I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon in my sister Emily’s garden with our mom and my little boy. Over the past 8 years Emily has transformed a bare double lot in Northern Wisconsin town into a productive edible garden and butterfly haven. Today we toured her rain gardens, debated rats vs. deer as worst garden pest (it was a draw, like comparing apples and oranges), watched monarch and white admiral butterflies flit around her bodacious milkweed patch and shared treats in the shade of apple trees and a clematis bower.
Emily gardens on very dense clay near Lake Superior. In fact her new pond is not lined – the soil just naturally holds the water. One of her biggest challenges has been working with this soil and the drainage issues it brings. Lots of compost and lightly mounded beds (in the shape of a labyrinth!) help her veggies thrive and a long rain garden helps rain water seep into the ground (and channels it away from the foundation of her house.)
Many of the plantings Emily has chosen are Midwest natives that can handle her zone 3 winters and provide habitat for local wildlife. I was really happy to see the compass plant I brought her for her wedding shower last year had doubled in size. Other prairie natives include wild bergamot, asters, purple coneflower, cup plant, black-eyed susan, yarrow and four species of milkweed.
Even with as much habitat as her garden provides, it feels people-friendly and relaxing. She has built a fire pit with local stone and there are vintage metal and wooden chairs on the eco-lawn. My toddler’s favorite place was the secret garden tucked between a wild plum and two cedars that held a black wrought iron bench, violets and a garden gnome. He also loved the narrow paths through the rain garden and the plank bridge, making multiple circuits until he fell in (he recovered quickly).
The season is very late here this year so the peas are just starting, the garlic is still in the ground and the tomatoes are just flowering. It’s easy to see though how abundant the harvest will be: loads of green grapes forming, bushels of herbs, apples that will soon need thinning, onions pushing out of the soil.
Next time I open a jar of grape jelly, pickled peppers or tomato jam made by Emily and her husband Bob I’ll think of this gorgeous afternoon in their haven.