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Le Fruitier

“For a valiant heart, nothing is impossible”. Jacques Coeur

I’m a huge fan of words that are not as oft used as in their former glory days. For instance, have you considered the list of words used to describe different sections of the backyard garden as if they were separate rooms, like orchard, grove, vineyard, patch, and nuttery (which is where you will find the nutty trees and not your crazy aunt, silly!). Of course, there are others, like cutting garden, kitchen garden, and herb garden. While there are many options to consider, today we focus on the fruitier, a.k.a., the orchard.

During the first and second world wars, most homes had backyard gardens where families and communities grew their own fresh fruits and vegetables to eat and/or trade with their neighbors to address food shortages. Sadly, this trend did not keep pace with the test of time, which is why today we import food made in third countries that cannot possibly compare in quality, vigor, and/or taste to self-produced fresh food products. While establishing an orchard may seem like a lofty idea in concept, admittedly it may also unnerve some when considering factors like space, proper care, maintenance, etc. Which is why today we opened with Jacques Coeur’s point-of-view and emphasis on the possibilities.

In fact, advances in high-density farming and planting rootstock have crushed the “space constraints” of growing fruit trees. Today, many fruit trees are grown on dwarf rootstock, which result in reduced tree height and enable them to be planted closer together. Further, academic studies have shown that high-density fruit tree production yields better output and uses less resources than other growing methods.

Today’s challenge, if you should choose to accept it, is to check out different fruit tree varieties and to think about how you might incorporate them into your garden plan (if you’ve been following along). I actually have three potted fruit trees that I bring inside during the winter months because they are not rated for my growing zone, but I am determined to have them in my collection (a Mexican key lime, lemon, and Italian fig).

Factors to Consider When Planting Fruit Trees:

  1. Choose fruit trees grown on dwarf rootstock (you can prune trees to manage their height to 6-8 feet so that you don’t need a ladder to pick fruit);
  2. Take note of whether your tree variety is self-pollinating or requires a cross-pollinator (typically a different variety that blooms / flowers at the same time);
  3. Note your trees super powers / potential uses (some trees have specific culinary properties which make them suitable for cooking, making cider, canning, etc.);
  4. Trees can be planted in rows along a fence or other flat vertical plane, i.e., espalier (checkout River Road Farms in Tennesee to get the juices flowing at http://www.espaliertrees.com);
  5. Trees should be spaced at least five feet within the row and a space equal to the maximum tree height between rows (this allows the sun to hit all sides of the trees);
  6. Water regularly (young trees need between 12 and 15 gallons of water per week (May through September);
  7. Use an organic fungicide to control mildew, rust, leaf spot disease, etc. (I use bonide on my trees); and
  8. Prune trees annually once they are dormant (doing so will spur more growth the following spring).
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Growing in Small Spaces

In can be tough for gardeners when space is tight, especially if you are afflicted with an ever-wondering eye that wants to buy one of everything at the nursery but have no where to put it all. Fear not friends, europeans have mastered the art of living and gardening in small spaces and have pulled it off swimmingly. In these situations, a few well thought out ideas can really brighten a small space and turn it into a retreat.

Priorities are key when building out the small garden plan. Take a hard look at what you want and/or need to accomplish with the space. Before we moved to our current home, we lived in an “in town” location which had a city-sized lot, meaning our garage was behind our house and our backyard consisted of a patio, a mere small patch of grass, and mostly paved driveway. But, I have been very fortunate to travel a lot and one thing I’ve noticed is that lot size does not determine the beauty of a garden. Case in point, consider all the beautiful cottage and roof top gardens featured in magazines and on television.

When space has got you feeling like you’re wings have been clipped, take the challenge and let your inner creative loose. Just like your living room, a garden is a defined space that has a length, width, and height that you can leverage.

