Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cinder block garden design

For some time now, I have been enamored with cinder block gardens, which because of the small soil pocket sizes they present, are generally are used for cacti and succulent collections, as demonstrated by the following:

Despite the fact that these things are one of the hottest DIY garden trends right now, you can tell by looking at the current examples that many are failing to achieve their creative potential.  Moscato took the extra step and made her garden turn the fence corner (good call), but it feels like it lacks a bit of cohesion.  Penick's is my favorite, is absolutely appropriate for her restricted space, and is unique in being double-sided, but it's still not satisfyingly substantial relative to the balance of her garden creations (and as far as I'm concerned, she's one of the most accomplished landscape designers anywhere). 

For this reason, I decided to make my own cinder block garden into a major planning event, measure-twice-cut-once style.  Clearly, from the examples in DIY-ville as of today, more of the effort needs to go into the planning rather than the execution stage for this kind of project.

In my case, I have a wasted yard corner tucked behind one of my larger stock tank gardens.

It looks like dung right now because of the January seasonal die-back and also because I haven't tamed the current crop of stock tank vegetables, which have obviously all but exhausted the available nitrogen in their soils.  And yes, I let that broccoli to the left bolt on purpose.  The bees love it. 
Right now, the area contains nothing but dead grass and miscellaneous junk plus a metal storage rack that's holding up all the starts I bought for the cinder block garden that is to be:
Please find us a nice permanent home really, really soon...
Much of the whizz-bang-zowie we see in architecture these days revolves around 3-D computer representations.  But guess what??  Cinder block gardens don't require that kind of high-dollar design investment, because we have a wonderful and cheap construction analog already in our houses:  LEGO!!!!

Seriously - what's more fun here - the fact that I will eventually have exactly the cinder block garden that I want and that my available space is calling for, or the fact that I get to play with LEGO while designing it?!
Oblique view of one of my trial models. 
This model is to relative scale in all three dimensions: each 8" x 16" cinder block is represented by a 2x4 lego brick. 
The big blue thing in the foreground represents my existing stock tank garden, or "tub garden" as some country folks prefer to call it.  The brown thing at photo right is the existing mulch bed with Italian cypress in it (we chose tall skinny trees so that they would not shade the stock tank gardens). 
Close-up of the central portion.  Along with having all the individual succulent pockets in the cinder blocks, I also want to have at least one larger cinder-block planter at the center, to anchor the assembly.  That's what I have found to be missing in most of the DIY examples on the internet - a focal point to the focal point, something to give it more substance in the third dimension. 
Aerial view of the same design.  Very important that I get this design right the first time because I have so little space to work with.
General impression of how it would look in situ
I'm spatially off kilter just a bit with this photo. 
You can see my model cypress tree lining up with the actual tree in photo right, but the cinder blocks will not come so far as to impinge on the raised bed to the left.  If I had rotated my position a bit to the right, it would look more accurate, but I was just trying to get a general rough feeling by taking this photo.
Anyway, I'm not yet sure that this will be the design I finalize - the great thing with LEGO is that any number of possibilities can be fully investigated in a scale model, and I'm not done tinkering yet.  And the other great thing is that, once I finalize it, the business of buying the blocks will be simple: just count the LEGOs I consumed in making the model.  And the business of assembling the blocks will be similarly simple:  just follow the 3-D map.

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