Gardening Four Feet at a Time

My husband and I are fortunate to live on a residential lot that is about a fourth of an acre in size. This is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it’s great to have so much space and we’ve been able to host a number of large gatherings in the back yard. It’s a curse because the size of the lot can be overwhelming when it comes to yard maintenance and improvements. My husband spends close to two hours a week mowing and edging, and we easily put in several more hours weekly with watering and weeding. This summer I’ve decided to reduce the size of our immense, thirsty lawn.

I was at the Idaho Botanical Gardens several years ago for a summertime concert. At some point I took a stroll beneath the shade of tall, fragrant cedar trees and admired the lush, low-growing plants that were flourishing in the cool soil. One of the volunteer groundskeepers happened to be pruning nearby and I stopped to chat. I mentioned the large suburban lot I live on and how I feel overwhelmed when I think about adding borders full of pretty flowers and privacy barriers to block our view of the neighbors. “There’s so much I’d like to do, but I feel paralyzed,” I admitted. He replied simply, “Just work four feet at a time.”

Four feet at a time. The words have rung in my ears for quite a few summers since I heard them. This is the year I’ve decided to apply them. They make so much sense in terms of my meager budget and the scale of the projects my fledgling green thumbs can handle.

I’d like to share my first attempt at gardening four feet at a time with you.

We’ve had chickens for three summers now. They’ve been allowed to roam our big back yard, searching for bugs to eat, scratching for cool soil beneath our shrubs, and leaving unimaginable numbers of bird plops throughout the lawn and on the patio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been embarrassed to have friends stop by unexpectedly and invite them to the back yard to visit and chat, then to open the back door and have to pick our way around the dried doo-doo stuck to the cement patio and avoid the gooey globs hidden all over the grass. We’ve finally decided to pen the hens up permanently and have formed a sizable enclosure in one corner of the yard using four chain link panels that are 10 feet wide. The mission of my first four-foot gardening project is to camouflage the chain link and also provide the girls some year-round shade. I wanted something that would grow quickly and also provide a little snack for our feathered little egg producers. I hope the feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora var. Karl Foerster) I chose will do just the trick. The plants will grow into generous clumps six feet tall, and hopefully the seeds will be palatable for the hens.

Getting ready to add a row of plants to one end of the chicken enclosure.

Getting ready to add a row of plants to one end of the chicken enclosure.

The area is 10 feet long and four feet deep. I pulled a bajillion weeds and divided these two containers of feather reed grass.

The area is 10 feet long and four feet deep. I pulled a bajillion weeds and, on the advice of the gal at the nursery, divided these two containers of feather reed grass to make four smaller plants.

This project took me four hours to complete. I just need to finish with mulch.

This project took me four hours to complete. I just need to finish with mulch.

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