Friday, January 3, 2020

The Slope Meadow

I want a meadow. I do not have a meadow nor do I really have a good spot for one but I don't care. I want a meadow. What I do have is a hot, dry sunny slope with clay soil so a meadow it will become. I started working on this project in the fall of 2018, plugged away at it again last spring, and finally completed the project this fall.




The slope was covered in wild, weedy, seedy grass that had invaded my front garden. Carved into pockets were clumps of orange milkweed, liatris spicata, Bradbury's monarda, Tennessee coneflower, prairie dropseed grass, and rudbeckia hirta.  I needed plants that could survive off rainfall and those held up just fine. Fortunately, clay soil retains moisture, which is helpful.




Here's my plan:

Remove the plants I don't want. This was a massive undertaking because it involved removing all the grass. I started by pulling up the top growth in a search and rescue mission to uncover the perennials I'd planted previously. I then dug up the entire slope and sifted through the soil to remove every root and runner from the wild turf grass.



The driveway is my neighbor's property.


Every plant that doesn't support wildlife came out, including a large stand of orange day lilies and large black walnut tree seedlings. The shrub at the top of the slope is part of an evergreen Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) hedge separating my garden from the street. 

Add a drainage canal. I dug a trench between the slope and my neighbors driveway and filled it with pea gravel to help prevent rain from running downhill and washing into his garage, which is at the end of a downward sloping driveway. This also works to funnel water into the garden at the bottom of the slope.



The trench starts at the hedge by the street and runs the length of the slope. I covered it with soil.

Stabilize the slope. I added boulders and broken pots to the slope to prevent erosion and stabilize the slope. If the pot I wanted to use wasn't broken, I broke it. Little pots are super cheap and a pain in the butt to keep watered, so I sacrificed them to the project. I like the mosaic effect of the boulders and pottery.


The boulders are much larger than they look in the other pictures. They're partially buried in the soil to stabilize the slope. 


They were impossible for me to carry so I had to maneuver them into my wheelbarrow and dump them onto the slope. 


I enjoyed breaking these pots.

 Add the plants I do. It's hard to tell in these pictures, but the slope is now packed with plants. There are over 100 orange milkweed plants along the slope and my summer garden was full of monarchs. I had a nursery bed packed with milkweed that I started under lights last January that thrived this summer. Dozens more seedlings that I'd planted this spring and thought had been suffocated by the grass were discovered when I found the dormant roots while sifting through the soil to remove the grass runners. 



Monarch on a seed grown dahlia

I added 300 drumstick alliums along with coneflowers, native yarrow, more orange milkweed, rudbeckia hirta, and silene regia all grown from seed.* 



Seeds from the different coneflowers growing in the front garden were collected in a bag, tossed together and then sown in empty pots last fall. The seedlings were transferred into the meadow. I have no idea what they'll look like when they bloom!

Native grasses, goldenrod, penstemon, and asters were also added as were some dwarf perovskia and about two dozen curly parsley plants for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. 


Build in steps so I can access the back of the garden and the top of the slope. One corner of the front garden was inaccessible this summer and I let it go simply because I wasn't able to bushwhack through the jungle to maintain it. The perennials survived but so did a lot of weeds.  


I bought several different varieties of California poppy seeds from Select Seeds

Scatter wildflower seeds over bare soil to fill in the gaps while I'm waiting for the milkweed, which is slow to emerge in the spring, to fill the slope. I scattered seeds for California poppies, a reminder of my home state, centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard) and native partridge pea. They're all easy to grow and the poppies will provide spring color. 




Soak in the tub with a drink once I'm done or as needed. 



I know the slope will fill with grass again next spring since removing all of it was impossible but at least there will be significantly less grass and more flowers.


'Miss Kim' lilacs grow next to the house and will be a beautiful green backdrop to the colorful meadow. Native violets were left since they provide larval food for frittilary butterflies.


* Growing native wildflowers from seed is effortless. In the fall/winter toss some seeds on the surface of a pot full of old soil left over from the summer and ignore them. Next spring, thin out the seedlings and water them all summer. That's it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Great Potassium Disaster



Beauty shot

I always wonder why we think others expect perfection of us. We carefully crop out what isn't beautiful or noteworthy to create the illusion of faultlessness. Give me reality over bullshit, any day. I recently burned the crap out of a boat load of plants and have the Instagram unworthy pics to show you.



