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Why You Need Tammi Hartung's Books - Plus a Chance to Win a Free, Signed Paperback!

Hartung books
My own collection of Tammi Hartung books.

By Lisa Brunette

I've been fangirling author Tammi Hartung for some time now. I think you should share in the love, so we're running this giveaway, which I'll get to in a moment. I picked up a copy of her 2014 book The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature a couple of years ago at my neighborhood used book store, and I was immediately hooked. When I found out she'd also written on growing healing herbs and how to make use of native plants, my soul-sister crush was cemented.

Here's a list of just a few of the many things Hartung has taught me:

  • That plants signal their use somewhat metaphorically, through color, shape, and way of being in the world. This is called the "doctrine of signatures." A good example is the heart-hued, heart-shaped rose petal offering healing powers for the heart muscle.
  • Your quest for food plants does not have to be in conflict with your desire to help support wildlife. In fact, the two can coexist in a mutually supportive way.
  • It's surprisingly easy to grow, harvest, and make use of your own healing herbs as teas, tinctures, food medicine, syrups, poultices, balms, the list goes on.

An ethnobotanical herbalist and organic farmer, Hartung champions an approach to gardening that is gentle on the earth and its creatures. Her books are enormously helpful if you've wanted to garden but felt turned off by guides that call for fertilizer and pesticide use, or simply zap the fun and natural-world connection out of the endeavor. 

Now for a rundown of all four books, in order of publication date. I highly recommend every one. You can try scouring used book store shelves for them, but I've also provided handy links to the Amazon pages for each. We don't receive anything in return for including these links.

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Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2000

Publisher's Description: What better way to take your medicine than straight from the garden? From St. John's wort to fennel, chicory to skullcap, herbalist and gardener Tammi Hartung introduces you to the special cultivating and care techniques required to grow 101 versatile and useful herbs.

How I've used this book: As a reference guide for the historical medicinal use of 101 herbs and for how-to's on handcrafting herbal teas, tinctures, and other products. It's illustrated and full-color, which helps you picture unfamiliar techniques and makes it an attractive reference.

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Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More Than 100 Herbs - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2011

Publisher's Description: Infuse your yard with the flavor, fragrance, beauty, and healing power of organic herbs. Whether you want to work herbs into existing flower or food gardens, grow them in containers, or plant a dedicated herb garden, Homegrown Herbs is your in-depth guide to everything you need to know about planting, caring for, harvesting, drying, and using more than 100 herbs.

How I've used this book: Same as the above, as I believe this is an updated version of the original. But they're definitely both worth owning. This one includes some helpful tips on harvesting and drying flowers and herbs, a list of edible flowers, a good assortment of food medicine recipes, and other additions.

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2014

Publisher's Description: Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem: they'll pollinate your plants, feed on pests, and leave behind manure to nourish your soil. Tammi Hartung has spent years observing natural rhythms and animal habits in her garden, a peaceful place where perennials attract pollinators, ponds house slug-eating bullfrogs, mulch protects predator insects in the soil, mint gently deters unwanted mice, and hedgerows shelter and feed many kinds of wildlife. Her successful methods are a positive step toward a healthier garden.

How I've used this book: This book has formed the basis for my wildlife-friendly garden design at Dragon Flower Farm. It's why we have a brush pile supporting families of rabbits and other critters, a rock garden for snakes and reptiles, and a host of other features that encourage everything from opossums to monarchs to visit our garden.

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2017

Publisher's Description: The plants in your backyard have amazing stories to tell and fascinating uses you've never known about. For millennia, we humans have relied on these plants to nourish, shelter, heal, and clothe us. Through captivating tales and images that illuminate our lost wisdom, Tammi Hartung reveals the untold histories of 43 native North American plants and celebrates their modern versatility.

How I've used this book: The prettiest of Hartung's works, the hardcover is a pleasure to leaf through for the luscious imagery, entertaining fun facts, and short tips on native plants we might actually take for granted. It's a bit of a fascinating history lesson, too, as told through flora.

