People, towns, businesses, farms and gardens all grow in Michigan soil.

Compost Secrets

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There are clusters of small, pale pink flowers whose fragrance is picked up by even the slightest breeze. Image by Malcolm Manners.

There are clusters of small, pale pink flowers whose fragrance is picked up by even the slightest breeze. Image by Malcolm Manners.

We all garden in limited space. My garden was the first 6 feet just outside the condo. I clipped shrubs and pampered daylilies, iris, and forget-me-nots. I longed for things like a potting shed, a cutting garden, and a compost pile.

I lived in an “end unit” which meant I had more exterior wall. I found places to tuck in more plants. I read gardening books and magazine articles. I loved the idea of projects. If you clip a branch on a yew, it will form two branches and continue growing, adding strength and structure to the bush. After a few years, my row of yews hid the stepping stone path along the building leading to the spigot.

I became fascinated with the idea of turning garbage into compost. There were rules for condo owners and bad smells were high on the do-not-do list. So, rather than a secret garden, I had a secret compost pile. I buried the garbage.

I dug a pit about 3 feet deep and wide near a corner with no direct line of sight. The pile of dirt sat next to the hole. I saved raw food scraps, banana peels, and coffee grounds. Every couple of weeks I would add the “remains” and a bit of the saved soil to the hole. Before long, the hole was gone, so I dug another hole and filled it in, and then I dug another hole. I had randomly placed, buried compost piles. I began to feel rich.

Composting season ended with the first frost. The following spring I started planting. My first candidate was a ‘Blush Noisette’ rose found online at (now defunct). The description talked about a woodland home, reblooming, fragrance, and hardy to Zone 7. I lived in Zone 5 in an area now relabeled as Zone 6a. I placed an order.

A horticulturalist from phoned me to say she couldn’t ship the plant because it wouldn’t grow in my climate. I pleaded. The spot was on the east side of my condo, behind a rather tall viburnum. My nearest neighbor had an overgrown cedar that blocked the early morning sun. I confessed to my secret compost project. A barberry hedge ran at an angle out from the corner of the building and was a fine wind break. She relented.

The rose shrub thrived, excelled, drew rave reviews from my neighbors, and was gloriously sweet smelling. It was a combination of factors that created the microclimate home for the old fashioned rose. But I credit the secret compost, and I still bury the garbage.


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