A Nerd in the Garden – Busy Spring

Spring Tulips

Cappuccino Lily

Cappuccino Lily

last year we spent a couple of months clearing out a lot of weeds and preparing our garden space. We put in 7 raised beds and planted them. We also mulched heavily with hazelnut shells. The mulching worked like a dream. This year there were very few weeds and they were easily pulled. The entire garden space looks neat and well cared for.

We learned also that the squash, pumpkins, zucchini and like vining vegetables will take up all the space they can. We had 20′ vines, possibly even longer. they have been banished to the side yard.

Gunnera

Gunnera

This year we put in two more raised beds and have been cleaning up the side yard. We have a problem with Himalayan Blackberries, which are very thorny and grow very fast. They are all but impossible to get rid of once they have gotten a foothold. Every year we tear out so many sharp thorny vines. The thorns go right through leather gloves. Those are probably the worst of the offenders, although no one told me that Clerodendrums propagate underground so I have to pull some Clerodendrum shoots every year. Likewise catnip. I planted it many years ago, all unaware of its propensity to propagate underground, for the neighborhood kitties. I’ve almost got the catnip out for good but it’s been a battle.

Of course there are the usual suspects too: Dandelions, thistles, broadleaf weeds, clover, various grasses and bindweed. There is a lot of weeding to do and clean up takes a lot of time and effort. It’s very satisfying when it is done though.

Raised Beds

Raised Beds

You may notice the inverted pot on the side of the raised bed. This is to set my sprinkler on. It gets it high enough that I’m not wasting a lot of water watering the sides of the beds and the pathways.

We have a gorgeous garden this year and at long last the flower bed we’ve been putting in the side yard is starting to look like we want it to. The attempt to dig up and move the Crocosmia was unsuccessful. It came back where it was dug up and did not grow where it had been planted. In the fall I will try again.

Rose Taboo, Mallow, Dutch Blue Iris and Crocosmia Lucifer

Rose Taboo, Mallow, Dutch Blue Iris and Crocosmia Lucifer

We planted dutch blue iris and they came up beautifully. Likewise lilies and earlier in the season tulips. The Gunnera is finally thriving. It’s a swamp plant so I have to water it frequently but I love it. We had to mulch it heavily to get it through the winter but it survived and has rewarded us by getting to a height of 4 feet. The leaves are easily 3 feet wide.

Spring Tulips

Spring Tulips

The area will take several years to get all of the weeds out and mulched, since we are doing it ourselves. Sure we could hire professional landscapers and they’d do it in a weekend but it would cost thousands of dollars that we just don’t have. By spreading out our planting, and our clean up and preparation we are dividing the project into manageable chunks and spreading out the cost so that we can pay as we go. It also gives us a chance to correct errors as we learn. Sure it’s going to take years to get this yard looking the way we want it to but it won’t consume too much of our time at one time and it won’t break our budget.

In the fall I planted a lot of tulips and lilies. It was a delight to see the tulips bloom this spring. The lilies are starting to bloom now and will carry through the late spring/early summer. Then the roses will be in full bloom. This year the roses got an early start.

Flower Bed

Flower Bed

Purple Prince Lily

Purple Prince Lily

A Nerd In The Garden: Weeding, Iris and More Math (Math Is Fun)

Iris Saved

Weeding and building in the upper left corner

Weeding and building in the upper left corner

In previous blog posts I’ve mentioned that the verge on the side of the driveway is fairly large. This week I did a rough measurement of it’s area and it’s approximately 400 square feet. This was a fairly easy calculation that follows a well known formula. My driveway is approximately 40 feet long and the verge is approximately 10 feet wide. 40 X 10 = 400. Your units are feet and feet X feet = Square Feet. Putting it all together: 40 ft X 10 ft = 400 sq ft.

Before weeding 11/7/15

Before weeding 11/7/15

There’s about 60 sq ft up by the garage that I have not included in this measurement. There are two reasons for that. 1) the utilities are there and I don’t want to damage or block them. 2) Due to the layout that area gets very little sun so not a lot of plants will grow there. With these two things being the case I’ve decided to wait on that bit and see if I get inspired. Also I cleaned that up once earlier this year and mulched a good part of it. It should just need some follow up and maintenance.

After weeding 11/7/15

After weeding 11/7/15

This week I weeded around a 10 ft square space. My neighbor offered to let me use a tool to make the weeding easier but I chose to do it by hand. Not because I love backbreaking work but because I know there are some gorgeous Iris languishing in that part of the bed and I wanted to salvage what I could of them. The Iris have been overgrown for so many years that I didn’t expect too many of them to even have survived.