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Tammi Hartung.

Just as I finished this last book in Hartung's oeuvre, I lamented she had no more, but then I discovered her blog, which is an extension of her work as co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm. As mentioned in her Amazon author bio: 

She and her husband, Chris, own Desert Canyon Farm, a certified organic farm since 1996 in southern Colorado, where they grow more than 1800 varieties of plants. They grow all types of herbs, heritage and heirloom food plants, native and wildlife habitat plants, edible flowers and more. In their flower seed production field, they grow over 60 varieties of perennials for a German seed company called Jelitto Perennial Seed Co., so seeds from Tammi's farm end up being grown by gardeners and growers all over the world!

Through the blog newsletter, I enjoy hearing about Desert Canyon's work across all four seasons, as well as getting to know Tammi and Chris, not to mention dog Shrek. Tammi's blog posts offer a glimpse behind-the-scenes for both the farm and her latest author project, a children's plant book. As an avid hiker myself, I also like the photos and accounts of their hikes through southern Colorado terrain, which is much more arid than my environment here in Missouri. Side note: Tammi is a friendly, responsive writer, too; I reached out to her to find out if I could buy her books directly through her instead of Amazon (the answer is no, as she directed me back to the 'zon), and we had a really nice exchange. She's also graciously provided signed copies of her wildlife gardening book, which brings me to the giveaway details...

And Now for That Chance to Win a Free Paperback

We're giving away two paperback copies of Hartung's third book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, signed by the author. All you have to do if you're new to Cat in the Flock is sign up for our email newsletter. If you're already a subscriber, all you have to do is get one friend to subscribe to our newsletter, and both you and your friend will be entered into a drawing. The bulleted how-to:

  1. If you haven't already, sign up for our email newsletter. That's all you have to do! New signups from today's date onward are automatically eligible for the drawing.
  2. If you're already signed up, forward our newsletter, share a link to our blog, or somehow else get one of your friends excited about Cat in the Flock enough to sign up for our email newsletter.
  3. If you're getting a friend to sign up, mail us at this handy link to let us know you succeeded, and include your friend's email address used in the signup so we know to credit you and your friend!
  4. That's it! We'll reach out if you've won. For friends-telling-friends about Cat in the Flock, if one of your names is selected, you both get a copy of the book.
  5. The deadline to enter is Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Good luck on the drawing, and in the meantime, I hope you check out Tammi's books and get as much out of them as I have. 

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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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4 Cost-Saving, Eco-Friendly Post-Christmas Moves You Can Make Right Now

Xmas Cards
Holiday cards deserve a second life.

By Lisa Brunette

Now that the gleam of Christmas has lost a bit of its glimmer, you might be looking at your living room full of spent wrapping paper and holiday cards cluttering the mantel and mentally planning when you're going to clean-sweep the whole thing and move on. Because if there was ever a year we wanted to move on from, it's this one, right?! But before you abandon the holidays, tossing everything into recycling and jumping feet-first into 2021, here are four cost-saving, eco-friendly moves you can still make as the whole kit and kaboodle winks out.

1. Keep Your Holiday Cards

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, and other winter holiday cards are often made of high-quality materials, featuring heavy card stock, embossed imagery, and other details that are just too nice to throw away. They deserve a second life. Consider framing them as holiday-specific art, using them in arts and crafts, or even repurposing them as gift tags next year. With a scissors and hole punch, you can turn one card into several cute gift tags. This way you save money on buying separate gift tags, and you also keep the cards out of the waste stream. Even though you might think you're a good eco person because you put them into the recycling instead of trash, recycling is not really the answer, as oftentimes that card isn't being recycled at all. We need to shift more toward reuse instead.

There's also the sentimental value - while we all want to Marie Kondo our way to clarity and spaciousness, it can be a beautiful thing to sift through old cards each year, musing on all the snippets of wisdom that Grandma took the time to impart before she died or the slices of life that come through in those old Christmas letters from the 1990s. Besides, with holiday cards waning as a thing, you might find these precious missives become vintage relics in no time at all.