Reality shot

This area is part of an ongoing project to turn this long side slope into a wildflower meadow. It will take several years.

Last summer I had stone terraces built into my sloped back yard.  Not confident the local soil company would give me true top soil as opposed to fill dirt, I opted to have a zillion cubic yards of pure compost delivered. I filled the terraces half way last fall with compost and leaves and finished the job this spring.  I let a few rainstorms settle the soil and began planting.


After buying the house in November 2017, I had extensive interior and exterior renovations done, which included adding this brick walkway and stairs. The terraces were added last summer to resolve the problem of a steep slope and massive surface roots from the huge maple tree.
 

The terraces were built around three existing hydrangea, which were heavily pruned last fall to remove dead wood. There weren't many flowers this summer but there was a ton of growth and they'll be amazing next year. 

The plants grew quickly and then stopped. Leaves that should have been deep green were oddly yellowish with red rusty spots. A quick search through one of my favorite garden problem solver books and the internet identified the problem as potassium deficiency. 


Potassium deficiency on persicaria leaves

Potassium deficiency occurs when soil doesn't have enough potassium, which is present in clay soils. My compost didn't have any clay loam or topsoil and was remarkably low in bananas, therefore very little potassium. It also didn't have any worms to add new organic matter. After identifying the problem, I bought a bag of potassium sulfate and applied it to the terraces, promptly burning the crap out all my plants. 


Many plants have been cut back and new growth is starting to show. 

Entire stems turned black, their leaves shriveled and curled before dying a ridiculously dramatic death. Instead of solving the problem, I'd made everything worse.  A wet summer worked to push the sulfate deeper into the soil and through the plants, compounding the problem.  


The middle terrace is full of slightly to mostly dead diervilla 'Kodiak Black'. 


These two are mostly dead but one is showing signs of life.

Shrubs that had been robust looked dead and cussed and spit every time I came near. I apologized, let the diervilla have their say, and walked away. Time is a great healer and if they grow back, they stay. If they don't, they'll be replaced. Their revenge is the money I'll have to spend on plants I shouldn't have killed.


I made sure to wreak havoc equally so both sides of the terraces were affected.  

But sometimes what looks like a disaster really isn't. It's just a set back and you're wiser for the experience. I'm having the soil tested and already added 1000 worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  Despite how introspective and reflective I can be, I'm not much for emotional self-flagellation. I get up every damn day determined to do my best. Some days I succeed and some days I don't. When my humanness gets the best of me, I figure out where I went wrong, make amends, and then let that shit go. 


New growth on the phlomis

Sometimes the person you have to be the most patient and compassionate with is yourself. I'll have a better understanding of the problem once I get the test results back, which will be affected by the sulfate that's already been added. I'll amend the soil, the worms will help, and everything will be ok. Plants will recover, new ones will be added, and eventually the terraces will overflow with lush, beautiful foliage and flowers. All will be well, even if it's not all well today. Today isn't forever. It's just today.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

One step back, two steps forward

I missed you. It's that simple. I just missed you all. After my divorce and move to a new house, I put up a few posts to let you know I was still alive and up to my eyeballs in projects, as usual. But my desire to chronicle the changes fizzled out and I stopped blogging. I can be very open and very private at the same time and I simply didn't have anything I wanted to share, not even my garden.  I'd decided to keep my blog as a time capsule to a very different period in my life. 


 My front garden has two distinct areas thanks to a massive Japanese cherry tree. One side is shady while the other is sunny. 

But after commenting on a post written by my friend Jason Kay of gardeninacity, I realized I missed the garden blogging community. So I'm back. 



To keep the zinnias from toppling during storms, they're tied to metal stakes.



 I tossed out the seeds for this calendula last winter. Native violets grow everywhere and squeeze out other plants. I pull some and I keep some.



I removed all the grass from the front of my house and filled it with flowers.  

My old garden is gone, removed with a backhoe so that grass and mulch could be laid for a giant playset by the new owners. I've never gone back to see the carnage and was given the news by a much loved neighbor. 



I knew that would happen, despite assurances from the new owners that they would keep the garden.  I miss my old garden but my new one suits me better. I spend a lot of time enjoying it and not much time maintaining it. Weeds cover ground not covered with mulch and I don't really care. Instead of worrying about perfect camera shots, I just go out with my phone and snap a few. 


