Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Two months go by fast

It's not like we haven't been here all along. There was that one weekend in Boston, but otherwise Mulch and I have been right here. Only we've not been gardening at all other than mowing the lawn (Mulch) and plucking weeds here and there (me, and not enough).

Alas, am I a legitimate garden blogger if I don't have something to say or do about the garden all the time? Right now all I've got on my gardening plate is crabgrass, pokeweed, and a million billion cherry tomatoes. Does anybody want to read about that? Everyone else is posting their bloom-day pictures and describing the gardens they've visited and the new plants they're tending, and I feel like a poser.

I think I have to consider allowing myself to write about non-gardeny things when I'm not actually out there getting dirty and chewed up by mosquitoes. So I hope you'll forgive me if things get movie-centric or dog-centric while I wait for the weather to become more palatable to yard work.

"Sounds good to us."

"Dog-centric, please."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sometimes jealousy IS a pretty thing

It should come as no surprise that, after the success of The Dry Creek Bed project, Mulch Boy would become jealous of my 5.5 tons of rocks and want his own. And so it was that he decided to build his very own patio with his very own rocks.

You may recall this spot in front of our back porch. Here is where MB had his smoker and big bin of charcoal, resting on a little platform of concrete blocks that we found randomly scattered in the back yard when we moved in.

Shown pre-dry creek bed for extra before-and-after impact.

Mulch Boy's scheme: to convert this weedy little corner into an attractive patio for the smoker and for sittin' around. Organized fellow that he is, MB actually measured the space and then marked it with posts and string. I KNOW! Then, he dug between the lines a hole, a big 6'x10'x6" hole with a flat bottom and sides. It was a thing to behold.

It begins.
It's so precise!
Almost there...

Next step: gravel. We started with four bags. Four bags looks like this.

Almost enough!

You'd think after the dry creek bed, we'd know better, wouldn't you? Two additional trips to Sisler's stone yard later, we ultimately used 28 bags of gravel to fill in the patio-shaped hole. After that, eight bags of stone dust (recommended to us instead of sand because it's heavier and stays put better). Weigh all that, and you've got another ton of rocks and rock-related product. That's 6.5 tons for the year!

Now comes the gap in the photo record, because on Sunday we went from spreading the gravel to spreading the stone dust to laying the flagstones all in one go, over the course of a couple of hours. It's that last step that was the hardest: laying the stones in the dust and trying to get them all even and level with each other. There was a lot of tweaking done to get it just right.

And eventually it WAS just right. Behold! Well done, Mulch Boy!

Larger view, showing the grand scheme of things.
Come set a spell!

Filling in the blanks

After killing all those black-eyed Susans, I found myself with some wide-open spaces in The Big Bed in the front.  So last week, I made a little trip to my local nursery and walked out with, uh, a little more than I intended. As usual, of course, I can't tell you what all my purchases are specifically since I don't have the handy little plastic cards with me. Forgive the weird spacing; Blogger is not cooperating with me today.

Some aster things. The blooms are so beautiful and unusual, and as soon
as I got it in the ground, I had a dragonfly and bees checking them out.

These guys. They are very droopy and I think I need to stake them or
something.  Also, they are very very sensitive to the droughty weather.

This is hard to see, but I put in three lavenders here, enclosing
my yellow rose in a triangle, hoping the lavender will create
a natural mulch and prevent the million billion weeds that show
up under the rose every couple of weeks.

Three new geraniums to go with the old feller on the right.

Two new barrenwort to go with my old guy on the left.

The big picture. Hopefully the new guys will fill in these blanks and stave off
another black-eyed Susan takeover.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Black-eyed Susans, I thought we had an understanding

Like Captain America, I don't want to kill anybody. I just don't like bullies. And it turns out that black-eyed Susans are the biggest bully on the block. You may recall that this spring, I cleaned out The Big Bed in front and all was tidy and nice.

Three months later, it looked like this.
Are you kidding, black-eyed Susans?

And so last week, I was back on a killing rampage, two hours a day for three days after work, just me and Weedy. Behold the carnage. 


I filled four giant garden bags full of black-eyed Susans, and still left two little patches alive. Whether that is a dreadful mistake, only time will tell. Meantime, I'm looking for some perennials to fill in the new gaps (and hopefully help prevent another black-eyed Susan takeover in the future. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pokeweed, get your own place.

Pokeweed is like the uninvited guest who knocks on your door, throws himself on your sofa, eats all your Doritos, drinks all your baby Cokes, adjusts your thermostat, and then has the nerve to ask what's for dinner.