Bows
Repurposed ribbons and bows, with a gift tag made from a Christmas card.

2. Keep Your Bows and Strings

Along with cards-cum-gift tags, another opportunity to divert items from the waste stream surfaces when it comes to bows. If you're using fabric bows, yay you for the style points, but that should be an even greater incentive to keep and reuse them. Um, they are fabric, after all! Plus, a great many items packaged and mailed from retailers, especially before the holidays, come with nice fabric bows adorning them already, as in the image above. Every single one of those bows came from retailer packaging, even something as mundane as a package of socks! We repurpose them to wrap gifts every year. We even store them in a zip-locking type of bag that was used to ship a pair of sweatpants.

Wrapping
This especially thick craft-style wrapping paper makes great 'brown' matter.

3. Compost Your Gift Wrap

Our compost operation is continuing to run through the winter, and I recommend you keep yours up, too, if organic gardening is your jam. Since almost all gardening activity has ceased now that it's officially the dormant season, we don't have the same ready access to 'brown' material that balances out all the 'green' coming from our kitchen in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. That's where wrapping paper comes in. Though it used to be a tree, it's now dead and, in our case, literally brown. Into the compost it goes!

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In our downstairs bathroom, an antique fishing tackle box and festive hand towel.

4. Stock Up on Christmas Stuff for 2021

You'll get the best deals on Christmas ephemera in the week just after Christmas, when retailers are eager to ditch their stock and mark items down as much as 75 percent. I've pretty much never paid full price for wrapping paper or Christmas cards because I always buy them after the holiday the year previous. You can sometimes get other items at a discount as well that are really only tangentially related to the holidays. This morning, in fact, I scored a rolling pin and 12x12 baking pan along with wrapping paper and Christmas towels from World Market (not a sponsored endorsement). Anthony's birthday is in January, which can catch me off guard, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, but I've learned to use this to my advantage. Last week I 'favorited' my top picks for him on Etsy, and then this morning, I checked to see which ones were offering the best after-Christmas deal and quickly snapped up just the thing.

Speaking of Etsy and deals, now is the time to order your own set of personalized Christmas stockings, as featured previously on the blog (totally an affiliate link this time) because THEY ARE NOW 50 PERCENT OFF. Not only is this a great deal, but by shopping Etsy, you're supporting small, independent makers of unique, handmade items. If, like me, you failed to take advantage of a parent who offered to teach you to sew, and now you do not know how to sew, you can still have a handsewn thing because of Etsy.

Xmas_Mantel

The risk with my after-Christmas shopping approach is that you might lose out on certain items - ornaments seem to fly off the shelves before Christmas every time (much like they fly off our tree thanks to Chaco) - or that what's trending in 2020 might not be cool in 2021. But I note that the Christmas llama thing has been going strong for two years now and doesn't seem to be fading, and maybe that's because it's moving from trend to classic. If I have my way, it will... Besides, do you really care about what's trendy?

Happy New Year!

This post contains an Etsy affiliate link. If you make a purchase, Cat in the Flock may earn a commission.

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Welcome (Virtually) to Our Home for the Holidays!

Xmas_Window

By Lisa Brunette

One of the fun activities Anthony and I participated in pre-COVID-19 was the holiday parlor tour here in St. Louis' Lafayette Square neighborhood. It was a treat to tour historic homes - some dating as far back as before the Civil War - all done up for the holidays. We look forward to a day when such in-person events are possible again. In the meantime, we've given the 116-year-old Dragon Flower Farmhouse a holiday makeover and invite you to tour it from the comfort and safety of your own living room.

Fa-La-La-Llama

Speaking of comfort, the below llama pillow comes out only for the holidays... I'm not sure why a pink llama says Christmas, but it certainly does. As you might have learned from our last post on the living room makeover, we've got complementary colors pink and green in the main downstairs space. Complementary means they're opposites on the color wheel, and that makes them a vibrant pairing, as in the pink pillow on chartreuse here.

