Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rockin' Rocks

A clammy, wet day today. Overcast and cool, then drizzle in the afternoon.

At least it kept us cooler while we worked on this incredibly overwhelming stone wall project. Cooler, but wet and dirty and dragged down with soggy clothing that got heavy and hard to move in. Gloves were wet inside, but you can't handle stones without them.

This is physically demanding work and neither of us knows what we are doing.

Jim worked hard to figure out the slope of the strip and get the stone dust tamped even so the first course of stones would sit exactly level.

As soon as we started to lay rocks, the painstakingly even and level base was destroyed. You have to rock the rounded stones into place, you have to dig out a well for the uneven sides to sit in, and then you have to move each one multiple times to try it out, rock it level, then try another, then try a third stone, squishing the gravel dust every which way.

I just used slightly bigger rocks at the lower end to the left. We'll try to even things out as each layer is stacked up.  Apparently the whole rock laying thing is 99% art and "feel" and only 1% careful preparation and measuring.

The base course got laid today, I managed to get some rocks on top, and I tried a vertical accent that I'll have to build around. It's a start, but so much more to do, and I am frustrated.

I don't like the rocks to the right of this upright stone. One is canted down, and I had to stack two on top of each other immediately next to the upright, and that looks weird. I may have to redo this area.

It's a rustic stacked wall, so it won't look fitted. It will look rough. But I am beyond confused about how to get them stacked at all. It's impossible to put any rock on top of any others without it rocking and tipping.

I thought there would be more flat(ish) rocks to work with, but about 3/4 of the whole pallet, small and larges sizes both, have somewhat uneven topsides but very rounded irregular bottom sides, so they will not stack on top of each other. They rock. I've already used what evenly flat rocks I could find, and now am trying to fit increasingly rounded tippy rocks over them.

The shapes have so many corners sticking out at odd angles, that I can't place them side to side. I am not trying to get a fitted look, but I want the stones to touch at least in front.

I shim with small stones underneath, but there's a limit to how much chunky rubble you can stuff under every stone and I am already running out of small stuffer stones.

I have no idea what I'm doing. I am incredibly frustrated, Jim's back is killing him, and I am sore all over.

This is not a project that two amateurs who have never laid stone can do, and it is so physically challenging that I am at my limit. What was the guy at Harken's Stone thinking when he looked at us and said "You can do this yourselves, sure." WTF?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Getting Discouraged

Another morning spent digging out the trench for the stone wall. We need to lay down 3 inches of crushed gravel for the base, but it is a challenge to get that much soil out of the area.

It is still cool, in the high 70s and overcast, but very humid -- well over 60%. So work is sweaty and hard and slow. We took another two cartfuls of soil out back, then Jim had to mow and I pooped out.

This is nuts to try to do this kind of work in late summer when the conditions are so uncomfortable. I should have waited till fall.

We will lay down what we can -- maybe two inches of gravel or less in some of the higher spots. It will be okay. This wall is going to be very low, only a few courses of stacked stone, to a height of less than a foot I think. How much of a base does it need?

Jim asked, mid-shovel, "did the pioneers lay down gravel when they built all those miles of stone walls all over New England? Did they dig a base down three inches or more? Did they?"

I am getting discouraged. But I have to remember there is no rush. We can take as long as we need to get this silly project done.  I hope it's going to be worth it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slow Progress

Another day of hacking out the strip where the new stone wall will be built.

It was cool and damp and overcast, so not too hot to work this morning, but the humidity is high. The temperatures stayed in the 70s. But after just a couple hours in the morning digging and transporting soil, we called it a day.

Progress is slow.

We still have more to dig. Already we have taken cartloads and trailerfuls out back, and there is quite a mound of excavated dirt -- all from this little strip. There is more to do to widen it to accept the irregular forms of the stone.

I think I had envisioned narrower stones, more like the width of pavers or bricks, and we would only need to dig less than a foot back into the rise.

But these stones are varied, irregular, and quite large and flat. We need to dig out plenty of space to fit them, and then backfill with the dirt we took out.

Before quitting today we started sorting the pallet into piles by size and got half the stones sorted. The really huge ones won't fit into this 10 inch high low wall. Those I may use in back by the bridge for stepping stones.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This is NOT a Small Job

After all the rain it is now sunny and lovely, but definitely warm and humid -- more typical of August than the long stretch of cool dry weather we have had. The temperature is in the 80s, and the humidity makes it feel more like August should.

I got all hopped up when it was so cool to do some major projects. And off we went to Harken's and got a pallet of stones to build the low wall at the top of the driveway where the thyme was.

