Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Downsizing Dilemmas

So, if you've been following the story, so far this summer we've hauled home another coupla tons of granite for no good reason other than we're nuts (and they were free) and I've got the annuals out of the greenhouse and into the ground.

Random clematis photo for something pretty to look at.
My next step was to attack the weeds that seemingly spring up overnight and find out just how out of shape I am despite my daily exercising endeavors.  Aren't there always a few muscles that apparently no workout regimen can locate until you start gardening again for the season?  This is where the downsizing comes in.

As far as protective gardening gear goes, I wear knee pads continually, they are an integral part of my trousseau, along with my trusty Felco pruners on my hip, a sweat band, and an extremely large straw hat.  Oh, and I often go out Exerstriding on our road dressed this way and when people see me and my 'ski poles' they must think I've completely lost my mind.  They would be right.  Ha.

Most of the time I spend in the garden is solitary, but when Carl's not at his job, he's working here at home.  The poor guy puts in a long, hot, nine hour day standing on concrete running a gigantic press brake.  By the time he gets home from work, he's looking at another four to five hours of gardening 'fun' here.

Early spring and summer are our busiest times and frankly, sometimes we get discouraged.  I know a few other gardeners who feel the same way at times, too.  The weather isn't in your favor, either it's too dry or too wet, the mosquitoes manage to find the only spot you didn't douse in bug spray and the sweat runs constantly.  Your knees hurt, your back complains and your feet are sore.  We work until dark and often don't eat supper until 10:30 PM which is not good.  After a shower (oh, what a blessing a hot shower is) we both stumble to bed.  So much for enjoying gardening, eh?

Some days we're both ready to toss in the trowels.  It's just too much work.  We're both tired, we can't get away from here for an afternoon without feeling guilty because there is so much to do and the house, oh, the house..........let's just say, it's a mess.  When people drop in for a visit, I cringe.  House beautiful, it ain't.  I just can't do it all.

Don't get me wrong, we both still love gardening and I know we always will as long as we're capable of hoisting a shovel.  I cannot even imagine a life without gardening; being outdoors is my sanity and my salvation.  But we've got to get this beast under control, and that's where the downsizing comes in. 

Two weeks ago Carl was helping me weed and mulch the front garden bed.  We had remodeled this particular bed at least four times, I've posted about the changes in the past, so I won't bore you with the details, but the last renovation was in 2006.

 It was late in the day and we were both sick of pulling weeds out of hostas and some overgrown shrubbery and suddenly Carl stood up and said, "Let's just eliminate this area.  We've been battling the quack grass and the stone wall is starting to tip over in places; I don't like the way it looks anymore.  Let's get rid of it."

I looked up cautiously from the hosta I'd dug out while trying to extricate  a sow thistle.  I imagined life without this particular stretch of flower bed I no longer wanted to deal with either.  We'd talked about taking this mess out over three years ago, but that's all the farther we'd gotten, just talk.  We mutually agreed the time for talking was over.  Carl went for a chain saw and I went to Mom's for a tractor and some chains.  Lots of chains.  Time for destruction. 

It is amazing how our sore muscles and spirits improved once we made the decision to downsize.  It was five o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and my adrenaline was flowing as I was parked on the road with the tractor hooked up to some privet hedges, just waiting for Carl to wave me forward when the chain was fastened.  I will admit I often feel guilty when we cut down trees or remove overgrown shrubs, but this time, there was no guilt.  It was a relief to see them go. There was a crab apple tree here too, but I didn't get the 'before' picture taken in time, so the photo below is after the apple tree was cut down and the privet was gone.
Step One: Get rid of stuff you dislike
Carl and I managed to uproot the apple tree and privet hedges by dark.  The next day, Monday, I was out with pallets in the driveway, carting off the stones and stacking them up to haul away.  When Carl came home from work we managed to finish removing the stones together.

Step Two: Evaluate what's left--the stone walls are gone now.
We'd planted the 'De Groot Spire' cedar trees years ago, look how little they are in this photo:
Here the De Groot Spires are teeny tiny and you can see the stone walls we had in place.

This picture was taken the next day after we removed the stone walls.  What about the cedars?  Stay or go?
In the photo above are some of the 25 pallets of stone Carl and I removed from the front of the house.  Each pallet is approximately a ton in weight.

It was at this point that we had to make up our minds about the De Groot spires.  Should they stay and we'd work around them, or should they go?  We hemmed and hawed about that decision and thought about digging them with the tree spade but the spade has some issues and we are short on time so I said let's just remove them.  With a heavy heart,  Carl hooked up a chain and I yanked the first one out with the tractor.  We were amazed to see how few roots the trees had.  Apparently with a narrow footprint comes a narrow root ball.  That's when we decided to dig the other five with the tractor.

One by one, the trees were scooped up and put on the trailer.
Joel driving the H....and thinking his parental units need their heads examined.

We found we could just scoop the trees right out of the ground with little to no damage to the roots.  We've had a wet spring and that made digging much easier.

 Joel came home to find us tearing up the front yard and to say he was happy about it was a lie.  "Why?!" he asked me.  "Why are you doing this?  Don't you guys have enough to do without making another mess?  What about the stone house?  I thought you were going to work on finishing projects this year, not making more work.  I guess I can understand it if you're going to replace this with lawn and just mow it, though."

He was right, of course.  But then I told him the plan involved bringing in bigger rocks instead.  That didn't go over very well.   I tried to explain that the idea here was to make less work in the long run, which at first glance, doesn't seem like a legitimate defense.  It's like the story, 'If you give a mouse a cookie'.....then he'll need a glass of milk and a straw to drink it and a haircut and a broom to sweep up and on and on....that's the way garden downsizing is, a circular tale.  Joel wasn't impressed. But he did help out when he was able which we greatly appreciated.

