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Maybe I could call this Gardening in the Dark. With Helpers.

It's a long transition to perfectly blissful gardening with puppies. I want the yard to be compatible with our helpful garden buddies, but I also want it to be attractive and low maintenance.

We live in the Pacific Northwest, so it rains a bit. The ground gets soft for half the year, so the digging and running wears holes into the ground and trails into the landscape. This is not to mention their deliberate garden help. Last fall when I pulled up my tomato plants, the puppies pulled up my rosemary bushes. Monkey see, monkey do, I guess. But my goal is to design around all of that so that we can live in harmony with the dogs and the yard.

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We live on a wooded lot -- a beautifully wooded lot, which we love. The other design challenge is that most of the yard is shaded, and the sunny spots already have spectacular things growing in them. Rhodos, azaleas, hydrangeas, roses, lilies -- all kinds of pretty flowering things. I want to keep all of that while I make the buddies' wanton help less obvious.  

I also want to install a greenhouse and a fairly substantial kitchen garden, but I need to find space with sunlight. I will otherwise stick to indigenous and shade tolerant plants. Happily, the "weeds" that grow here are beautiful, so I'm transplanting a lot of them from one part of the yard to another.

KuangSi2Oh, wait. I have this helper, too. Don't be afraid. Okay, I admit that he is pretty scary, and that I took this picture through the window from inside the house with the doors locked. It looks like a Pacific garden massacre waiting to happen.

But he's handy for moving heavy objects, which is more than I can say for the other garden buddies. That, and he actually pulls the weeds that need to be removed, and not the beautiful annuals I just planted. And he has thumbs, so he builds me nice garden beds and shelves and things. (I'm pretty thankful that the other garden helpers don't have thumbs.)

So, my big constraints are sunlight and dogs.

Here are two of the challenges...

Problem #1: The race track.

Below is a sitting area in progress. We haven't weeded it yet, by the way. We originally wanted to let this area grow wild with ferns, berries, and other things that are both pretty and low maintenance. The puppies just tear through this when they're running, though -- so the area isn't filling in with wild plants.

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Last weekend we moved a bird bath and a bench to this space, and are planning to create a sitting area. This weekend I'm going to reset some stones into the ground and transplant some of the attractive weeds -- ferns and a berry plant whose name I don't know. I'm thinking I'll look around for a bench that matches the birdbath a little better. The wooden bench is probably temporary. I might actually stain it so it pops. I will also weed and mulch.

This is a low-effort way to solve two problems: The dogs constantly knocked over the bird bath when it was sitting at its old location, and I expect that won't happen as often.  Also, the running path is now "functional" -- they'll run through the center of the open space we've created for sitting.

I'll post some photos when this space is finished.

Problem #2: The sun sucking hedge.

I actually love this hedge. It's plush and healthy and beautiful, but it takes up the best sunny real estate in the entire yard. And it's huge -- 15' x 15'. I want to replace it with something like a custom pergola with garden beds, where I'll have all manner of mixed edibles and ornamentals.

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This patch gets great sunlight, but it is seasonal. We have some tall fir trees that make the orientation of the ecliptic plane matter a lot. Since I'm considering a huge project that will change the space permanently, I want to be sure that it works. Before I finalize the plan, I really have to understand the sunlight. To that end, I have some garden experiments underway.

KuangSi2This bed is 12' long, and runs along the side of the sun sucking hedge. It runs north to south, and one side gets better sunlight than the other depending on the sun's path in the sky. I plant the same seedlings on the south end as the north, and compare their growth.

I have a bunch of ideas for the updated garden -- quince on the north (shady) end and plums on the south. Shepherd's hooks and hanging plants, cutting gardens, vining crops are all in the plan. Mostly, I want it all to look good, and for my more permanent plant choices to grow well.  

By the way, I'm filling the empty spots in these experimental beds and pots with edible flowers -- nasturtiums, pansies, marigolds, calendula. They'll be much more colorful soon.

Also, everything is running late this year, it seems. Are you all experiencing this?

So what's going on in your garden?

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