Saturday, January 20, 2018

Last but not least

The most exciting project of 2017 was one that I didn't even do...The Wall. I will be paying for it for a while, but at least I didn't have to build it.

How it looked before, starting at the house, curving toward the west side of the lot and then running north:



I forgot to take pictures of the finished wall, so this is where it ends. I got a little bit of grass planted before it got too cold, but not the entire area, so that is still on the to-do list. Also, due to a little misunderstanding between us and the builder, we need to have him come back out and cap the top. Other than that, I couldn't be happier and I don't have to worry anymore about the wall collapsing, and my front yard ending up in my back.

The stairs are by far my favorite part. Now I don't have to climb the wall to get on top. Moving the rest of the rocks will be much easier this spring.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Rocks

As I mentioned before, one of the projects I tackled this summer was moving The Rocks off of The Wall.

This wall:

The horrible, falling-over wall that has been a source of consternation since we moved here. In July, we decided to move forward with replacing the wall and got the work scheduled for late August. Knowing that the rocks would be in the way of the workers, I decided I wanted them off the wall before work began.

It was not fun work. You can't just throw rocks away, especially not in the quantity that we had.

We tried to give them away, and were eventually able to get rid of some that way, but in the end, more of them stayed in our yard than left it.

One of the ways I used them was along the fence which runs down the east side of the back yard. Our neighbors have river rock on their side of the fence already, and the area is prone to eroding and hard to mow. As with most things this summer, however, I had to tackle another project before I could start this one.

Where the spade sits in the above photo, the prior owners had stacked a bunch of "logs". As you can see, they were generally chunks of a large tree trunk. We've got pieces of this tree all around the yard, but this area was a big pile. I moved them away from the fence, loaded the ones I could lift into the truck, and hauled them away. Then I started laying rocks along the fence.

Obviously, I couldn't lift most of the stumps
One day, a neighbor came by to ask if I'd like some hostas that she had to move out of her garden. Of course, I'll take free plants.

I continued the rocks and hostas on the other side of the fence in the top of the above picture.

This corner is the far back end of the new area covered in my prior two posts.

Some of the stumps found new life as potential backyard seating (or just more things to mow around).

Moving rocks by the bucket and wheelbarrow load in July and August is not something I'd recommend, but it was a good workout, and extremely satisfying.

Did I mention the entire area has landscape cloth underneath?

I did run out of time and energy before the wall work began, but I made great progress. I also never got back to it this fall, so come spring, I'll be out moving rocks again. Then I'll have another large open area that needs to get covered in plants so the weeds don't take over. Wow, I've got my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Something bigger - Part 2

After installing the path, I started slowly trying to fill the space. This task quickly began feeling a bit overwhelming. I'm not a person who can plan the whole area and buy all of the plants at once, so I did it gradually.

What we found under the concrete pad was mostly clay. That's generally how it is around here. There is a lot of clay underground, and fill dirt invariably ends up being mostly clay. While I probably should've put in the effort to add large amounts of organic matter to the area, I decided instead to do that gradually and concentrate on finding plants that could tolerate the clay.

I threw down a few bags of compost, planted some of the area with annual rye grass just to get something growing, and began working on perennials.

Seeing that the slope had eroded in the time since I installed the path, I also decided to use some of The Rocks along the path to hopefully mitigate that problem.

One of the first things I did was move some hostas from other areas of the yard. Since the area is on the east side of the house, with several trees providing partial shade, I thought they would do well here.

I couldn't have been more wrong. They all shriveled up and disappeared before summer was over. Maybe too much sun, maybe bad soil, maybe not enough water. As far as I'm concerned, they were free so I'm not out anything, and at least their decomposing parts may help improve the soil.

I also set up the rain barrel at the end of the garage. Lots of issues with it this year, but I did have a supply of water for the new plants and the deck plants for a portion of the summer.

Unfortunately, the spigot leaked, and dummy me put the downspout together backwards (bottom into top instead of top into bottom) so a lot of water poured onto the ground instead of running into the barrel. Both of those issues are fixable, so next year should be a better rain barrel year.

During the course of the summer, I planted 20+ perennials in the area and many more annuals. The annuals included zinnias, snapdragons, moss roses, cosmos, and calendula.

They all helped fill the space, but the zinnias were outstanding. They're the orange bunch in the middle above.

The perennials were monarda, gallardia, helenium, coreopsis, and some type of sedum.

I added an Annabelle hydrangea in the back. It's the lone plant on the other side of the bricks in the above photo. The bricks were helping keep the mulch from running down the hill.

Late in the summer, I transplanted some purple salvia from another area of the yard. I think that's them to the left of the hydrangea, but those could also be weeds. I also added a golden rod I found at the garden center, which I never took a picture of.

I did a couple other things with this area, but I didn't take pictures of them at the time, so I'll have to try to get some pictures and post them later.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Something bigger - Part 1

One of the overall themes to everything we do at our house is fixing what the prior owners did poorly. This project falls squarely into that category.

At some point a few years before they sold the house, the prior owners decided they needed a place to park their RV, so they paved along the entire side of the garage.

Since the yard slopes from front to back, this required them to add dirt to level the area. Along the side of this built-up pad, they put a "retaining wall". I put that in quotes because I don't think the wall was really retaining anything. You can see the top row of blocks in the photo above. The wall was leaning outward, and some of those blocks actually fell into our neighbors' yard. I don't have any pictures that show the full wall, but it was about three feet at its highest point, in the back.

In September, 2016, we had our driveway redone. In the process, we had the concrete guys pull out all of the concrete along the garage.