Llama pillow

The llama theme is echoed in the Christmas tree, as a key ornament. I've hung this one and a couple of other ornaments behind the tree to make the smallish tree seem a bit grander, as well as fill the blank walls left when I removed an antique leather whip and two vintage family photos that didn't look right as backdrop for ol' tannenbaum.

Xmas_OrnamentWall

The tree is strung with white lights and colors that harmonize with the room's palette: pink, green, white, gold, and natural tones from straw and wood. Rather than spending a lot of money just to color-coordinate a tree, I simply split our ornament collection into two categories, these muted tones and another crop all in primary colors, which fit the smaller tree in the dining room. But before I move onto that room, I want to linger here a bit in the living room, with of course the mantel as the focal point.

This Mantel Moment

Xmas_Mantel

I really love how the mantel looks for the holidays. The candelabra on the left is a vintage 1960s Brutalist design, which I found at a tiny thrift window shop that used to be part of a sweet little café owned and run by two women in Chehalis, Wash. The mercury glass candle holders are from World Market, and the brass deer is an antique mall find. I wish I could say I made the stockings myself, but they're from Etsy. (At least I hung them with care!). Yes, Chaco gets a stocking... what did you expect? Zander has one, too, but he's staying in Seattle for the holidays. 

The cube vase on the left is a collectible piece of memorabilia - a brick from the old St. Louis Arena, a major concert and sporting venue for 70 years before it was imploded in 1999. The other vase is handcrafted by an artist, but I picked it up at an antique mall on the cheap and unfortunately don't know anything about who made it.

Here's a variation on the mantel from 2019, with the Brutalist candelabra replaced with a star hurricane lamp, and the balance shifted.

Mantel 2019

Ornament Lament

Thinking about that Arena brick puts me in the mindset to share this holiday tragedy. You see, I went to a good number of heavy metal concerts at that place back in the day, but one of the acts I did not see was Kiss. I've related the whole story previously on the blog, but basically my parents were super strict sort of beyond reason, and they would not allow me to go to this particular Kiss concert in the late 80s, which would have been something to remember and tell your kids about, you know? What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament, gifted to me by my friend Alyssa Naumann back in the 90s, after she heard my Kiss concert sob story and wanted to give me something to make up for the loss. 

Kiss Ornament

Yeah, that's a Rock and Roll Over Kiss ornament right there, and you'll notice up above I used past tense: What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament... Past tense because a day or two after I took this photo, Chaco BROKE it. My wonderful Kiss ornament, which I have looked forward to getting out each Christmas for the past 25 years, on the floor, shattered to bits. Because of the CAT.

Words were said, my friends, and a grudge was held... for at least an hour, anyway. Chaco wormed his way back in pretty quickly, I have to admit.

Sigh. 

Red Tree

Have a Ball

The Kiss ornament was on the 'red' tree in the dining room, where a brighter palette prevails, all inspired by the ironic and iconic Miss Fortunato painting, done by Monica Mason, the wife of an old colleague of mine from the St. Louis Science Center. It was part of a series on circus side show acts; Miss Fortunato is "the luckiest woman in the world," because she's so beautiful, all manner of butterflies flock to her face, as if it's a flower (obscuring her face from the viewer). This painting originated in St. Louis, has traveled with me to Miami, Florida, and Seattle, Wash., and has now returned to just a few blocks from the home where it first hung. It fits well in between the moulding detail.

Here we are, all ready for a small dinner party before the holidays. The wool felt balls are from World Market (I can't help it; I'm a fan), and the turquoise table settings are Fiestaware. The vintage side cabinet is probably from the 1940s and was left behind by the previous owner of my house in Tacoma; I added heavy caster wheels and painted it black (it had been puke pink). The top comes off but was damaged in our last move, alas. The pewter candle holders in the two paneled areas are from my sister, Amy, who had them in her home for many years and then kept them in storage after the glass hurricanes broke and her décor changed. When she saw our dining room, she realized they'd be perfect, and she is right.

