What it means

What it means

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Botanical Camouflage

Being the resilient type that I am, and desperately needing to assuage my gardeners ego and cover up my construction mistakes, I immediately started laying stones and preparing the planters. I had thrown all the construction debris and broken concrete into the bottom of the planters and filled them up with wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt. I knew I could plant specimens that would arch over the railroad ties and hide those architectural atrocities. The drainage would be very good so I took a tip from our rocky hills (and some really savvy gardener friends) and bought California natives and mediterranean specimens. Ceanothus, Rosemary, Rock Rose and Pride of Madera all would get big fast and eventually everyone would forget what was underneath.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happy Landing

So, the decks were finally done by the onset of winter and I just couldn't believe I owned that clean, tailored structure! As it would be my Christmas & birthday present for the next 30 years, I figured I might as well get busy and decorate my cake. I decided to name it "Happy Landing" from the old Shirley Temple song, some will remember, "…happy landing on a chocolate bar".

I ordered more (you guessed it) Bouquet Canyon Stones and more railroad ties. I called up the nice boys I'd been hiring to help me build some planters around the decks. They worked so hard on that steep hill under my (inept, as it turned out) direction and it wasn't until it was all done that I realized they weren't asking "Is it level?", they were asking, "do you have a level?". They must have thought I was a nut, I kept standing back and squinting and saying, " yeah, yeah looks good guys" but I never went and got the level, I'm turning red just thinking back.

And the guy at the building supply who told me to use T-post…I just hated it, now I hate him.

Well, there was only one thing to do, cover it up…and do it fast before self loathing set in too deeply.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Contractor with the Devil

Despite my ambition and enthusiasm, things didn't go too well for the dock project. The contractor I thought I had so carefully vetted wasn't too keen on making me think my project was his only concern, quite the opposite, in fact, he used my deposit money to finish another job and left me in the lurch and went to Tahiti. It was my first time and he wasn't gentle. Neither was the building department or the lake "architectural" committee. Everything seemed against me.

In the end a couple of wonderful neighbors bailed me out with professional services, advice and encouragement and I ended up having to pay approximately the price of a permit to prove I didn't need a permit, jeesh! That's actually what it came down to!

I had really wanted to spend the summer next to the lake planting and decorating my new asset but it was winter before I could stand on the finished structure. As I stood there watching the sunset (finally) I looked up at my little house and realized the finished dock was a little over 700 sq. ft. and my house was 900 sq. ft.! Another example of my obsessive wanton desire winning out over the pragmatism of rational thinking.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Seven Levels to Paradise

So my lack of brute strength turned out to be not such an insurmountable obstacle after all. Now that I knew I could just hire some guys to carry RR ties for me, and now that I had a GIGANTIC bank account, everything seemed so clear. I got out my sketch pad and started madly planning out how I was going to build my paradise. I divided the lot up into 7 basic levels and I was going to make every one of them into a different thematic garden environment…with legitimate hardscape and everything. I couldn't sleep, I wanted it to happen overnight so I could get right down to experiencing true bliss.

The first thing I had to do was to build a dock and stairs from the road to the lake, it was a steep, steep hill with no real access down to the shabby little dock I had but somehow I had to make it the main focus. Now what was that contractor guy's name I met a while ago, I had his number somewhere. Found it, set up an appointment, got a bid, scary, I felt a little faint when I signed the contract (gulp) and made out a deposit check (yikes, way more digits than any paycheck I'd ever seen) but I was going for it…

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strength of personality is not quite enough

I did suffer the shock of borrower's remorse the first time my whopping new mortgage payment came in, yikes! What had I gotten myself into? Oh well, shit, it's done I might as well get to work. The railroad ties were delivered and sitting in the driveway waiting for my creative attention. I threw the billing statement into the inbox, put on my gloves and went down to start laying out my design.

They were kind of smelly, creosote was leaking out of the grain and they were really splintery and rough. I don't know what I expected but I proceeded to lift the top tie and when I couldn't budge it I was certain it was hung up on the strapping. Nope, I tried again and again and no go. I became really exasperated and then dawned on me that I just couldn't do this, I had to face it, I sat down on the concrete and started crying like a girlie girl, my ex husband was right, I had no sense of practicality, no concept of concrete planning and my head was way up my…well, in the clouds.

My all around good guy neighbor happened by during my moment of despair and cheerfully offered his assistance. He mitigated my self deprecation by informing me that RR ties weighed around 95 lbs. and were awkward as hell to carry—even for a guy. Another neighbor drove by and joined in, he gave me a couple numbers to call to line up some workers he knew and they said they'd be down to help on Saturday morning. The sun came out again.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Steps through Thyme

My Bouquet Canyon stones, by this time, were winding through every available plateau of the hill that I could possibly dig out for an installation. In a most unschematic way they connected every little planting and actually turned out to have an organic cohesiveness that wasn't altogether uncharming. I had planted creeping thyme along the downside of each path way to hide the re-bar I'd used for stabilizing. I interspersed nasturtiums, irises and other delights, oh, I was having so much artistic fun, I never wanted this 3D painting to end!

