Triphamr
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Location: Port Orange, Florida

Zone 9: First Step, shovel and rake in hand

Aside from the concept of the garden, what could be the first step in the creation of it? I mean I have an idea of how I'd like the garden to look but I don't think the soil is ready for any planting. We live on the east coast in Zone 9 and the soil is very sandy and the backyard is relatively untouched, the previous owners never did any yard work. It's currently just mowed over weeds, crabgrass and a couple of older trees.

The first thing I wanted to do was fence in the yard then start working on the garden but I grow inpatient, I want to get out and dig in the dirt! While we save for the fence and figure out what materials and design to use for it I'd like to get out and start working on the yard. Currently all we've done is keep the grass/weeds trimmed and the wild weeds pulled, but I don't know where to start. Should I rip out all the weeds and grass and get it down to bare soil? (I hate chemical weed killers would prefer to go a totally organic route to anything I do as I respect mother earth)

As I mentioned the soil is very sandy and on coastal Florida we are hit by hurricanes occasionally (we're about 10 minutes from the beach) so that's a concern as well. I'm sure this will mean we have some hard design choices to make but we're not about to let it stop us. Also due to the soil I'm not sure if we'd have to truck in some soil to mix in with what's here currently and I should probably get the soil tested.

In the end I'm sure there's a lot I could do I just don't know where to start, could probably get an expert to tell us what we need to do but I'm trying not to spend any money at initially. I'd like to go at this holistically using muscle and brain power, mediation and prayer. =)

I appreciate any feedback and help in what I'm sure will be my first post in many on this journey. Thanks in advance!
~Triphamr

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rainbowgardener
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where to start

I don't do Japanese gardening myself; I think you will get better answers from the people who do if you say a little bit more about what your concept for the garden is. Are you thinking Zen garden with lots of sand and boulders, or Japanese/minimalist but less austere. Paths through it, seating areas, etc? How big is the area you are talking about? Sun exposure? The more info you give the better answers you are likely to get.

But if what you've got now is weeds and grass you probably do need to get rid of that. A couple basic non-chemical ways to do that would be to rent a tiller and till it all up. Wait a couple weeks for all the weeds to resprout and then do it again. OR, especially if it is a fairly small area or can be broken up into smallish areas (perhaps with paths between) you can try basic sheet mulching techniques. Put sheet mulching into the search box in upper left of page and there will be lots of info about ways to do it. One version of sheet mulching is to water the area well, then cover it with many thicknesses of newspaper. Water the newspaper well, then lay down several inches of good enriched topsoil with compost, etc. and water that. Then you can plant into, just by digging a hold in the topsoil down to the newspaper, cutting a slit in the newspaper and planting into the ground below. By next year the newspaper will have disappeared and all the grass and weeds will have been smothered.

Also, they generally say if you are going to be adding hardscape (paths, retaining walls, etc) do that first. I do find that discouraging advice when you want to be gardening and I generally go back and forth. Get enough of the hardscaping done to define one area and then do some gardening. It will ALWAYS be a work in progress :)

Final note - you will definitely need to be amending your sandy soil with compost and other organic material to enrich it and so it will hold water and nutrients better. (Unless of course you will be doing a Zen sand and boulders garden, in which case you will be adding lots of sand!)

Hope this helps as some starting suggestions and that some real Japanese gardeners jump in,,

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applestar
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I don't have a Japanese Gardy either, but here's a suggestion:

If all you have is an open space, sometimes defining where a garden is going to "be" goes a long way to visualizing what you want. I usually use the 10"H white wire border fence ($4/10') I just stick them in the lawn in the shape I envision, then start thinking about what I want to plant there (it's a little more interesting and longer lasting AND you can make it any size/length than garden hose). I've also used bent bamboo border fence (on sale last fall at a garden center) around the blackberry patch.

The material DRAMATICALLY changes the feeling of the area.

At the least expensive for a Japanese garden, I would envision 1" diameter or thicker bamboo stakes with 1/2" ~ 3/4" bamboo poles tied across (maybe black waxed linen or dark jute strings ?) I did this around my Koshihikari rice paddy with 1"x1" tomato stakes cut down to 24", pounded down to 15" and 7' bamboo poles tied between them at 12"H. Obviously, you could make them taller to define a large area as well. If you want to spend a little more money, you could also use sturdier bamboo stakes (like 1-1/2~2") and those inexpensive reed or bamboo fencing that come in rolls as a temporary fence for now -- I say temporary because I doubt that those things would stand up to hurricane winds. :roll:

Rainbowgardener gave you good advice for what to do with existing vegetation, architectural features, etc. Another trick I use is to stand up the 7' bamboo poles where I'm thinking a tree would go.

So many possibilities. Have fun! :wink:

Triphamr
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Location: Port Orange, Florida

More Info

Thank you for the kind and helpful suggestions, I appreciate the time taken to respond to my questions for sure.

As for more information: We're visualizing the garden eventually encompassing our entire backyard (which is about 5,000 square feet). We hope to have a water feature/pond, room for a container garden and small greenhouse, a small tea house, wooden hot tub and small zen (stone) garden. I've visualized everything in my mind I just wish I could draw!

