Sunday, April 17, 2016

Going With the Flow: No Missed Opportunities to Misbehave

I wish I could tell you that every decision made in my garden is the result of science, propriety, and pure reason but it just ain't so. Sometimes the pull of my heart is stronger than the push from my brain and I abandon logic for love. I suppose this is the part of the post where I tell you that I'm working to amend my goofy ways, but nope. That just ain't so, either.

Folly, thy name is Scout.

Last year I extended my rain garden for the umpteenth time. I should have extended it another foot to the pipe where my sump pump deposits water pumped from the foundation into a soggy swale but I didn't. That would have made life too hard for my dog. Instead, I stopped the riverbed about a foot away so when he moved in a straight line from the patio to the grass to his favorite spot near the dog run, he wouldn't have to step on any rocks. At this point in the post you may be thinking, "Sweet Baby Ray, this woman is nuts", but I mostly disagree.  Blinded by diabetes, Scout navigates my garden and house by surface texture and became disoriented when he encountered any rocks.



Late May 2015

But with my sump pump struggling, it was time to take action. After accidentally wandering into the river bed several times over the past year and not experiencing either instant death or hippo attack, Scout now quickly heads for the grass instead of panicking. Knowing I won't have to drop everything to rescue a terrified, blind dog made the decision easier. But the idea that my basement might flood because my sump pump had backed up made the decision unavoidable. It was time to start digging. 

I soon realized, however, that this was more than just an opportunity to extend my riverbed. After a boring winter of being mostly well behaved, it was high time to horrify the neighbors. Would I break out my showgirl dress, erect a mini model of the red windmill at the Moulin Rouge and pump all the water into my neighbors yard? I might.


I don't think that windmill is going to work...

Should I dress up in my pirate costume, pour a tankard of something tasty, and just ignore the mess? I could.


Just for the record, that damn parrot did no digging at all. 

Or maybe I should just put on my boots like a normal person and start digging. 


So I did.

But what I found was surprising. After excavating the drainage pipe, I soon discovered the more I dug, the more water appeared.


To determine whether I had a groundwater issue or a full pump, I dug a deep hole and stuffed a bucket under the pipe. If the hole filled with water before the bucket overflowed, I had either a spring or a seep. Twenty minutes into my experiment, the bucket was only half full but the hole was almost overflowing. Even though the water wasn't flowing but simply seeping out the ground, I had more water than a twelve inch extension could handle.


I created a four foot wide main canal and dug a diversion channel to send the water into the deeper parts of the riverbed and away from the drainage pipe.


Extended by over thirteen feet, the riverbed now connects both sides of my garden. I graded the top of the new extension so the water flows towards the main channel and into the the rain garden.


I filled the riverbed with cheap drainage rocks and pond stone. I created an island of soil so I could add more plants.


I broke a chipped urn in half and placed it at the mouth of the riverbed to look as if the entire rain garden had flowed from its depths. I'm sure to fool the masses with this clever ploy.


I added logs to the widest part of the riverbed because it seemed too rocky, a direct result of having been filled with rocks. Red lobelia cardinalis is planted amongst the logs. Golden eyed grass, dwarf pennisetum 'Burgundy Bunny', golden acorus, and iris have been added to soften the riverbed. I chose plants that would bend rather than break if mauled by four squirrel chasing dogs.


A large flagstone is used as a stepping stone and a piece of the urn covers the ugly drainage pipe. 


As for Scout, he has, yet again, safely made the river crossing to the green lawn beyond and all is well. This is the part of the post where you might want to clap and cheer, so go ahead. It will give your neighbors something to talk about. 

83 comments:

  1. Now that is serious problem solving and one heck of a lot of work! Yay! for Scout navigating his way across the rock river and making it to the other side. Looks good too. Rock gardens and dry creeks are common in my San Antonio neighborhood. I don't remember seeing any when we lived in your neck of the woods.

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    1. Moving all the dirt that I excavated was a huge pain in the butt as was carrying rocks. What you can't see in these pictures is that the grass paths on the sides are blocked off and have been reseeded with grass and clover to repair all the damage done by the dogs over the winter. So all the rocks had to be carried one bag at a time through the house. Excavating the new extension took three hours and at one point I fell in the 2 ft deep hole, ending up with a boot full of water. It was pretty funny. Riverbeds still aren't common here but they are starting to pop up more frequently.

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  2. Personally, I like the fishnets with the rain boots--practical, yet full of personality! Regarding your project--wow! I can't even imagine taking that engineering challenge on by myself. I would hire the fishman or actually pay someone to do that. You are smart, brave, and talented. But we knew that already. :)

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    1. Thanks for the love, Beth! I'll take it! :o) This was an easy project since the riverbed was already there. I just had to extend it and divert the water. What you can't see in the pics is that there is a hole directly under the drainage pipe that is about 8 inches deep or so and the main canal is 18 inches deep so even in a heavy storm, the riverbed will be able to handle the seep, which seems to be weather dependent, and rainfall. I can recharge our groundwater, keep the basement dry, and water the garden! Woo hoo!!

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  3. You are amazing! Not only did you take a bad situation and create something remarkably beautiful, you did it while wearing fishnet stockings! Talk about style! You may have the grit of a pirate as well as the sass of a showgirl, but you also have the brain of an engineer! (Is this what you do in another life?)

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    1. Thanks! I'm a closet engineer but a teacher in real life. I do teach 6th grade science but was trained as a literature/writing teacher and hold multiple certifications for middle and elementary school. I love engineering and was thrilled to have a new project to work on. When the volume of water seemed too great for the amount that should have been flowing from the pump, I had a gut feeling I had a seep. Too bad it's not seeping at the top of the garden where it's bone dry!

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  4. OMG did you do all that by hand?

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    1. Yes! I loved it! The soil was very soft and easy digging. It was a great workout. :o)

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  5. Well, I love the sassy outfit! I don't think I would attempt such a big project.

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    1. I've dug the entire riverbed by hand. It's not as hard as it looks. But it would be hard if I'd done it in those big black boots! ;o)

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  6. Tammy, you decorated drainage pipe and excavated another drainage, wow. You're a strong woman, dear. You reminded me digging a pool in my garden 12 years ago. Now I wouldn't make this. I love you pirate costume, especially a parrot:) Sorry about your dog!

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    1. You dug a pool?? That's a lot of work! I was wondering how I was going to cover that ugly pipe when I thought using the rest of the urn might work. It blends in, which is what I wanted.

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  7. You must be a strong woman to create this all by yourself and....the change into wearing fancy dresses, haha, love it. I don´t think you wore fishnet stockings working there, but in my imagination I see you digging in your pirate costume.

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    1. I was in my boots and very old, worn out gardening clothes. :o) I am physically strong but have weak hands. My husband is always opening jars for me because I can't unscrew them. It's so pathetic, it's funny.

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  8. Excellent work. And hopefully without a single new hole in the fishnets.

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    1. Thanks! They held up remarkably well. ;o)

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  9. Wow Tammy what a big project your small project turned out to be....but at least you handled it well.
    Thank goodness you tackled it when you did, if not the outcome could have been worse.
    Lucky Scout to have a mummy like you who cares about him so much.
    When my other dogs went blind it was amazing to watch them circumnavigate the garden so expertly as if they could see...it was amazing to watch.

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    1. I'm convinced Scout is only blind when I'm looking. I think he might be fully sighted the minute I take my eyes off him because he gets around so well. But I'm also very careful not to leave anything out he can bump into. He is very pampered!

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  10. That's a lot of hard work, but it looks wonderful, solves the problem, and I bet you slept like a log that night (no pun intended). Glad Scout has learned to travel the rocks too. I've put in a couple of dry creek beds just to handle overflow water. I like the way they look but then again I never met a rock I didn't find handsome. Great post and instruction. :-)

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    1. Thanks! I'm a rock lover, too. :o) Scout's doing very well and is much braver than he was last year. :o)

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  11. Hmmm, I always wondered who Coleus 'Fishnet Stockings' was named after, now I know!

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  12. Well done! I would never have undertaken such a project - I'd leave it to my husband. The finished riverbed looks fabulous and I look forward to seeing those red lobelia in flower in the bed.

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    1. I can hardly wait to see them, too! The project was very manageable. Maybe it just looks harder than it was. But I've dug the entire riverbed by hand so this was just more of the same. :o)

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  13. Incredible project. Not only did you solve major water problems, but you made it look natural and pleasing and an interesting part of the whole garden. Very well done, Hydrologist-Engineer! I am now inspired to go out and tinker with my one foot wide mini creekbed, which needs an overhaul to make it more attractive and noticeable. I'll use your riverbed project for inspiration.

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    1. Thanks! Your riverbed was the first I'd ever seen in a non-desert setting so much of the inspiration comes from you. :o)

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  14. Oh God, Tammy - you are hilarious! Too bad you don't live closer - I could use some eyeball popping style lessons and I'm sure my husband would eagerly approve the fishnet stocking/gardening boots combo :)

    Now on to the more serious part - Job well done! As others have mentioned, that is a LOT of work. I love seeing the before/during/after photos - gives me hope when I'm looking at my garden (with the weather FINALLY turning in our area, there are a lot of WIP sections in the garden right now!)

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    1. It was a lot of work but dealing with a flooded basement would have been more work so that put it all into perspective. Only one of my neighbors was outside when these pics were taken and she didn't ask any questions. Maybe they're used to me. :o)

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  15. You solved your drainage problem beautifully!!!!! And, you looked damn good doing it! ;o)

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  16. My goodness, that seems like hard work and all done in fishnet stockings. I' m sure your neighbours would be more entertained seeing you digging in your showgirl costume, but we can' t be always trying to please the neighbours. Anyway, however you were dressed, it is an amazing job and looks wonderful.

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    1. Thanks! My neighbors are so used to seeing me dig up parts of the garden that they don't even ask what I'm doing til it's done. I do recommend fishnets for every gardener....! :o)

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  17. You do amazing work. I wanted to do river bed in our front garden, but just haven't gotten around to it. Other projects. Here the water table is so deep sometime well diggers can't find it. Project looks great. And a happy pup, too. Fabulous. (I'd love to your closet!)

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    1. I was very surprised to hit water. This area had always been soggy but I thought it was from the sump pump pipe. I had no idea I had a seep. My closet is actually very normal and boring. :o)

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  18. Good Gawd, that's a lot of heavy work! And done in such a stylish fashion, I am gobsmacked. I do hope you did the pirate outfit with the chicken boots - my neighbors already have grave doubts about my sanity. That and clapping and cheering for no one in evidence would really get them going! Isn't it amazing how dogs can overcome challenges?

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    1. My neighbors 4 yr old daughter loves my boots while my husband hates them. But I like how silly they are. :o) Scout is a trooper who's already figured out how to find the stepping stone.

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  19. Wow, your riverbed is so impressive...your costumes even more so! I love that your dog comes first. I was imagining a bridge like in Monet's garden to go with your wind mill.

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    1. Thanks! When I realized how much water there was, I was worried I'd have to create a pond. It sounded exciting but it was in the worst possible spot and one of my dogs is a very old, arthritic doxie/corgie mix who would never be able to get out of a pond if she fell in. I was imaging a bridge as a back up plan but digging a deep trench and diverting the water was a better solution.

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  20. Although your engineering/ horticultural achievements are truly magnificent, I am actually more taken by the casual way you can rustle up a couple of cheeky fancy dress costumes with consulate ease! Thanks for a lovely post which worked on so many different levels!
    btw we had a blind dog too, and he was amazing at finding his way around the garden, but we had to remember to remove all potential obstacles, like the wheelbarrow !!

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    1. We are very conscientious about making sure chairs, etc are always pushed into the table, etc so he doesn't bump into anything. He lives a life of absolute ease. Putting the costumes on is just silly fun. Life's too short to worry about how foolish you might look. :o)

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  21. Love that you garden around your dog, they say make the path along the route the dog chooses.
    We have a (large) rescue cat who surveys the garden for the bulbs just poking thru, and sits, firmly, just there.

    I have rain garden envy!

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    1. Your cat must be very anti-bulb or maybe they're just comfortable! You could add a rain garden to your garden! Dry riverbeds are common in many desert landscapes here. I designed the garden around all the dog paths. It just made sense. :o)

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    2. We did lots of rain gardening in Porterville when our house turned into a boat with water on 3 sides, weeks after we moved in. Here in False Bay it seems the water is well behaved, it is winter storm winds that are, interesting.

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  22. Dare I ask, is this how you spent your spring break? How many pounds did you lose? (I myself am currently looking for new, labor intensive project as I need to take off a few stubborn pounds - who needs a gym if you've got a garden?) It looks like your project was a lot of work but the result looks great. And I'm glad Scout suffered no trauma as a result of the project.

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    1. I made the mosaic pot over spring break. I worked on this after work and over the weekend for one week. I dug the canal in three hours after work one day. My garden looked like a soggy construction site and I just wanted to get it done. I have no idea if I lost any weight. :o)

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  23. I like it! Crazy things we do with too much or too little water in our garden. I need to get some costumes like yours!

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    1. Thanks! The showgirl costume is a super cheapo Halloween costume. :o)

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  24. Hi Tammy, where does the water originally come from, why do you have so much? Your swale looks great and your lovely dog Scout is beautiful. Love the outfits too!

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    1. The seep is groundwater at the surface level that weeps from the ground when we have a lot of rain. I think it might be weather-dependent since that area was always soggy for a few weeks after it rains. It only ever dried out if we went a month or so without measurable rain. The outfits are just pure silliness!!

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  25. I am sure the various outfits lightened up the work a great deal!
    Scout seems in good hands.

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    1. The outfits fall into the "Life's short so let's have fun" category. :o) Scout lives a life of comfort and ease and I'm his seeing eye human. :o)

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  26. I'm clapping and cheering for Scout at the same time I'm laughing at your explanation of the rocky riverbed--"a direct result of having been filled with rocks," lol:) (Where are those laughing emoticons when you need them??) I'm also chuckling at your creative gardening costumes and wondering what your neighbors must be thinking:) But I'm also impressed by your knowledge of drainage, Tammy. I'd have no idea what was going on if I found all the water and would have to call my husband for advice, who would promptly tell me to stop digging! Love your extended riverbed, and so happy that Scout is no longer terrified...and yes, I would do the same thing for my dogs.

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  27. Yay!! All outdoor projects are my domain. :o) I'd already assessed the situation and come up with a solution over the weekend. My husband came home from work and saw that I'd dug the Grand Canal. I already had a plan and a very specific mental picture of what I wanted so I was best left alone to implement it. He ordered a pizza for dinner and helped carry rocks, which I appreciated. :o)

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  28. Very impressive work! I love the mix of plants, rocks, and logs in the river bed. The riverbed looks great.

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    1. Thanks! I hope you like as much when you see it in person. :o)

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  29. Oh my....I'm on my feet clapping and cheering!!! You astound and amaze me with what you manage to achieve single handedly!What a grand job, and how lovely that the adorable Scout can safely navigate it. I'm with you on being daft where my dogs are concerned.xxx

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    1. Yay! None of it was hard. It just required a bit of thinking and a willingness to get very dirty. I was worried that I might end up with a pond and immediately thought about how I'd end up rescuing my 16 yr old, arthritic corgi mix on a daily basis. She has the shortest legs I've ever seen.

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  30. Your expanded river bed looks fantastic! I love the entire design, especially the incorporation of dog friendly plants. I can't tell you how many plants I've lost because it was Biscuit's favorite pee spot. So glad that Scout approves of your hard work too!

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    1. Thanks!! One of my dogs, Lucy, loves to eat the verbena bona. and another is a plant pooper. Why poop in the garden when you can crap on a plant? Using bendy plants seemed to be the best option. But dog pee is the worst. It must be like pure acid to a plant.

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  31. Oh my, that’s serious work – but looks good now that it is finished!
    I must admit I have never heard of the need for a pump in the basement to keep ground water away – is that common where you live? Mind you, the houses where I live right now here in London don’t even have basements, no one around here have that.

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    1. Thanks! Depending on the type of soil and how deep a basement is, a sump pump is needed to pump out any water that could flood the basement. They're a requirement in most homes, especially in areas where the water table is highly variable. They work to keep the foundation dry. Basements are very common on the East coast of the US.

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  32. I love the way you write, "it seemed too rocky, a direct result of having been filled with rocks" - priceless! I also love the way you account for your dog's needs, I'm glad he is coping with the new arrangement, since you clearly needed the extra rain garden extensions. Looking good and being practical. Fab.

