Monday, May 31, 2010

A Gallon of Stain and a Truckload of Gravel

It may surprise you to learn what a 'fair weather' gardener I am. The only time of year I really get my hands in the dirt is a narrow window in the spring, usually April-May. That's when new plants are introduced, old ones removed or relocated, and any major projects done. Whatever hasn't been checked off my list by June simply has to wait; my creative energy must shift firmly and fully to my clients, and apart from a flurry of fall cleanup, won't be back again that season.

I have learned to accept this about myself, but it is kind of a frustrating phenomenon. I mean, when you're a gardener you're a gardener all the way, from your first window box 'till your last dying day, right? Nope. I'll tidy, weed, harvest and prune a bit year-round, but everything you see in my garden that is creative or designer-ly was done in the Spring.

As I've said before, I want to LIVE in a garden, photograph it, write about it, but not work in it! I'm grateful that I don't have a lawn that needs weekly mowing, and that most of my regular gardening chores can be done in my typical drive-by fashion. I simply don't have the energy for anything more, although I am continually making mental wish-lists of changes I'd make (don't YOU wish you could move plants with your mind? There must be an app for that, right?)

So I really appreciate garden-centric 'happenings' that encourage me to get out of my head, into the dirt, and cross a few more things off that wish-list. This past weekend was one such event, the visit of my friend Michelle Gervais, who is an editor at Fine Gardening Magazine.

Preparing my home and garden for Michelle's visit (and the small gathering of local garden writers and designers that I hosted for her) was exactly the impetus I needed to prepare my creation for its closeup. But with a busy work schedule and limited resources, how much could be done? Well, thanks to my terrific parents who love helping their kids with projects, quite a lot!

It started with a new side gate. My old one had disintegrated over the winter, and was a sorry, sorry sight. Dad and I designed a new one, and he built it with his usual attention to detail. Dad does structure, Mom does color; she helped pick the stain, and then stained it herself. (BTW that's Behr semi-transparent wood stain in 'Chestnut' and it's perfect!)

Actually, it started with this gate. Finished a year ago, and waiting all this time for a decision on stain color; a perfect example of my "if not done by June" thing. Same with the three porch posts; primed, but not painted. Thank goodness the blue fence made it under the wire last year! The three of us took care of these tasks in an afternoon.

Then Dad got a truckload of my favorite gravel to topdress the paths. I had been experimenting with loose gravel vs. gold fines in different areas, and decided after a year that I prefer the look of the gravel (even though it's fussier) and it felt wonderful to have all the paths brought up to the proper level. My vintage colored step stone 'hopscotch' path looks especially nice.

My main focus was the garden itself. I removed armloads of California Poppy plants which had started to straggle and overwhelm their neighbors. Their progeny will return with the fall rains, but for now I finally had room to plant some of the patient inhabitants of my nursery; another relief.

Two last touches (completed yesterday) were particularly satisfying. The first was this small succulent bed in the sunny spot in front of the porch; another couple dozen nursery dwellers finally have homes! This has been my catch-all spot since the garden was built, nice to finally finish it off with some style.

My last task for the season (seriously, this is probably it!) was to rebuild the catch-basin for my rain chain. I had used an upside-down plastic pot with a slit cut in the bottom to firmly anchor the chain and fill up the volume of the pot while keeping the drainage hole clear (there is a drain directly underneath the pot itself.) That pot collapsed on itself last fall, so I made it stronger by using pavers and drain rock for the main filler.

On top goes a circular screen (this is actually a spatter screen meant to be used with a frying pan; I removed the center handle to make a hole for the chain.) This will keep fine debris from the roof out of the drain. It's then covered with half an inch or so of decorative pebbles.

All finished and ready for the next rainy season! None of these tasks took more than a few hours, but together they added so much. And I realize with some bemusement that I probably THOUGHT about each of these projects longer than it took to actually do them. Oh well. Creativity takes what it takes; and sometimes its not the doing but the deciding how and what to do that simply takes time.

So, I really WOULD like to get those parkway beds done, and the corps yard cleaned up, add proper irrigation to the nursery and clean out the shed. Perhaps my upcoming Summer Solstice Garden Party will inspire the completion of those tasks, but until then, there's always next year!

