And it’s all Mom’s fault. She has a knack for finding quirky things that she knows I’ll like, and that’s how I ended up getting a cow for Christmas. Not just any cow: a 2-foot-tall recycled metal cow with kind of odd ears and a paint job guaranteed to catch the eye.
Cow hung around – or rather, leaned around, because her legs are kind of curvy and she needed support – for a few months, while I tried to figure out where she could go in the garden. The only solution I could come up with was to set her among plain green or yellow, because no other setting would work with all of her colors.
But she still looked out of place, so the only solution was to give her a makeover. She wanted to be purple, of all things, and that’s how I ended up picking out a can of Valdspar Sumptuous Purple spray paint on my next trip to the hardware store.
Mom usually handles any painting projects around here, so Cow went home with her to her workshop and came back seriously – and yes, sumptuously – purple. She still needed a bit of something, so it was back to the hardware store for a can of Valdspar Bumblebee Yellow. I dug out the small brushes I normally use for seed cleaning and set to work giving her some personality. An hour or so later, Cow was really looking spiffy, and she needed a new name to go with her new look. Mom always wants to name stuff “Happy” (I’m darn lucky that didn’t end up being my name), but usually, she gets outvoted. This time, I decided that Cow could henceforth be known as Happy, in Mom’s honor.
Happy and I wandered around the garden for a while, and she finally came to rest in a bed right outside the orchard, among orange, yellow, and red ‘Jewel Mix’ nasturtiums, bright orange ‘Radio’ pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), and ‘Ruby Perfection’ cabbages. Good call, Happy!
Hmmm…that color combination deserved further exploration. And so, the Happy Garden began.
How lucky that there was an available space right nearby, where I was trying to figure out a replacement for my old holding/veggie beds.
Here’s what the space looked like late last summer. You can see why it needed a redo.
It was my last main project for this spring, and I finally got around to it in June. First task: a serious weeding.
Then, it was time to think about the layout. I would have liked to go back to the original four-rectangle pattern, but the huge winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) in the far corner nixed that idea. I’ve been meaning to move it for several years and could have managed it even now if I’d cut it back hard. But well, a robin had a nest in there, and other birds love it too, so I didn’t have the heart to disturb it. Instead, I decided to let it be the trellis for some luffa gourd seedlings that needed a home.
After that, figuring out the paths was easy. I needed a straight path into it, and along the upper side of it, to line up with the existing paths that go around the house. And I needed a diagonal path across it, to have a direct route from the barn, courtyard, and nursery area back to the toolshed and the Orchard (where the veggie beds and fruiting plants live). It didn’t take long to scrounge up a few stakes and some baling twine to lay out the paths.
Now, how to create some sort of entrance for the space? An earlier rummage through the basement had produced a few sections of Mom-made picket fence we’d kept from my previous place, and I’d used two of them to frame the entrance to the Orchard. The remaining two sections got a Happy-the-Cow-style makeover and did a fine job in framing this space too.
Then it was a bunch of one-thing-leads to another mini projects. The space slopes a bit toward the pasture, so to make the fences level, I had to build some low stone walls to create two level terraces.
Then, I dug out the paths and used that good soil to raise and level the beds within. Since all that digging turned up a fair number of stones, I used the rocks to line the new beds.
To get the new paths to line up with the existing ones, I also had to widen a border just outside the Happy Garden.
Throughout all this, I was thinking about the plants, too. I had lots of rosemary, thyme, and ‘Pistou’ basil seedlings left over from a spring writing project, as well as a bunch of zinnias, ‘Jester’ purple millet, ‘White Soul’ alpine strawberries, ‘Chocolate Smoke’ nicotiana, ‘Chocolate Splash’ and ‘Chocolate Mint’ coleus, and other assorted seedlings that hadn’t fit elsewhere. I sowed several more pots of nasturtiums and some ‘Bright Lights’ cosmos, too, so I had plenty of stuff on hand to fill the space without buying any more plants.
The one thing I still needed was some sort of focal point for the space, and once again, Mom came through for me. She and I took a day off to drive out to some of our favorite places in Lancaster County, and we ended up in The Old Village Store, a cool old hardware-and-antiques store across from the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market. She began directing my attention to interesting bottles, which was a new development that could not pass unremarked, and it took me mere minutes to get her to ‘fess up. Turns out that she’d also ordered a bottle tree from Gardener’s Supply for me for Christmas, but that it was back-ordered until July.
I knew right way that it would be a perfect focal point for the Happy Garden. Mom and I had great fun poking around The Old Village Store and a couple of thrift shops on the way home, and we scored a number of colorful bottles with neat shapes. Happily, the bottle tree frame arrived within the week, earlier than expected, so it got “planted” in a prime spot in the garden and adorned with some of our finds.
A friend also shared some bottles, my favorite of which is this green fish.
The two bottle colors I’d really hoped to find were orange and purple, but no luck. By coincidence, though, I found purple “frosted glass” and orange “stained glass” Krylon spray paint at a local discount store.
I had some bottles left over, so I used them to top pieces of rebar I’d stuck into the raised beds in the Orchard as hose guides.
The Happy Garden was pretty much finished, but the space still needed a few finishing touches. Another trip to the basement turned up a few more pieces of glass, along with a small metal-mesh horse, some rusty metal pots, a mini-Adirondack chair, and some kid-sized gardening tools that I’d bought a few years ago but never found a place for.
After a quick session of spray painting, I added them to the garden. Mom and I mulched the paths, and space was essentially done, except for watering. And now, I get to watch it fill in.
While all this was going on, I was working on two more projects: experimenting with my PlantCam, and learning how to put together slide shows on my computer.
The PlantCam is a digital camera that’s designed for time-lapse photography: you can set it at various intervals (1 minute, 5 minute, 15 minute, etc.), then leave it in place for however long you want.
I set it up to shoot during the days I was doing most of the work on the Happy Garden (with some appearances from Mom, too). The quality of the photos isn’t great, and the color isn’t either, but the results are kind of funny.
I used Windows Movie Maker to put the PlantCam images together, with a few regular-camera shots at the beginning, and figured out how to post it to YouTube. If you’re interested, you can find it here.
Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra