Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons Learned, Part 4: The Last Spruce Tree

Now we fast forward one more time to September of 2009 and the demise of the last of the three Colorado Blue Spruce trees originally planted by the house.  Over the years we have changed the gardens so many times, that, frankly, I've lost count.
Above is a picture of David, age 4, helping Carl build the front porch extension in 1995.  After the porch was installed, we changed the front of the house again.
The new front porch and me, back when we were both younger in 1995

The west side of the house, for lack of a better description, was very shady once the elms, ash and spruce trees grew, which enabled us to plant our then expanding hosta collection into new territory.  We collected flat limestone from any place we could get it for low walls to add height and a boundary in the gardens.  One of our best supplies of free flat rock was the local yardwaste facility where people from town brought their grass clippings and tree branches, rocks, discarded shrubs and plants, that is, before the place was closed down due to illegal dumping of things like refrigerators, TV's and tires. This was a shame, because all people had to do was follow the rules, but there's always a few who won't.

We used to round the boys up when they were young and head to town every night to see what was new at the dump.  Many times we took all the back roads home because the little car trailer had more than a ton of rocks on it causing the tires to rub on the deck and we had to go slowly for fear of a flat.  Never let it be said our kids weren't treated to high quality family activities.

As the years went by, the gardens evolved, and we had to make some hard decisions.  

For some time, we had been unhappy with the flower bed on the west side of the house.  It never seemed to 'work' for lack of a better word.  We had tried planting six crab apples in a staggered row to form an 'apple walk' which was beautiful in the spring when they bloomed, but the other trees were taking over and it was all a bit of a mess.  It was also not in the traffic flow for garden tours and was often overlooked by visitors, which didn't bother me as I often hadn't the time to properly maintain the area.  All in all, it was a weeding nightmare once the elms died and the garden became sunny again, which also stressed the sun-burned hostas.  I removed hundreds of hosta from the bed and replaced them with daylilies, but even the daylilies failed to do much for the area, especially when they were not in bloom, which is 3/4 of the summer.
 In this picture you can barely make out the little apple trees behind the tufa wall.

 Here is a longer range photo, showing the apple trees in bloom along the tufa wall.

 Years later, the trees grew quite well, but it was crowded.
Anyway, back to Sept. '09.  We had to replace our 31 yr old oil furnace and decided to go with a geothermal heat pump.  The biggest problem with installing geothermal is the vast amount of space the system needs for installation underground.  Our house is relatively small; being just over 1500 sq. ft, so a 3 ton system would probably have been adequate, but because we were hoping to build an addition on at some point, we upgraded to a 4 ton system.  This meant we had four 80' trenches dug, 5' wide, 6' deep and the only area really practicable was the hosta bed on the west side of the house.
By September of 2009 all that was left in this garden were low stone walls (around ten tons of limestone) and a 3' tall wall of natural tufa rock about 100' long.  (I will write more about the tufa rock and how we came to have so much of it at a later date) and h.Albo Marginata by the dozens along with H. Pacific Blue Edger, H. August Moon, H. Royal Standard, and H. lancifolia, an ash tree (which would probably have succumbed to Emerald Ash Borer) and the lone, surviving blue spruce from the original three we started with.

The decision to completely wipe this area out was not lightly made.  We knew how much work was involved with moving everything from rocks to plants.  But, change is sometimes necessary and often a good thing. Since we weren't happy with this area of the garden, we decided to wipe the slate clean and have the geothermal installation put there.  Out came all of the remaining hostas, daylilies, columbines, heucheras, etc.  I called friends and friends of friends who came to take large amounts of hostas home which was great, and saved us the bother of replanting all those plants.  We took the tufa wall down and rebuilt it on the east side of the driveway, which in turn, replaced a split- rail fence.  The split-rail fence was installed in front of the house just before Christmas; I know, it sounds like musical chairs, doesn't it?