We asked about hiring someone to do it, and they have plenty of guys who do stonework, but they said our job (20 feet long, 10 inches high) was too small. They said we could do it ourselves.


First, it is too hot and sticky now. We can only work in the mornings when it is shady by the driveway.

Second, the grass clump at the left corner was utterly impossible to remove. It took me a couple hours one day to get this far and it would not budge.

The next day Jim worked on it for the better part of an hour with crowbars and shovels, and he did get it out. Not easy.

Third, once the grass had been manhandled out of the dirt, the rest of the soil removal turned out to be major work. The bed of the John Deere trailer broke. There is a lot of dirt to dig and move. The thyme is entrenched in there pretty firmly and each little bit has to be clawed out before digging can even start.

We got this far, and there is so much more to dig. Then we have to dig down 3 inches to receive the gravel bed, then  . . . I'm exhausted.

This is NOT a small job that two amateurs in their mid 60s can do in a few days. But we will struggle along, dig a little each morning before the heat and sun make it unbearable, move the dirt away a bit at a time. There is no rush.

I think this is the hardest part. I am hoping placing the stones will be the easy part.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It Falls From the Sky

Well, it rained overnight.

An inch and three quarters.

This has been such a strange summer for so many reasons. In prior years I would record each rainfall of three tenths or maybe a quarter inch, and the rain would come in fits and drips, with an occasional badly needed inch rainfall now and then.

This year, although we recently went 18 days without any real rain, we got a soaking once a week earlier in the summer. And by soaking, I mean almost two inches at a time, or much more!

Last night it rained gently. When I woke up I expected maybe half an inch, but it was 1 3/4 and everything is very well watered now.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Strange Summer

Cold and damp today, very overcast, rain coming. In the 70s. What on earth has happened to August?

The weekend was gorgeous, with cool, dry, top-ten sunny weather. But overcast or sunny, it has been oddly cool this August.

We need rain. The river birches are turning yellow.

After so much rain all spring and summer, it has now gone far too long without a drop. The clethra looked crispy and curled today, with limp, browning leaves. The yellowroot looks stressed and other plants do too, despite running the sprinklers.

I hand watered, but that is never enough, and it is never sufficient once the leaves have dried and browned at the edges.

This year has been strange. One thing I have noticed is that whole stands of perennials that made up a big portion of the gardens just did not appear this year.

The physostegia Miss Manners used to be a big patch of tall white spikes in Meadow's Edge. It simply did not show up this year. There were plenty of red cardinal flowers filling the area, but the contrast with the white Obedient plant would have been nice.
This was Miss Manners Obedient Plant in 2011. In 2013 I didn't see any at all!

In 2013 the cardinal flower was nice, but some frilly white spikes with it would have been nice.

I already mentioned the deep purple lobelia, Ruby Slippers. It has come up, and there are about 6 plants, a nice enough little area, but they are shorter and barely seen above the top of the patio wall. In previous years they toppled over.
Last summer, in 2012, the rich purple lobelia towered over the patio wall.
This year they are not even up to the height of the birdbath.

The pink evening primrose, an aggressive spreader, was nowhere at all this year.

The Chocolate Joe Pye Weed is there, but hidden by the sedums around it, barely 10 inches high this summer. It blooms in September, so I will keep an eye out for it, but it is looking very puny.

But the gardens still look good even without these plants. The comptonia looks wonderful, the dahlias and chocolate cosmos were stars. The fall anemone is beautiful.

Black eyed Susans look great.

And the sweet autumn clematis that I planted last fall is looking so nice, and is fragrant. It is still small -- I wonder if it will go rampant all along the deck railing, or will it disappear like some other pretty no-shows in my garden?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cool August Days

These pleasant, dry, cool August days are making me think it is fall, and they are inspiring me to get cracking on all the projects I want to tackle.  But it is still August!

The mornings are sweater weather, 58 degrees, chilly and very still.

The day was sunny and dry and fine. The temperature only got to the high 70s today with very little humidity and a breeze. Almost chilly in the shade.

Some leaves are starting to turn. I am a little worried about the Aesculus pavia. It is crisping and coloring and losing leaves. It is still so young, and when we hit this dry spell it seemed drought struck. I have watered it, but for a brief time when it dried out, it seemed to really stress.

I cleaned up the daylilies by the driveway today, and took the shovel to the hybrid daylilies out in the chevron garden. I only want the plain ditch lilies there, so the hybrids were dug up and tossed in the meadow.

