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2020: my year in the garden

In an unpredictable year my little urban garden provided a much needed sanctuary.

There are a million different directions this little end of year blog post could take given all that was 2020 (!), but I want to focus on my gratefulness for my herb, vegetable and flower gardens that I created this year. Gardening provided stress-relief, beautiful fresh veggies and a flower-filled backdrop to our backyard, which ended up being our daily escape during quarantine.

Magenta Dahlia Flower in my Chicago Garden
Magenta Dahlia – my favorite flower in the garden

As we all did, I started the year with absolutely no clue what was about to hit. I was excited to start a new job in early March, and we were still on cloud nine from our January trip to Barcelona, Spain.

But then as we know, everything changed. Covid-19 spread quickly and Chicago went on “shelter in place orders” in mid March, one week after I started my new job. So, that was that. We were home.

We adapted the best we could, cooking up challenging recipes that reminded us of restaurants we were missing and decided to jot down projects to take up around the house and yard. One of the biggest projects was the flower garden I had been dreaming of.

This is the little corner of the yard I was eyeing to dig on up. So I got my little plan in motion.

The before picture of my city garden space in Chicago.

Prepping the garden area

Before I could start planting, I had to take care of a problem – this area floods – badly. We put one French drain in awhile ago and had one more to install, so I started diggin’ a hole and threw it in! And thank goodness – yes, it did help. I also added a lot of new soil to the garden bed to regrade it to be higher than the sidewalk, which also helped.

Whew. Next up, how am I gonna get rid of all this grass? The answer was….v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y. I just sat out there and asked Dave to bring me a mojito and dug it all up with a little hand trowel. Of course there are easier, quicker ways but I kind of enjoyed sitting in the dirt and doing it all by hand.

Sitting in the dirt digging up the grass in my garden.
A photo of the garden area in progress.

Up-cycling for the garden

Once I had all that grass gone I decided I wanted to add a walkway of some sort. At this time we weren’t going out at all, and I didn’t see any stepping stones online that I liked. So, I put a call out to my block group to see if anyone had anything laying around they didn’t need – and – SCORE! My fab pals had these beautiful marble-y unique stepping stones that were just exactly what I was looking for. I love my block!

The other little funky pieces in the garden you might notice are the white pedestals in the back. These used to be a part of my beloved old porch we unexpectedly had to completely replace – a story for another time. But I loved the old-Chicago-city vibe they brought to our home so I wanted to keep them in some way, so in the garden they went providing a nice little corner for some potted plants and additional herbs. Cute, eh?

Sowing the seeds

As I was setting up outside, I had also been doing some prep inside. I grew most plants from seed, which always feels risky, but I’m proud to say this year I kinda nailed it! My mom gave me flower seeds from Higgledy Garden so I decided to turn our back sun room into a makeshift greenhouse to start growin. Perhaps it was all the extra time at home that led to my success this time with sowing. I watered them and maybe chatted encouraging words to them daily.

For vegetables, I planted grape tomatoes, big tomatoes, jalapeños peppers, bok choy, radishes, beets and a variety of lettuces. In the flower department I had calendula, candytuft, amaranthus, chrysanthemums and more.

Once it was warm enough I took all my little happy sprouting plants and plopped them in the gardens. I decided to put all of my herbs with the flowers, because they smell so lovely together. The vegetable garden was in our raised beds, which we’ve been doing for years and seems to work really well.

Summer settled in and the garden flourished. Before I knew it, I had a real freaking flower garden! My mom, who is the queen of gardens, asked me what my garden’s name was, as one does. After some thought, I landed on Longmeadow in honor of the BBC’s Gardener’s World show with Monty Don. It is more of a short plot, but the irony made me giggle. AND my mom sent me this awesome custom sign she had made for me by artist David Smykal – I love it!

You can probably tell by this wild landscape, I had no plan in terms of a design structure for my garden, not even a color scheme. I just planted the seeds I had where I had space and hoped for the best. I learned a lot because of this. A prime example is to know the height of the flowers you are planting – uh -ahead of time.

Check out this insanity! I could not believe how big this plant got.

This poor guy got SO big that he didn’t make it through the whole season. A storm came through and the wind knocked him down.

Amaranthus caudatus red: Love-Lies-Bleeding

I didn’t fret too much about losing this plant, as the garden was still booming with color.

It’s not an over-exaggeration that I spent nearly every night of summer out here in the garden with Dave and the cats, just sitting and watching butterflies or watching the cats chase fireflies. It really was a lovely escape for us.

I also made sure to bring the outside in to brighten up our kitchen and dining room by making bouquets from our lil’ flower bounty.

The veggie garden

Lucky for me, the vegetable garden also turned out pretty lovely this year. The grape tomatoes were fabulous, and the bok choy and jalapeños yielded a ton. I love having fresh vegetables around, ready for the picking. Is there anything better?

We had a few hiccups in that our large tomatoes got shaded out by larger plants and we could hardly keep up with how many greens we had planted, so into the knowledge box the learnings went. I love how much I learn every year by just simply trial and error. It’s rewarding.

In more exciting news, this upcoming spring and summer season will hopefully be even more epic in the veggie department as Santa is bringing me a greenhouse! Yay! I may already be going a little wild with the plans for this new addition to the yard. I suppose, it too, will need a name. Any ideas?

Alright, onto 2021!

We are entering into the new year with grateful hearts that our friends and family are healthy, that we’re still employed and able to work from home, and that we are fortunate enough to have this little patch of land in the city we love.

I’m looking forward to sharing more recipes with you and hopefully some successes from the new greenhouse (cross your fingers for me)!

I adore the little blogging community I’m a part of on here, and want to thank all my readers for hanging with me during this wacky year.

Since this IS a food blog, I thought I’d leave you with just some of the meals we had out back – really my favorite part of every day. ❤️

Cheers, all! Stay safe, happy and full!

5 thoughts on “2020: my year in the garden

  1. Oh, what a beautiful sanctuary. Especially during 2020! But of course always. You’ve done an amazing job. I absolutely love bringing flowers inside, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a giant bouquet of roses or 5 zinnias! Here’s to another wonderful garden in 2021!

  2. So enjoyed your gardening adventure, it looks fantastic, a real haven of peace and tranquility. Must say how envious I am of your vegetable growing – particularly the Chinese bok choy. Since I returned to Scotland after 11 years in Beijing, I have tried and tried to grow bok choy -with no success; maybe it is too cool here, or maybe I am doing something wrong…
    Happy New Year to you and yours!!

    1. Thank you so much!! It really was quite peaceful. 🙂 I’m sorry you’ve not had luck with growing bok choy! This is where I got my seeds from – https://www.johnnyseeds.com/ and it looks like they ship internationally if you want to give it a go. And how I adore Scotland! Fun to know I have a reader there!

  3. Am going to try and find a specialist seed merchant in the UK for bok choy – if that still is no good will go to https://www.johnnyseeds.com and get theirs. Thanks for the heads up. Glad to hear you adore Scotland, it is a wonderful country! We live in a fishing village called Pittenweem on the east coast, situated on the Firth of Forth as it enters the North Sea.

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