The plan was to re-contour this section as close as possible back to its original slope.

Several things qualify the concrete pad as one of the stupidest things the prior owners did, but the worst was the fact that they put rickety steps in the back, which were the only access to the backyard. Think about that, there was no way to get a lawnmower from the front yard to the back without going down stairs. Did they have two lawnmowers?

the stairs
D and I started working on the project, but it was slow work, and there was a huge nest of wasps living in the wall. We used about four cans of wasp spray, and we still both got stung. We finally decided to get professional help and enlisted a friend of D's who has a business building retaining walls.

It was January before they were able to get to the project, but it was worth the wait.

They moved all of the dirt necessary to make a gradual slope to the back yard. At the same time, they rebuilt the entire wall along the side, so it was built properly, i.e., won't fall into the neighbor's yard.

In the pictures above you can see the final thing the guys did. They made a path down the middle with the last of their backfill rock. In April, I got to work and installed a path.

To be continued.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Starting small

Part of what made this summer so crazy and hard to describe is the fact that all of the projects were intertwined to some degree. I found myself staring at the backyard frequently, trying to figure out what to do first. Since I want to document my progress, however, it's time for me to start telling the stories, so today I'm starting with a small project.

One of the overarching themes for the summer was "The Wall". I've lamented its condition many times. This is a view from on top of the wall in summer 2016.

One of the many problems with The Wall was that the top area was completely covered with large river rock. To me, this is one of the most insane things I've ever seen anyone do. The only way to keep this area clear of weeds would be to spray it with weedkiller constantly. Given the number of noxious chemical-containing bottles in the garage when we moved in, I'm sure that's what the previous owners did. Not something I'm willing to do.

Also, this is a pretty big area that gets a decent amount of sunshine. In 2016, I grew tomatoes up here - you can see the cages in the above picture - and I want to make the area useful. In order to do so, I needed to get rid of all of this rock and then dig up the awful landscape cloth under it.

This post isn't about that whole process, however. This post is about something I dreamt up while trying to figure out what to do with so many tons of rock. See what I mean about everything being intertwined?

The flower bed that runs along our driveway had a juniper bush on each end of it. I've posted pictures of the bed before, but I scoured my photos and couldn't find one that showed the awful junipers very well. This old photo shows one of them in the top right corner.

They've been on my hit list since we moved in because they are awful. They grow too big for where they are located, so they have to be trimmed to stay out of the way. They drop sharp, nasty needles, and they really don't look good.

My hesitancy to do anything with them, however, was that I didn't need another empty spot in the garden. I have enough areas that need plants. I also figured the roots would make it hard to plant anything else there. While I was contemplating river rock, however, I realized I had a "two butterflies, one net" situation.

On a day that was way too hot, I attacked the first juniper. I was too focused to take any "before" and "during photos". This is what the area looked like when I had it all cut down.

I edged the area with bricks, like I'd done the rest of the bed.

And then I filled it with rock.

I didn't put fabric under it, because I detest landscape fabric, so I know I'm going to have to keep the area weeded. I did this in July, however, and didn't have any trouble keeping the areas clean all summer.

Funny thing, while I was writing this post, I realized that I never took "after" pictures of the other spot, so I ran outside in my pajamas to snap a couple.

I'm very happy to know that I never have to trim junipers again and that I don't have to worry about my bare feet or any dog feet finding those nasty, prickly needles.

One eyesore out of the way, and several bucket loads of river rock off the wall. This was just the beginning.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth

What I did do was:

1. Have a very bad year in the vegetable garden.

2. Bite off more than I could chew in terms of other projects around the yard.

3. Spend more time away from home this summer than usual.

4. Get a new computer.

I did take quite a few pictures, however, and when I figure out how I'm going to handle pictures with the new computer (I'm very tech inept), I'll have some before and after pictures to share.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The good and the bad

First, the bad.

In short, diseases and pests. I've lost quite a few plants this year and have others that aren't doing well.

My rhubard that was doing so well this spring

now looks like this:

My green beans have been sluggish from the start, and they look like they have some type of disease.

All of the leaves look like this:

My cantalope has been through hell, and its future is still very uncertain. It started out strong...

but in late June it started to wilt and disintegrate. I chalked that up to fungus and gave it up for lost, but it came back. Now, the poor thing is getting chewed on by rabbits.

Empty stalks where leaves used to be. I took the cage off weeks ago, and they left it alone until recently. Little bastards.

I don't have any pictures, but my zucchini plant also disintegrated. One day it had leaves, with a couple small chew marks, and two days later, it had no leaves and just a few limp stalks.

Since I'm such a lazy gardener, I haven't even tried to figure out the actual causes of all of these failures. If anything else goes, however, I might have to get serious and do some research.

Now, for the good.

Before the zucchini plant died, I picked two zucchinis.

The tomatoes and peppers are really taking off.

I've already used several peppers in some roasted tomato sauce that I made with last year's frozen tomatoes. Yes, I still have a few of last year's tomatoes in the freezer, but I'm trying to get them used up, because this is what I picked today:

That's a mix of Italian Heirloom and Speckled Roman with one small Nebraska Wedding. This is the first year I've tried Speckled Roman, and I think I'm going to like it. They are the biggest paste tomatoes I've seen. Needless to say, we've been enjoying a lot of tomato sandwiches.

I got a few potatoes from the plants growing in the grow bag.

I pulled them out because they weren't doing well. The others are still growing, but they don't look great, either, so I might not see too many more potatoes.

Last but not least, I picked my first Sheep's Nose Pimento the other day, and it seemed to have a message to share: