Green Rascal Design

In the last approximately 2.5 years a lot has grown here at our little patch of heaven. I wanted to show a comparison of exactly how much.
I hope this visual helps you understand what it means when I say that last year we grew 50lbs of tomatoes and canned $200 worth of strawberry and raspberry jam. Numbers are convincing, but these pictures really tell the story.

We'll be having people over occasionally to see the garden in person, and hopefully I'll also have a couple videos sometime. So if you'd like to talk about how we did it, and how you can do it too, send me an email!
yesterday's strawberries
We're pretty lazy. Well, we're not super duper lazy, I mean we did go out and pick these strawberries, put them in a bowl and take a couple photographs of them. But compared to the amount of work you think it takes to get this many strawberries we are really lazy. Why does this work for us? We work with nature instead of against it. Nature wants to be a forest? Well we'll give it a forest. The strawberry patch certainly meets the criteria of a strawberry forest. It's thick/dense. We planted the little plants 2 years ago with only about a foot between each plant - probably much closer than the "recommended" spacing. In fact, I'd say the recommended spacing is almost always wrong unless you're a real farmer. In that case you're not reading this blog, haha. No, if you're just trying to grow a couple hundred dollars of strawberries go ahead and plant them real close. The plants will help each other out - strength in numbers and moisture control. Do we have bugs? Heck yeah we have bugs. But there are soooooooo many strawberries that the bugs can't eat them all. And we do try to keep the bug population down by piling grass on the side of the gardens for the slugs/ground snails to eat instead of our precious plants... but we're not out there killing ourselves over the bugs and weeds.

red currants
We're patient. This currant bush was planted 2 years ago also, and we haven't put a bunch of fertilizer on it to make it grow real fast and produce fruit the first year. It's still very small, but it's totally natural. The only thing that might be of concern to me is it's proximity to our neighbors and their questionable lawn-care practices. (their weed killer might run into our yard in a heavy rain) Some things we planted our first year here are still not bearing any fruit. And that's okay. Surprisingly many of our other new tiny bushes are bearing fruit in the same year. True, it's only a couple berries here and there, but it's still amazing how rewarding patience can be.

our first kiwis?
our first lingonberries!
our first blueberries?
rose hips this year?
amazing mulberries!
And that's just the berries! Never mind the leafy greens, herbs and vegetables.

Ok, it's true that we did dig the holes and put the plants in, and put some mulch around most of them. But is that really so much work for years of free, virtually organically grown berries?

You can do it!

Garden Resources


We're making a small addition to the Green Rascal Design list of services. Over the weekend we went around our little borough and plastered some fliers on power poles - strategically placed where 1) lots of people pass by or 2) some edible plants would be a nice addition to a yard. Yes, we're on a mission to help people in our neighborhood grow their own food.

Everyone always says they don't have time to garden and it's so much work. Even after we've gone through the calculations to show how worthwhile it is from a financial standpoint to garden, I still get this complaint. So today I'll try and provide some resources...

Herb Spiral


Somebody here is interested in plant guilds and permaculture. He found this herb spiral, and I said we could build that. It's here if anyone is interested.

Where would I put such a thing, you might ask. I was thinking of putting it in the front, even though the front is supposed to be more decorative and dedicated to flowers. I think if this were done right it could fit into the front pretty nicely. We have that odd shaped area of grass with a tree on it now. The tree is too close to the house though. I can see the roots possibly attacking our 110 year old foundation. We don't like that tree. It's going to get too big very fast. The shade might be nice, but I don't think it's worth it. I'd rather have the herb spiral built with bricks and stone that match the house as a nice art piece out there.

We were also discussing putting a knee wall at the bottom of the front hill. I like the idea more and more. We could make a nice niche to house the garbage can and recycling container. With a little fence gate on it, I think that would be really nice. And then the wall could hold back the thyme and whatever else we decide to replace the grass with. It's too bad we can't do all of this stuff right now.

Another thing to do is plant a shade tree in the boulevard. That requires a permit, I'm sure. And the particular tree has to be approved. But I support the shade tree commission, so I'll abide. (the dude abides) Our street needs more shade trees on this side. There is one giant tree on the other side, but it does us no good. If we had a big shade tree in front by the sidewalk, it would shade our house and our walk and generally improve the look of the street. Someday I want our street to resemble the street two blocks up where there are shade trees at every other house on both sides. It's so nice up there.