So far it is looking very good for the Iris. I’ve found quite a few rhizomes that had growth on them and could be saved and replanted. This will save a ton of money since I can plant them in areas where there aren’t currently flowers.

Iris Saved

Iris Saved

My goal is to clear the area along the east side of the flower bed and plant the Crocosima there. The neighbors like the idea of some kind of screen between us and the sword shaped leaves of the Crocosima get to be around 4.5 ft tall. In front of them I want to put the blue Dutch Iris I ordered and some bearded Iris. There is enough room in that bed with 10 feet on the cross section to put some shorter flowers in front of those without crowding them.

I want to keep the Crocosima because the hummingbirds love them and I love seeing the hummingbirds. Also they naturalize beautifully. The Crocosima also give the garden a bright spot of color that lasts long after the spring tulips have faded.

You might wonder about that cardboard that is down on the ground there. It’s a very good mulch and weed barrier. It’s cheap since you can use boxes you already have, rather than throwing them away and it cuts down on the grass and weeds that grow back. It also biodegrades. Right now it is protecting the bare soil from erosion due to the rain and from bad compression as I walk on it. Once I have the area planted I’ll put down the hazelnut shell mulch that I like but for now cardboard boxes work great.

It started raining so I didn’t get a picture but I scraped the mud off of some more bricks on the pathway on the west side of the house. I’ll need one of the border bricks I bought cut because I need a piece of one in two places. I called my local Home Depot and they didn’t have the equipment to cut concrete. I’ll have to see if my neighbor has something. Otherwise I may have to buy a different kind of border brick that is the size I need for the two spaces.

Next week I plan to do the other side of the walkway border and finish cleaning up the raised bed garden out back. Today I pulled the last of the tomato plants and put them in the compost bin. I need to rake the beds, do a final weeding and put landscaping fabric over them. Then they can rest for the rest of the winter.

Lastly this weekend I scraped some of the weeds out from the expansion joints in the driveway. There is a lot of work to do there and it is hard work. Like the large flower bed, I’m tackling it a little bit at a time. There is a lot to do, it’s true, but chipping away at it a little bit at a time will see it all done. And I still have time to get some writing done. K.

Weeds in expansion joints

Weeds in expansion joints

Scraped out of the joints with a tool

Scraped out of the joints with a tool

A Nerd In The Garden: The Rains Have Come

After weeding for the day

Before weeding

Before weeding

This week the rainy season got started in ernest. It began with a day of spritzing and grew slightly heavier each day until we have a steady all day rain falling. It might be tempting to think it’s time to put the gardening tools away and relax but now is the perfect time to weed out the large flower bed. The steady rains have made the soil soft enough to get the roots out with the weeds. Getting as many of the roots as possible will keep the return weed numbers way down. It also creates more room in the soil for the roots of the flowers planted in the bed.

Over the years the large flower bed has become overrun with weeds and grasses. I’m embarrassed to post pictures of it but in the interest of demonstrating the transformation, photos will be posted.

After weeding for the day

After weeding for the day


For weeding in the rain a good raincoat, work gloves and work boots are a good idea. I also use a tool that is a combination cat’s claw and hoe. With the ground wet a cardboard box, broken down makes for a good knee guard and after an area has been weeded it can be placed on the now bare ground to prevent grasses from growing back.

Last time I spoke of budgeting time as carefully as you budget money. Looking at the large flower bed, and honestly it is really just a strip on the side of the driveway that I’ve decided will be a flower bed, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. What does this have to do with budgeting time? Well when I first started the project I decided I could budget 2 hours of time each weekend to landscaping and gardening. Two hours is about all you’d want to spend out in the rain doing weeding even with a good raincoat and gloves. Two hours a week will be enough to chip away at the weeds and have the whole thing beautiful and ready to go by spring.

Border holding strong

Border holding strong

The border we installed last week is holding very well. The silt has not covered the stones we cleaned off from that side. In the photo silt has covered the other side where the border hasn’t yet been installed. When it isn’t raining so hard, or when I haven’t worked overtime we will install the other side.

I counted up the bricks left and we will need more to do the other side of the walkway. Fortunately purchasing a few at a time spreads the cost out and makes it more affordable.

There will be plenty to do in the garden and flower bed until the weather gets too bad to work in it. The raised beds still need to finish being winterized. That might be next week too. K.