Then I clipped away the woody twining stems of the trumpet honeysuckle in front (no small job) and moved it into a pot by the deck.

The new Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle was then planted where the trumpet honeysuckle had been taken out.

Digging and planting and shoveling in August -- can you imagine? I got warm and sweaty but it was not at all uncomfortable.

And now this weather has me cranked up about projects. I have completely revamped the To Do list, and all the plans have changed. For example, the rosa glauca may not be moved, it looks great now with its colorful orange hips. If I get more rhus aromatica to fill in under it, it may stay in the Drive By garden, where it is adding interest.

The panicle hydrangeas are blooming in the Drive By garden and they look great now.

The Bluebird hydrangea serrata is a complete disappointment -- no flowers. I think a late spring frost must have nipped them. A few on the inside of the shrub did bloom, but nothing on top or on the outside.

It's just a big round mound of foliage, and nothing at all like the gorgeous Bluebird specimen we saw at Chanticleer. How I would love for mine to look something like this:

But it doesn't. It's just foliage.

With this nice weather I got so hopped up about getting projects underway, that Jim and I went out to Harken's and bought a pallet of stones to be delivered Monday, plus crushed gravel and a little bag of mortar! We are going to start the low stone wall at the top of the driveway.

We'll do it ourselves. 21 feet long, and only 10 inches high, just a little strip of stone. The underperforming creeping thyme will be dug out, although a few of the more healthy tufts may be left to drape over the wall where they are not browning out.

I can't believe I am digging things up, and thinking of moving stuff, and starting a big project and here it is still summer. Wow.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Porch is Done

August continues to be just fine. Yesterday the humidity rose and it was a hot day, but the air has dried off again now and there is a breeze. It is sunny and in the high 70s, just lovely.

We could use some water though. It hasn't rained at all for 10 days and only a quarter inch in the past two full weeks. Some things are looking stressed now.

The porch is finished and it came out better than I had even envisioned. Here is my post about it on my main blog. I am really happy with it.

For my birthday this week Jim gave me a cordless electric hedge trimmer. I tried it out on a couple projects -- it really can't get through the dense goldenrod and thick weeds in the meadow where I tried trimming, but it did a great job shaping up the hollies on the berm.

They had sent out random shoots and looked unkempt, and with just a minute or two of work I had them reshaped into nice pyramids again. It's a job that used to take an hour to do all of them by hand with pruners. Really, it only took a minute with the hedge trimmer!

Chris from Bartlett was here today, and he suggested moving the Swiss Stone Pine. It is in too much shade at the back of Meadow's Edge.  In early spring it is out in the open but as everything around it leafs out, the little pine gets shaded.

I'll put that on the list to do next spring. It is still small enough I can move it. But where? --- it will need to be in a full sun spot.

I have made further tweaks to the list of Plans as I reconsider where to move things. It always changes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Problems With Vines

I have such troubles with vines.

Now that I scored the Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle in Ft. Collins, I plan to take out the red lonicera sempervirens that is growing in the spot where the Kintzley's Ghost will go.

That spot was also home to the misguided attempt to grow golden hops. This rambunctious vine was too dense, not golden, too rough looking for what I wanted, and it grew into a heap. I took it out and tossed it away.
Attempt no. 1
The golden hops were removed

This time, when I remove the red trumpet honeysuckle, I do think I want to find another home for it, rather than tossing it into the compost bin.
Attempt no. 2
Nice enough, but not what I thought I planted

I've thought of places the red trumpet honeysuckle could go --- scrambling up the Austrian pine? But the fairly thick foliage of the vine might shade out the evergreen branches and cause some dieback.

Up the sweetbay magnolia? The magnolia has an open framework and the vine would be seen. Nah. Maybe. I put it on yesterday's list of where to move stuff, but I am rethinking that.

How about in a container next to the tool shed, letting it climb the deck railings? It's a twiner and would need to start up the little pyramid in the pot, then reach for the railings.  Would it twine around the deck railings?

Look at this idea:
from Stately Kitsch

I might try that. The climbing annual Blackeyed Susan vine that is in the container now hasn't done much. Why not move the trumpet honeysuckle to that container and see if it grows well scrambling over the railing?

Will the pot be big enough?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Beautiful day, summery and warm, in the mid 80s, but with a refreshing breeze.

Jane came over for coffee and a garden tour. A nice visit, and her suggestions and critical eye got me thinking.

And one thing led to another, and soon, I had . . . . .
     . . . . . plans!

Here is the list of what needs doing this fall and next spring.

