Finding My Garden

I have always been the most haphazard of gardeners. I’ve regularly been seduced by a pretty plant and brought it home without a thought. In a couple of my homes, these crushes gradually overtook the front yard, and I ended up with a glorious riot that was lots of work to maintain. As my husband and I began our search for our empty nest, I knew that I wanted to do things differently. I wanted a plan.

After our hope of building a modern house with a large garden and orchard in the Glenville area of Cleveland was dashed by a flood of red tape and bureaucracy, my husband, Len, and I went and looked at a rather plain 1950s bungalow in East Overlook Road in Cleveland Heights.

The house really didn’t look like much from the outside, had been on the market for a year and even our Realtor, who had usually seen every property in the Heights, admitted he had passed right by. It had several wonderful features however. The structure of the house was excellent, was just the right size, and could be renovated how we wanted. It was within walking distance of all of our day-to-day activities. It had a smallish, but tidy backyard that was shaded from the hot summer sun. It was perfect for eating outside and for a lounging greyhound.

But it was the front yard that held the most promise. It was south facing, totally flat and had no trees, just a 38×38 expanse of grass. Perfect!

I have wanted to grow as many of my own fruits and vegetables as possible and have always been drawn to the ordered beds of a French kitchen garden or potager. The new front yard would enable me to create an elegant yet functional garden and keep me engaged with my wonderful neighborhood.

I am so fortunate to have a dear friend from my high school days who has a boutique landscaping business in Hudson. Alison Wilson is an irreverent, stylish, and knowledgable compatriot, who is not afraid to tell me I have lost my mind. She and I set about carving out a plan for the front garden. With input from my extremely talented neighbor, Mike Madorsky, as well as Larson Brothers Construction, we have begun to put it in motion.

After many discussions and drawings starting in 2015, we came up with the master plan pictured below.

The garden hinges on raised beds divided by crushed recycled concrete paths. This will allow me to continue to garden when I am 102 by eliminating much of the bending. The raised beds also allow for me to bring in good topsoil, which I can regularly amend with compost from my pile out behind the garage. The beds are going to be 16 inches high and made from 2×6 tongue and groove untreated 7pine, lined with landscape fabric.

I love the concentric plan, which lends a formal aspect. The plan also includes a yet-to-be determined focal piece and three dwarf fruit trees. A sweet cherry and an Italian plum will flank the focal piece, and a crab called Ralph Shay will shade the front patio as well as a bit of our living room. It has large apples for a crab (about 1 1/2-inches) so it will be a productive tree as well.

During the summer of 2016, we concentrated on finishing the back yard, but we did have Larson Bros. clear an area along the front of the house for use as a work area (the outdoor spigot was there, as well as two rain barrels) and a small patio. This area was leveled and covered with finely crushed recycled concrete, which looks much like the crushed limestone or granite paths all through Paris.

We loved that it is a recycled product and the presence of lime in the mixture keeps it almost weed free.

This spring, Mike will drive all the boxes he built in his shop, right behind us, through Zagara’s parking lot and set them up in the front yard. Talk about local. We’ll fill them with soil and also plant the trees.

The ground level bed surrounding the raised beds and the paths themselves will wait until 2018. I will spend this winter in that most enjoyable and hopeful of gardener’s tasks—choosing the vegetables to plant.

— Melissa McClelland