I don't know if it follows a particular school of thought or not, but it makes sense to me. Perhaps over time and with more reading and frequenting these forums I'll be able to put names to everything. Here's some pictures to help in answering my questions.

[url=https://img10.imageshack.us/my.php?image=2009001q.jpg][img]https://img10.imageshack.us/img10/3720/2009001q.th.jpg[/img][/url]
This is a photo of the side entrance to the yard, I'm hoping to frame this area so it opens up into the yard but yet doesn't reveal everything at once. A covered gate will lead into a stone walkway which will lead to this corner. The sidewalk will be pulled up and was thinking about replacing that rain gutter with a water chain.

[url=https://img199.imageshack.us/my.php?image=2009002.jpg][img]https://img199.imageshack.us/img199/3760/2009002.th.jpg[/img][/url]
Same corner just a little further in and looking more into the width of the yard.

[url=https://img10.imageshack.us/my.php?image=2009006g.jpg][img]https://img10.imageshack.us/img10/2298/2009006g.th.jpg[/img][/url]
Taken on the opposite side of the yard as the above two pics. The tree straight ahead in picture two is the tree that is on the left of this photo. Two large trees and one smaller one, where the swing set is where we envision the small greenhouse/bonsai/tool shed.

[url=https://img10.imageshack.us/my.php?image=2009004v.jpg][img]https://img10.imageshack.us/img10/935/2009004v.th.jpg[/img][/url]
Taken from the corner of the house that you see in the 3rd pic. Our yard goes right to the near side of that palm. The palm tree is actually right on the property line and just in front of the palm is where we envision the small open front tea house that would face the camera.

So there it is, all things subject to change but we envision a back yard that is an extension of the inside of our home. A yard that is beautiful and livable with container gardening providing us with food (wife and I are Vegan), a pond with a stone seat nearby for meditation all wrapped up with Japanese styling and I'd be in heaven.

Any comments are more than welcomed, I have no idea where to start as you see there's weed/crabgrass everywhere and I know I don't want to keep that. I'm not sure I want to newspaper the entire yard I could till the whole thing though. I wish I could draw maybe I'll give that a go and see what happens.
~Triphamr

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rainbowgardener
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5000 square feet

Wow! big project. No you aren't going to newspaper all of that. But doesn't matter, because if you did, you couldn't deal with planting all that and getting new plants established. This is a big project you are talking about, meaning unless you and your wife (and probably a crew of helpers) are both unemployed and childless and going to devote full time all the time to doing this, you are talking about 3-5 years until it's starting to look like the vision in your head. And it will NEVER be "finished."

So think sections. And seriously think about putting in some of the hardscape first... say the pond and bench and a path to it. That will start defining an area to work on.

Triphamr
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Location: Port Orange, Florida

Thank you for your reply Rainbowgardener. Yea we realize it's a huge project but that's the beauty of it, we're excited to see it go through the various stages and learning as we go.

Good advice on sections, when I think about the vision for the entire garden I get lost in where to start so that alone gives me a direction to start in. So you say start with hardscape, I can see how that would be helpful. Any useful websites for hardscape that anyone knows of? I'll hit the library and see if they have any books.

I'm still concerned about the soil and whether I should till everything up or how to prepare it. I just don't see doing anything on top of the grass that is there now. Now that you've seen pictures, does anyone have any suggestions for this?

Applestar your suggestion for fencing off the areas is awesome, I can see that being a good tool to use in visualizing what is where. Thanks for that. I'm still eager to hear what the dedicated Japanese gardeners think and thanks again for your comments and suggestions so far.
~Triphamr

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applestar
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You know what? As much as the grass area is not what you want, I think it would be, frankly (sorry), a waste of time, to try to get rid of it first. I imagine you're thinking those landscaping shows where a team of people come in and take EVERYTHING OUT, then magically create a wonderful landscape, all in less than 30 minutes (TV viewing time). I've stopped watching them because it's TV, it's entertainment, it's unrealistic (unless you have OODLES of money, which I don't). They don't show you the earth moving machines and hunks of men, young and semi-young, toiling away (except in those cute fast-forwards that make everything look simple :roll: ) OK sorry, getting off the ranting box now. :wink:

Think of the grass as NULL area -- an empty canvas. When you dig that pond, not only the pond area, but a good sized area of the grass around it is going to go away, trampled in mud or buried in the landscaping around the pond. Same thing when you put in the path. For each project, you'll be doing what's needed to keep the grass from growing back, whether by solarizing, tilling/sprouting/tilling (repeat), landscape fabric (yecch, but that's MY opinion -- I prefer sheet mulching), etc.

Each project will eliminate areas of grass and put in something else. When you dig the pond, you'll have extra soil that you might use to make little hillocks and contours. Every time you plant something big, like a tree, you'll eliminate yet another section of grass.... See where I'm going? Sections, just like rainbowgardener said.

