The Birth of a Small Container Flower Garden
This is the first in a series of essays on how I am converting a small (12′ x 16′) yard in Cody, Wyoming (USA) from a barren wasteland of pea gravel and total shade to a useful summer room that is a delight to the senses. I am doing this from April to October, with a budget of about $100 (US) per month. Please come along with me on this journey. I expect it to be fun, educational, frustrating and I’ll love your company.
When you think of Wyoming, you probably picture vast forests, beautiful meadows, big game and Old Faithful. All that is here, but it’s not in Cody. Situated at the eastern gate to Yellowstone National Park, Cody was founded in 1900 by Buffalo Bill Cody. His Irma Hotel (two blocks from my house) is still in operation.
Cody is in USDA Zone 4 and gets about 13″ of rain per year. I am writing this on April 15 and so far we’ve had about 2.5″ of moisture. We are in a “rain shadow” created by the mountains in Yellowstone. Moisture coming in from the west rises up to the Continental Divide and drops right there. I can see this in action when I stand in my kitchen window and watch the huge clouds evaporate as they sail in from the west.
We moved into this rental house in January. The yard looked like any yard in January – brown and bare. But I looked at all that pea gravel and no sign of grass and the row of shaggy unkempt elm trees and knew what I was facing. So I began to plan.
Of course the first stop is always the gardening books and magazines that are full of dreamy photographs of gardens in places where it (a) rains and (b) the owner invests the price of a college education in their landscaping. Sigh. But if the folks on that TV show that takes design inspiration from rooms done in the highest style and reinterprets them with items from yard sales and import stores could make a polyester satin purse out of a vinyl pig’s ear, I could too!
So here is the basic plan, and what I have achieved to date.
The yard is out the kitchen door, with a lovely view of the driveway and the street. The neighbors have an enchanting vista out their living room window. My husband and I will use the space for cooking, eating and relaxing. The house shades the yard from the east, the row of elms and the neighbor’s house shades it from the west. The southern exposure on the street side gives about 3 hours of sun on the very edge of the yard, and the northern exposure is a nice view of the sky and the row of unidentified shrubs along the fence.
I’m doing the garden entirely in container pots. Pots on the ground, pots on other pots, pots hanging from the trees, pots on the roof of the cellar entrance. This way I can control the soil quality and keep the water ON the plants instead of soaking into the thirsty ground. This also will let me rotate plants as they come into bloom or fade, and most importantly, lets me move plants from one spot to another if my original idea didn’t work.
So far I have bleeding hearts, hostas, lilies of the valley, grape hyacinth and another bulb I can’t remember. There’s one pot of yellow tulips salvaged from an end-of-season sale that’s doing remarkably well. Finally, there are three large pots of bush peas. Soon to come are some ferns and tuberous begonias. There’s no furniture, but we have two cast iron hibachis, so we can cook and eat like John Coulter did when he came through here in the early 19th century – meat roasted over the fire and butt firmly on the ground.
Who was John Coulter, you ask? He was no gardener. He was the young man who left the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery before they got back to St. Louis and walked back to the Rocky Mountains to discover Yellowstone, via what was to become Cody, WY.
Written by Mary-Denise Smith. © 2004 Electronic Perceptions
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