I can't wait to get started, and the unusually cool August weather has me ready to start digging.

TO DO 2013 (& Spring 2014) 

  1. Move one carpet rose to East Side under sweet autumn clematis
  2. Move second carpet rose in front of variegated sweetgum in Drive By garden (and move the corylopsis there to ___??)
  3. Move rosa glauca to dry stream bed where salvias are
  4. Move Mt Airy fothergillas to Drive By garden along back side
  5. Move rhus aromatica crowding doublefile viburnum in Drive By garden to spot in front
  6. Move trumpet honeysuckle to Northern Exposure to climb sweetbay magnolia (after
    taking out carpet roses. Open framework of magnolia will be good for it to climb)

FALL: TAKE OUT (& replace)

  1. Remove hybrid daylilies in Chevron garden & replace with divided ditch lilies
  2. Remove groundcover willow yezoalpinas along east side & replace with Nikko slender
    deutzias in a long swath along foundation (put groundcover willows on back of berm)
  3. Remove creeping thyme by driveway (and build low wall). Replace with ___??


  1. Daffodils (The Works) on back hill
  2. Iris reticulata under lamp post *
  3. Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle in front garden!


  1. Expand foundation garden along east side for depth
  2. Put Black Beauty dahlias where carpet roses were in Northern Exposure.
  3. Get more Chocolate cosmos and plant everywhere!
  4. Cut & Come Again zinnias around patio wall, in Birch garden
  5. Nicotiana alata flowering tobacco in Birch Garden in front
  6. Build low drystack stone wall at top of driveway. Can I do it myself?

* Iris reticulata ­ add bulb food after flowering. In summer lift to divide bulbs & replant. Plant deeply. * Put divisions (or add new) under lamp post so there are purple irises on both sides of front walk. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wet Conditions

The oddly cool August weather continues. Last night was not as chilly, but with overnight temperatures  in the low 60s, it was great sleeping weather. Days are getting a little muggier but are still unusually pleasant for late summer.

The porch is nearing completion and just needs some stain on the walls and ceiling. I love it already.

I have noticed differences in some plants due to this year's wetter conditions. One big change is that the fleeceflower, Persicaria officinis 'Dimity', is doing much better. In the past three hot, dry summers they did ok, but formed big gaps where they did not spread.

Under the blackhaw viburnum they got destroyed by voles one winter and that left huge gaps.

This year they look great, have filled in, and have been blooming all summer. They definitely like wetter conditions than I had thought.

The cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, also wants it pretty wet. This year they have formed a nice stand in Meadow's Edge and have been blooming for a long time.

But the Ruby Slippers lobelia by the patio wall has not done much this year for some reason. It is only just now starting to bloom. I like the velvet purple flowers next to the hardscape of the wall and birdbath, and in combination with the sunny Black eyed Susans.

Ruby Slippers in prior years was very tall, flopped, and kind of overwhelmed the area. This year there are just a few of them, they are shorter, and seem to be reluctantly blooming.

Lobelias are short lived. Are they just in decline?

Or is the river birch, newly planted in that spot, taking all the water and making this patch of lobelias drier?

A lot of other plants seem to be thriving this year. Most of that is due to maturity -- things have been in the ground now for three or more years in some cases. And the wet conditions help.  But the fleeceflower and lobelia are the two that really seem to have come into their own with more moisture than they got in previous years.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Crazy Cold

It's August and the weather is weird. Very cold at night, in the low 50s, and then although it gets to the low 80s in the daytime, it's breezy and pleasant and actually a little cool in the shade. This is mid August for crying out loud. Crazy, crazy cold for the dog days of summer.

I got back from my whirlwind trip to Colorado and California, and as always, I loved every minute.

Greg and I went up to Ft. Collins to get the Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle I wanted, and we drove around, had coffee, had some nice dinners out, etc. Lots of talking and chatting. We went to a concert at Red Rocks, and enjoyed the opening act, an edgy bluegrass band, but left shortly after the main attraction came on with all its psychedelic overkill.

The best part at Red Rocks was the lightning and rainbow and dark stormy clouds that stretched across the horizon to the east!

Then on to L.A. and I met Z. We all had a great time at brunch, and out to dinner for my birthday, and we had a surprisingly entertaining hike through the Hollywoodland development with the famous sign. It was not what we expected for a guided tour, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, and a lot of stairs to climb (861 in fact).

When I got home, progress had been made on the porch remodeling, and it will be done by this weekend! Jim and I will need to stain the new beadboard paneling on the walls and ceiling. It's turning out really nice.

