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New Host, New Gardens ... New Show!

The rejuvenating feel of spring is in the air, and this year, it's not only your garden that's being reborn!

Michael and friend
New Michael Weishan with his four-legged gardening assistant.

garden sketches
The rejuvenating feel of spring is in the air, and this year, it's not only your garden that's being reborn! For its 27th season, The Victory Garden is getting a new look — returning to its roots as a practical, how-to show that, we hope, will instruct and inspire you, the home gardener. Guided by our new host Michael Weishan, the new show will feature useful, easy-to-implement ideas that everyone can take on right in their own backyards.

Early spring presents a gardener — or a gardener-to-be —with an opportunity. It is the perfect time to assess the current condition of the garden, and no time is better for garden and landscape planning and design.

Likewise at the new Victory Garden west of Boston it was the perfect time for Michael to evaluate and prioritize our tasks for a thorough redesign of his outdoor property. And first on the list was the vegetable garden, currently in pretty rough shape.

In deciding how to tackle the renovation of the vegetable garden, Michael and the Victory Garden team first considered and applied four basic principles of garden design and layout, all arising from a central concept: "Plan Twice, Plant Once." For as with nearly any undertaking, good planning will save time — and usually dollars — later on.

So whether you're changing your garden, or starting one from scratch, here are some important points to consider.

vegitable garden
The vegetable garden just before renovations began.

Four Principles of Garden & Landscape Design:

1) Decide what to keep

Are there natural features that you love, or permanent features that aren't changeable? Moving the garage may not be an option! Figure out what you can live with, and what you can't. Be conservative when making your decisions, especially with removing things you can't replace in your own lifetime — you may regret it. For example, once you get rid of a fully grown tree, chances are you won't be able to replace it — and it may have provided needed shade to a particular area of your home in summer.

2) Consider the sun, wind and rain

* Sun: As everyone knows, sun is extraordinarily important to plants. This factor will determine the type of plantings you make in particular areas of your garden — where you'll grow vegetables, and where you'll grow shade plants. Remember too that sun patterns change through the year.

* Wind: Wind patterns affect growth. The iris bed at the new Victory Garden is buffeted by winds from a nearby road. A solution for this problem will be covered later in the season when we work with shrubs as natural screens. But with careful thought during planning, this bed may not have been put there to begin with.

* Rain: Certain areas of your garden may be boggy or dry, so be sure to consider the rainfall, grade and drainage in and around your garden space when laying out changes.

3) Consider the views

We're talking about location, location, location. Many gardeners don't take the time to stop, breathe and just look at their gardens without stooping to pull a weed or deadhead a plant. Think about where you want to pause in the garden and "take it all in." What are the best views across the property? Are there paths that lead to a focal point — an important highlight in the garden? Don't forget to consider views from inside the house — from upstairs and at ground levels, if appropriate. Also consider the things you don't want to see — a nearby road, for example.

4) Make a plan

After carefully considering all these key principles, you're ready to make a plan. Decide what kinds of elements you'd like to have in your garden: a place to grow vegetables, a greenhouse, open space for kids and animals, a water feature, or just a peaceful spot to sit and think. The list could go on and on, but there are plenty of tools available to help you decide what should go in — or stay out — of your garden, as you create a plan for your own personal outdoor space.

See this week's Tools feature for more on garden and landscape planning tools.

Roger Cook
Landscape expert Roger Cook cuts stakes to use in installing the new garden bed edging.

Meanwhile, back in our vegetable garden ...

Michael worked with how-to veteran and landscaping expert Roger Cook to apply these four key principles to the vegetable garden.

First, they determined that the long, narrow shape of the vegetable beds was fine, making for easy accessibility to the plants. But whereas the "old" garden also had several beds near the entrance running perpendicular to the others, Michael and Roger decided to re-lay the beds so that they are all parallel, thus preserving the nice center aisle. They also plan to reorient the entrance and add a central ornamental element. The existing grass paths they like — no weeding needed, just mowing.

One undesirable was the pressure-treated lumber lining our raised vegetable beds. Some varieties of treated lumber contain arsenic as part of a preservative compound, which can leach into the ground, so these definitely needed to come out.

Next, turning an eye to location, Michael decided the place currently occupied by the vegetable garden has worked well in the past and is worth keeping, although there are some drainage issues we'll need to correct with leveling. The vistas from the vegetable garden are also lovely, with views towards a wooded area, a pond and the home beyond.

Taking all of these things into consideration, Michael created a plan that outlined a completely refurbished vegetable garden space — expanded to include a cutting garden — suiting all our needs. After the evaluation and resulting plan, Roger Cook was ready to take action, with assistance from Mark Carbone and his crew:

* The perimeter fencing around the vegetable garden was removed, and the newly extended, expanded vegetable beds were laid out using simple string lines set up on thin stakes to make sure the right spaces were created.

* The pressure-treated lumber that had edged the beds was removed and disposed of safely. (More information about the wood preservative chromated copper arsenate is available from the EPA Web site.)

* The parallel beds were extended; new sod was laid, while existing sod was cut and saved wherever possible.

Mark's crew
Mark Carbone's crew installs new edging using a safer engineered wood product.

* The new edging was selected. We decided on an engineered wood product, made from recycled wood and virgin polymers. It won't rot or discolor, looks very natural, and made sense for this particular project. (When it comes to edging beds, there are also a number of other options for vegetable gardeners, including cobblestone, brick, flexible plastic, metal and engineered lumbers. It all boils down to personal preference, and of course, budget.) The new edging was trimmed, installed and secured.

* New soil — actually a loam mix — was brought in to level off and backfill where necessary, especially in the new area designated for our cutting garden project.

* The new vegetable beds were prepped and readied for planting.

* And still to come ... the planning and implementation of our new cutting garden, where we'll plant a wide selection of flowers great for floral arranging and perfect for beautifying the home.

Remember, gardening is fun — so have a good time, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. We'll be with you along the way to encourage and educate — and we'll do our best to inspire.

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Published August 31, 2007