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Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Gardener's Diary: The stuff we do to kill time.

The weather the last fortnight has been clement: warm- low 80s- but dry. The tropic of Carolina has not yet arrived for the season.

It has been good weather for getting out and getting active. The last of the unreusable scrap lumber from the deck is finally sawed and stacked, as are all the big branches that came down in the winter storms. That was a project I planned for New Year's. Then creeping old age intervened: bronchitis, triggered by emptying and taking apart the compost bins for the repainting, reroofing and guttering of the shed ("Need any help?" I asked, always the keen one. Housemate thought the most helpful thing would be being somewhere else).

But it all came out nicely:

So I hacked and gasped and wheezed til February, when my mother died, and that was just depressing stuff piled upon depressing stuff into March, when I fell and broke a wrist. That shut me down for a month and a half in terms of all things two-handed.

Happily, my knee, which I also banged the hell out of, rebounded in a month. I've got about 90% use of my wrist back, and pick up a little more each day. I still can't do pushups, but I was not doing pushups before.

I try to carve out a couple of hours each afternoon for yard work. It clears my head. This year, with several big projects, launched and thriving, like the front beds-

-I can turn my mind to detailing. All 312 feet of sidewalk and driveway are now, finally, edged, a three-season project that, while presenting a certain coma-inducing monotony in the doing, pleases my sense of symmetry in the results:

My dad would point out that with a rotary edger like his- basically, a sharpened gear on a stick, the edge would be much crisper than I got with a shovel. I would agree. I also let him win at golf.

The other good thing about the last 150 feet of edging was that I got a lot of long strips of sod I transplanted to the southeast side of the driveway. The lot drops off there, into the copse, and rain has been eroding the surface for years. Result? Between that and the shade, grass was thin on the ground.

I've been blowing the leaves from the front yard into that space each fall and winter, then running several mulching passes over the mass with the mower to make a fine cover. Last winter I laid down about an inch solid over about 2500 square feet, and by indulging the grassy areas' urge to seed, have significantly increased the greensward. 

The edging strips, planted alongside lower side of the drive, slow down and divert rain water. What passes through encourages the grass to spread and the mulch behind to stay put and prosper; and an orphaned hydrangea Housemate brought home on his April vacation. It likes its spot, and in a couple of years will provide some welcome color in a kind of dull spot:

To its right I've been rearranging a stand of liriope I uncovered clearing this area a couple of seasons ago: the Summer of Poison Oak. It's starting to make a nice meandering border along the copse. It's also a startlingly effective windbreak, helping keep covered ground the winter winds would otherwise scour.

But back to the transplant strips of grass. Their main value is in downpours more water runs SSW down the drive into the catchment area that feeds into the dry stream bed.

That project has been slow aborning indeed. I spent two years just looking at it, mostly, and prying up the gravel the clay endlessly pushes to the surface. I raked leaves into the depression that takes the runoff from about two acres, and watched to see what the water did with it. There the rocks went. 

Done too mindfully, rock collecting is about as exciting as edging the concrete, but when seized, as Miss Prism explained accidentally checking Earnest at the station clerk's instead of her handbag with the three volume novel, "by a moment of mental abstraction," it can be just the trick. I've filled my five gallon dwarf crape myrtle bucket three times this month, and moved the project upstream about a yard. 

I finally figured out how it all fits together- with itself and the surroundings- about two weeks ago. To break the monotony of a thirty foot run of gravel, I built in a slight fall where the grade steepened a bit, moved in some liriope and ferns along the banks,and raised the soil level behind it with composting leaves topped with moss moved from other spots, and more gravel. It's a mashup of the zen and moss gardens I loved to visit at the Bloedel Reserve back at the turn of the century (in this video you can catch glimpses of both, and- at 2:05- a glimpse of the goal.

As you can see from the work progress, a comparably elegant end may never be reached, but it keeps a part of my mind occupied that needs something besides peddling old books online to engage it:

That's the latest downstream bit. The rest are upstream, from which it looks like I might actually know what I'm doing and not just a pretentious git:

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