August so far has been exciting -- trips to far away places, some really great times with both boys, new remodeling, and crazy cold weather.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Morning Walk

Unbelievably, the temperature was 51 degrees when I woke up this morning. The past few days have been spectacular and cool, chilly at night and refreshing during the day.

Bees asleep on the clethra in early morning
It's August! How can we be having such delightful weather -- and for days now?  Yesterday was a top 10. It was the perfect balance of warm sunshine and crisp breeze. It never got above 75 degrees.

I don't know if it's the cool, still air in the morning, or the two Advil I take when I wake up, or if the gardens have just matured to a nice level of interest finally, but when I walk around before breakfast everything is so perfectly beautiful.

I put my high rubber boots on and spend a long time walking the dew-wet paths in the meadow checking on things, and I find much to interest me. 

Early sun makes a scene of Queen Anne's Lace all sparkly. New weeds I haven't seen before catch my eye. The usual thugs are doing their thing and my saplings surprise me with their growth. It is all still an overgrown weedy mess, but it actually looks good. 

I love the paths Jim cuts for me -- they are no longer a utilitarian scar in the meadow to get to things, the paths now are inviting and intriguing and I walk them slowly with my cup of coffee as I would wander the walkways of an arboretum. Yes, really.

I just admire what I see. It has to be partly a result of the Advil. I always get a sense of well being when I take it, not euphoria and not just pain relief, but a noticeable aaaah of serenity. Everything looks balanced and nice. 
The clethra is spicily fragrant and so pretty

But it also has to be the gardens and meadow in maturity. They simply look wonderful. Better than I could have imagined as I looked at them over the past few years in their developing, unsatisfying forms. Now much has filled in. 

There is shade and sun and dappled light, rather than just open space. The saplings have height now and many tower over me. The flower gardens are colorful and lush. The overall design is no longer emerging, it is present and visible and pleasing.
A weedy mess, but somehow pleasing in the early sunshine

It also has to be this weather. So still and settled in the morning. So crisp. Dewy. Everything, even the noxious weeds, looks healthy from all the rain we've had this year.

Everything looks good. The cardinal flower has made a big stand this year, with many more yet to bloom.

The anemone is blooming beautifully. Love those silvery buds.

Background shrubs, like the bayberry at the back of Meadow's Edge, are suddenly big lush plants with some height and presence.

This is the time of year when the bush clover, lespedeza, looks its best. Early in the season it is just re-emerging from the roots, and later in the season when it is blooming it can be a haystack sort of shape, but right now it is just right.

And the clethra, which looks so awful all winter and spring, and even into early summer. Finally in mid summer it becomes a pretty shrub. The smaller white one is Hummingbird and the pink is Ruby Spice. So lovely.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saplings Among the Weeds

Lovely weather, cool at night, sunny and warm and pleasant, in the 80s in the daytime. Lovely.

The contractors came back, the delay was only two days. The new windows are in on one side, and what a difference the depth of the taller windows makes!

Being able to see out into the yard is such an improvement. The deck and trees and greenery come right into the porch now. And I like the grids better than the utilitarian look of the ungridded short windows before. Here you can see how the new and the old window sizes compare.

Just 18 extra inches at the bottom gives the porch a dressier sunroom look, with better proportions.

A couple days ago I went out into the meadow and hacked back the six foot tall goldenrod stalks that were engulfing the newer saplings at the edge of the woods. I had to use loppers because the woody stalks were so thick, but what an effort to cut each rather than shear them with clippers -- and my forearms are sore!

Now I can see the new trees there.

This is the best looking of the three sweet birches (Betula lenta) that I planted right in front of the taller maples. The debris is the goldenrod canes that I chopped and left to decay on the ground.

A skinnier sweet birch is struggling near the cauldron. I left the jungly cuttings all around the ground here too.

Now, with the tall weeds cleared away, the three small sassafras saplings are also open to sunshine. They are all from previous plantings that I thought I had lost. They disappeared in prior years, eaten to the ground or just lost. All three have resprouted from the roots and are making small trees now.

The three newly re-emerging sassafras lined up in front of the taller trees are all similar, with large leaves that have a reddish tinge when new.

A fourth one that I planted nearby in a more open area looks very different, with dark green, glossier narrow leaves.

It is bushier and just looks very different. I didn't realize there were different kinds of sassafras.

One benefit of doing work out in the meadow is that I have to walk back and forth to get there, right past the gloriously spicy scented clethra that is blooming now! Mmmm, love that fragrance.