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! 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My Socks Don't Match and I Don't Care



Just to let you know, I'm a patient, analytical person by nature. Except for when I'm not. Sometimes I just want what I want and if there's nothing holding me back I can be outrageously spontaneous and decisive. I once went to London for a day to surprise someone who needed surprising. It needed to be done so I did it. It just didn't occur to me not to. 



Zinnias grown from seed


The front garden is filling in.


All the annuals were grown from seed over the winter.

But this summer life has unspooled on a timetable I can't control or influence so I've waited and waited and waited some more. But that's how it goes, isn't it? Sometimes you just have to stand back and look at the whole instead of the pieces and find the beauty in the chaos. 



Coneflowers and naked lady lilies came with the house.


This looks like a mess but there are 50 prairie dropseed grass plugs, 30 liatris spicata, and 30 orange milkweed plants hidden in this mess of turf I've dubbed The Meadow. The dropseed grass will eventually suffocate the turf and take over. I scattered in some rudbeckia because I wanted more color and had too many. Roses grow along the wall.


 Roses in the spring


Violets are everywhere are have to be pulled to keep from suffocating everything. These are all perennials brought over from my other garden.

If the garden reflects the gardener, mine has become a mess of contradictions. The front garden screams "I'm organized and have my shit together!" while the side garden laughs "My socks don't match and I don't care!". I don't know what the driveway garden says but it makes me happy and that's all that matters. The back is a massive construction site as a series of retaining walls of Titanic proportions are slowly taking shape.



To maximize my sunshine, I've lined my driveway with pots and stuffed them full of the annuals I grew from seed. 


Orange poets tassel flower (Emiliana javanica) and gomphrena.


Seed grown dahlia


An assortment of rudbeckia hirta


Life is a dance and you don't always get to pick the music. But get up and shake your ass, anyway. 



Just a wee bit of  The Wall
The concrete forms will be covered in river rocks.



A view of  The Wall from the second story

Monday, July 2, 2018

There's Only One Road to Now

It never occurred to me when I was a teen and planning out my life, that I would become a teacher or gardener. Gardening was for old people and lunatics who specialized in baseball bat sized zucchini and massive trees growing at sharp angles in tiny spaces. I was going to become a writer and travel the world. It would be a bohemian, artistic life not unlike Hemingway’s days in Paris. To accomplish this goal I spent a few years in college often drunk and occasionally naked and only traveled from party to party before marrying a conservative military officer I met in a bar. I stopped writing, had children, and poured my passionate spirit into creating a garden everywhere we went. 


Isle of Wight, England

But I am an explorer at heart. Little road trips around the area I recently moved to have peppered my summer days. With no final destination in mind. I simply get in the car and drive down whatever street looks interesting. But travel abroad is my favorite. 


beach vacation, English style

With my daughter in graduate school in London for the past year, another trip to England was soon on the schedule. I should have said no when the flight attendant asked if I’d give up my seat for a passenger whose seat was broken and switch to a non-stop flight to London but I didn’t. It seemed like the kindest choice and would get me to my daughter faster. But as a reminder that kindness should always be given simply for the sake of being kind and that the Universe doesn’t owe anyone anything, while I zipped off to England, my luggage stayed in Virginia. 


Ventnor, Isle of Wight

But life goes on, doesn’t it? Despite my fatigue and frustration, I was on vacation and was damn well going to enjoy myself. After traveling by train, Tube, train, feet feet feet, hovercraft ferry,  bus and a short walk, she and I crashed at our flat in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight. A happy reunion with my luggage was several days away. 


The view out of our Airbnb

Since the airline assured us daily the luggage would be arriving soon, we stayed in Ventnor instead of venturing across the island to the usual attractions. I visited their botanic gardens but only took one picture. Most gardeners probably don’t take pictures of plants they don’t like,  but I did. The largest, most lethargic looking agave I’ve ever seen lay slumped outside the garden entrance. I do not like agaves. I like my plants the way I like my people - warm and cuddly. Agaves are stabby and while I can forgive them for this since it wasn’t of their choosing, I avoid their company.  But to be fair, I avoid people who are stabby, too, since there’s no rationalizing with a psycho. 


Agave have skin puncturing spikes at the end of each leaf.

I don’t like heavily scheduled vacations. That just seems to defeat the purpose. I want to relax and just wander. I’d rather see less and enjoy it more than rush from spot to spot like a five year old on a  sugar high. So we wandered. We climbed the steep hills of Ventnor and took the coastal path back. But I’m not that good at staying on any specific path and kept going off to explore the trails less traveled. One path ended at a steep drop off that not being a mountain goat, I was unable to scale while another required a bit of bush wrangling but ended with a gorgeous view. 


This path was unexpected but worth the extra work.


This view lay at the end.

But that’s life, isn’t it? What we think is the destination might just be part of the journey and we sometimes find ourselves somewhere completely unexpected but absolutely beautiful. We finally made it back to the beach and I  turned and asked my daughter, “Where are we?” But before she could answer, I responded “We’re right here.” “Exactly” she replied. 


