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Secret GardenApril 6, 2007

It was always one of my most favorite books in the whole world. I think I've mentioned to you our secret garden, but if I haven't, indulge me. If you go through the back yard, down to the back fence, there's a gate under the trees. If you open the gate, there is a rather surprising shallow flight of wide wooden stairs, dropping five or six feet into another little garden area.

We keep the gate shut, because the back of the secret garden is city-fenced, and the fence has a large dog-sized hole in it. Clara has expressed interest in it in the past, and I need to repair it before letting her down there without supervision. The last thing we need is a border collie crashing through a ripped fence and falling into the creek below.

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Yes, the creek. It is the NEATEST thing to have back there. Unfortunately, this year it just hasn't rained enough, so the water level is still low, and will remain low all summer. But it's so shady and green and ivy-filled back there, and there's nothing on the other side but the high school track, which is barely visible through the trees (I never knew I would love the sound of kids playing so much. Really, the sound of games and races are so awesome to hear).

I want to do something with it, but I don't know what. I have a romantic vision -- I am sitting in a comfortable chair, with a low slung table in front of me -- I am writing while my tea steeps in the pot. Of course, I am wearing something soft and flowing and lovely. I might have long, curly locks in the vision, but we won't talk about that.

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But in reality, there are issues.

Ivy, everywhere. I know enough about ivy to know that where there's ivy, there are rats. Ew.

Black widows. Twice, I've gone down the stairs and broken strong, non-sticky webs, that when pulled off and balled up, give off that peculiar black widow web stink. Did you know about that smell? You probably didn't want to know about it, but now you do. Luckily, black widows don't want to meet me anymore than I want to meet them, and they stay pretty hidden in dark spaces, but ack.

Furniture. Right now we have two plastic chairs back there, and they get pretty damn gross. I think I've only sat in them a couple of times, and that was only to sit and think, how nice it is back here, we should do something with this, and then I get up and go back up to the back yard proper and forget its existence again.

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So, ideas? Wooden furniture would be nice, but I'd be worried about spidies all the time. Pulling ivy? Should we plant something? It's really compact clay back there, shaded almost all the time, a relatively high level of moisture due to the creek just below. It would be very hard to dig up, and I am essentially lazy.

I spent fifteen minutes down there the other day, just sitting on one of the steps, listening to my iPod, resting after furious garden exertion on the other side of the fence. Clara was sad that she was left out.

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Right after I took this shot, Miss Idaho strolled right under the gap under the gate, giving Clara a pitying look as she came to sit with me.

We've all got gardens on the brain, don't we? I spent hours this week working in the front and back yards -- put in TONS of flowers, some tomatoes, some herbs. I even mowed the lawns, which left me with this:

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This was an empty green waste bin, and is quite a bit bigger than our regular-sized trash can. My muscles ache today. Victory!

(Also and a complete non-sequitur, but I have to mention it -- while listening to NPR this morning, the radio announcer said Crucification. She was using it as a noun, and while I don't normally trip on an unreal word accidentally used, it was way too close to my accidental confisticate. I have no idea when or where I became convinced that confiscate had an extra syllable, but I did, and once I said it out loud, in polite, smart company, and I almost died. I feel so badly for that announcer, dude. That's blush-for-a-day-worthy.)

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Comments

As to planting in the secret garden, check with your local agricultural extension, or local botanical garden - they'll know what would grow there, and be able to give you help with native plants that wouldn't need as much care as non-native species. Shade plants I like are hostas, astillbe, violets, ferns, bleeding heart and tiarella (foamflower). I think those are all northeast varieties, but some might work for you. There is also a rose, Zephirine Drouhin, that doesn't mind light shade. Hugs, D

What you should do is do a sketch of the garden and see what parts of it get certain light levels during the day. With that moisture what *I* would love to plant back there (if there is enough sun in one corner) is BLUEBERRY bushes. OH YES. Blueberries like moist places, but usually kinda sunny spots. Don't just think flowering things - think EDIBLE!

I used "ergodynamic" in conversation the other day (luckily, only with my husband) and I'm STILL convinced it should be a word!

Getting off my *ss now to go get tomatoes in the ground. They've been sitting in their store pots for longer than I care to admit, and they've taken to staring at me reproachfully when I walk by!

Oh! You make me so jealous of you home owning types! My apartment with no balcony and I are eager to hear about the continuing tales of the garden.

Ohhh. One of my favorite books. I read and re-read it growing up. Still have it on my shelf. =)

How magical, to have a secret nook like that that no one can touch, in the middle of the city. I'm jealous!

Okay, first of all I can't stop thinking about black widow spider webs and the fact that they smell. What? That is crazy to me and you must tell me what they smell like. My 2¢ for ideas for back space: is there a manageable sized are you could clear of ivy and creepiness to set up in, then you could be there all safe and cozy and lovely and look at all the wildness? And/or could you drag a hose down there in order to superspray of lawn furniture of spider-y-ness?

Dude! I totally heard that same report, and I said, out loud, in my car, "No no no! It's crucifixion!"

I've been gardening too...although our heat wave is about to disappear, so I hope all my newly planted flowers don't shrivel up and die.

That picture of Clara is adorable. I can just picture Miss Idaho cruising on by ... ha!