Truly there is not hyperbole enough to express how unwelcome is an invasion of pokeweed. While I am disheartened by how the black-eyed Susans have magically renewed themselves after I just purged them not three months ago (that's a rant for another post), it is the pokeweed that has me seeing spots before my eyes. What is UP with this stuff?

Who invited you?

For those of you lucky enough to not be in the know, American pokeweed is an evil succulent perennial weed that goes from sprout to 6 feet tall in about an hour and a half. (Possibly I'm exaggerating, but check out the details on Wikipedia; I'm not that far off.) When the weed is still small (i.e., under 2 feet tall), it can be pretty easily pulled out of the ground, root and all.

But once it gets bigger, fuggedabowdit. The root goes DEEP and it does NOT want to leave. You may yank at the monster and snap off the plant, but the root remains to torment you another day.

I never had a problem with pokeweed until last year. Last year, you may recall, was The Lost Summer, in which the yard and garden were left to fend for themselves while we dealt with various family issues/personal illness/etc. Pokeweed, ever looking for an opportunity to expand its territory, quietly invaded when we weren't looking. And now I fear we'll be paying the price for years to come.

If only pokeweed had some practical use! If only it were edible. Frankly, it looks delicious: succulent green and pink stems, beautiful black berries--pokeweed looks like it was made for being baked into yummy pies.

Alas, the entire thing is poison poison poison. Some folks DO eat the very young leaves, but to do so safely you have to boil them three times to leach out the poison (no, really), and who wants to go to that sort of trouble and then possibly still poison themselves?

I guess you can let the nice folks at Allen do all
that prep for you.

I can't deny that pokeweed is pretty. In the park land across the street from us, it sprouts up every summer with its colorful stems and beautiful berries. Before it took up residence in my yard, I was actually an admirer.

But what's pretty in the woods is not so pretty in the middle of my vegetable garden, or muscling in on my flower beds. Thus I find myself laboring to stem the spread of this insidious interloper before it completely takes over. If you don't hear from me in a week, please alert the authorities.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Just an everyday special day

After the raging storms this last Friday, we had a gloriously beautiful weekend here in Northern Virginia. The weather was sunny and mild, with temperatures peaking in the 70s. I took the opportunity to finally take some pictures of the completely finished dry creek bed, with flower beds mulched and planted.

The creek's "source."

Running in front of the porch (just finished mulching).

Making the turn to the side of the house.

The crowning jewel.
The Orca, now under attack. "We're going to need a bigger boat."
Our turtle Oliver Grendel Holmes, at home among the flowers.
Looking back from the gate. Who's that watching back there?
Charlie stops by for a chat in the sun with Oliver. Anybody recognize that
fern behind them? It and several others like it showed up out of nowhere.

Mulch and I had a wonderful weekend, and not just because it was beautiful or because of our delight that the basement didn't flood. And not because anything exciting happened, or we hit the lottery or won a pony. In fact, the height of the weekend's excitement was possibly our Saturday morning trip to Wegman's supermarket.

Our activities over Saturday and Sunday went something like this: grocery shopping, watching The Lord of the Rings, housecleaning and laundry (me) and kitchen-cleaning and cooking (Mulch), lying in the sun reading and listening to music, eating dinner on the porch with good friends.

And it was just wonderful.

It's hard to articulate why. But upon reflection, I believe Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove describes why this ordinary, uneventful weekend was so special.
"The only healthy way to live life as I see it, is to learn to like all the little everyday things. Like a sip of good whiskey of an evening, or a soft bed, or a glass of buttermilk, or say a feisty gentleman like myself."
That was our weekend in a nutshell: enjoying the little everyday things. Warm sun and cool breeze. No schedule. Dogs warm from the sun. Wegman's garlic loaf. Cheese and salami. Pudding cups and popsicles. Cleaned floor. Favorite books. Favorite movies. Washed laundry. Cleaned kitchen. Smoked ribs. Corn on the cob. Good friends. Good times.

"And then I says to Mabel, I says..."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dry creek in ACTION!

Well!  Turns out imbedding videos isn't that big a deal after all.  And so behold the dry creek bed as it becomes a raging river that channels the flood safely away from our basement.

It works!

Friday evening in the DC metro area, there were severe thunderstorms (and even threats of tornadoes). I got home from work before it started, but shortly the skies opened and poured down upon us. It was a very big rain. The kind of rain that causes the creek across the street to overflow and literally turn our entire street into a raging river.