Looking at your photos, my inclination would be to start planting trees, shrubs, bamboo, etc. to hide the neighboring houses and create an illusion of endless space. They'll take a while to establish and grow to effective size. If I may add my personal preference: If you want flowering trees, plant fruit trees instead -- you'll get flowers AND fruits. If you're planting bamboo (lucky you, you have MANY choices in Florida) choose varieties that have delicious edible shoots. Take precautions about how they spread though :shock: But you *could* harvest them to make decorative bamboo features, if you're so inclined.

Here's a link to Florida Native Plant Society's plant selection page:
https://www.fnps.org/pages/plants/landscape_plants.php
Native plants is what should be used in a Japanese garden according to this article: https://www.helpfulgardener.com/japanese/2003/design.html

Triphamr
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Excellent advice Applestar and although I wasn't really conceptualizing the television part I see where you're going and I suppose it did weigh into my thoughts somehow. You're definitely right so thanks for the rant :wink:

I am looking forward to fencing in the yard and putting bamboo along the fence as well as some fruit trees, though I'd love to put up traditional Japanese fencing I fear it'd be way to expensive, so we'll see. I don't know if a stockade fence will do the garden justice or not but I suppose that's a whole other post.

Thinking about the pond and hardscape at least I have a direction now, coming up with a plan for the pond and pathing. And you're right, the grass will slowly go away.
~Triphamr

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koiboy01
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Hi Q,
The first thing that I would consider would be where to place the pond and how large it was going to be, what it was going to be made of, a liner or concrete (peronally I would choose concrete) is it going to house koi or just normal pond fish(personally I would choose koi) and if you decide on koi you will have to build into your system a filter which is not a problem if you follow my design on my website,and also make your pond at least four foot deep and make the shape look as natural as possible so don't make it a formal shape,the soil that you dig out can be placed at the rear of the pond where a waterfall can be placed,
When you have decided where the pond will go I would decide where the Zen or Karasansui dry garden is going to go, because by your comments you are going to have problems with your plants.
Is that enough for now to get you thinking on the right lines.
Koiboy01
anyone who never made a mistake never made anything.

Triphamr
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Location: Port Orange, Florida

As always George your sagely advice is well taken.

I indeed want the pond to be concrete and with Koi at least 4' deep. The pond and waterfall will be almost in the center of the garden, just off to the right near the tea house. I've actually book marked your DIY section and am going to follow that when it comes time to building the filter.

Do you have any suggestions for books or websites about the actual concrete part of building the pond? I'm excited to get started now that I have a direction, thanks to you fine folks and your help. Thank you.
~Triphamr

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Piet Patings
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Well, lots of good advice already. I'll try to add my two cents.
With this size of lot I fully agree on sections. In our garden we called them "compartments". And that is what you see in the larger Japanese gardens, or actually temple-compounds, also. A compartment could be a strolling-garden, a Tea- Garden (chaniwa or Roji) and a Zen-Garden (karesansui). A Japanese Tea Garden as such is composed of multiple sections, mostly separated fences with a gate in them.

I our garden we also have a herb garden, that we have fitted in to go with the overall style.
The advice from applestar "...Think of the grass as NULL area..." I would see as the best workable approach for your situation.

What is important, even more when working with compartments or sections is to start with a good overall design. You don't need to work it all out but to at least document and architect your vision for the garden as a whole.
This will also be required to ensure that your infrastructure will eventually satisfy your need.
To help with the visualization, have a look at this online guide Chapter "How to typify, architect and compose a Japanese garden ? " on the [url]https://www.zen-garden.org/html/page_Approach.htm[/url] page. This may help you to decide what type of Japanese garden types or elements you like to be part of your design. There are also links to archetypes and many authentic examples. And then depending on the location how to fit in the none or less Japanese compartments and objects like the greenhouse etc.
Piet, Tsubo-en

The Helpful Gardener
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Hey Trip,

I'm sensing this idea of yours hasn't gelled yet with you, so breaking ground is probably premature. Your best bet is to start jotting ideas on paper, with an eye towards not so much seperating the areas of function (food gardens, kid's play area, BBQ pit) from the purely garden areas as figuring out a way to tie the whole yard together. I often repeat a particular plant throughout, or a recurrent design theme, like belgian block edging or a particular hardscape feature. Less is more is a worn cliche, but it is worn honestly by repetitive use, and thus fits the Zen idea of [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi]wabi/sabi[/url]. Be true to materials, and sparse with them. Take ample time to sit and look; to see how the sun sets or how it comes up, how it crosses the yard, where is it dry, where it stays wet. A soil test is never a bad idea; try your state extension service... all in all don't rush. I did almost nothing but arrange my drainage the first year in this house (six years back now). But I stared out the window for a year and figured out where everything needed to go to work out, and it was time well spent. Patience...
:wink:
HG
Scott Reil

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Hi Trip. Wondering how the project is progressing? Any updates, pix?

Pepper46
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We are in the process of planning our back yard on a much smaller lot. I'm a big believer in graph paper and drawing it out to scale.

The Helpful Gardener
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Scale is good. Cutout of certain features (also scale) let you move things around and see what might work where, or look at different combos...

HG
Scott Reil



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