Friday, Aug. 24, 2007
Dear Diary:

The thing about having a hobby that from time to time involves the liberal use of a pick axe?

You find yourself thinking, "I really have to get a new hobby."

The problem with landscaping and gardening is that when you clean up one area, whatever is beside it that hasn't been cleaned up suddenly looks terribly, terribly shabby. This wouldn't be a big deal in a small suburban lot, because the total area involved is relatively small. But I don't have a small suburban lot. I have acreage.

I should not have acreage. Giving me acreage is wrong and cruel because I can't leave the acreage alone. The universe is a cold, heartless place.

When we did hostapalooza, as an afterthought we dumped a buttload of dirt around the front of our house to reshape the land and push water away from our foundation. This dirt was some of the stuff the bulldozers scrapped off our land 30 years ago to make the road to this place. Since it was an afterthought, the quality of dirt was not considered.

Heck, the spousal unit would shape the land and I'd throw some grass seed on it and voilą, instant lawn, right? Um, not exactly. Turned out the ground that was dumped was almost pure clay. We tilled it which I later found out was exactly the wrong thing to do, because tilling it turned it into asphalt-like hard pan.

Grass, what grassSo, as a result I got very little grass and a bumper crop of plantain weed. Which, honestly, didn't particularly bother me because it was green and quite mowable. Good enough.

Fast forward to this year when we put in the walkway. Suddenly, I wasn't scooting into the house, I was meandering into the house. I could see that the plantain side of the walkway was crying out for a perennial flower bed and a tiny, perfect bit of lawn. Crying out, I tell you.

Yes, apparently I now hear soil-related voices.

Well, I knew nothing would grow in that dirt, so it was going to have to be amended with compost, alfalfa pellets and limed slightly to make the soil less acidic. (Plantain tells you your soil is hardpan and acidic. Well, it doesn't exactly yell at you, "Hey, dimwit, your soil is hardpan and acidic". It's the presence of plantain groves that's the giveaway.)

The spousal unit and I have two compost bins running all the time. We put at least two gallons of organic matter in them weekly because we are big eaters of the fruits and the vegetables. Between them the bins produce a grand total of about one wheelbarrow of compost a year because organic matter is almost all water.

Tossing one wheelbarrow of compost at an area this big is, well, um, honestly? It's pissing into the wind. To improve an area this big you're talking your dump truck worth of compost, which is roughly the equivalent of 150 wheelbarrows of compost.

If the spousal unit and I were rich, I could have ordered a dump truck worth of heat treated pure composted cow manure. This is the apex of your compost, insanely fertile and completely free of weed seeds. Also about $800. We are not rich. On to Plan B.

I started calling all the dump truck operators in the area to ask about their price for compost. It varied wildly. I got a quote from each guy and then either the spousal unit or I would visit their pit or holding area and take a sample of the "compost", carefully noting how weedy it was.

I use the quotation marks around the word compost advisedly because several of these guys were not selling pure compost, but some mix of compost and crappy soil. While others were selling pure compost, it was so infected with weed seed for horrors such as bindweed or horsetail that there was no way it could be used in a gardening situation.

Aye carumba.

Saturday morning it was cold and pouring rain, the perfect day to be inside snuggled in bed with a hot beverage and the newspaper. So of course, the spousal unit and I were in a gravel pit 40 minutes from home, getting increasingly wetter and colder as we scrambled over piles of compost.

The owner of the pit watched in some bemusement as I thrust my hand into different piles, grabbed out a handful of the content, and sniffed it. The spousal unit is used to my crazy and doesn't think anything of seeing me sniff dirt. Strangers? Well, I do give strangers pause.

Sniffing done, I'd squeeze it to see how it compacted and then try crumbling it. Good compost smells, well, it smells alive. Good compost has a great crumbly texture, almost like cake crumbs. It kind of compacts in your hand when you squeeze it, but it should crumble apart easily after you squeeze it.

In this region we have a weed that has leaves like a cucumber plant. I don't know what it's called, but it spreads with underground runners. I have some that's come in from the woods into one of the hosta beds below my house. When I pull it out, its runners are about the size of thick string. Well, there was some of this weed on the top of one compost pile near the woods and when I pulled it out, the runners were as thick as my baby finger. Let me say that again. As thick as my baby finger. Mama mia, that was some fertility.