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    1. Thanks, Janet!! Looking good combined with practicality is one of my favorite combos. :o)

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  33. OMG Tammy girl I have been laughing so much and almost spit water out on the monitor a few times .. these costumes ... hum ... which one is your husband's favorite ? haha .. too funny !
    What a lot of work and what a one woman plus non working parrot team ? ... I love rocks and this looks amazing .. great solution to your problem and I must say masterfully worked out ! .. Scout is a lucky dog to have you "looking" out for him : )
    Well done you !
    Joy
    PS .. do you do a dancehall routine on the side for birthdays and bachelor parties ?? hehehe

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    1. This might really surprise you but dressing up in those silly costumes is actually a bit stressful. I was so nauseous before those pics were taken, I couldn't eat. But I force myself to do it to to keep from settling into a comfort zone. I want to challenge myself. I'm an outgoing introvert instead of the shameless exhibitionist these pics might imply. But I have a friend who is a dancer with a closet full of cool costumes and a few others who wear costumes for career/hobbies and they do it with so much joi de vivre that I decided a few years ago that it would be a great way to add some humor to something that people often take too seriously and can get really uptight about - gardening. As for my husband, he think they're funny but his favorite outfit is my birthday suit. ;o)

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  34. Hello Tammy, that's an incredible amount of work, all done in an incredible dress! When you're down here I'm going to interrogate for all you know about rain gardens because after the incredibly wet winter we've had, the garden is still submerged and I'm planning on a big area of bog that all the water can drain to. I'm imagining a mass of candelabra primulas, lobelia, and a river of Calla Lily. You can help me dig it all out!

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    1. You'll be the first English gardener to have a rain garden!! Maybe I should show up with a shovel and my yellow boots. :o)

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  35. Wow. Wow! That is some impressive work. Just the idea of all that digging makes me want to head inside and do some art :-)

    When my husband and I were much younger (at least 15 years, since it was pre-the-15-year-old-daughter) we dug a ditch between our barn and garage, in order to lay an electric cable in pvc pipe. We quickly discovered the to top 5 inches of our ground was filled with tiny pebbles. This was an old farm (in the mid-1800s), so who knows why, but it was the absolute worst job we've ever completed in the yard. Being young, though, we had muscle and energy but no money to hire anyone.

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    1. Thanks! The ground was soft so it was really easy. Relocating all the extra dirt that had been piled up beside the riverbed was a much bigger pain. But digging through 5 inches of pebbles sounds miserable.

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  36. I need to amp up my outfits for working in the garden! I don't give the neighbours anything interesting to talk about. LOL You must be the source of endless fascination. I am so boring in comparison. I love how you tackle projects with such gusto. And it speaks volumes that you design around your love for Scout.

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    1. Thanks, Jen! Dogs have so much confidence in their people that to create something that makes my life easier but his harder seems unfair. But he's become a pro at crossing the rocks and hasn't panicked in a long time, which makes my life easier, too.

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  37. You can add engineer to your teacher cap! Well done. The result is beautiful!

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  38. A nice river-bed. I'm also trying to create one though the river will not have any water -- but kind of like rock garden.
    That was a big project that you undertook. Did you really dug up all 13 ft by yourself :-O? Lovely pictures of yours :-)

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  39. I dug the entire riverbed myself - all 50 ft! Only the extension is 13 feet long. The soil was soft, which made for easy digging. You should create one, too! It only looks hard. :o)

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  40. "I added logs to the widest part of the riverbed because it seemed too rocky, a direct result of having been filled with rocks." That made me laugh really hard!

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  41. You make this hard work sound like a breeze. Must be the fishnet stockings. I've never worn those while gardening. Hmmm. What happened to this being a nice little hobby? you know, going out in your pearls and black velvet number to daintily plant a few starts in your perfect soil, the birds landing on your shoulder and singing as you mix yourself a celebratory drink after all looks perfect after ten minutes of effort? This sounds hard and dirty. (Not that that's an entirely bad thing.)

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  42. This was absolutely amazing!! You are hilarious! I am amazed at your fortitude in digging this whole thing and it looks really fantastic! I am dying to know if the neighbors saw you in your costumes?!
    - Kate x

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  43. Amazing....we are dealing with sump issues and possible digging, but I still have not gotten to my big project of redigging a drainage ditch in the wet area....eventually we will get to it and I have your great riverbed as a model.

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    1. Oh and love those costumes! Fishnet with gardening boots is the new hot look!

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