A Flower Garden for Bees and People


Our back garden, house and veg garden are on a little hill. The slope (in red) is quite steep, and we terraced the part where the soil had been disturbed and was eroding. We put beds on either side (only the two lowest ones shown in brown) and a path of grass in the middle. This path leads down to the “front garden,” the large stretch of land at the bottom of the hill.

This piece of land has issues.

  1. It is home to the large septic leach field, so we shouldn’t put deep-rooted plants there, or any heavy stuff, like an asphalt parking lot for our truck (kidding).
  2. It is the lowest part of this part of our street, so it catches all the rainwater runoff from all sides. Luckily  most of it is from our own roof and hilltop, which we plan to divert (blue line) to a small pond and wetland at the lowest spot.
  3. It was badly disturbed by the installation of the septic (by the previous owner). In direct violation of one of the first rules of permaculture (never leave disturbed soil undisturbed!), we paid no attention to it for almost 2 years now and it is overgrown with weeds and brambles. And the soil is, of course, still bed: light brown, full of rocks, waterlogged.
  4. That soil is also very fungal, so it’s a challenge to grow and maintain grass on it. To put it simply, greens like bacterial soil, woodies like fungal soil.
  5. It borders on the street, with in between a strip of land that belongs to the town (where a lot of snow gets dumped, so we won’t be investing in any expensive bushes over there. I don’t even know what we could do there, it not being ours.
  6. We never go down there. In the past it was understandable: it was not inviting, and until last Fall (when we put the grass in), there wasn’t even a path that led to it.  But I know that, if we don’t make it absolutely gorgeous, it will be still be a neglected area: it is so out of the way of all our traffic.

Of all these issues, no.5 seemed to me the most challenging. What good is a fancy garden down there if we would never visit it? So I kept hesitating, pushing it out of my mind. Then Amie catalyzed an insight.

She kept insisting on lots of flowers. “I want to grow lots of flowers, Mama!” Yes, why not. And we do have a beehive in mind, so we’ll need them. And flowers are beautiful, and down there they will be the first thing people will see. And if we put a bench there, visible and accessible from the street: community!

So. Strip the weeds, lay out beds in curves and organic shapes with the large stones that are native to our property. Fill those with good soil and put in perennial shade-loving flowers. Plant deep-rooted flowers and bushes (elderberry!) to the east, clear of the leach field. Make these plantings transition into the wet area. There plant reeds, put in the pond with fish, a little boardwalk. In the middle have a small patch of lawn. There put a bench. Lay a gravel path to it from the street. Sit down. Enjoy the colors and scents, the sounds of water and of the breeze in the reeds around the pond. And invite the neighbors!

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  1. An excellent solution to a challenging problem. I was interested that your town owns the property lining the street. We have the exact opposite, our property line is in the middle of the road! Of course the county has a legal easement on either side of the road, but we still get to pay taxes on the road and that easement!

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