This was the only weed in the pile, and clearly it had migrated from the woods. I could see tiny flecks of wood chips in the pile, so it looked to me as if it was composted wood and bark. Not the holy grail of compost, composted manure, but jet black, crumbly, sweet smelling and clearly full of life. A bit on the acidic side, being from wood and bark, but easily corrected with a dusting of lime.

The price was right and it was delivered three hours later, dumped in the middle of our yard. The spousal unit grumbles about how ugly it is, an incomprehensible notion to me. Every time I walk past it, it's all I can do not to roll in its black wonderfulness.

I so wish I was joking about that, but I'm not. This morning when I woke up, a fog was lifting. One perfect beam of sunlight pierced it and shone on my pile of compost. All I needed was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing a few robust hallelujahs and my feelings about that compost would be pretty much encapsulated.

Walkway September 2007I spent the rest of the weekend with a pickaxe, shovel and wheelbarrow doing the fun part, making the flower bed. Break up the soil, dig out the weeds and rock, sprinkle on the alfalfa pellets, a couple inches of compost, turn it over, repeat and turn it over again. Top with even more alfalfa pellets and an inch of compost. If that doesn't grow me some bee-yoo-tee-ful flowers, then nothing will.

Alas, the rest of it isn't nearly as fun. Now I'm stuck in the purgatory of the lawn section. It is going slowly because, well, my heart isn't in this. I know it needs to be done to make the picture pretty. I'm not looking for some perfect better homes and gardens mutant lawn with nary a blade of grass out of place. All I want is mostly grass. Still, busting up ground with a pick axe and shovel for mostly grass is, well, not a lot of fun. I could do it all day for flowers with nary a whimper. Grass? World o' whimpering.

Plus, I have the added bonus of knowing that if this small section of lawn works out, I really should extend it all the way to the rock wall in front of the woodshed.

Sigh.

In happier news, I've only used up about a quarter of my lovely, lovely precious black compost which means next spring I can go on a rampage through my big perennial garden, rip everything out, improve the soil, and completely redesign it.

Is it sad that every time I think about that I get positively giddy? Is it sad that I will probably spend a fair bit of my winter leisure sketching and resketching that border, dreaming of what I plan to do?

Well, yes, it probably is. I don't care. Giddy is as giddy does.

Like all long married couples, the spousal unit and I from time to time drift into a complacency. Not so much that we don't love each other, just that we've been together 4evah. We don't always listen to each other.

There are times when he talks about things like the proper angles for shaping soil for water drainage and I have to admit that my eyes glaze over. I nod during the appropriate pauses for a comment from me, but if you asked me the fine points of what he'd just explained I couldn't tell you because jeepers creepers I Don't Care.

There are times when I babble on about some really special plant I've seen at the nursery and his eyes glaze over because jeepers creepers when it comes down to it, They're All Leaves and He Doesn't Care about the specifics of it, either. To him, it's pretty or it's not.

So Wednesday he asked me if I'd watered the hanging baskets. I usually wander down to the pond and scoop up pond water for them because I figure with the fish and frogs and all it's probably packed with nutrients. But I was tired Wednesday and said I'd do it Thursday.

Thursday morning I wandered down to the pond to get the water for the hanging baskets and there were three pots with plants with enormous green and white leaves. If you go back to the picture of the walkway, the one with the pink lilies and Binky rolling on the end of bricks, you'll see those self same plants in the foreground. It's a variegated Brunnera. I have lusted after it all summer because it has beautiful tiny blue forget-me-not flowers in June and big splashy leaves.

The nursery sales are on now and I've been haunting them for the last few weeks to stock my walkway garden. Half price plants are all I can afford. But the Brunnera is a new introduction, kind of spendy, and the nursery only took 20 per cent off them. During all my crowing about nursery scores, I must have expressed disappointment about the Brunnera.

Turns out, the spousal unit motored out to the nursery Wednesday after work, got the Brunnera, smuggled it to the pond when I wasn't looking and left it as a surprise. Over 30 years of the crazy, and he's still listening. There should be a medal for this.

I planted the Brunnera so that it is the first thing I see when I walk out the door. Beautiful during daylight, its variegated leaves mean that it is lit up as the dusk falls, clearly visible as everything else melts into the encroaching evening. If the moonlight is bright, it's the one thing clearly visible in the walkway.

It is a living reminder that someone listens to me, that it would be a good idea if I was mindful of listening back.

That's a lot to pack into a pretty bunch of leaves, eh?

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 320.09 miles Ten percent there rubber duck. Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.Ten percent there rubber duck.Half way there

Going Nowhere Collaboration

Goal for 2007: 500 miles


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