing garden doesn't interfere with access to the next construction project.

In the end, they followed the triangular shape of the back corner of the yard, and oriented the boxes so that there would be a sitting area in the back corner.  I think one of the the elements of garden design that is often overlooked is the place for the humans (and cats and dogs!) to sit and enjoy their surroundings.  Having a bench, or a place to put chairs is something that is often forgotten, and as a result, most people just have walk-through tours with those they want to impress.  They forget that a garden needs lots of work, and those hours spent working need break-times.  What better place to take a break from your labors than in the garden you've created.
The planter alignment creates a sitting area

The design they have used also takes into account the need for accessing the boxes from all sides for planting, weeding, and picking.  These are fairly large boxes overall, and as a result, getting to the center will require reaching from the longer sides.  Note that the space between these planters is large enough to get a cart or wheel barrow between - something very important when you will be needing to transport thousands of pounds of soil into these planters!

Last but not least, I wanted to mention something that is often overlooked in garden design - art.  While the design itself is clearly part of the artistic endeavor, sprinkling a garden with art objects is always recommended.  And, for many, having a protector to watch over the garden while you are looking away is peace for the soul.  While a gargoyle may not be as effective on squirrels looking to feast on your fruits and veggies, you can always add one of those owls to do that job.

The garden protector

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