It’s lilac time

A garden in progress

I’m gradually altering my yard to become a permaculture garden. The woman who lived here before me grew purely ornamental plants, especially bulbs. The garden beds had been neglected for years.

I just discovered “waste” rock left over from the beds and main pathway buried around a large pine tree in the northwest corner of my yard. I have used much of it to build up the pictured raised bed and north garden walkway. I now need to fill the garden bed with soil that I will collect from burying the pathway rocks and bed edging rocks.

I plan to plant summer and winter squash and pickling and lemon cucumbers in this bed. It gets early morning sun and stays sunny until mid-afternoon.

I’m very much into repurposing things. Staying at home because of Covid-19 makes repurposing absolutely necessary. I will never be bored!

A native bumble bee

We appreciate the ecological importance of native bees. We grow flowers in our permaculture polyculture guilds that attract bees. This bee is pollinating grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum.

A garden in progress …..

We planted a bare root apple tree. We’re waiting for a cold frame to arrive. We have, beds and containers to plant, seeds, biochar, compost tea mix, and more. More seeds are on the way. We intended to create a permaculture garden three years ago, but multiple life events got in the way: divorce, remarriage, plumbing disasters, major and minor surgeries, sudden health crises, and more, and that was before the pandemic. Almost four years of observation of the yard’s microclimates has been helpful.

I think at this point, the necessity of home food production and greater local resilience and self sufficiency will reenergize the permaculture and Transition Town movements.

Spring 2016: another early spring in the highlands of northern Arizona


These crocuses are planted near one of my apple trees. Bulb-forming plants make excellent guild members with fruit trees because their root systems are shallow and therefore do not compete with the trees’ needs; the top-set/walking/Welsh/Egyptian onions in the same south-facing plot are up as well. The barberry shrubs have begun blooming, too. Daytime highs and nighttime lows have been higher than in the historical past, following the pattern of the past few years. We’ve even set a record or two. I have photos for a gardening/sourdough/solar cooking/soy milk/soy okara cookies post. I’ve been very busy lately. I should have that post up within a few days.

Planting a new shade tree

This is how you carry a 12-foot 5-inch tree home in a bicycle trailer. The sales guy at the plant nursery was shocked to see that Dan was planning to carry home the tree by bicycle, saying something like, “Are you sure you are in good enough physical shape to carry it home? When you said you had a bike trailer, I thought you meant you had a motorcycle with a trailer.” As Dan was bicycling home through downtown Flagstaff, a woman shouted, “I like your tree.”

Lombardy poplars are not the most multiple-use tree species, but they fit our requirements of being tall, narrow and fast growing, while not obstructing the view of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians coming into and going out of the townhome complex. The four other shade trees along the western side of the house, combined with added attic insulation, have lowered summer high temperatures in the house by 15°F or so. I expect this tree to eventually lower summer afternoon high temperatures by up another 5°F in the bedroom. The shade will also extend use of the back balcony earlier in the afternoon. We don’t have air conditioning, so shade is very important to our comfort.

The house looks and feels so different than when we  moved in back in 1999. There was no shade, just an ugly box-trimmed juniper hedge along the west side of the house (the little pine tree in the third photo, which I took before buying the house, is now the 20-foot tree in the first photo).

Before the tree could be planted, the large boulder on the corner of the property had to be moved, as it was in the perfect location for a tree to provide shade at the critical time in the lat afternoon. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed a small back hoe parked in the commercial parking lot next door. Dan left a note on the windshield, and the driver called and agreed to move the boulder a few feet for free, which was very nice of him.

Next year I might be able to squeeze in one last crop of vining peas, which are relatively shade tolerant, but then I’ll have to grow either species that are very shade tolerant, like leafy greens, or move the planter to a sunnier location. I’ve used a planter and trellis to shade the balcony during summer afternoons for more than 10 years.

Pablo is excited about the new tree. Pablo loves trees. I expect him to start spending more time on the balcony.

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.

My early spring garden

Now that my forest garden is maturing, nearly everything I am growing is either a perennial herb or vegetable or a self-seeding leafy green or other plant. The apple and poplar trees are still dormant, but the barberries have been blooming continuously for more than two months, and the leafy greens and Alliums are thriving. The rhubarb is also up, as are some second-year carrots that I absentmindedly planted last year; carrots are biennials and I will let them go to seed so I can collect the seeds. My guerrilla garden lovage is doing great near the creek bed. Up on my balconies, the sorrel is ready to harvest and the catnip, lemon balm, spearmint and peppermint are above ground. The stinging nettles will be ready for their first harvest soon. In may, I’ll plant an heirloom tomato where I grew peas last year, and plant green beans where I had the tomatoes for some crop rotation. See my 2014 home permaculture gardening highlights blog post for detailed information and links to past posts on all of these species.

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.