Dining Room Xmas

This dining room is actually next up for renovation, as that aforementioned brown paint is on full display here, too, covering all of the window and doorway trim, as well as a chair rail that runs the length of the room, which you can see above. We're thinking about a deep blue-green, as this room faces southeast, gets plenty of light, and could handle a darker hue. I'm considering painting the walls, trim, and the above white cutouts all the same color, for a more dramatic, rich effect. Maybe even the ceiling? What do you think? My brother keeps crying 'earth tones,' but that's not really my jam.

That concludes our virtual tour. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate the holiday. And to all, may 2021 bring you peace, happiness, and the freedom and safety to go... maskless!

Note: This post contains an Etsy affiliate link, but all other recommendations are non-sponsored.

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A Three-Year Transformation: Dragon Flower Farm 2017-2020

July 2020 2
Dragon Flower Farm, July 2020.

By Lisa Brunette

This fall marks three years since we purchased our home - a 1904 World's Fair-era house on 1/4-acre just outside the St. Louis city limits. Those of you who've followed this blog since then - or even before that time - have witnessed a series of trials and triumphs as we've worked incredibly hard and enjoyed the fruits of our labors. While the to-do list continues, and with gardening it seems the work is never done, we feel we've already achieved much toward our vision: a productive, wildlife- and pollinator-friendly garden bursting with native plants, beneficial non-natives, and edibles.

When we bought the property in fall 2017, we got a great deal, likely in part because the backyard was what you might call a problem situation.

August 2017 1
August 2017.

To the left you can see the zigzagging chainlink fence and the way the whole property butts up against the neighboring apartment building parking lot. Bonus: A view of the dumpsters! The yard was a relic of mid-century landscaping values, with big fat circles of day lilies, hostas, and euphorbias, at that point overgrown with weeds and spilling into the grassy areas, which were also mostly weeds. I think a lot of potential buyers took one look at this yard and saw themselves having to do a lot of awkward mowing, not to mention constantly hacking away at nuisance foliage. Here's the view straight out the back door.

August 2017 2
August 2017.

That first year, we didn't do anything radical to the yard, or the house, for that matter, as we were still getting to know the place. It's a good idea to sit with a big project property like this, if you're living in it yourself, to come to understand it fully before diving in with major fixes. It was a chore, but we mowed the lawn and beat back the invasive overgrowth as best we could.

August 2018 1
August 2018.

Our first step in the fall of 2018 was to invite experts from the St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home program to conduct a site visit. Based on their recommendations, we chose to remove our serious problem plants first, which at that time comprised the majority of the greenery. The chainlink fence was overgrown on every single side with noxious invasive plants, and these were taking over the 1/4-acre. The three culprits were: 1) winter creeper, 2) Japanese honeysuckle, and 3) sweet autumn clematis. These have been eradicated, though we continue to remove seedlings of all three to this day.

August 2018 2
August 2018.

Next we installed a 6-foot cedar fence around the entire backyard, to provide privacy and security, as well as screen the view of the parking lot full of cars next door (and the dumpsters). The fence turns out to have had the added benefit of protecting our plantings from deer. You wouldn't have thought there'd be a deer issue in suburban St. Louis, but I've spotted them at a nearby pocket park. Not that we would mind deer, but without the fence we would have had to devise another strategy to keep deer from the edibles and other plants.

That fall we also put in the first set of trees and shrubs and began the long process of sheet-mulching the turf grass, as it was our intention to convert the entire grounds to mixed plantings, with little to no grass. We used a layer of cardboard with a generous helping of mulch on top. We scavenged most of the cardboard from our neighbors' recycling bins the night before pickup day and ordered the mulch in bulk for the cost savings. In process, sheet-mulching looks like this.

April 2019
April 2019.

See my how-to on sheet-mulching, which is really easy, especially if you're talking about a small plot of land. But here's a glimpse of what it entails for a project of this scale. To mulch a 1/4-acre, you need a lot.

May 2019
May 2019.