The kind of rain that floods our basement.

But not this time!

For anyone out there who read about our adventures building the dry creek bed and thought, "Poor misguided souls, they're digging that big trench and moving that 5.5 tons of rock by hand for nothing, the amateurs,"* may I present The Dry Creek Bed, dry no more. I can't believe it really worked! (Video to come if I can figure out how to imbed a video into a post. Anyone know how to imbed a video into a post?)

*Count me and Mulch Boy among the skeptical.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I was going to write something nice about the dogs

I mean, look at them. Aren't they adorable? And look at how they decided to pose so attractively in the new flower bed created by the dry creek bed. I've never seen them lie together in the sun, ever, and yet I turned around last weekend and there they were, ready for their closeup. Thank goodness Mulch Boy had his iPad there so we could capture the moment.


It's important to remember these moments so that I won't kill the dogs when they're not being so adorable. Like, for instance, the other day when I saw them rolling purposefully on the ground at a very specific spot in the backyard, taking turns at it. This is not unusual behavior, and so far this spring it's been harmless, resulting in grass-scented pups.

However, I did not anticipate that, with the accelerated spring we've had, Dead Baby Bird Season* might also be ahead of schedule. I got schooled to that fact when Charlie and Rosie came joyfully into the house and OMG THE SMELL OF DEATH. If you've never experienced it, count yourself blessed. If you've never experienced it on your beloved pets who just want to hug you and kiss you and share their good fortune, count yourself exponentially blessed.

Luckily, I had them cornered in the kitchen, and everybody got a good (albeit highly resented) washing. I then went out back to collect the corpse that caused the trouble. However, it was gone, I suspect down Rosie's gullet. But the stench was strong enough that the ground itself still reeked.

Back inside, the culprits were all "Why can't we go back out? Why did you have to use soap and water on us when we hate that? We are totally telling Dad." And I was all "Go ahead and tell him, he'll be on my side. And don't you DARE kiss me with that mouth, young lady!"

Luckily, they really are adorable, and by the time Mulch Boy got home from work, I'd forgiven them. I did tell Mulch if they did it again, it would be his turn to deal with the consequences.

*Dead Baby Bird Season: when all baby birds come to die in our backyard.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Miami hates us but at least The Avengers is awesome!

I just realized that I've still not posted a picture of The Completed Dry Creek Bed, post-planting, post-mulch. I'll try to remedy that in the next few days. Since the last posting, however, we've not been working in the yard, mostly due to The Disappointing Vacation in Miami Beach When It Rained Almost the Entire Time Except That One Day, and then rain back here at home (none of it in the basement, for a change).

The last weekend in April was to be our vacation this year: three days and four nights in South Beach. And the first day was glorious: we spent the entire day on the beach on our rented beach chairs, with our umbrella, alternately sunning ourselves or reading in the shade, taking a break every so often to play in the ocean, where the water was, in the words of another vacationer clearly from Boston, "like bathwatah."

Then the next day it started to rain, and it just kept on raining until we flew out on Monday. We came home feeling cranky and cheated. Oh sure, we had wonderful ceviche and mojitos, and we got our picture taken with that 7-foot-tall drag queen. But what about our relaxing beach vacation? What exactly did we ever do to you, Miami? We gave you all that money, what more did you want from us? You owe us, Miami!

Our consolation prize was the next weekend's premiere of The Avengers. And let me just say this: go see The Avengers a lot. If you even remotely have an interest in superheroes or comics or Joss Whedon or action or one-liners or girls beating up boys or giant green rage monsters or compelling evil masterminds or... Oh just go see it! And stay till the very end of the credits for my favorite Easter egg ever.

Beyond that, we've been doing a lot of lying around and reading, trying to make up for the lying around and reading we didn't get to do on the beach in Miami. Unfortunately, that has led to my back getting weak and achy from inactivity. I need to get back in the yard and work or back to the gym and work out the kinks. I'm hoping to weed today after work, but that won't happen if it rains as predicted.

On the other hand, I don't think I've read an accurate weather forecast in the last month, so maybe I still have a chance. The weeds are certainly ready to oblige: since The Reclamation, they've been sneaking back into the front yard beds, and there are quite a lot of big ol' intruders who need to be dealt with. Here's hoping I get lucky.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Okay, okay, I confess!

I lied in my last post. We had the maple tree taken down in the front yard and I totally knew it all along.