Considerations for Designing Gardens for Small Spaces

  1. Use the available vertical space (people often grow apple trees on flat vertical planes – a fruiting art form called espalier; vegetables can also be grown on trellises and grapes on a pergola);
  2. Consider using pots – flowers, trees, and vegetables can all be grown in pots (be sure to use appropriate sized containers; also consider allocating additional budget for pottery that defines the space);
  3. Reduce plant spacing (high-density farming is an increasing trend in commercial growing applications (which means that plants are grown closer together with promising results));
  4. A water feature, whether a fountain or bird feeder, can add a touch of elegance and the sound of water flowing is magical;
  5. Lights can also help define the space (consider string lights, lanterns, led lights, electric lamps, a fire pit, fireplace, etc.);
  6. Consider the variety of statuary available, whether formal or whimsical, but have fun with it (We have the Easter Island Statue in our backyard which stands guard over our swimming pool at night. Last year I planted a bunch of border-sized dahlias around it that bloomed all summer); and
  7. Consider a small cafe style table instead of a full sized one (in Paris many restuarants have bistro tables that are pushed together for bigger groups).

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Herb Gardens

Let’s talk about herbs tonight. Why? Because it’s a Friday night and I’m hungry. Did you know that there is actually a National Herb Society and Museum that you can visit that have beautiful collections of every herb imaginable arranged in stunning displays that are bound to capture the wonder and imagination of the auspicious gardener? The website boasts that its the largest “designed” herb garden in North America.

Don’t take my word for it. Take a virtual journey to Washington D.C. and open your mind to the possibilities. While you are at it, check out the National Herb Society. Once you do, you will never look at herbs the same again because you will come across terms like knot gardens that will have you second guessing garden plans with simple rows.

The Benefits and Uses of Herbs

My husband likes to entertain the neighbors with wild tales about the (illicit) plants that he implies I’m growing under heat lights, but truth be told I’m really just into flowers… Herbs can be used for a wide range of applications. Top of mind to me are culinary, fragrance, and cut flowers. Some people have thoughts about medicinal properties, but thats a separate topic for someone else with more experience in that area. I use herbs to cook with, but I also toss them into salads; boil in homemade teas; and make cut flower arrangements. One of my favorites is Lavender.

I cannot say enough about lavender. I am currently growing at least six different lavender cultivars, some of which are edible, but others earned a space in my garden because they produce the most beautiful flowers and/or smell so good. Bucci pinnate is one of my favorites and produces rows of elegant peppery long stem flowers . (They are native to the Mediterranean region, but can be grown in pots or garden beds in Chicago.) By the way, if you are a beginner gardener, herbs are probably the easiest plants to grow and you will have extras to share with friends, coworkers, and family.

The assignment this week is to make a list of the herbs you keep in your kitchen and then check out the National herb garden. Keep building out your inspiration plant list. You can always reassess and make cuts later.

Key Factors for Consideration:

Consider the properties of different cultivars and potential uses: Fragrance, Culinary, and Cut Flowers, e.g., check out aromatto basil, which smells like licorice and has a sweet taste, and piccolo basil which grows in small mounds like a ball topiary.

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The Conundrum of Annuals

So, my neighbor, who shall remain nameless here, only wants to plant perennials. The rational for his decision is that annuals are way too much work. But, the fact is that you limit your plant options if you only work with perennial plants, which come with the assurance that they will reappear for at least three consecutive more years. That is versus the alternative of planting annuals which exhaust their full life cycle in a single growing season. But, do they really only last one growing cycle? More on that in a minute. Sometimes plants act like annuals when they are planted outside of their (USDA) growing zone. All plants are rated as native to a growing zone, which you can find with a simple Google search and match up to the zone where you reside (with your zip code). See https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov to find your zone.

So you may wonder then, why would anyone want to plant annuals if they only last for a single growing season. The simple answer is that you will have access to a wider selection of flowers with more colors if you set aside growing zone assumptions. I challenge you to consider, if you have been following along our plan, which plants are turning your head as you scroll though inspiration pictures (in magazines, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.). You will find that some of your ”favs” are often likely annuals in your zone (unless you live in California, where they are rewarded with beautiful weather year round). Most of us need to slug around the garden and consider workaround strategies that fit with Mother Nature’s schedule. But alas, there are workarounds. Consider dahlia tubers which you can dig up in the fall and replant in the spring.

