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.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


So my back is still twingy, and I've been officially benched by Mulch Boy until it stops being twingy. And so my remaining rocks sit in the backyard, waiting to be placed along the edges of TDCB to complete the project. I don't think I can describe how frustrated I am to be thisclose to finished and not be able to do anything about it.

As a result, I've had to find different ways to fill my leisure hours until I'm given the green light to play with my rocks. Yesterday after work, I decided the best way to avoid temptation was to not go home, but instead go the local garden center and ruminate about what might be best to plant in my new beds bordering TDCB.

Oh, I know what you're thinking, but I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and didn't buy a single thing. Yes, for once in my life, I'm really really REALLY trying to use common sense and PLAN before I buy. I did, however, have an enjoyable conversation with Gary, the retiree employee who loves ferns and was happy to describe the advantages of the different varieties (apparently some are essentially evergreen in this part of the world).

And so it was that after an hour or so of browsing and talking with Gary, I left without a single purchase. Mulch Boy was as shocked as I was.

My other strategy for avoiding the temptation to injure myself more has been to noodle around the Interwebs. In the process, I've found some new favorites and I thought I'd share.

  • Grounded Design. I found myself here after following a link from Garden Rant (thank you, Susan Harris). And Susan describes better than I can why Thomas Rainer's blog is a must-read.
  • Black Walnut Dispatch. I found this terrific local garden blog by following the link from Grounded Design's favorites, and now it's my current favorite garden blog. Mary Gray writes the way I wish I wrote, saying so many things I've thought but can't express as clearly (or often hilariously) as she does. She's been around since last November, so you can easily read her entire archive in an hour and be all caught up. Since she lives down the road from me, I'm hoping we're going to become BFFs and go shopping at the garden center together.
  • Bad Machinery on Scary Go Round. Not a gardeny site. This is a web comic that follows a bunch of English schoolkids on their various mystery-solving adventures. That may not sound interesting, but it's funny and full of quirky fantasy-type elements, and you will recognize and love John Allison's characters. Well, I do, anyway. To start at the beginning, go here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sometimes carrying buckets full of rocks isn't the great idea you'd think

Hard to believe, right? And yet I had to learn the lesson the hard way today. On transporting perhaps my fifth bucket of rocks from front yard to back, some sad little muscle in my lower back on the left said "No more" and treated me to a lovely spasm. Thus I found myself having to quit work on TDCB after only one hour.

When Mulch Boy got home from work, he shook his head and gave me a lecture ("You were supposed to be raking dirt!"), then sent me to the showers with orders to swallow a handful of Tylenol. And so now I find myself in my jammies, lying on the couch, all Tylenol'ed up, and listening resentfully to Mulch Boy move rocks from the front yard to the back. In a wheelbarrow. Like a smart person with some common sense.

Funny thing is, I would have put money on HIM being the one to throw out his back! I... win?

Oh, Arlo!

Monday, April 9, 2012

TDCB Part 4: Behold, the Transformative Power of Rocks

I am too tired to type much today, so I'll let the pictures tell the story for the most part. Long story short, between Saturday and Sunday, we filled the trench with almost all our rocks! All that is left is to grade all the dirt we displaced, line the edges of the creek bed with the remaining larger stones and small boulders, and trim away any excess landscaping fabric.

I decided to pair the weekend pictures with some of the pics I took before we started cleaning up the backyard this spring, for the ultimate in "before" and "after." If you've ever doubted that you could do a big major yard project yourself, I hope you'll be inspired because we are two know-nothing knuckleheads working from DIY instructions on the Interwebs and look what we did!

Rock Pile: A Story in Pictures

Saturday, April 7, 2012

4.5 tons of rocks just doesn't go as far as it used to...

That's right, there are not enough rocks.

Luckily, Sislers just started their Saturday summer hours, so we were able to go buy 800 more pounds in bags.

Friday, April 6, 2012

TDCB Part 3

As you will recall, Sunday we dug and dug and dug and dug until we had a 92.5-foot trench. Wednesday and Thursday saw giant piles of (rocktastic!) rocks delivered unto our driveway.

And so the final stage of TDCB project began: filling up the trench with rocks. Wednesday I lined the trench with landscaping fabric, and then Wednesday and Thursday, Mulch Boy and I moved rocks, starting with the big ones as the foundation of the stream. We have 4.5 tons of rocks. We are going to have Popeye forearms by the end of this.

We also had unexpected help both days: our next door neighbor, who is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet AND younger and stronger than us broken-down middle-agers, saw us out there lugging stones and just walked over and started helping us. I told him he didn't have to, and that if he broke himself, I'd never see another cookie from his wife the Cookiechic.