Thanks again to my folks Phil and Judy for coming to my aid. Once again their skills and energy helped me accomplish more than I ever could alone. I am, as always, so grateful.


  1. Oh the picture with your 'hopscotch' path and the next one are fabulous! Lucky you to live close enough to your parents that they can help out (and that they are so skilled too). At least you know your gardening limitations!

  2. Your garden is definitely ready for its closeup. I hadn't noticed the colored pavers before -- the gravel really makes them sing. And so envious of your Salvia argentea in bloom!

  3. Loving it so much, Laura!

  4. Your garden is so gorgeous, Laura! I really appreciate the camaraderie in the whole "I have x time to garden and beyond that - not happening!" It's hard to come to terms with sometimes.

    Thanks for the look inside your very inspiring garden - and also? I LOVE the "vintage" Fine Gardening mags! I finally parted with a stack I'd gotten at a thrift store from the early nineties (I was in high school then!)...

    And when I'd found them at the thrift store the lady at the counter told me they'd brought in all kinds of things because this sweet gardener had passed away of old age. That tells you the quality of even the older editions! Till death do us part! (Mine went to a passionate new gardener who was longingly eying my stacks.)

  5. Thanks everyone!

    @Loree, I am indeed lucky. There's something about having someone to work along with you to keeps the energy going!

    @Denise, isn't that Salvia something? Those flower plumes are huge!

    @Tink =)

  6. @Genevieve
    Glad you like my "vintage" (oy!) FG magazines; 1988 was my first year gardening and I was an inaugural subscriber (this was long before the internets, mags catalogs and books were all we had!)

    And you know, since I work from home, I'm doing bits in the garden all the time. Spring is just when I'm doing stuff that wears through gloves (although the Atlas Gloves I got from you are holding up GREAT!!) Mostly I'm a wimp about gardening in heat. Thought about you recently when I was grooming my nassella and getting those $%^*&$& seeds EVERYWHERE!

  7. People often ask me if it doesn't take forever to maintain my overgrown garden, but I quietly hide behind the ever increasing size of the perennials. I do what I can spring and fall before the weather gets too hot and before everything is too full. There isn't much more room to plant, unless i dig and move something else. Having Michelle visit you was like my having Whitney Freeman Kemp (from Twitter) come. There were things I'd been thinking of doing which she'd appreciate ... so I pushed a bit harder and got things done. Sharing with friends with real garden training or interest gave me the added incentive to follow through on ideas. Most of the time I let the ideas play in my head and entertain me there ... when I'm buy myself.

    And as for having someone work along side of you, Emma is happy to be quietly supportive, but the Kitt (the cat) attaches my ankles as I weed (no claws) or wandered the dark corners of the greenhouse as i cleaned it ... their company and their actions keep work interesting.

  8. You have a beautiful garden! As for me, I'm a much better garden writer than I am a gardener. But I'm okay with that.

  9. @Kari, good point! A more mature garden needs less weeding and less mulching; there's just more to cut back in the fall-winter (and I'm fine with that, after an exuberant growing season I'm kind of glad to get back to the 'bones.') My cats are always close by when I'm in the garden; pouncing from under the grasses mostly, but it's having someone help with the big/heavy tasks that gets me going with the detailing!

    @Terry, Talk to Ginger-the-iPhone about that 'moving things with my eyes' app, willya?

  10. Oh, I love to garden in the fall, when the days are getting shorter and the rains are starting. But regardless, it looks as if your garden is doing great under the regiment you're using. Those stepping stones are fabulous.

  11. Thanks TM; I like putting the garden to bed in fall, especially when the first rains are about to come. Glad you like the step-stones; for years they were a single-file path set in a side lawn at my parent's house, they're from the 1960s and have a nice patina!

  12. Lovely Lovely Lovely! That path and the rain chain are so fabulous. Good work.

  13. I LOVE the hopscotch path! Lucky you to have willing and able helpers; they do amazing work. And so do you. It all looks lovely and ready for illustrious garden visitors.

  14. The hopscotch path is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Count me in for the tally of loving the hopscotch path! How fun! And the garden looks so clean!
    It's funny that it takes a visitor to push us into gear to do all the things we mean to do. Alright, time to schedule a garden tea party!