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Garden Lessons from a Midwest Blog

A young couple realized their dream of getting back to the earth when they purchased a small Iowa farm.

Blog and bloom

You know that dream about getting back to the earth? The one that always fades away amid bills and routine? Anne Armitage and Alan Peterka actually went for it.

Trading a house in town for a small farm near Tama, Iowa, they started gardening and selling plants and produce. Anne is wild about trees, bushes and flowers; Alan handles the garden structures, pests and veggies.

The two share the successes (and failures) of their growing season through their blog at barkandbloom.com. The following slides show some of the clever ways they grow plants and use natural or recycled materials on their farm.

Bark and Bloom Blog

Tub garden

Anne created a water garden in an old bathtub. The wire grate can be pulled over the tub at night to keep deer from eating water plants.

Vintage birdhouse style

A variety of handmade vintage birdhouses, found at flea markets, adorn the peak of an outbuilding. The birdhouses add a touch of style to the shed, while providing multiple nesting spots for birds.

Homemade arbor

Alan built this simple arbor and is training vines to climb the posts and provide shade eventually. Pieces of salvaged furniture provide a place to sit and enjoy the garden.

Pot creations

Anne isn't fussy about plant pots. Here, she uses old baskets and a rotted-out tree trunk to hold succulents.

Hoop house

Alan built the hoop house and cold frames. "Our seedlings usually do very well until we neglect to open the cold frame and fry them, or forget to close a cold frame and freeze them. With any luck we won't need to learn these lessons again," he says.

Bag planting

To make gardening quick and easy, Anne sometimes plants lettuce (and other seeds) right in a potting soil bag that has a section cut out of the side. The mini garden can be transported easily from the hoop house to the garden and back if frost threatens.

Sink planter

An old sink makes an interesting planter for an assortment of small succulents.

Curly willow

During the winter, Anne propagates hardwood cuttings of curly willow; red-, yellow- and copper-twigged dogwood; bittersweet; and sycamore. This curly willow bush is from one of her cuttings.

Right at home

No need for fancy garden art here. This vintage tractor wheel provides just the right accent beside a barn and will become a trellis for climbing plants.

Recycled tiles

Inexpensive drainage tiles hold a variety of small plants.

Easy path

Anne and Alan created a simple path through the garden using stepping-stones made from tree trunk slices and wood chips made from fallen branches.

New life for old springs

Anne found these springs in a burn pile adjacent to their property. She thinks they're from an old truck seat. This find makes a surprisingly attractive trellis for a fast-growing, climbing trumpet vine.

Home harvest

Anne and Alan harvest abundant produce from their property, including at least seven varieties of peppers, various volunteer squash, a 'Kellogg's Breakfast' tomato, cut Banana Melon and sweet 'Minnesota Midget' melon, along with berry jams and pickled cucumbers.

Go wild

"Our wild, 'naturalistic garden' is a tangled mess of perennials and self-seeding annuals," Anne writes in her blog. "I have to admit that I have achieved exactly the garden I set out to create when we moved here several years ago."

Bark and Bloom Blog

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