I can't offer much in the way of advice, but I can say, ooooh, pretty!!! And, I'm so jealous! Secret Garden was one of my favorites as well, I actually had more than one copy because I "wore out" the first one! LOL

I'm afraid I'm not the gardening geek in my household, that's all R. I am, however, her willing grunt. Lift, water, carry, wipe brow, bring wine...you know! ;)

I'm trying to think of a comment but I can't stop laughing... confisticate... *snort*

Ahem. I'm laughing with you. Really. :-)

for gardening questions, comments, and just general fun, may I suggest "You Grow Girl", both the book, the website and it's forums. http://www.yougrowgirl.com/index.php

I've been spending WAAAYYY too much time there since we moved into an apartment with a balcony this year. Now if only the weather would cooperate...

bleh, ivy sucks. So does heavy clay. We've got mostly clay soil as well, but it's not very moist.
For shade plants:
Hostas do all right for us, once they get established, and in your climate they'd probably be green year round. I'm not sure they like lots of water though.
Astilbes are out for us, though, because supposedly they don't like thick soil.
I've been playing with the idea of planting an evergreen huckleberry in a shady spot; they will tolerate sun but prefer shade, and they're a native to the NW so they probably can deal with the clay.
If you'd like a ground cover that will compete with the ivy, periwinkle works pretty well (also prefers shady) although it fills in slowly.
Other shady ground covers that I ignore and they grow anyway are Bishop's Weed (http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/546/ - test this first, it gives skin rashes to some people) and lamium (http://www.desert-tropicals.com/Plants/Lamiaceae/Lamium_maculatum.html)
Sword ferns grow ok in our clay as well.
I second the suggestion of going to a local nursery, explaining your conditions, and seeing what they say. They will of course say "improve the soil" but hopefully they'll give you ideas beyond that.

1) Patch the hole in the fence.
2) Take Clara down there with you to impress the rats.
3) Restrain the ivy by pulling it out in great long swags - works better than clipping, which encourages new growth. Wear heavy gloves and maybe even a mask - I'm allergic to it, so you probably are too.
Your hellebores would probably like it down there, and forget-me-not would go crazy but would probably sneak up and invade the rest of the garden too. I've tried tiarella here, and it was very unhappy. I like the sound of periwinkles - sturdy but not too invasive. Astilbe would be lovely, but it disappears during the fall, so you have to be careful not to lose it.

Sounds like quite a challenge! I have different garden issues here -- not secret-looking at all.

But I was wondering, would you recommend The Secret Garden to a five-year-old for our reading aloud time? I can't remember how old I was when I read it, though I did it by myself so I must have been more than five.

This is all incredibly exciting to read about! I had a (sort of) secret garden when I was growing up, and it was the most wonderful place to disappear to for hours and hours. What actually made it secret was that my mom couldn't see me from the kitchen window, but to a ten year old...
So I have no gardening knowledge to contribute, except to suggest that perhaps if there are things you would REALLY like to plant which maybe wouldn't do so well in the clay, a rustic container (half barrel, something like that) or two would get you around 'improving' many cubic feet of heavy clay.

Oh, a favourite book of mine too -and one I am ready to share wth the daughter (I know she will love it and she is old enough -yay! one of the joys of a daughter is to share special books, like introducing special friends). All the plants suggested so far sound wonderful and I live in a Scottish climate so I don't know what would grow, but I also suggest instead of plastic furniture you think about brightly striped hammock/swings and things hanging from trees - little decorations or even make a wishing tree down there and write wishes and attach them to the trees. Or even commission/buy a small special piece of sculpture, that way all the beautiful green doesn't need to change.

Another Secret Garden dweller here! * Black widow webs often smell similar to bell peppers, methinks. * Confisticate is in the spirit of Shakespeare, who is remembered for creating new words; obviously, confisticate means to confiscate something with the help of one's fist or fists. * I thought ergodynamic was a bona fide word! * HAPPY EASTER to you good eggs!

Remove ivy & bugs....trim bushes/trees leaving a natural area. Try doing container plantings. Big, nice ceramic pots.
You can test your plantings that way and also move them around and bring them into the house. It works for me and I live in the tropics.

Yank out that ivy and put out those big wax squares of bait UNDER the ivy. I don;t know why rats, mice and black widows are necessary. When I run the planet, they won't be.

I sorta like the idea of bulbs in wine barrels, underplanted with violets and ferns. You could just keep shoving them back against the ivy, as it receeds.

Sounds lovely.

What BigAlice said. Patch the hole pull up the ivy. Look at it, at different timesof day, and decide what needs fixing to make it more appealing. check out East Bay Nursery on San Pablo forhigh end inspiration. Prune and tidy this season, and see if there is any sun in the summer. Go slow,and you'll know what you like. My rule is to buy plants one at a time- if it does well, I buy it some friends. If it keels over, I save the markerso I don't buy itagain.

Outdoor wooden furniture rots! My parents have a wooden bench in their yard, and it's literally falling apart. Every time someone puts any type of pressure on it, pieces snap off.

And ahhhhhhhhhhhh black widows! So scary! We have those in the woodpiles around here. Very scary.

Happy Creme Egg Day! I was just remembering how a year ago I ate roasted Peep S'mores. Good times.

Your Mom has some great ideas in the comments. What about some Lily-of-the Valley? We put some in a shady spot with clay soil (along with some hostas) and they're doing great.

Wood furniture can rot, but I've heard good things about teak. What about a little metal table and 2 chairs, a la a Paris cafe?

First of all, heed your mother's advice. If she is allergic, so are you. And cutting and pulling the ivy would be the first step. It is considered an invasive weed in most parts of the country. Second, check the local extension agent. They are your best source for what will grow best there. A nursery will want to sell you something so they will tell you what you want to hear. A native species will require less work from you.

I would wait on the garden furniture until after you figure out what will grow there. You will probably be able to find something on Craig's list if you are patient. But if you find a good sale on a Paris bistro table and chairs, you can use it in the upper yard as well.

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