Get in the bucket, please.

Last one out.  And yes, the work did leave a 'few' ruts in the lawn. 
 We took the cedars out to the Back Eight and planted them in the field for now.  Maybe some day we'll use them for another project, or not, but if they're related to other thuja occidentalis at all, they're tough.
That's a crooked row.

Even just planted way out in the field, they make a statement.  I think these trees will find their way back to the yard in some future project someday.

The next step was to take out all the hostas.  I was able to find homes for some of them with friends.  The rest we pitched out to the compost.  We took the split rail fence down eventually too, and it will probably appear in another place in the near future. 

Step Three:  Bring in different rocks.
I know this seems really pointless, but rotating rocks is what we do best.  We really did get rid of a large garden bed here. 

Besides, this project was helping us use up yet another rock stash we have out back.

Once the trees were gone, we started bringing up bigger rocks from the back yard which were sitting on a pile we've had for about two years.  We had rocks all over the driveway and needed all three tractors here for over two weeks of work.

The weather turned much warmer and very, very humid.  Carl looks disgusted in this picture. 

Our plan was to replace planting (weeding) area with stone.  The hard part is making it look right.

We put rocks in and took rocks back out, turned some of them end for end and upside down and right side up, argued, swatted mosquitoes and sweated. 

I lost track of how many times I went from the Back Eight to the front yard with the tractor.  One night, we ran out of gas with all three tractors in less than an hour.  While we were at the gas station with our seven five-gallon gas cans, a complete stranger stopped on his way back to his car after refueling and asked, "What did you folks do, win the lottery?  You must have to be able to afford all that gasoline."  He was right, a lottery win would help pay for our habit, especially with gas costing around $3.90 a gallon.  The gas pump in town kicks out at $100.  We found that out four times in the last two weeks.  Ouch.  (We were working some land out in the Back Eight too, though, so not all of that gasoline was used on just this project, thank goodness.)
Finally we decided to call it quits.  It's good enough.  I planted some petunias on the upper level and turned on the sprinkler. 

So, in retrospect, we traded 25 pallets of smaller stone wall for 53 much bigger rocks instead.  But the point is, we eliminated a lot of weeding for the future.


Did it help the looks of the place?  We think so, but then we're partial to rocks.  I'll keep taking photos as the lawn grows back in and the flowers fill out. 

Rock with blasting hole.  Hey, it's art.

And I have to tell you something else.....last Friday night Ann was here helping me weed and finish mulching the front bed.  I got the bright idea to move a 30 pound- plus rock from one end of the new stone wall to the other just on a whim.  I picked up the rock, stepped off the stone wall and onto the greasy mud where the lawn used to be.  Just as I stepped off the big stone I wondered if the mud would be slippery, but too late.  My feet went out from under me and I went over backward, narrowly missing hitting my head on the wall.  And to add insult to injury, I tossed the rock I was carrying up in the air when I tried to catch my balance.  What goes up must come down, and in this case, the rock landed with a loud smack on my left hip.  I managed to walk it off, but the bruises are very impressive. 

Even the rocks are trying to knock some sense into us.  

Joel was right, we should have just put in some lawn instead. 


FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Dear, dear Karen ~ I love what you have done. A lot of hard work, but at least you won't have to weed that area whereas you did before. I'm glad you saved those trees and that they were easy to dig up.

This statement says it for me too:
**I cannot even imagine a life without gardening; being outdoors is my sanity and my salvation.**

I am thankful to God that I can still garden and that I enjoy it. Work, yes, but the rewards are great.

Love and hugs to you and Carl ~

El Gaucho said...

Ouch, sorry to hear that you took a tumble, but I'm very glad to hear that you just have some bruising. Do you think your exercise routine helped mitigate the damage from your fall?

Junebug said...

My oh my, why do I find myself laughing at your pain and struggles? I think it is your writing talent that does it to me.

I so agree gardening is my salvation! But I don't take on the projects that you and Carl do, yikes my muscles would be screaming.

Enjoy your day and go moves some more rocks!!! Hugs!

Carol said...

Well I have to say it looks better than I thought it would at the beginning of the post. I am trying to get hostas to grow and you are throwing them out. We gardeners are funny people. Looks great!

Indie said...

Wow, that's a lot of work! I love the new look - but then, I have always been partial to rocks as well as less weeding! Sounds like a win-win! Be careful, though. I think you might be even more accident prone than me!

Sue said...

Anything that lessens the workload is a good idea. I think it turned out beautifully. said...

Wow, you have ambition. I am amazed at all that the two of you have done through the years. Downsizing always comes in time eventually. It is better to have one's life manageable than overwhelming. But even downsizing requires projects... hope your aches and pains go a way soon. I know I would not be on my feet after a project of that size.

Karen said...

Lorraine, yes the garden can make me cranky, but I would be lost without it. You are so right, the rewards are great.

El Gaucho, you know, I sure hope the reason I didn't get hurt worse was because of the exercise. I mean, it has to be good for Something, right?

June, I'm glad you saw the humor in it. Even Ann busted out laughing a little after we ascertained I wasn't going to need an ambulance, lol.

Carol, if you lived nearby, I'd load you up with hostas for free. They sure do grow. Thanks for visiting!

Indie, thank you and you know what? I think I'm more accident prone every year. Falling seems to be my favorite thing to do. I really need to rethink my favorite things, don't I?

Sue, thank you for the compliment. And oh, yes, less weeding has got to be a Good Thing.

Donna, I's too bad we didn't think about downsizing when we first put the garden in, but such is life and youthful enthusiasm. There should be public service announcements warning beginning gardeners of the perils of large planting areas. But I wouldn't have listened back then either.