Magazine article Sunset

Secrets Behind a Garden Wall

Magazine article Sunset

Secrets Behind a Garden Wall

Article excerpt


Clever growing tricks from an Idaho gardener

On the west side of Alex and Gina Macdonald's contemporary log home in Ketchum, Idaho, a drystacked stone wall surrounds the garden. The artfully arranged stones form a picturesque and utilitarian barrier, which allows the Macdonalds to grow a bountiful array of flowers and vegetables that would otherwise be devoured by passing deer and elk. The wall also creates a warmer microclimate, extending the too-short growing season here at an elevation of 6,500 feet.

The inspiration for the walled garden came during a trip the Macdonalds took to Provence. In France, they saw ancient stone walls surrounding virtually every garden.

Back home in Ketchum, Gina-a veteran gardener, farmer, and rancher-worked with Webb Landscape to design walls that would be sturdy enough to keep out elk and withstand a heavy snow load in winter. Using buff-colored Utah sandstone, they built 7-foot-tall walls that taper from 4 feet wide at the base to 2 feet wide at the top.

Besides barring unwanted wildlife from the expansive garden, the walls block the cold wind, and the stone retains solar heat that radiates into the garden. The longest walls, which face west and south, receive maximum solar exposure. Consequently, the garden stays about 100 warmer than the ambient air temperature. Gina figures that the wall extends Ketchum's average 75-day growing season by at least 21 days.

To squeeze even more abundance out of the short summer, Gina employs other devices. Early in the season or whenever temperatures dip, she shields vegetables with row covers or plastic sheeting suspended over frames made of metal or PVC pipe. She grows warmth-loving artichokes, basil, and tomatoes in a 120-squarefoot plastic greenhouse.

In addition to edibles, Gina grows 30 kinds of perennials. Near the house, which bounds one side of the garden, she grows towering delphiniums and hollyhocks for their strong vertical interest. Nearby, peonies yield soft pink blossoms that she harvests for indoor arrangements. Gina likes carnations and sweet Williams for their spicy fragrance and season-long color. Indestructible bearded irises are scattered throughout the garden. She keeps lavenders and lemon trees in pots, which she moves indoors for winter. She plants tender climbing vines such as wisteria and sweet peas so they can cling to the warm stone walls. As for roses, Gina favors cold-- hardy, repeat-blooming varieties from the Canadian Explorer series, including `William Baffin', `Martin Frobisher', and Jens Munk'.

Each spring, Gina broadcasts granular fertilizer over the flower beds. Starting in June, she scatters dry fishmeal over the entire garden once a month. In early and midsummer, she spreads a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost around vegetable plants. …

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