I desperately wanted to show off my efforts to my new garden friends as many of my design ideas came from their suggestions, but the paths were narrow, steep and treacherous for those who were the least bit unsteady or hesitant. I realized that if I wanted to share my hill gardens with anyone who was not part mountain goat, I was going to have to build stairs that employed a little more engineering savvy, which I clearly did not have. I was quickly exceeding my monetary allocation for this ever growing project and my credit card was going into a meltdown so I went off to the local mortgage broker to see a guy about financing my dreamscape. I found that it was entirely feasible to trade my minuscule mortgage payment for a huge, huge wad of cash! I signed and initialed a bunch of papers and ordered two pallets of railroad ties.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Wisdom of the Aged

Novice that I was, I felt like I was finally becoming a real gardener when my first spring came in. I was astonished and pleasantly elated that I'd actually originated the marvel I was looking at. My ego was getting really greedy and possessive. I really didn't understand that what I was claiming as my own work was really the province of spring.

The the east side of my lot was beginning to receive favorable comments from some of the neighbors. A copious database of information was coming my way in the form encouragement, advice, admonishments and some downright criticism. Planting was all I wanted to talk about and suddenly I found so many of the elder statesmen (and women) in the hood knew "everything" and were willing to share!

I was amazed and flattered that they actually wanted to see what I'd done. Often I'd get a "tsk, tsk, delphinium would have been better there", or "oh boy, do you know how that stuff takes over?", "I hope that doesn't burn up on you during the summer", considerations that never entered my mind.

I started carrying my "Sunset" around with me while I was working and I had those little plastic id tags from the pots inserted into the pages as bookmarks. I was determined to learn the botanical names. Some of these seasoned gardeners would walk by and see me reading and actually quote direct passages to me, like, "you'll find that that is really a pelargonium, I think it's on pg. 407, oh you have the new edition… well, true geraniums are perennials …"

Some of my new found friends invited me to see their secret specimen plantings that you would never see from the road, they offered me cuttings. Whoa, was I getting into some esoteric inner circle? I felt like an initiate and couldn't wait for the day when I had some of my own cuttings to offer…

Friday, May 30, 2008

Simply Sagacious

Spring was beginning to emerge and had to give thanks to the nice man at the nursery who suggested that I couldn't go wrong with sages as I was so admittedly inexperienced.

I freaked out in the fall when I came out one morning and they were limp and laying down from the first frost. I was certain I had done something awfully wrong. I went back to the nursery with my limp and lifeless children in my arms and I'm sure by the look on my face they were expecting a lawsuit for wrongful death. The wise, gardener man remembered me and with a wink, he assured me that after a few seasons I would get used to the effects of the growing cycles, no harm, he said just go home and give them a buzz cut just when spring starts. Leave the dead stuff on during the frost season to protect the new growth. I did and damn, it worked. They came back like a Beatles tune!! Oh blah dee, what a spring it was, a riot of new life! My children were alive! Pinappleus (Salvia elegans), Luke (Salvia leucantha) and Fwenchy (Lavandula dentata) were young again. My heart was renewed. I was just starting to get it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Creeping Elegance

To compensate for hefting those rocks up the hill I rewarded myself and indulged my visual cortex by embellishing the rock arrangements I had so lovingly designed. There were some old stumps and roots that I just couldn't remove so I just worked them into my scene to give it authenticity as if it were a movie set. To this I added most anything I found at the nursery that was in bloom; columbines (Aquilegia), pincushion (Scabiosa), foxglove (Digitalis), lots of foxglove, succulents of all different colors and shapes, I brought something home every night. Within a short time my addiction had truly transformed my hill into a kaleidoscopic, baroque floral fantasy. My neighbors began to wonder about the hundreds, maybe thousands of one gallon plastic pots that were stacking up in the driveway.

Monday, May 26, 2008

$50 a Day Habit

I was so proud of my little patio, why hadn't I done this years ago? I probably wouldn't have all those X-husbands if I'd just understood that a garden is all one really needs to be happy and satisfied in life.

I carried all 4 tons of stones up the hill and worked most assiduously to get every stone level. It never occurred to me to use a level, I did it by digging a hole and seating them until they were solid, shimming them up with little flat pebbles. I marveled at the way the edges all seemed to match and fit together. I felt like a sculptor.

Even though I got those stones very close I wanted to finish it off by putting some botanical mortar in between the cracks so I headed back to the nursery for ideas. Well, there were many solutions, thyme, corsican mint, baby tears, chamomile and mosses, gorgeous mosses, irish and scotch. And korean grass, which was the most pricey. I bought everything.

I didn't even ask what would be best for the hot, dry full sun conditions. I found myself going back to the nursery everyday at lunch to get more and more stuff. I'd fill my elderly Honda Prelude (Little Pony) with flats and pots of anything I fancied. At 4:29 I was out of my cubicle, out the door and speeding down the freeway to get home so I could plant before dark, spring was coming and I was euphoric, the worst part was that I really felt like I knew what I was doing.