I'm not sure about plant guilds. Since we didn't know much about them when I designed the garden, it was impossible to plan for them. Hopefully our garden design will be readily adaptable to them.. Sometime I'll mark out where the additional plant beds are to go, and we'll throw hay down there and start getting it ready for mulch and compost. I think they will be close enough to resemble plant guilds.
The reason I was absent from posting yesterday was because of my favorite ground cover, grass. Did I mention that I hate grass? Well I'm not physically the type of person who can mow the hill in front of the house. It's very steep and quite high. But I found a warning notice yesterday about the grass height. The thing is, it wasn't on the doorknob like it should've been. It was lying on the ground under a tree. I picked it up because I thought it was trash, and then I saw that the borough had left us a warning, and that we had until June 28th to cut our grass. Well, as you might suspect, yesterday was June 30th. I called the borough office and said we didn't receive this notice; it was on the ground in front of the house lying in the sun probably since the person who brought it here was too lazy to leave it on the door like they should have. They were probably too tired from climbing our steps to go all the way. They probably left the warning notice on the railing, and then it blew off in the storm that hit us on the 21st. I really can't say because I didn't see the thing. I was quite upset on the phone, so the official was nice and said if we cut it by 4pm he wouldn't send the citation. Well, the lawn care industry is woefully unconnected to the internet, so we were unable to find a place that could come and take care of it same day. So it was left to little ole' me to do all of it in just a few hours. I'd never used a weed whacker before in my life, and it had been about 10 years since I operated a powered lawn mower. (Our reel mower is not strong enough to get through this hellish grass we have.) So I begrudgingly put on jeans and sneakers and goggles, and went out to trim things at about 11am. Thank GOD our neighbor Cindy was home, and she saw me and offered to help once I told her my sob story. If it wasn't for her, we'd have a 200$ fine to pay. She used her light electric lawn mower to do the precipice in the front, and then she let me use it to do the back. At 3:20pm I called the borough official back and said we got it cut, and he said he'd be by to look at it in a little bit. At that point I collapsed on the recliner in the front room and vegged out for the rest of the evening, unable to lift my arms let alone a glass of lemonade. I'm lucky I could move this morning.

Now, isn't this supposed to be a free country? Why on earth are the neighbors calling the borough to complain that our grass is too tall? It's not very neighborly! I suppose I understand why there are laws about keeping grass under a certain height, but I assumed that only applied to big areas, whereas the code official only mentioned the tall weeds in our parking area. The rest of our lawn had been mowed somewhat recently, and we were planning on mowing again on the weekend. It had been too hot to mow in the interim. Does the borough really want us to put ourselves in danger of heat stroke and possibly death because our grass is two inches above the legal height? And why does it matter if there's a 3 foot strip at the alley where we let it grow wild? I feel so downtrodden by this grass crap. And how much are we going to have to pay for a permit to replace this horrid horrid mane with something that only grows 6 inches high? It's as if the borough was getting kickbacks from the lawn maintenance companies.
On the topic of grass, there is a book out called Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg from Metropolis Books. I tend to keep the edibles in the back yard, though. In the front yard I plan to put a rose that I received from my good friend and mentor, Brian Billings. I'm hoping for more roses. Also I plan to plant thyme in the front yard. I suppose that is edible, but I don't think we'll be eating it. The thyme we picked out stays short. And we named our house Taimu Niyoi, which means "thyme scent" in Japanese. Chris was taking Japanese class when we were thinking about what to name our house. Anyway, in ancient Greece it was a high compliment to say you smelled like thyme because it meant strength among other things. I digress. The point is that I saw this book, and am anxious to look into it further. I saw other books I'd like to read, but I can only read them one at a time.
I hate grass. Grass is one of those few plants that I really think are worthless. It has no biological value as far as I can see. Now, there may be some scientist out there studying how grass grows or something in an effort to use biomimicry to make the world better, but until they come out with a study about how we can use grass to better the world I am against it.

You might think I'm crazy, and I admit that I can at times have crazy opinions. But here's why I hate grass. First, I already mentioned the lack of biological value. It is a monoculture. It crowds out or kills everything it can including my vegetable garden and apple trees. I suppose it is really interesting how grass tries to kill trees and thus why we must maintain a huge area of boring mulch around each tree we hold dear to us. But really, that's as far as my interest goes at this point. Stating that it is interesting. Again, this is something for scientists, not designers. At this stage in the game, the behavior of grass is not useful to me as a designer. Secondly, people use harmful chemicals to make sure their grass is weed free. Really? Do we need to do this? It's pure aesthetics for one, and grass IS a weed for another thing. Why are people so obsessed with having a completely weed free lawn to the point of poisoning other species in the process? This just does not make any sense. And in this economy, when everyone's belts are tightening, why would anybody spend good money on weed killer? Lastly, the energy put into cutting, edging and otherwise maintaining a perfectly manicured lawn is unbelievable! Gas powered lawn mowers and edgers used without fail every other week from the last frost to the first snowfall add to our dependence on oil. Electric models help, but electricity costs something too. And I'd rather be spending it running a heat pump to make my office cooler, dangit! Also, if you're doing all this maintenance yourself, then you're not growing your own food or spending time with your family. You're cutting GRASS! It is absolutely absurd to cover all the ground surrounding your house with something that continuously grows at such a rate that you have to cut all of it down by 1/3rd at least every other week so it LOOKS nice.

As a designer, I'd much rather have a yard of thyme. In fact, that's what we plan to replace this horrid grass with as soon as the budget allows. I'm sure the neighbors will be pissed, but honestly I don't care. They piss me off with their daily grass cutting! Geez, if they could only just get together and all cut their grass on the same day at least that would be less annoying if not better for the environment. But no. Thank goodness somebody is cutting their grass right now as I rant. And I'm sure as soon as that person is done, another person will start up their weed whacker to make up for it. I only hope they're consuming enough water to keep from getting heat stroke in this weather!

Save the planet; plant a tree.