Here is the garden before we starting moving things and cut down the apple trees and spruce

Out of the blue, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Joel's friend, Cody, stopped in and asked us if we would like a big rock.  Well, of course we would, never turned one down yet.  His father was working on a jobsite near Greenville, and this was one of the rocks which turned up as a result of excavating for a church.  It is granite, and BIG!  We had it put in front of the house because we knew we were going to be changing things around.
In this picture, Dave and I are examining the new rock (and wondering how we're going to move it and where we'll put it).

So, this is how the garden looked in August 2009 before we started to rip things up one more time.

The day finally came when we were ready to remove the last spruce.  The following pictures will look familiar, I know there's not much difference between sawing down this tree and the two before it, but the difference to us was the house exposure:
Here we go one more time: Joel is up in the tree and Carl is observing and loading limbs as they come down.

On one of the limbs, Joel spotted a little tree toad.  We moved him (or her) to a safer spot.  Notice how the interior of the limbs are almost devoid of needles, which is common on older blue spruce.
Starting to lean, Joel making the final cut, I am out of sight on the tractor parked on the road (with the cable attached, of course!)
Down safely, thank goodness, and once again, the feeling of 'What have we done!?'

The house is visible from the road now!  Hmmm....oh, well, all you can do is load up the wood and move on.
The next day, all that's left is the stump (and rocks  and apple trees and cedars and hostas and WORK to do)
We started moving the tufa walls first
And then removed the limestone walls next
The six 'Emerald Green' Cedars were next to be moved out to the back eight
We had a beautiful stand of hundreds of  Lycoris Squamigera or Surprise Lilies in the area and yup, they had to be dug up and moved, too.
 In the photo above, the stone walls and cedar trees are gone

We were nearing the date of geothermal installation and also wondering what we would do with this area now that it was basically destroyed.  We still had the big rock from Cody to place, too.  We tried hooking it up to the 574 to drag it:
but, well........this was a much bigger rock than our 52 hp tractor could handle.  So then, Carl hooked a hand winch to the blue spruce tree stump and tried winching the rock closer to the house which worked, he managed to drag the rock about three feet, but fine-tuning the placement was not going to be easy and we really didn't know what we were going to yet anyway.  We decided to leave the rock sit where it was since it was out of the way of the geothermal installation.

About a week before Dig Day, Charlie, our Digger Extraordinaire, stopped in to check on the upcoming geothermal excavation job.  He said he was placing rock for a large estate and had been getting stone from a quarry again.  I asked if there would be a possibility of getting some for us, too.  (I don't know why I asked that question, rock is expensive and we've already had more than 500 tons of big stuff hauled in, not including the countless tons we hauled with our little trailer over the years, but we were fresh out of large ones and we had Cody's rock sitting there all forlorn, so what the heck, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?)  Charlie said ok.

The following week, six loads of big rock arrived.  Once again, I had the brilliant idea (Carl wasn't crazy about it) to have three of the loads dumped right on the front lawn where Cody's rock was sitting.  This way we wouldn't have to move them from the back eight when it came time for placement.  It actually worked out quite well having them dumped there and was very handy, though it looked awful.
Just look at how tiny our 'big' tractor looks next to this pile!
Yes, we know we are certifiably nuts, but to have rocks to play with again is an indescribably giddy feeling--so many possibilities!
Here, our neighbor stopped by to ask Joel if we were crazy, too.
 It's a good thing my father wasn't alive to see this, he'd have a fit.  Rocks and farming don't go well together.

The last three loads were put out back

So, we had another 120 tons of big rocks, all the plants moved out and all that remained now was for the heating contractor to come and put in the geothermal.  We had a hard time waiting the few days; we wanted to get started on the renovation of the west side of the house right away, especially with the new stone.  But we waited.  

The geothermal installation will be the topic of my next posting, stay tuned!


1 comment:

LC said...

I'm envious... I really really want a big load of rocks like that one! I love the new rock garden I built this spring and want more at the head of the driveway... problem is, I think I used up my favors with my friend! I haven't tried pricing rocks yet, but I imagine it's not cheap! And oh yeah... you guys are lightly crazy, but...'Ain't It Great'!!!! Larry