Friday, May 23, 2014

The Circle Bed - A Nod to Thomas Jefferson

In the middle of our circular driveway once stood an old pear tree that was at least 25 feet tall.  It was apparent to us when we first moved in that the tree had been terribly neglected through the years, having had all branches removed from the bottom 10 feet of the main trunk.  I debated last fall about whether to keep it, and in the end, decided that it was taking up too much valuable space in the middle of one of the sunniest spots on our property.  So during this past winter, our neighbor was kind enough to cut it down for us.  Naturally, my next thought was, "So now what?"

It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to create a real focal point on our property here.  I love the idea of a grand flower bed that would serve as a destination for beneficial insects and birds.  It would also help to break up the monotony of an otherwise dull gravel driveway.

Going into this project, I was mindful of the fact that it would take at least several years for any future plantings to mature and for this space to truly come into its own.  I think far too many people shy away gardening or from making any changes to their outdoor spaces because they can't bear the thought of having to look at bare soil for months if not years on end.  But for me, that's a large part of what makes gardening so fun and rewarding.  I don't think gardens are meant to be static things.  (Few things in this natural world are.)  Ultimately this bed will develop at its own pace, reach a certain level of fullness, and still continue to change from year to year.  And I get to enjoy and critique every moment of it. 

As is the case with other parts of our property, the soil here was in a terrible state.  My first task for this project was to dig a narrow trench around the bed in order to define its shape and borders.  

We then got to work on turning over what little grass there was here and then covering it all up with a layer of partially decomposed leaves from last fall.  

Next, we arranged to have 6 yards of soil mix dumped on top of it.  After spreading it, we realized quickly that we only had enough to cover about half of the bed with a decent amount of soil.  So the back half laid bare for a few more weeks while I got started on planting some things in front.   The first to go in were my Imperial artichokes (Yes I know - a vegetable, but also a flower).  The bed was also staked and lined with construction tape to keep the neighborhood dogs at bay.

Eventually, we had another 6 yards of soil mix delivered to cover the back half of this bed.  While at times the shoveling and spreading seemed backbreaking, it also gave us an opportunity to work on this garden project as a family.

Gradually I've added more and more seedlings to this space.  And of course my ideas for it are continuing to change and evolve.   Aside from several clumps of irises (which I'd received from our next door neighbor) and a persimmon tree I recently planted on the right side of this bed, I'm growing all of the plant material from seed.  Since I surely won't have enough perennials to fill this space up entirely this year, I also decided to plant some vegetables as well, including kale, broccoli and Fava beans.

This past weekend, I came up with another idea to add a bit more interest to this space for the time being.  I wasn't quite sure where to plant my runner beans, which I'd intended to train onto two towering teepee trellises made in the colonial style of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello garden.  Then it dawned on me that this would be the most appropriate place for them this year.

Planted alongside some other edibles and ornamentals that may have been found in a colonial era garden - like artichokes, love-in-a-mist, lupine, nasturtiums, scabiosa, anise hyssop, columbine, rudbeckia and purple coneflower (all of which I'd started from seed earlier this year),  I began to realize that this bed would also serve as a growing tribute to our colonial-era gardeners.  Seeing as how we live in New England, this small bit of living history appeals to me.

Hopefully the runner beans will take to these poles and climb vigorously in the coming weeks.

I have hundreds of seedlings that still need to be planted.  I also need to re-trench the edges of this bed.  (Ultimately we'd like to line it with cobblestone and refresh the gravel in our driveway.) But for now, I can step back at least and see that this bed is slowly coming together.   It will definitely be exciting to see how it all takes shape this summer, and in the many summers to come. 


  1. I love watching as you transform your yard. When I moved here it was a little canvas to work with, but your space is so huge.

  2. Your bed is just lovely - and the idea with the runner beans - inspired! I can't wait to see them all covered with blooms. Watching plants grow and develop (especially those you have nurtured from seed) is so is all the tweaking of your plans that generally happens along the way.

  3. Looks amazing Thomas! I love the history aspect - very, very cool. I also notice you had Marc doing most of the work. Well done.

  4. If you're in the Boston area, someone just donated a boatload of cobblestones to greenGoat. They're sitting in Lincoln, awaiting redeployment.

  5. You've accomplished so much in the short time you've been there! It's going to come together in no time flat. I'm guessing that you don't have deer, or if you do they aren't as voacious as the deer in my neighborhood.

  6. That should be voracious deer...

  7. Very fun!! I wish we had that kind of space!!

  8. Oh I can't wait to see the beans run up those poles, how cool is that? Very nicely done!

  9. This is going to be such a beautiful focal point in your driveway.