My Secret Garden in the Woods

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” 
– Audry Hepburn

My Botanical Story

Like many of you, my love affair with gardening began as a child. I have fond memories of my grandma walking me around her backyard, with my skinned knees and pigtails, showing me how beautiful it was to grow things. Since then, I’d always dreamed of a big garden. One with a maze of raised beds and archways, trellises and arbors, and gravel paths wide enough to pull a wagon for hauling bountiful harvests. A place to retreat to when I need a moment of solace. It would be the garden I would cherish the rest of my days.

After nearly a decade of living in congested neighborhoods with no space for a garden, and nearly three years of searching, my husband and I finally found our forever home. A big cedar house in the woods nestled at the top of a hill and back at the end of a long dirt road. The land spoke to us the moment we stepped onto it and we knew we would do whatever we could to make it ours. A month later, we were juggling renovations, removing diseased trees, and dreaming of a farm and garden to call our own.

Fast forward a year, and my husband made my biggest garden dream come true. With no construction background, he took a sketch of my dream garden and turned it into reality. Every square inch was made with his two hands. Without the luxury of heavy machinery, this project was truly a labor of love.

Today, my garden is a place where birdsong is the background music, a circle of trees wraps it in a hug, and the sunsets dance behind the tree line showing off their cotton candy colors. Hours float by when I’m in my garden, lost in nature’s therapy of pruning, harvesting, nurturing. It is where I pray. Where I cry. Where I go to reset and turn my thoughts. It is where some of my most successful ideas have been brainstormed. My garden reflects who I am, and every new bloom is an expression of my creativity. It houses hundreds of flowers and herbs that I have mindfully chosen, carefully sown, patiently grown and tucked into their beds with clear intention, purpose, and most of all, hope. My garden is organized but wild. And as my flowers and herbs grow, so do I alongside them.

My garden is my botanical story.

The Build

I'm often asked about my garden specifics, so I’m going to share some of the design and construction elements we chose and processes we found to be most beneficial. Whether you are in the process of building your garden right now, or currently in the dream and design phase, this list is intended to get those creative juices flowing and inspire you to think outside the typical garden bed box.

  1. Determine where to build. The space should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, preferably more. Watch the sun positioning and movement over the space for a full year, if possible, before deciding on a location. Also, take into account where your water source is and how it will reach your garden.

  2. Sketch a layout. Draw the garden space with beds and containers, ensuring that you can reach every corner of each bed and that every main aisle has enough space to maneuver your garden cart.

  3. Build the beds. The shape and size of your garden beds matter. We chose to build beds that are 2 feet high off the ground to provide good soil depth and only 3 feet wide across  so I could easily maneuver my Gorilla Cart through the rows to harvest without issue. In the years to come, I know my back will thank me. There are five raised L-beds (longest edges 7-foot by 8-foot) and six traditional raised 3-foot by 6-foot beds. I recommend using a rot-resistant wood such as cedar, redwood or white oak. Our garden space is sloped, which added a level of difficulty to the bed building, as my husband had to angle the bottom of the beds to match the slope so that the top of the beds was level. (He said those years of geometry finally came in handy!)

  4. Fill the beds. We filled our beds with 100% organic material using a modified Hügelkultur method. Hügelkultur, translated as "mound culture," is a process where plants are grown on raised beds with a mounded shape created by layers of natural materials. We implemented the same idea by filling the bottom third of each bed with compostable material that was readily available on our land. We laid a row of old partially rotted logs down first. Then, we added a layer of sticks, branches and fallen leaves from around the property. The third layer was compost from the various compost piles we have around the property. Lastly, we filled the top 6 inches of each bed with a special organic garden blend consisting of more organic compost, soil, sand, and bone meal.

  5. Install irrigation. There are many different ways to water your garden, and a little research will go a long way in determining the best method for your garden space and lifestyle. We decided to run a drip irrigation off an existing hose connection. We didn’t have much luck with the soaker hose kits available at hardware stores, so my husband chose to build the system using hose and connector components that snap together like a Lego set. The hoses were purchased in 50-foot and 100-foot lengths and then he chose individual connectors to build our system based on the size and locations of our beds. It is imperative to install a 20-25 PSI pressure regulator for the system to work properly. These systems will not work correctly under high pressure. He ran a PVC supply line from the water source to the first garden bed. From there, the soaker hose system began, snaking up and down the length of each bed, secured with plastic stakes. We read that you should run your soaker hoses across a slope rather than up and down it, however, our water connection was already positioned at the bottom of our hilled garden, so we did not have this luxury, and have experienced no issues.