It’s just I’m so conflicted about killing a healthy tree, even if I hated that tree. Which I did, but not in a sputtering, foaming-at-the-mouth way. More in an “I am so sick of digging up all these maple seedlings” way or an “I wish we had a smaller, prettier tree in that front bed, it would look so much nicer and maybe even hide the Airstream of Evil better” way.

So down came the maple. And now I feel like I have innocent blood on my hands.

Maybe I’d feel better if I showed you what we’re considering putting in the maple’s place.

A couple of weeks ago, you'll recall MB and I went to the garden center and came home with 26 plants. We also browsed around the trees, trying to get ideas for maple replacement. Here in Northern Virginia, crape myrtle would be an obvious choice, only we already have one (and it's much more visible now that the maple is gone). Also, I'd like something that's not quite so ubiquitous in our area. I love a good Japanese maple as much as the next person (although, MAPLE!), but everybody and his cousin Melvin has a Japanese maple.

Luckily, there are some interesting choices out there, and right now I have three top contenders: a dwarf buckeye, Styrax japonica carillon snowbell, and Chinese fringe tree. Oddly enough, when I went for a lunchtime stroll at the U.S. Botanic Gardens the other day, I encountered all three. What a coinkydink!

The buckeye, with fragrant red flowers. Added advantage: constant
reminder of Ohio State for my Michigan-loving Mulch Boy.
The Styrax japonica carillon snowbell...  thing.  I may not have the name exactly
correct, but the flowers are lovely, and one we saw at the garden center had
a weeping growth habit. So purty!
Chinese fringe tree! The pictures really don't do it justice. In person, it is just
amazing looking. So different, and I've never seen one in anyone's yard.

Has anyone had any experience with any of these trees? Recommendations? Warnings? Alternatives? Help a girl out!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Something's different...

I pulled up to our driveway the other day and something seemed to be missing from the front yard.

No, the Airstream is still there...

I'm trying to figure it out, but it's hard. You know how it is when you happen upon a construction site and you can't for the life of you remember what building used to be in what is now a giant hole in the ground?

I just can't put my finger on it.

It's just like that!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

All Over but the Mulching!

Sunday, Mulch Boy and I did it. We finished the dry creek bed. We used every single rock of the 5.5 tons of rocks we bought. It was exactly enough. Not a single rock is left. 

I was very very careful to not twist and turn and re-injure my back while moving and placing the last of the 5 - 8 inch river stones to edge the stream. But Mulch did all the heavy lifting for the project: literally by moving and placing the little boulders, and figuratively by chopping up all the clay clods, moving dirt, and leveling the soil in the new beds created by the dirt displaced by the trench-digging.

These beds were never part of the original plan; we just didn't anticipate them, absorbed as we were with the idea of the creek bed itself (and ROCKS). But when MB dug out the trench along the side of the house, suddenly we saw that part of the yard divided into several discreet areas that begged to become beds.

Saturday we made a trip to the local garden center to buy a couple of ferns and a new heather to begin the planting with. We forgot the heather, but came home with the two ferns... and 24 other plants.

I suppose it was wishful thinking that the organized, thoughtful planning we've put to use up to now on this project would survive the garden center visit. I don't think I've ever managed to use restraint or anything but the barest minimum of common sense when it comes to buying plants. No, it's mostly about love at first site and impulse buying. This time I did choose plants specifically to go in our new beds or (in the case of a handful) to go in a specific location in The Big Bed out front: there is a plan.  It's just the volume that got a little out of control.

Although in my defense, we didn't buy too many; I got most of our new friends in the ground, and there's a lot of exposed earth left for them to grow into. You are welcome to laugh at my planting: it's pretty random. I buy the plants I love without real thought about how I'll arrange them in the garden, so you designers out there will probably get a giggle out my "design." Mulch and I, though, are so impressed with ourselves that we keep sneaking out back to gaze rapturously at our handiwork.

This post shows the original "before" and midway "after" pictures.

And now, the all-over-but-the mulching pictures!

The "source" of the creek.

In front of the porch, the ground leveled by MB.
Same place, looking the other way.

Turning the corner...  Look, it's ferns and spurge!

I just want to sit in a chair and look at this all day.
We had no idear the rocks were this beautiful until I got the hose out to
water the plants. WOW! The tourists are already sailing up the creek to see!
Sedum, sedum, sedum, sedum, sedum, sedum, sedum, and a super-cool
bronze-colored ornamental grass.
My sedum fetish is a companion to my rock fetish.