Dahlias as Annuals

Its fitting to talk about dahlias since we are having our annual dahlia sale. You can check out pics for inspiration on the https://le-pommier.org website, but there are many more varieties and options available out there. Dahlias come in many sizes and heights, starting with a potted or border-size plant all the way up to plants with 5-6 foot stems. Beyond height, is the size of the flower bloom, some of which range up to the size of your head (no joke). If you hear the term dinner plate variety, it means that the bloom is pretty substantial.

I have a range of dahlias in my garden, beginning with American Pie, which looks great in a pot (or border) up to the Kelvin Floodlight (which is about 50 inches tall and has a bloom that approximates the size of a dinner plate). I arrange them in rows with the tallest in the back, medium in the middle, and so forth. Dahlias are not native to my zone, so I have to dig them up in fall after the first or second frost and store them until they can be replanted again. But, I love them. I love looking at them, I cut them, and even my neighbor (who doesn’t want to be bothered with annuals) told me that he can see ‘Kelvin’ from his bedroom window.

Your assignment this week if you accept it is to check out dahlia photos online and consider for your garden plan.

Key Factors for Growing Dahlias:

  • Take note of plant height and spacing requirements (dahlias look nice when planted in bunches);
  • Stake taller plants with bamboo sticks (which you can buy at most garden centers or Amazon);
  • Take cuttings for inside and proudly display in a vase;
  • Dig up tubers in the fall (after the first frost) if they are not native to your USDA growing zone;
  • Store tubers in a cool dry space (garage or basement often work);
  • Replant in the spring or later (after all danger of frost has passed); and
  • Buy more dahlias for next year 🙂
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Mastering the Art of Gardening in 365 Days

white petaled flowers

Italo Svevo once said, change is unsettling “just as liquid in a jar turns cloudy when you shake it.”

Starting a garden is scary. Especially if you think that you may be suffering from the nefarious, albeit self-diagnosed, condition “black thumb”. But, it is often the things that make our hearts pound with fear (when we think about doing them) that are ultimately the most rewarding. I started this blog to chronicle lessons from the Le Pommier flower farm and hope that our open kimono format will help others realize their own gardening goals.

I took up gardening several years ago when my son became ill as a way to refocus my attention away from the things that were outside of my control and that were overwhelming me at the time. (I also went back to graduate school to finally get that MBA and took the Illinois Master Gardener’s Training course. I would have done anything to keep myself busy and escape my troubles). But, in doing so, I was able to find nuggets of peace in unexpected ways and have made so many amazing connections with people who share my passion for growing and/or are dealing with loss or the challenges of caring for a loved one as well.

Whatever your motivation, if you are reading this post, it is likely that you share a passion for gardening and are looking for some tools and/or information to help you along your journey. Join us as we endeavor to unlock the mystery around gardening and to master its art form in just 365 days. We will document our journey here and provide information about different plant varieties and cultivars to help get the juices flowing.

As a starting point, during January we will focus on building out the Garden Roadmap and documenting the major considerations for successful growing. Provided below is short checklist of items to consider when planning your garden. We hope you find this information useful.

Getting Started – The Garden Plan Checklist

  1. Set your intention: What are you passionate about? e.g., think about whether you can get excited about growing vegetables and/or herbs, and if flowers excite you.
  2. How big of a space do you have to dedicate to this project? If you are new to gardening, you may want to start with a 4 X 6 foot plot or smaller. Garden pots on a porch or balcony work too. (All consider that some towns have community gardens where individuals can rent small garden plots).
  3. Where is the space located? Front or back yard. Be specific.
  4. Is your location sunny or shady. If sunny, how many hours of sunlight does your location get daily?
  5. What gardening tools do you currently have? e.g., garden gloves, hand spade, pots, etc.
  6. How will you water your garden? e.g., hose, sprinkler, manually?
  7. How many hours per week will you commit to this project? (Can you dedicate 30 – 60 minutes per day)?
  8. What is your USDA plant hardiness zone? (This will determine which plants can be successfully grown in your area). See https://garden.org/nga/zipzone/.

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