Having packed nothing in my carry-on but a good book and a few snacks, I borrowed my daughters clothes and let the wind style my hair. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Vanishing Act

If I were a magician, my best trick would be the vanishing act. I'm very good at disappearing and often leave few clues. Sometimes you just need to take a break from one part of your life to give yourself time to deal with what's happening in another. I stopped reading blogs and rarely posted. I disappeared from social media and didn't think much about gardening. I was in a holding pattern while I waited for the front brick work and back garden retaining walls in my new garden to be completed and had nowhere to plant my seedlings. Instead, I walked for miles and worked out to force myself to focus on the moment. Music is a constant in my life and when I just needed to get out of my head, I turned up the volume and danced danced danced. I took long baths with a glass of wine and a good book and talked to my dogs, who think I'm a genius.


'Welcome' seemed like a bit of a stretch but I can say 'hello' to anyone. 
Even my door mat was a philosophical choice. 

The past twelve months have been a delicate balance of holding on and letting go, of having the strength to listen to that quiet, steady voice that always speaks the truth and finding the courage to do what needed to be done. Often without realizing it, we seek what we need to nurture ourselves emotionally but our choices reflect who we are.  I needed to come home to warmth, peace, positivity, and balance but also wanted space for my family when they visit. I had divorced the father not the family. I bought an old house, painted it yellow, and began a new life.



The dead tree to the left was removed before I bought the house.



My house in November 2017


The front hardscaping was finally completed in early June. I added over 2,000 pounds of compost to the soil, which is mostly heavy clay.


June 2018



I planted diervilla 'Kodiak Black' and abelia 'Kaleidoscope' under the windows. Diervilla is a tough native shrub that thrives in dry soil in both sun and shade. Both shrubs attract pollinators and have beautiful fall color. Right now the yellow diervilla flowers are blending into the house, which breaks all the design rules but I don't give a rat's ass about design rules. 



The view from the front door

After purchasing my home and beginning a month of mostly interior renovations that ended right before Christmas, I decided to only buy what inspired the strongest gut reaction. I didn't overthink or analyze anything. I simply made a list of what I needed and broke everything down into a Yes or No decision. If I didn't immediately love it and it wasn't perfect for the space, I stopped considering it.


The path from the side porch to the front garden.

I took the same approach to my garden. Without an HOA or spouse to contend with, I went outside, asked myself "What do I want?" and followed my gut. A side slope covered in turf grass was turned into a meadow full of prairie drop seed grass, liatris, and milkweed while I waited for the front hardscaping to be finished. To balance the strong, simple lines of the house, I replaced a scruffy, narrow flagstone path with a wide brick walkway and two curving side paths. A small path dead ends into a semi-circle centered with a bird bath so I can watch the action from the dining room window. Once the brick work was done, I threw myself into creating a new garden.



This bed is full of plants I started from seed that should have been moved out of their growing cups a month ago. What started as my annual seed starting bender quickly became a hostage situation observed with pity by the hefty, vigorous seedlings added to a few pots in May. The miserable, undersized Solo cup prisoners were planted into compost with apologies, a drench of liquid kelp, and a request to please stay alive. They've grudgingly agreed. Some of my favorite perennials from my other garden were also added. This is my new butterfly garden.



A cotinus 'Grace' (purple smoke bush in the far right corner) will eventually give me privacy from my neighbor and will balance the massive cherry tree in the shady side.



Wrens quickly moved into this house and have raised two broods, despite the constant presence of contractors.

The grass has been replaced with perennials and a metal glider given to me after my mom died fifteen years ago has been painted a warm copper and placed under the cherry tree. Plants brought over from my other garden were plopped into whatever spot I could find last November and again this spring, which explains why I have short plants in the back and tall plants in the front. I thought I'd have time to redesign the beds before summer. I'll save that fun for fall.



This bed is full of plants salvaged from my other garden, rescued from garden center sale tables, or gifted by my amazing local friends, who all knew where to find me. 


I purchased these handmade mosaic stepping stones from artist Jan Wilhelmi. They'll be here in about a month and will be placed in front of the copper glider. I love mosaic art because it takes the best parts of what's broken and turns it into something beautiful and new. That's the approach I took with my divorce and my ex-husband and I are still friends.



Gold solar globes hang like ornaments in the cherry tree. 
At night they glow as if full of fireflies.  


The website where I found these called them fairy dust balls. Whatever. The closest I'll ever come to fairy dust or a magic wand is a cheap hunk of plastic made in China but they're pretty and my tree looks cool at night so I bought them.


I have golden, glowy balls in my tree. What's not to like?


Corkscrew vine
Picture shamelessly borrowed from Google Images.
As for the arbor, I've always wanted a rose covered arbor so I bought one. It appeals to the romantic in me and gives the garden a greater sense of place with a prominent entrance. While I wait for the 'Laguna' and 'Climbing Lady of Shallott' roses and 'Baltyk' clematis to grow, corkscrew vine started from seed will quickly scramble up the sides and spill over the top, their purple pendulous flowers hanging down between the beams like fat snails. 

June 2018 
I'm back and will be blogging more regularly now that my new garden is taking shape.