Garden design Ithaca


A new project

One of my jobs for the summer is helping a couple of Cornell University professors with their garden work. (above) The area in front of the wall looked nasty because the contractor who built the wall left it without re-seeding grass.

The first question that came to my mind when the professors asked me to help them out was: Do you want an Edible Landscape instead?!

The answer was ‘yes please’, and to my delight, I had an opportunity to design a perennial garden


ugly area behind the wall


a few sparse weeds and gravel

What to do I do next?

  • measure site
  • check soil drainage (with a bucket of water and a stopwatch)
  • check soil pH (didn’t do)
  • check light interception
  • ask clients what they want
  • check overstory tree species

site measurements to figure out how much mulch I need

Site characteristics I found:

  • medium quality soil
  • deer pressure (but clients do NOT want fence)
  • irregular light interception
  • clients want low-maintenance system
  • an unidentifiable tree canopy above the future ‘garden’

What’s this tree?!

I spent an entire day going to Edible Acres (ie the Garden of Eden!) to select plants and renting a pickup truck get mulch for the garden.


the plants I bought


Soil remediation: I hand-tilled the soil with a fork and added some manure


Lasagna mulching: after loosening the soil, I put cardboard down to kill existing weeds and inhibit weed growth. Mulching: mulch consists of chipped wood that I placed a thick layer of over the cardboard. Mulch helps keep the soil moist and also serves as a weed suppressant.



I was about to start laying out my plants when I looked up around me once more and thought that the tree I couldn’t identify might indeed be a Juglans. Trees in this family (hickories & black walnut) can be very problematic for gardeners because the roots, the leaves and the nuts exude juglone – causing ‘allelopathy’ which can inhibit plan growth for certain species


IMG_0213 What is this tree?

Because I wasn’t sure (the leaves I found didn’t have as many leaflets as a black walnut or a hickory, and there were no nuts to be found maturing in the tree), I decided to treat it as a Juglans in case. But what would happen with all the plants I had already bought?

Dealing with the Juglone Thankfully, quite a few of the plants I bought are  juglone tolerant such as currants, so I placed them right under the canopy of the unidentifiable tree.

Dealing with the Deer I created a natural deer fence using aromatic herbs (lavender, bee balm, yarrow…) that deter deer 

I then made a few Gooseberry cuttings from a bush I knew about and finally started planting.

I also made  compost tea to boost the plants and reduce the transplant shock


Compost Tea- refer to my blog post on the topic for more info


2 weeks later …

The site looks good, so far no deer nibbling. But, to my great disapoointment the currents look like they are getting rust


rust on the currants

Hopefully the plants will spring back


Another part of the property I have been working on is a the ‘wooded area’, where periwinkle has a hard time dispersing because of weed pressure. I weeded a lot, and sprayed some compost tea to boost the plants and help them spread.


wooded area