A Nerd In The Garden: Hardscaping

One Side with Elephant Ear plants

Along the fence

Along the fence

By K. L. Zolnoski

This week I did a little bit of weeding out front but not as much as I had hoped to get done. It didn’t rain this week and without rain the ground is not soft enough to really get the roots of the weeds out. So I’m going to postpone the serious weeding out front until next week.

There is plenty to be done on the side yard though. We have a narrow path that runs from the back yard proper to a patio on the side of the house. This is where we focused our efforts today.

When the house was first built the contractor used landscaping timbers to border the brick walkway that leads to the patio. Landscaping timbers are decorative and inexpensive at around $4 per 8’ timber.

Preparing for a new border

Preparing for a new border

Over the years these landscaping timbers have rotted away and a constant wash of silt and soil has buried the bricks. Every summer we have to clean off the walkway. It’s a task that’s tedious and labor intensive. Also, right across the walk way is our foundation and the vents to the crawlspace need to be cleared of debris every year. And, as if that weren’t enough, the rain will wash away the hazelnut shell mulch I put down when we planted the ornamental plants we got on sale this last summer. This is all quite sub-optimal.

So we need to replace the border with something that will cut down on the runoff. I have approximately 80 linear feet on a north south axis that needs some kind of border. That would work out to 10 landscaping timbers but in a few years I’d have the same problem as they rotted away. But they are cheap. We’d be talking about $40.00.

The thing is, I don’t want to have to dig out the old rotting timbers again. I don’t want to have to deal with shoveling a layer of silt off my brick walkway again. I really don’t want to have debris from the slight grade up to the neighbors yard introducing itself to my crawlspace. Something a bit more durable is called for. Something like either clay or concrete bricks. Use of these materials is called hardscaping.

Consulting the Google provided information on a variety of shapes, sizes and prices on bricks of all sorts. There were even molds that could be used to make custom bricks if one has the time and inclination. Budget your time as carefully as you do your money.

Preparing a channel to set bricks in

Preparing a channel to set bricks in

Since I work full time and have a household to keep up I don’t have a lot of time to devote to my garden/borders. My plan is to do 2 to 4 hours a weekend. That’s a modest amount of time that leaves a little bit leftover for other things even after I’ve summited Mt. Laundry and cooked for the week. I don’t have time to make custom bricks.

I work hard for my money and I’m on a budget. So I needed to find a brick that was decorative enough that I could live with it and inexpensive enough to fit in my budget. What I finally landed upon is a scalloped top concrete brick that runs about $1.50 per 16”. Needing 80 linear feet for the first phase means I’d need approximately 60 of these bricks. (80 linear feet X 12 inches/foot = 960 inches. Divide by 16 inches to get the number of bricks you need: 60.) It’ll run me just under $90.00 (because the bricks cost just slightly less than $1.50). That’s quite a bit of my budget but I won’t have to reinstall in a few years. My time is worth something too.

Buying materials

Buying materials

I cannot stress this enough: Do the math. If you know how much you need of something, (for example I need 80 linear feet for this part of the project) you can easily calculate exactly how much of a material you will need. This will allow you to accurately budget and prevent overspending on materials you don’t need. Don’t let the terminology turn you off. Linear feet is exactly what it sounds like–a straight- line distance measured in feet.

Additionally we need a level surface, ideally 18” above the surface we want to water for our rain catchment system. Concrete cinder blocks are inexpensive and sturdy. At around $0.99 per block I can afford to set up a proper base for the barrels.

Not wanting to overload my car I made two trips and got just over half of the number of bricks I’d need for both projects. I got 32 of 60 bricks for the border and 6 of 8 cinder blocks and I still need two 8X8 square cinder blocks to complete the base for the rain catchments. I’m going with 8” high rather than 18” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are weight and stability.

Setting the border

Setting the border

We then spent some quality time using the hoe to chip out the rotted landscaping timbers and prepare a channel to set the concrete border bricks into the ground. I used a smaller hand tool to level the bottom of the channel and then we back filled with dirt from the channel to set the bricks and stabilize the border. The bricks I chose are interlocking so the border is very stable.

I didn’t think either brick red or concrete white were very appealing. Both colors have a rather institutional look to them that I am trying to avoid. Those are the only two colors the bricks come in so I opted to go with a pattern of red and white, which perhaps breaks up the monotony of a single industrial color.

Next week we will finish the other side and possibly continue on down the line of the patio. It may take three weeks to finish the north south line. Then I will consider whether I want to do the much shorter east west line for completeness sake. Probably I will. I like it when things look finished and I enjoy looking at something I have made. K.

End of our work day

End of our work day

some assembly required

some assembly required

In Progress

In Progress