  6. Install a timer. Regardless of what irrigation system you choose, I recommend installing a timer to save you from having to remember to run out and flip a switch or turn a spicket each day. Even with a timer, it is still necessary to visit your garden each day to provide heavy drenches on the hottest summer days, manually water any hanging baskets or other containers that your irrigation system can’t reach, and of course, to harvest. But the timer takes provides a great sense of security on the busiest days.

  7. Install fencing and gates. We built 4-foot fencing around the perimeter to define the garden space. The fence also protects the plants from our farm animals and also protects our animals from plants that are toxic if ingested. We also installed three gates for easy access.

  8. Add ground cover.Here in the Pacific Northwest, the winters and springs get very muddy. To create a garden floor that would withstand the wet seasons, we first laid a layer of landscape fabric over the entire surface area of land (cutting around the beds) and secured it with 6-inch garden stakes. Then, we installed edging around the entire perimeter of the garden to contain the gravel. (The edging also secures the edges of the landscape fabric.) Lastly, we covered the garden with 10 tons of gravel, 2 inches deep). Dig small tunnels to hide your irrigation lines in and then cover with gravel. This is more aesthetically pleasing and also keeps the line from being a tripping hazard. The gravel ground cover has done an amazing job at draining precipitation and completely eliminating mud from our garden pathways.

  9. Add arches and arbors.
    We installed wire arches made from 4-foot by 16-foot utility panels (each square is 4 inches by 4 inches) that can be purchased at most local feed stores or co-ops, attaching them to the insides of our garden beds with T posts or the outside of the beds with metal staples. Then, we added four simple cedar arbors (one over each of the three gates and one to break up the longest edge of the garden). They added height and provided anchors for hanging baskets.

Throughout the building process, we learned that building things with our hands and hearts meant we could not only customize them to our land and needs, but it made them so much more valuable to us. It is not just about the cost of materials; but about the time, dedication, and care taken to make something that is truly custom.

Most recently, I painted the outside and top edge of the garden beds and stock tanks matte black to contrast with the green and add visual interest to the space. It was a full-day project but made a huge difference in the overall appearance of the space.

A Pollinator Paradise

Our initial year on the land, half of my garden consisted of flowers and the other half vegetables and herbs. By year two, I was growing 75% flowers and 25% vegetables and herbs. I enjoyed it immensely more because I realized that what I fill my garden with should be the plants that make me and my family the happiest. Today, I grow flowers and herbs exclusively, other than an occasional ornamental fruit, and I couldn’t be happier with this botanical evolution.

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cedar house living cottage flower garden build diy

cedar house living cottage flower garden build diy

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Feeling Inspired Yet?
This garden truly is a dream come true for me, and one I will cherish it for the rest of my days. And every time I walk through its gate, I will think of this man, and the love he poured into building it for me.

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As you begin to explore creating a garden space of your own, or expanding your current one, remember that good things take time. Don't let the inflating costs and hours of heavy labor deter you. Work on one element at a time and keep the bigger picture in mind. Begin creating and nurturing a space that will, in turn, nurture YOU and your family for many years to come. You've got this, friends!

Other articles and pages that might interest you:
Want more garden inspiration? Here is a List of Spring Garden Tasks.
Curious about what I'm growing in my garden? Check out my holistic Pollinator Garden list here.
Want to get the kids involved? Here is a list of my favorite garden-themed children's books.
Like a good before and after? Check out my Greenhouse Refresh!
Find my favorite garden tools here
Find all my favorite gardening Amazon finds and staples around my home, garden and greenhouse here. 
Do you love flowers, poetry, folklore, or floriography? Do you enjoy creating with your hands or working with natural elements? Do you appreciate the art of giving meaningful gifts? If so, my new book may be for you! The Love Language of Flowers 

Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. Cedar House Living LLC receives a small commission for sales generated through these links at no additional cost to you. I use the commissions to further expand my garden, floral, and herbal knowledge so I can continue to share what I learn with you.

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