(Blatant shill: go buy some fabulous baked goods from my neighbor the Cookiechic; I am a complete cookie snob and her stuff is fantastic! She also ships anywhere, so do check out her Etsy site. I especially recommend the double chocolate scones, the coconut lemon cupcakes, and especially the chocolate strawberry cakewiches--oh, the cakewiches!)

Anyhoo, Mr. Neighbor kept helping anyway, and on Thursday his and the Cookiechic's son and daughter, Cookie 1 and Cookie 2, decided they would pitch in, too, and we had a fun time tossing rocks into the back yard and discussing the merits of various Harry Potter characters.

Behold, the progress so far! The backyard has a foundation of big stones along its length, but the front yard? All done but for the trimming of the landscape fabric!

Backyard at the creek's "source."
Along the back porch. PLEASE let this actually keep
the water out of the basement!
Oh my!

If three tons of rocks are great...

Then an extra 1.5 tons must be SUPER great!

Janis, no!

Arlo and Janis

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Dry Creek Bed (TDCB) Part 2

Sunday we continued with the construction of the trench. The Plan: Mulch Boy puts ribs in the smoker to cook for the hours and hours it will take us to dig. And then we dig. And so we did. But would you believe it? In two hours, we met in the middle and the trench was done, all 92.5 feet of it. Who'd a thunk it? Behold, the trench!

So helpful.

According to everything I've read, the worst is actually over. Next step: landscape fabric. And then... ROCKS!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Cunning Scheme: Day 1

With the completion of Mulch Madness and the Yard Reclamation Project, I turned my royal attention to a new scheme. A cunning scheme! And like the best of schemes, this one started out at the local quarry.

Quarry in the middle of town. Why not?

Ah, Sislers Stone, I am totally shilling for you. How can I not, what with my rock fetish and all? And how many people are lucky enough to have a stone yard not a mile from their suburban house? Especially when their newest hare-brained... I mean, cunning scheme is to build their very own dry creek bed full of rocks?

Yes, Mulch Boy and I have decided to build our very own dry creek bed. It will be (hopefully) ornamental (and of course rocktastic), but more importantly it will (hopefully) serve as a drain to channel water away from our house and basement (completely flooded the last two summers, causing our insurance company to drop us like a hot potato).

As with so many things these days, the Internet is largely responsible for our decision to attempt this grandiose (for us, at least) project. Go ahead, Google "dry creek bed" and check out all the nifty step-by-step instructions--with photos!--that make building a dry creek bed look easily doable even for two rank amateurs making it up as they go along. (For anyone who actually IS interested, I can post the specific articles I've found most useful so far.)

We began The Dry Creek Project (TDCP), as I mentioned above, with Step 1: a visit to our local quarry and stone yard. Using a crazy new strategy of common sense and taking things one step at a time, we went with a single purpose, and that was to hand-select some bigger rocks to serve as focal points at various locations along the stream-to-be. All the instructions I read emphasize that spacing larger stones along the creek bed's borders creates a more natural look, while also helping to channel the water, especially at bends in the creek bed. Thus an hour or so was spent among the West Virginia boulder pile picking out these lovelies.

Oh rocks. You are so great.

Step 2 is where things started getting... a little difficult. None of which was the fault of the fine folks at the local tool rental place, conveniently located right next door to Sislers.

I'm shilling for Ace Tool Rental, too, because even though they don't sell rocks, they are incredibly nice and helpful, and I like to support our local businesses. This is where we rented the sodbuster those times, and now where we rented this:

Rototiller of EVIL.
No doubt in the right hands and in the right conditions, a rototiller is a wonderful tool, making short work of long, tedious tasks. We certainly had high hopes that it would do half the job for us in terms of loosening all the dirt and clay in our creek-bed-to-be so that it would simply be a matter of us blithely and easily removing the loose dirt with our shovels.

What we didn't take into account was that the ground where we want to dig is alternately hard clay and sticky mud (kind of the reason we need the creek bed). Thus the rototiller alternated between struggling to bite into the hard clay and sinking helplessly into the mire.

(Mulch Boy sharing some colorul language
with the rototiller not pictured.)

After an hour of struggle, Mulch Boy had had enough, and we carted the rototiller back up to Ace. (No, I didn't try to use it myself; the Queen is afraid of gas-powered tools.) While we were disappointed in the thing, the rototiller did loosen up some of the soil, better in some spots than others, so it wasn't a completely wasted effort.


We got out Forky III and Forky Jr. and started loosening. And once done with that, we started The Digging. We decided to start on opposite ends of the trench, with the goal to meet in the middle a la the Transcontinental Railway.

I started on this end, sitting on the ground
and digging with my favorite trowel.
About six feet so far!
Mulch Boy unearths a railroad tie.
Charlie and Rosie provide their usual assistance.

At the end of the day (and total three hours labor), we were surprised to find that we had finished about a third of the trench--2 feet wide and 5 to 8 inches deep!