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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Gardener's Diary: signs of life

Spring has finally settled in. In terms of temperature, that means early summer.

It is easier to stay inside these days as 2017's infrastructure project was replacing the 31-year-old heat pump. Indoors is now climate-controlled to what Henry Bemis Books and I consider So Just Right Even The Three Bears Would Approve.

That's awfully nice, never being either hot or cold.

But the Solstice arrives in June, and when we start focusing on Summer, the days will start getting shorter.

So I dragged myself away from the computer this afternoon and tackled some projects. I collected some gravel- the ground heaves it up all the time, and added into the gaps between the broken stone I've laid out to halt erosion down the dry stream bed I'm building:

This course is to where water from most of the half acres drains, running into the copse next door. In downpours there is an actual stream; around it is an area barren of grass forever. That I've been opening up tree canopy over and letting the adjoining lawn area go to seed as much as possible. Now there is a good and drowing stand of grass coming in from the right, and on the left decompsing lead material is improving the soil some ground cover- inviting the copse to fill in a bit and give the stream bed a "nature, slightly improved" look.

Bigger rocks will go in come fall, when the snake season wanes in the copse; there's an oxbow of an extinct stream full of stones there. The lake it used to feed is now a housing tract.

Gravel picking is tedious and requires lots of bending over, so once a week is a good goal. I reckon I can cover over the broken cinder block this summer, but don't hold me to it.

One of the joys of the yard is that there are seven great oaks. They shade us in ways all my surrounding neighbors- all with parking-lot-sized swathes of blank lawn, could only envy if they were that self-aware. The oaks are Trees To Be Reckoned With:

The copse runs to the left, southeast side of the house, and walking back along it, towards the shed, brings you back to the dry stream bed were we began.

It makes several neighbors magically disappear for a six-month. That almost makes up for the way it almost completely blocks the pre-noon sun, summer and winter.

Along the front of the house is an old bed Housemate dug out some ancient and blighted boxwood last fall, left of the front door. Right of the door, beneath the windows of Henry Bemis Books' Executive Offices, is an extension I cleared and Housemate tossed with a backhoe. It's way easier to amend the soil when you can go down a couple of feet and cover sixty feet in half an hour.

I mixed in a layer of vintage 2014-15 compost along with a foot of the oaks' 2016 leaf drop, turned it all and leveled it, then blew in another six inches' worth over the 100 or so bulbs I dug up, separated, and replanted.

In March I blew all that back out, mulched it, and piled it into the compost bins. Don't let anybody fool you that you need some fancy bespoke setup: seven pallets will give you 128 cubic feet to work with, and last fall I needed every bit of it.

You fill that sucker up and in no time you've got a compressed cube of plant matter. It's easy to let the front gate down to turn it or add to it; the other day I forked the contents of one atop the contents of the other, as both had shrunk to half their size last fall.

The front beds are thriving with twenty species of plants put in. Separating bulb each year fills in the gaps nicely over time: I've quadrupled my initial two hostas, and after starting with twenty-four irises three years ago, I've got seventy (with dibs on some from a neighbor who hasn't separated his in decades). It's the way I learned gardening fifty years ago in the Sandhills, when there were no nurseries and you traded and multiplied stuff to make your garden grow.

The first peony of 2017 is about to pop-

And the rose campions I rescued from slow death under an overgrown gardenia have come into their own. With their maroon flowers against silver-blue foliage, they make a striking contrast to the hostas, irises, and ferns surrounding them. They're a Mediterranean native, a cousin to the carnation, and I'd never seen them until last year. I was pruning and reshaping the gardenia- nearly six feet tall- as my neighbor took a break from telling me I was committing arboricide to admit, for once, she didn't know what the little silver, felt-like leaves starved for light under it were (she also considers the azalea and poison oak indistinguishable).

At the end of the new bed is on of several patches of moss and ferns I got from my neighbor Mildred last fall. I was intrigued: I'd never seen such a ground-hugging fern.

Since I moved them across the street, they have, in more light, become what I call my Meerkat Ferns: upright and on guard.

Also migrating with moss and fern was a clump of wild strawberries. I have several other patches about the back yard and am trying to move them into the herb bed so they don't get mowed over every month. They're not as big, acidic and sweet as commercial sorts, but they are a nice snack just the same.

Well, by now you may think I just strewed some gravel, walked around taking self-congratulatory snaps, and rushed inside to post them in air conditioned comfort.

But I actually did some other work: I finished up a drain path for a gutter that empties into the old front bed. As the 2016 infrastructure project was new gutters and downspouts. Now even a slight rain produces torrents at the four corners. I came into some abandoned Italian kitchen-type stone flooring, pulled out the old cinder block (see dry stream bed, above), and upscaled the erosion guard:

Then, after all the fun, one dull but necessary task: edging thirty feet of sidewalk. Three inches of walkway were reclaimed, and some bald patches in the lawn given Mother Nature's Doctor Bosley treatment with the overgrown strips.

My dad loved edged curbs and sidewalks as much as he loved the razor creases he learned to iron into his Air Force uniforms in Korea. I try to keep up the family standard.

Only 175 feet of driveway left to go.

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