Many gardeners would be intimidated by having to create a garden out of a bare dirt lot, with nothing but the house located on it. But Ardy Kendall is not one of those gardeners.
“I wasn’t deterred by the fact that there wasn’t anything planted in this yard when we moved in,” Ardy recalls. “I just knew that in time, between my husband and my family and me, that we could make it be what we wanted it to be,” she says.
Not every gardener can go it alone when creating a new garden from scratch. Sometimes you need to consult with the pros or do some footwork before you start literally digging in.
Jeni Ambrose, a landscape designer and owner of Sacred Gardens in Ashland, encourages people to consider what she calls their gardening lifestyle. “I tune into how people see their garden fitting into their life and how much time and energy they want to put into maintaining it,” Ambrose explains. She encourages people to be realistic about such things as budgets, the watering needs of an envisioned garden, and having the garden complement the architectural design of their homes.
“I’d encourage people to first buy a book on landscaping to get ideas and then to develop a garden plan,” says Pam Rouhier, sales manager in the lawn and garden section of the Medford Grange Co-op. “Then they should find out what type of soil they have, be it sandy loam, clay, or granite, as these are the types of soil we have in the Rogue Valley,” she adds. Testing the pH is the next step she recommends, as this can determine what will grow the best or if the pH needs adjusting. “And if bringing in topsoil, be sure to mix it in at least 2 feet so the roots of new plants will have room to grow,” Rouhier adds.
Ardy does admit to being a little overwhelmed by the task after she and her husband, Roger, moved into their new White City manufactured home in 2000. “But I just broke the garden work down into different areas and decided to focus on just one at a time,” she explains. “Although I’ve always been a gardener, I’ve never had a yard this large before, so I put all the energy I used to put into raising my family into making this garden.” Several family members pitched in to help.
The grass in both the front and backyards was planted first. Given White City’s rocky soil, it took a lot of work to get the lawn going. “One of my neighbors kept at me about whether or not I’d ever be able to get the dirt to grow,” Ardy says with a smile.
The trees came next. The front and backyards include flowering cherries, an apple tree, a large maple and a small dogwood. “It was a lot of work digging into this rocky soil, and we had to bring in new topsoil in order to plant the trees,” she says.
The above-ground swimming pool was installed next. “. . .It would have been very difficult to build one [in the ground] in our yard as the rocky soil is so hard to dig out,” Ardy explains. A deck connecting the back door with the pool was built in 2003. Finally, a koi-stocked fish pond with a waterfall was added to one corner of the large backyard.
After the hardscape was in place, planting the various shrubs and flowers began in earnest. The front yard includes a rhododendron, a massive purple clematis, Asiatic lilies, roses and a long bank of baby’s breath along the front of the house. Off the back door and onto the deck, a lovely scent rises from the star jasmine. It’s paired on a trellis with a passion flower which climbs up one of the beams. A profusion of flowers in hanging flower baskets accent the deck area. Looking back to the waterfall, another trellis supports trumpet vines and multicolored verbena.
Raised beds run along two sides of the backyard. “Given the poor quality of our soil, the beds made much more sense as I could bring in good soil and compost,” Ardy says.
The result is an extensive flower garden. Perennials include peonies, columbine, hollyhocks and dianthus, spring and summer-blooming bulbs, summer annuals such as cosmos and marigolds. She’s also planted roses. Artichokes, tomatoes, and onions grow in the vegetable beds. Finishing the backyard’s garden are sweet peas, growing along the back fence, and a grape arbor.
In the fall, she rakes the leaves and scatters them on the garden beds. “When spring comes, I just dig them into the soil, and I’m ready to go.”
Ardy’s advice to anyone starting out with plain dirt is to be patient, to focus on only one area at a time, and to know that eventually everything will come together. “I’m not much of a planner, and I certainly didn’t have a master plan for this garden, but I’ve come up with something that we all enjoy."