Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Designing a full-sun flower/tomato bed, front street corner, and laying sod on the salt edge of lawn

Our project this weekend was to finish installing a new full-sun flower bed on our problem street corner. We started a few weeks ago by rototilling the corner of the lawn, or attempting to rototill, anyway, which resulted in this blog post about my irrepressible urge to get down in the dirt and attack the sod with a hand rake. That was two weekends ago.

Last weekend, I moved the daylilies from the bed I created for them last year, which proved to be too shady. That blog post is here.

This past weekend, I dragged myself back out to the yard at first with a slight reluctance, to finish the garden. I'm racing against time. Everything is popping out of the ground. I have lily bulbs and dahlias to plant. Peonies, coneflowers, russian sage and black-eyed susans to transplant from the garden that proved to be too shady. And I and my lowly hand rake are just not cutting it.

Finally, I upgrade from the rake to the pitchfork. Time has done some work, and the sod that was overturned two weeks ago is starting to die. I dig up clods of the stuff with the pitchfork, attack it quickly, wait for the worms boil out and gently move them to a more worm friendly environment than the bit of sod I'm about to demolish, and then after 30 seconds of hand rake to sod, shaking out what dirt I can get quickly, I toss the sod into the wheelbarrow. I have a new plan. I am going to create a pile of sod in an unused corner of the back yard, cover it with black plastic and bake the grass to death and then let it compost until next spring, when I can use it for my next new garden. 

This plan works well, and more quickly than the older plan, while still being machine free (my personal preference). And I very soon have, finally, a new garden of dirt, rather than clumps of sod. Finally! 

That was Saturday.

Sunday, bright and early, I convince Capel to help me with the other 50 or 60 feet of frontage where neighbors have fallen into the habit of parking their vehicles on our lawn, and the compression and salt from the winter, have killed the first two feet of the lawn. 

The plan. To take the best sod we saved from the new garden, till up the compressed earth along the margin of the road, lay the sod, install temporary fencing to entice drivers not to park on it, and start to put in salt-resistant ornamental grass as a permanent fix.

That's an awfully long preamble to this shot, of Capel, starting to till up the compressed, salty dirt along the street, with the long-handled version of a hand rake.

And, two close-ups of the salt and vehicle damage to the edge of the lawn:

Tulips, just blooming, just back of it. Pretty!

Then for me it is back to the grind. I start by taking things out of the garden against the studio wall, sun-loving plants I put in last year that didn't get enough sun. A pincushion flower, a coneflower, russian sage and black-eyed susan. These things go in back-to-back with the daylilies that face the road, here (to the right of the daylilies), in a row ...

And here, closer, in reverse order:

Then, I start to move peonies. That is a worry. Peonies don't like to be transplanted. And mine are old, and have not been blooming at all in their bed against the wall of the house. The instructions I hunt up online suggest digging the roots out and just moving the roots.

I do that to the first one, but I'm not really happy with the result. So for the rest, I dig up an enormous clump of dirt and haul it around the house in my arms like a big baby, gently laying it to rest in its new hole and filling the dirt in as carefully as possible.

My original design called for putting the peonies where these rocks are, but when I was digging on Saturday, I uncovered one of the original property markers--a square post with a cross on top. It's six inches down from the level of the lawn. 

A bit of old house history, right in the garden! I certainly don't want to cover it back up again. I've also dug up a fair bit of fieldstone. Ergo, rock garden. Though, at the moment, I have no rock garden plants. So I redesign around it as I go, shifting the peonies a bit, to compensate.

So that's done, peonies in, along with various hyacinths that were also getting too much shade, and some stray scilla, to add spring color next year.

Then, finally, I put in the lily bulbs. I'd ordered about 15 bulbs, asiatics and wild species things that should naturalize. And then 3 giant dahlias. Diligently staking as I go. And, lastly, to give the feet of the lilies some cover, since they like to be shaded, seeds for hollyhocks, biennials that won't flower until next year; a certain tall spindly verbena bonariensis, that I don't know if I can count on sprouting; and last, cleomes, which I think are pretty guaranteed to sprout from seed.

While I'm doing this, I'm interrupted several times by friendly neighbors stopping their cars in the street to ask me what I'm doing. Gardening in the front yard is evidently an invitation for a chat over the fence. As introverted as I can be, sometimes, I enjoy it on this sunny Sunday, having my Ossining neighbors stop to ask what's up, or give me a friendly thumb's up as they drive by. Stopping to introduce themselves and invite me to the Episcopal tea next weekend. Trying to recruit me for the Jehovah's Witness (no joke). 

Or, even more strange and touching, urgently honking their horns and screeching to a halt when I, briefly, lay down in the front yard to take a nap. "Is she okay?" two people ask, shooting out of their cars as I rise from my moment of smelling the grass and feeling the sun on my aching back. "I'm just napping in my own front yard," I grumble, amused, starting up to assure them I'm not dead. Everyone's a little startled, and I'm touched and irritated, though it is neighborly and strangely reassuring to know that if I were to keel over in my front yard, someone would call an ambulance. Not needed this time, I think, and move my nap to the back yard on the slope by the daffodils. The sound of the wind in the tops of the tall pines is calming and the muscles in my back relax and stretch out, sun warm and grass smelling of grass.

Then it's back to work, and finally, in the end, this too is done.

The bed of lilies and dahlias, sown with seed, and done.

I've left room on the far side of the lily bed for some tomatoes, which I also ordered last winter. Heirlooms. They'll go right in amongst the dahlias, with some basil and perhaps marigolds from seed.

Then, a quick trip to the nursery for some rock-garden plants: sedum mostly, a bit of creeping phlox and two sizes of dianthus. And last, impossible to show in a photo, several packets of alyssum seeds, shaken up together with rooting soil and broadcast over all the edges. Then I water everything in good.

A problem shows immediately. I didn't dig the bottom of the rock garden deep enough and the water pools. Terrible. I'll have to move the peony that wound up basically in a pond, and re-dig the bottom of the rock garden, but that's another day.

Meanwhile, Capel's finished laying sod and placing temporary fences.

And we've selected blue oat grass as our salt-resistant ornamental grass for this edge. It's not inexpensive, so we purchased two buckets and anchored the two ends of this stretch with the new blue-oat grass. We'll let it settle in, see how it does next winter, and then start growing and dividing, over time, to create a long stretch of oat grass all along the road. Will it work? Any thoughts? Love to hear them!

Here we are, end of a very long, long day. Shadows stretching out. All done. "Stop!" the neighbor says. "You've got to stop!" He's right. I do.

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