We continued to sheet-mulch the lawn throughout the fall, winter, spring, and summer of 2018-19, so that by August of 2019, we had more than half the ground covered. Here's a panoramic image showing the wraparound fence, newly installed trees and other plants, and the sheet mulch.

August 2019 1
August 2019.

While laying cardboard and shoveling mulch on top of it, especially over this much area, was a lot of hard work, we have no regrets about the decision. This summer Anthony (who won't let me mow, not that I insist) didn't have to mow the backyard at all, and he didn't miss it. (He's not one of those guys who likes to mow grass.) Besides, without the grass to compete with, our native violet ground cover took over on its own, and we like it a lot better than grass.

During this time, we also added a long list of native trees, shrubs, and flowers, using thrifty resources provided by programs like the Missouri Department of Conservation's seedlings program, Grow Native! sales, and the free offerings of our local Wild Ones chapter. These plants filled out the landscape, taking the place of the invasives and attracting wildlife and pollinators in droves. 

Bees on monarda
Eastern carpenter bees on monarda.

Our first official edible from the garden? Wild cleavers, which I harvested in spring 2019 for tea (it's an awesome tonic for reducing swelling and water retention). Next came basil that summer.

By winter 2019, we had all but one small back strip converted from turf. This spring, we let it go wild while we focused on sowing food plants in those sheet-mulched areas, which by that point were ready for more tender plantings. We also built a squash tunnel, a rain garden, two hugelkultur mounds, and a wooden trellis. The trellis supports two varieties of our native passionflower, which spoiled the bees all summer and has already yielded edible fruit. It grew by leaps and bounds, too, from a slip of a seedling to a full-grown vine in one season. Here's a pic I took last week from the second floor of our house so you can see the vine already topping the trellis.

October 2020 3

This year we made great use of our spring ephemerals, turning them into everything from tea to infused vinegar, and we had a decent harvest of veggies and herbs, bringing in potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cucumbers, horseradish, asparagus, chervil, basil, sage, marjoram, oregano, arugula, kale, borage, cilantro, coriander, turnips, lettuce, carrots, and at least a few tomatoes all total across the early spring, summer, and late summer growing seasons. We learned a lot through the process and look forward to a better 2021.

Pickles 2020
Homemade pickles, summer 2020.

Even people who were skeptical about our project are amazed by what we've already achieved, using words like "oasis" and "sanctuary" to describe the feeling of being in our garden. But in case that's not enough endorsement for you, here it is, by the numbers:

  • Invasive plants removed: 5 species
  • 'Statue' plants removed: 3 species (statues, while not invasive, provide little benefit to humans, animals, or pollinators)
  • Turf removed: 95% of backyard, comprising most of the 1/4-acre
  • Native plants saved or encouraged: 15 species
  • Non-native beneficials saved or encouraged: 4 species
  • Native trees and shrubs planted as seedlings: 23 species
  • Native flowers and grasses planted as seedlings: 29 species
  • Native flowers and grasses sown as direct seeds: 9 species
  • Bees counted: 25+ species
  • Birds counted: 30+ species
  • Butterflies counted: 20+ species
  • Wildlife counted: 7+ species
July 2020 3
July 2020.

We've done a good job of remaking the space as a beneficial habitat, but there's still so much we can do to improve. Only about 5% of our overall food intake comes from Dragon Flower Farm. While we know it's unrealistic to think we could ever achieve total sustainability, we know we can do better than that. We've thought about adding chickens, guinea fowl, or even rabbits to the mix since we are meat eaters. Currently, we get our meat from local ranchers we've met at a farmer's market, and that's a good source for us as we don't have the time to devote to animal caretaking.

October 2020 1
A view from above, taken last week, October 2020.

So the mission for next year is to increase the space we devote to annual vegetables, as well as our own skill and proficiency at growing them. While native plants are incredibly easy to take care of, annual food crops are much more involved. I'll end by asking you to wish us well with the perennial onions and garlic we just planted here in fall. May they yield a bumper crop of food next June.

Onion planting 2020

October 2020 2
Finishing up the onion bed.

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