Whether these daisies are a weed or a wildflower is in the eyes of the beholder. They're cute so I let them stay. 


My new garden and home are happy, peaceful places. The front garden is lush and exuberant and true to the nature of the small town I moved to, total strangers often stop to comment. At first, I was suspicious but it's a welcome relief from the indifference and  expected conformity of the northern Virginia suburbs.


Many of these plants came from my other garden, except the dahlias, which I grow from seed every winter. 


I've seen so few honeybees this summer and only a few swallowtails. But I've had about a dozen Swallowtail caterpillars in my fennel and currently have a new batch in some parsley. A smokebush shrub in the background is in its awkward teenage phase. I love its weirdness.


The rudbeckia hirta self-seeded last summer and were a surprise. I'm glad they're there. The multicolored coneflowers were grown from seed.



These seed grown dahlias are blocking the dwarf variegated abelia behind them but so what. They were supposed to be there temporarily until I found a better spot for them but I decided that spot was good enough and let them stay. I no longer care about having a picture perfect garden or about mastering design principles. I know how to create beautiful design. I just don't think it matters anymore. The dahlias are happy and I'm happy. That's enough.


These dahlias stayed in the ground all winter. I think the tubers survived because they're close to the brick walkway, which creates heat and kept the soil warmer. I'm going to experiment by leaving all my dahlia tubers in the ground this winter to see what happens. I'll grow a few from seed again as backups.


'Millennium' alliums from my previous garden


Here's a recent photo to prove I am very much alive. I'm a huge music lover so when a friend asked me at the last minute if I wanted his extra ticket to a local music festival, I said yes, even though I had no clue who was playing. The music didn't matter. I was in good company and knew we'd have a blast no matter who was on stage. 

While he was getting autographs, I had my picture taken with Chris Janson. I had no idea what his name was until a few minutes before this picture was taken and not being much of a fan of country music, wasn't familiar with his songs. But he was a brilliant entertainer and musician and a few of his songs have become favorites. 

So there ya go. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Great Wall of Retaining

I sometimes tend to think big. I decided this spring to build a retaining wall to solve the problem of a steep slope filled with thick surface roots from a 65 foot maple tree. It would be impossible to grow anything on the slope except ivy and weeds so I decided to have the wall and terracing built. 


BEFORE - November 2017 


AFTER - September 2018
The wall was built out of rebar and concrete blocks above deep, wide concrete footings. The blocks were covered in faux river rocks.


The ivy covered building is my tiny garage turned giant garden shed. It's held together by the ivy, which I'm never removing.


Once the mortar has been cured and sealed, I can fill the wall with soil. I'll let the terraces fill with leaves and the soil settle all winter before planting.

It was just that simple. "I think a retaining wall is the solution" and I considered it done. I planned, budgeted, borrowed, and hired my favorite contractor.


BEFORE - November 2017


AFTER - September 2018


AFTER - September 2018

The wall is huge. It's twice as big, twice as expensive and took twice as long to complete as I had planned but I love it. It keeps roots out but not people. It took two months to complete and in the process we received 12 inches of rain and I ran out of money. Raccoons made nightly inspections on the wall's progress but never offered to help. Jerks.  But life goes on and so did construction. Once the mortar has been sealed, I can fill it with the 300 bags of compost in my driveway and plan my next garden.


The wall consists of three terraces.


The rain allowed the contractor to solve all the hidden drainage issues. 


An oval area has been saved for a lawn of violets and creeping charlie. I'll over seed with microclover seeds but the violet roots are asleep under all that soil, just waiting to suffocate everything in their beautiful way. 


I want a sense of privacy and enclosure and since my neighbor and I both enjoy watching wildlife, including those adorable but lazy raccoons, this part of the garden will be designed with large shrubs that attract birds. Right now, it's a mess!


New brick steps were built last fall and lime washed for an antique look. 


These flagstone steps were already in place when I bought the house. 


The faux river rocks reflect the colors of the brick and flagstone steps. 


Handmade concrete caps add extra seating, a spot for me to climb into the terraces to garden, and look nice.


The bottom walls have beautiful curves. I love the combination of the straight against the curvaceous, hard against soft. Once the terraces are full of soil, cool solar lights will be added. Now I just have to save up enough money so I can fill these with plants!