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This past season we removed three towering trees from the back gardens at Paths of Hope. The garden canvas now has blank spots waiting for new designs, and we’ve jumped into the planning with glee. With the reduced tree canopy we’ve watched the sun patterns across the garden and discovered space for vegetable plantings. A late season garden (planted mid-June) yielded tomatoes and green beans as well as lettuce and peppers. I am so excited about the potential for 2020!

The best place to start a major garden change is by sketching out the paths of the paths and determining which beds need to be expanded or added. Moving items on paper is easier than shoveling. With two gardeners sharing the dirt our discussions, diplomacy, and appreciation for alternate viewpoints go a long way in working out the final design.

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I added a path from the shop through the vegetable garden and on to the compost bins. A second path splits to the west to connect the composting space with the planting/maintenance area.

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Gathering evergreens into one corner.

A few steps further west will lead garden visitors to intersect the main path at the evergreen corner. We’ve relocated a huge rhododendron (white) and a mountain laurel (also white) to join the evergreen azalea and pink rhododendron already anchoring that spot.

(I just realized I need to create a garden map to share.)

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Raised beds made of corrugated steel.

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The sitting area with a tea table.

We’ve installed raised beds to support vegetable plantings and added a sitting area with a stone table for those moments when motion stops and we take in the wonder of the garden. The sitting area will one day be carpeted by moss, and the large plugs I installed in the heat of summer have responded well to frequent watering.

Longtime readers may recall the hosta ring we installed several seasons ago to help with hosta care. With the tree removal that spot is now full sun from April till late August. Some hostas did well in the heat while others languished.  We have once again dispersed the hosta containers to strategic shaded locations.

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The open ring with its moss-covered brick path beckons, and Shawn has answered the call with her plan for a cutting garden. That implies we will be starting many more seedlings during the winter months and quite frankly, the shop benches only offer so much space. Last season I claimed the dining room and set up a folding table and grow light to support the rising garden stars.

A greenhouse would be nice but finances and yard space dictate that we need a less expensive solution. The spaces in the house best suited for plant nurturing are the south-facing and west-facing windows in the living room. After much discussion we opted to remove a few items from the floor plan and add two glass shelf units from IKEA (VITTSJÖ Shelf unit). One unit now hosts Shawn’s growing orchid collection while the other hosts a few house plants until we are ready for seed starting.

Before we made our trip to IKEA I had looked at other solutions including a few DIY ideas and concluded that the IKEA product was better suited to the application and cheaper than anything I could build. My new challenge is to add grow lights in a manner that will mesh with the living room ambiance.

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Prototype hanging system.

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I added a hole to the framing angles.

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Use off-the-shelf parts to save $.

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Spray paint is a quick way to spruce up dull hardware.


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IKEA’s white is a close match to our trim paint.

I designed the mounting system to use low-cost off-the-shelf components. Simple framing angles available at Lowes or Home Depot for under $1 hold a stock 1”x3” board against the bottom of the shelf. The fixture clips are screwed into that and the light is ready to go. I primed and painted the boards and angles to match our interior trim paint which is a close match for IKEA’s white. And I chose round head slotted screws for the finished trim look.

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I chose the three foot Sun Blaster NanoTech T5 HO Fixture from The fixture weighs next to nothing, and its low profile will consume little of the between-shelf space. My experience has shown that fluorescent grow lights run circles around the incandescent and LED solutions I have tested when it comes to bringing up new plants.

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Last, I added safety chains using the holes that IKEA provided on the units. While that step may not be necessary in your application we have a crawling/climbing grandson. He may still climb the shelves, but hopefully the chains will prevent a tragic tip over.

How will our solution work? I will let you know next spring. For now Shawn is happy with the look of the shelves and thrilled with the lights.

And we’ve already added two new house plants.