And, I ordered 4 more tons of B.C.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Earth is indeed flat in local Euclidean Geometry

After a season the place started really shaping up, not manicured exactly, but I thought it suited my little rustic cottage, kind of charming in a raggedy sort of way. I had terraced rock gardens ascending the east hill of my property and I was truly happy looking at it. To me it was a three dimensional painting. And a place to stroll around and sigh with a glass of red wine in the evenings.

I kept extending the boundaries and clearing more vinca, scrub oak and to my horror poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)! Boy did I spend some miserable weeks learning that lesson. I was well acquainted with P.O. and had learned to avoid it but no one ever told me about the roots. Yup, I sat right in a root system that I had previously "round-upped" trying to extricate a beautiful rock and after a couple hours of low squat crow-barring, I was in a world of prickly hurt…you know where.

Once that was over I got back on the horse but realized I was running out of rocks. I had been using the broken concrete I had laying around for stepping stones but then uncovered some ancient flat Bouquet Canyon stones that were extremely beautiful after I washed them off. They looked like fish skin to me, especially when they were wet, gold sparkles and scalloped rusty veins. I started building a path and then it hit me, I wanted a stone patio. Someplace flat on this 45º hill! I unburied about 20 stones but that wasn't going to do the job, I had to find some more. That broken concrete just wasn't going to cut it aesthetically now that I knew about B.C. Off to the building supply I went and found that for a lousy six hundred bucks I could get a pallet of it, 4 tons! Out came the credit card…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Garden Lust

After a couple of weeks the plants started to establish themselves and they really started looking like they belonged. I was so proud and found myself transferring my misplaced possessiveness to the garden. I couldn't wait to get home from work everyday to get in some garden time before dark. And, oh, I lived for the weekends. I was getting really roughened from the heavy work I was doing, I was lost in it and I hated to leave it. As the season progressed I dreaded the return of standard time. Halloween was looming and not being able to bear having my garden hours cut, I started being late to work (actually, quite a bit) so I could do things in the morning.

I began noticing things I 'd never noticed before, like the huge native planted grounds at the prosperous pharmaceutical company next to work. I took my walk there everyday and I started swiping branches and leaves to take to the nursery to be identified. I wanted everything, two of everything. I had it bad…garden lust.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rock Steady

After a couple of months of total immersion into the rigors of hillside brush clearing, I felt like I had things under control. Heartache was sufficiently buried and sublimated into a new addiction and I had a few bucks to spend to indulge and compensate myself for my hard work and lost lover.

With the nasty scrub oak lollipopped and the vinca dug out by my now swollen and thickened fingers, the bare hill was visible and I suddenly had access to a million rocks! I'd always loved rocks and was not even aware of what a treasure trove I had. I had previously been collecting smaller samples like geodes and beach stones but now I became interested in the larger more architecturally useful stones. I started piling them up and their shapes began to suggest how they might fit together to create spaces for the eventual planting. I lifted some big guys that were way too heavy for me and I suffered scraped knuckles, popping patella and a really sore back but in the end I was rather pleased with my efforts. I needed the rocks to be pathways to climb up the hill so I became obsessed with seating them so the rocks wouldn't rock. I became really proficient at digging them in and chinking them together but it was hard servile labor!

I loved the look of naked rock and spent hours scrutinizing, modifying and finally admiring my sense of placement, but it was indeed…time to plant. I decided it would probably be best to keep with common specimens found in my neighborhood as I didn't know anything about cultivated plants, so off to the local nursery I went. I told the nice, avuncular gentleman I met there my story (just the garden story, not the disappointing romance) and he sent me home with lavender, sage, rosemary, mint and some varieties of fescue. I bought way too much and I planted way too close together, as if I were arranging flowers in vases. I was such a neophyte I didn't even consider that plants grow and get larger, duh! When I was finished I thought it was so pretty I wanted to sleep outside in my first little garden and protect my new friends. I just wanted to take care of them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Slag Heap Gardening and Living with Vinca Minor

It all started with a broken heart. I had to control something.

Ok, so first of all I had to deal with the tons, tons of slag and debris intertwined with vegetation that had been left on the property by various glaciers, builders, renters, husbands and boyfriends…just like my heart, it was a tangled mess. You know the stuff I mean, broken heaps of asphalt, concrete, old rubble walls, fences and telephone poles. These ruins and detritus were completely over grown with the most vile and invasive vine known to man, vinca minor. Sometimes known as periwinkle, it is used to control soil erosion by the completely naive. The trouble is you just can't trust it! And once it becomes established, it's like the mafia, it takes over. I had a little over a quarter acre of it, and I had let it dominate me for far too long!

I tried weed wacking, no way. I tried using scissors, oh, come on, get real, lady. Pull it out by hand, ouch. Then I found what became my favorite garden implement, the mattock, it's the most superb invention, it was made for me.

I got gloves and got to work, I had to.