Garden Update June 26

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removing grass for a garden bed

June continues to be a beautiful, busy month!

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Creating A New Planting Bed

We bought our house and moved in just over 5 years ago. I had some projects written down that I wanted to accomplish from the very beginning. This project was one of them. In the far corner of our front yard, the slope is rather severe. Mowing the grass there is a bigger pain than it should be. I decided I wanted to rip the sod up, improve the existing soil (read: construction fill), and turn it into a planting garden.

I find having a good lawn is overrated. Maintaining lush, green lawns is just not worth the trouble and expense in my opinion. We had Tru Green service our lawns for a couple years and I was very satisfied with the end result. And if your native lawn is easy to maintain, then great. But the water, chemical/additives, extra labor that a good green lawn demands is no longer in my sphere of interest. And that’s not even considering the biweekly mowing, trimming, and edging. I’d much rather grow plants and flowers. I get so much more joy watching plants grow than grass.

reclaiming part of lawn to create garden bed
After one session’s work of removing sod. This is tiring work. Image by author.

This area of the front yard gets good sun exposure from the morning until about 3pm in the summer. A landscape crew quoted me $1,700 to do this work. I thought I could do it myself instead.

use a tiller to get rid of sod and rocks
End of Day 2 Idea: get the electric tiller out and have it do the hard labor. I hand sifted the grass clumps and rocks after turning the ‘soil.’ Image by author.

With the help of my 10 year old electric tiller, I removed a triangular section of sod, about 15 foot each side.

Earthwise electric tiller worked great

The existing “soil”, as it were, is practically a moonscape. Surprisingly, some plants do thrive in this medium. The previous owner planted a gorgeous rose bush in the corner. Despite my complete neglect, it produces profuse deep red blooms in the summer. Heath and lavender plants seem to do quite well here, too. Neither plant require a lot of water, and they both do fine in crappy rocky soil.

Speaking of rocks, I collected about a hundred pounds of stones. My tiller kicked up some rocks as big as two fists at times. I saved these rocks to arrange somewhere in the garden.

bucks of rocks big and small churned up when I ripped out grass for new planting bed
4 buckets worth of rocks turned up by my trusty tiller. I told you this was crap soil! Image by author.

I am now anxiously awaiting a delivery of 20 cubic feet of good garden soil and some compost. I cannot wait to get planting! I have a mature Hydrangea I want to install, it’s been confined to a large ceramic pot for a few years now. I’ve been planning my plant list. I’m going to plant Canna lilies, home-grown Rudbeckia and Shasta Daisies, a few Anise Hyssops are for sure going in.

new contoured lawn next to my new garden bed
After the third day of labor, I’ve got a gently arched contoured lawn abutting a new healthy(ier) planting bed! Image by author.

Here’s a brief video showing the area with soil conditioner added, but before I added compost and good garden soil:

Plant Identification Snafu

There’s a lovely herbaceous perennial plant that I planted in my back yard raised bed a few years ago. I harvested, saved, and am now growing seedlings from the seeds I harvested last fall. In previous posts, I thought this was a licorice sage plant. Turns out, no, they’re Anise Hyssop.

Image North Carolina Extension Gardener

These are lovely flowers, and pollinators go crazy over them. Light, bright green leaves mound below a tall spike of purple flowers. The color combination, light green and lavender colors are just gorgeous together. My anise hyssops are the light green plants that look like mint (which they are in the same family) Crushing the leaves releases a wonderful light licorice aroma. I’m going to harvest more seeds this fall. As it is, I have about one dozen starts like the ones pictured below.

anise hyssop grown from harvested seed
Bottom right two are Rudbeckias. Other 4 are my Anise hyssop starts. Image by author

Big Mystery Wildflower is Big

In the “L” of my backyard, I started a wildflower garden. About 3 years ago, we had the corner leveled to correct the annoying slope. They didn’t use the best quality fill, and I didn’t really know what to do with the area. I wanted to plant something. It’s a very visible part of our back yard, it looks out onto a peekaboo glimpse of Puget Sound. I decided, for lack of a better plan, to just throw down a few packets of native wild flowers. It was one of the best $10 decisions I’ve made. The wildflowers have continued to reseed. I get Dianthus, Shasta Daisies, California Poppies, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, and other flowers that deliver color all summer long.

I don’t know what all the seeds were. This year’s mystery wildflower:

mystery wild flower

Note that its stalk is quite sturdy and substantial. Its leaves are erect, and the bud looks to be quite sizable. It’s about 12″ high now and it seems to get along with its Dianthus neighbors. We’ll see what it turns out to be.

Soil pH N/P/K Testing Kit

As my research and interest in growing increases, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start testing my beds’ soils. I picked up a Luster Leaf RapiTest at a neighborhood hardware store. It includes powder capsules, individual testing containers for pH, Nitrogen, Potassium, and Potash (NPK.)

pH garden soil test kit
My first soil tested looks just slightly acidic, based on the color comparison chart. Image by author

The pH test is the easiest. A teaspoon of soil is put into the left half of the test chamber, and water is added to the fill line. The pH test powder is added, the container is shaken up and you wait a few minutes for the color to appear. In the picture above, I guess this is pH between 6.0 and 6.5? The soil I tested first is from my backyard raised bed, installed in the Pandemic Summer of 2020. It looks like it’s pH is slightly, lightly acidic.

The NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorous & Potash) tests all use the same ‘brew’ that you collect from your garden. 1 part test soil is put to soak in 5 parts water (distilled is preferred.) Test capsules are opened to release the powder that reacts with the soil-infused brew.

Luster Leaf soil test kit Nitrogen
Luster Leaf soil test kit Phosphorus
Luster Leaf soil test kit Potash

I took these pictures a few hours after testing, so they’re not accurate as pictured. Instructions advise on allowing the colors to develop for 10 minutes at most. When the 10 minutes were up, I noted that all 3 samples were soundly in the Sufficient grade.

This kit from Luster Leaf is very well produced. Its instructions are clear (you might need to use reading glasses to follow the steps.) This package comes with enough testing powder capsules to do 10 tests of each, pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potash. There are testing ‘wands’ on the market, where all you need to do is insert the probe into the soil and it will deliver a pH reading. I think this sort of chemical reaction test is more reliable.

Checking a pool or tub’s chlorine level is easier, less involved than checking your garden soil’s health. But, I’m glad I did it. I can see doing this test in the spring and in the summer, just to make sure my garden soil is healthy.

Cardinal Climber Activity

My little cardinal climbers! With one exception, they’re not really taking to the sky quite yet. This first picture shows one plant is already blooming, despite not having accomplished any climbing!

cardinal climbers from seeds
Image by author

A dozen feet away is another installation of cardinal climber seedlings. This one guy is the go-getter! I decided to run some twine between the two wire grids I set up for them to climb. I didn’t want him to waste time trying to find the next grid to climb. And he found it, and is now winding his way up the higher wire grid! Gonna be up to my eyeballs in cardinal flowers soon!

using twine to guide cardinal climbers
The aggressive Sweet Pea neighbor is giving the Cardinal climbing directions. Image by author
using twine to direct cardinal climbers path
All it takes is a little help via garden twine, and this guy will make the leap to the higher climbing grid! Image by author

I wish you fun in the sun in and out of your garden! Be well!

Photo of author


After years of denying it, Donald finally admits one passion in life is gardening. More specifically: growing seeds, plants, flowers and edibles and helping them to be the best possible. Neighbors call him a Green Thumb. He lives in Western Washington with his wife of 24+ years and three cats.

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