Monday, May 14, 2012

pushing dirt


It's amazing how many poisonous plants are used as common suburban ornamentals. It's a good thing most suburbanites have no concept of eating out of their yards these days or they'd all be poisoned.

I've been putting off buying plants because there was so much work yet to do in the yard, but I knew the spring was getting on past the point that I needed to get my herbs in the ground, and yesterday was Mother's Day, so my spouse wanted to go fetch a houseplant for his mother anyway, so I caved in at the nursery and bought a handful of items off my "witch's garden" list.

Hence the reference to poisonous plants. Yesterday I planted wormwood and wolfsbane. No foolin'. The wormwood is politely called "Artemisia" and has pretty, soft, featherduster arms in shades of silvery-blue-green. I recognize it from when my mom used to grow it; it fills up sunny beds rather nicely. The wolfsbane, a/k/a monkshood, a/k/a Aconitum, is tall and slightly spiky with a dark green-purplish cast. It should send up some lovely flowers later this summer if I don't manage to kill it.

In all honesty, me and plants have never been a sure bet. I wouldn't say I have black thumbs, but.... I'm not the most attentive and conscientious gardener out there. I do all right with herbs, probably because they're related to cooking, which is something I can be attentive about, and I seem able to keep hostas and ferns alive, although I'm still learning how much water they need outdoors in a hot Kansas summer.

I also want to get some foxglove (digitalis) and something called black snake which comes in pretty purple shades, but that will probably wait until next year. As far as herbs go, I bought two varieties of basil, now potted and positioned on the sunny west side of the house, where there's a gap in the trees for maybe a whole five hours of sunlight. Also took a chance on cilantro again; the last attempt was a dismal failure. I think it needs more shade, but that's part of the reason I put all the herbs in pots this year--so I can better control their water, sun, and bunny access.

The rosemary and lavender I did not pot. I want them to go in the ground, in the back yard where they can go crazy (and ideally keep the bugs away), but I'm not sure they'll have enough sun near the house.

Furthermore–and this is why I'd been putting off buying plants–I'm not yet sure what shape the back yard is going to take. The Sparring Partner and I agree we'd like to get rid of as much grass as possible. In a perfect world we'd just build a massive covered deck over the whole yard, but obviously that ain't gonna happen in the foreseeable future. In the meantime I'll settle for channelling the rain runoff and keeping the mosquitoes under control.

The ground is in terrible shape back there––a layer of clay laid over by acres of oak leaves that I keep pushing around. Couple of huge oak trees dropping acorns everywhere, and redbud trees on all sides. It's a constant battle to cut down/pull out all the tiny little volunteer trees each year. Furthermore the drainage is terrible for pretty much the whole block. It's terrifically flat, except for the shallow depressions in the back third of our yard that collect rainwater and mosquitos every summer.

Finally, despite the oak trees, there's a long bare patch of yard that gets hot, direct sunlight from about 3 p.m. to about 7 p.m. The ground gets baked, the grass don't grow, it isn't the most welcoming area. It doesn't get enough sun, for long enough, to let me put in a vegetable garden. Plus, we need to keep that part open for kung fu practice. Can't swing a seven-foot staff indoors, you know.

So the long-term plan is to make more of a Zen-garden arrangement.

The SP has been collecting brick and rock for years, and the accumulation accelerated after I got there. We got a fair amount of brick from my parents' old house, and he brings home pavers from house remodels, slabs of river rock, beautiful round rocks. Plus we have a large cairn of the limestone slabs that are common to the area.

I have plans to pave most of the 10x20 foot area nearest the house, and install some of the insect-repelling plants, especially the lavender and rosemary, since they are good companion plants and I love their scents. But it's a long stop-and-go job, since I have no money and I'm making it up as I go along.

I'm looking at ways to give the yard more vertical dimension: herb spirals, tree mounds, an elevated water feature/island, etc. We have a plastic tub for a small fish-pond, and I want to partially sink it into the ground and then build up a rock wall around it. I also want to create some gravel streambeds and possibly a gravel "pond," that will actually hold and channel water when we do get rain. Gravel is cheap, but digging the paths is going to be interesting, what with all the tree roots.

I spend about six hours yesterday digging out rose of sharon, cutting back creeper vines, and moving rocks around. Boy did I sleep good last night. I still need to go out there today and put the lavender and rosemary in the ground, and probably will dig out some more roots near the house. There's a long way to go, but I like the work.

1 comment:

Joy Marchand said...

Thank you for describing your starting point. I would be very interested to see photographs if you are interested in taking them as you work. What a wonderful thing to turn a barren plot into a textured garden!