Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fall Cleanup and Pandemonium

Carl and I were making slow but sure progress on our fall cleanup campaign in the garden. We were, that is, until I threw a wrench in the works.
 Thank goodness he's helping me; this year's schedule has been hectic and there always seems to be something going on when the weather is nice enough to work in the garden.  

Amazing the changes a few weeks makes around here:
The only good thing is now we can see the rocks again.  (How I miss my petunias, though.)

On Friday afternoon we took out all of the annuals and frozen perennial foliage on the Pachyberm.  Carl usually insists we put all the refuse in buckets so we don't have to handle all the material a second time, but due to the quantity of stuff even he decided it would be just as easy to make piles and load it up later.  

 We decided to use Joel's tractor to pull our old homemade dump trailer for hauling.  Joel's tractor apparently needs a new battery or a new set of spark plugs (or something) because try as he might, Carl couldn't get it started.  

Thank goodness for multiple tractors; we hooked up a chain and I pulled the smaller tractor out of Mom's garage.

Once we had it out of the garage, Carl had to rehook the chains to the front of his tractor.

All hooked up, and at his nod, off we went down the driveway and onto the road.

I'm pulling him at a fairly fast pace in road gear, and Carl lets out the clutch to turn the engine over.  After a few tries the tractor was running.

Carl got off his tractor to unhook my chains and I continued on down the road toward our house.  

I'm enjoying the beautiful scenery, nothing better than driving a tractor on a nice fall day.  I looked over my shoulder to make sure Carl's tractor was still running and to my surprise he zoomed right by.

Tractor drag-racing, just one more of our eccentricities around here.
I could have beat him easily, but I let him win.

When we arrived at home, Carl hooked Joel's tractor to the dump trailer and we started loading up all the stuff we'd pulled out on Friday.  In no time at all we had a full load.  

As our crusade to cut down on the amount of work to do around here, we had a discussion about the Pachyberm.  This garden is in need of remodeling; the weeds are getting the better of us on the north side and we're both tired of battling them.  

I suppose for anyone wondering what in the world a 'pachyberm' is an explanation is in order.  We named the Pachyberm after a derisive comment in a gardening forum from years ago on the overuse of berms in gardens. 

"Why would anyone want a raised bed?" the author questioned. "Are we to believe these gardeners have elephants buried in their back yards?  That would seem to be the only reasonable explanation for a large mound of soil."

The article had struck me as a bit condescending and also rather funny; despite not being in vogue, I had wanted a berm for a long time.   When we buried the geothermal heat lines in 2009, we had extra dirt leftover along with some rocks that didn't make it into the earlier Quarry construction, often happens with us, we hauled off and created another garden which I christened the 'Pachyberm.'  (Rest assured, there's no pachyderm buried here, it just looks like it.  My apologies to the berm haters out there.)

Another not-so-fantastic idea of mine back in 2010 was the construction of Thing One and Thing Two which came about because we had extra rocks lying around from the Pachyberm construction with no home.  My hope at the time was to use up some more spare rock and build two smaller separate berms of stone, similar to the Escarpment and the north side of the Quarry.  For a retrospective look at that project, here's a link:  Thing One and Thing Two

The two 'Things' never tripped my trigger; they were okay, but in the end it all comes down to maintenance.   We've got enough to weed, way more than we need.

When people ask me what my favorite part of the garden is, my answer is always the same.  The Escarpment: shade, rocks, hostas, and very few weeds.  And rocks, did I mention rocks? 

The Escarpment

 We have always loved the look of natural stone walls in nature, as seen in the picture above at a county park.  The moss-covered rock formations often form nooks and crannies which are shady and cool. 

Carl and I decided to try to replicate Mother Nature's artistry as best we could over the years, but we both admit compared to her,  we're rank amateurs.  Another problem we have is quality of the stone we were able to acquire and the fact we don't have the equipment to lift our stones as high as we'd like, but we have made do with what we had. 

 West side of the Quarry
 Northwest side
Blurry picture west side of Escarpment

The Escarpment bed shares a similar look with the back of the Quarry Hill.
North side of Quarry Hill


  So, yeah, the 'Things' project was not a resounding success.  The problem was the rock we had left to work with was not as flat as our earlier projects, making construction a much more complicated (and frustrating) endeavor.  Carl's heart had not been in the project because he rightly felt we didn't need more work, and after six years of weeding the mess, I now agree. 

The north side of the Pachyberm has been a monumental problem.  Like a kid in a candy shop, I had opted not to put as much stone in the hill as we normally do so I'd have more space for plantings.  Unfortunately, this left me with more space for weeds, too.  Somehow we ended up with a rampant infestation of quack grass which we've been battling every year.  

As we worked on Friday afternoon, I fantasized about removing Thing Two and using the rocks on a remodeling job of the north side of the Pachyberm.  

"Just think," I gushed, "We could take all those rocks and cram them into the hill here and cut down on better than half the weeding.  We could make it look just like the Escarpment, random stacked rocks.  Wouldn't that be beautiful?"

Carl looked at me and shook his head.  "Yes, it would be nice, but we don't need any more work, do we?"

"No, but you're always saying we have to cut back by fifty percent around here; this is would be a good place to start with since it's our biggest headache," I said.

All afternoon we went back and forth on the topic as we worked.  Construction on Castle Aaargh has finished for the year as it's now freezing at night.   When we applied for the sanitary permit for the new septic tank a few weeks ago, we were told it would be doubtful it would be installed any more this fall due to excessive rainfall.  

"Next spring is looking to be a very busy time," I grumbled as I tried to find the end of a quack grass root in the muck.  " Since the septic won't be done until spring, I'm thinking we should get a jump on this area."

"You really think this is a good idea?" Carl asked.  "We don't know how long the weather will hold."  

"True, but I know you're just as sick of weeding this disaster as I am, wouldn't it be nice to have nothing but rocks here?"

My wheedling worked.  Carl sighed, "Ok, I guess.  Let's see what we can do before the snow flies."

    The first thing was to move all the plants in the area to be renovated.  There was a truly giant 'Northwind' panicum grass on the hill which has flopped for years.  We dug and pried and dug some more; Carl ended up using a heavy pry bar at one point and finally, after a good half hour battle, the grass was out of the ground.  What an ordeal that was. 

 Dwarf conifer Abies Lasiocarpa 'Arizonica Compacta' was in the way of the renovation and we carefully moved it from the north side of the Pachyberm to the south.  We hope it survives the transplant; we have three of them in the gardens and they are a stunning tree.

With the trees, daylilies and hostas out of the way in a miserable heap, we could start reconfiguring the shape of the hill, making it narrower and higher. The afternoon was waning and a steady drizzle was falling.  We were both getting wet and our feet were heavy with sticky clay.  The Pachyberm had been built with much heavier soil from when the geothermal was dug, definitely nothing like our usual sandy loam.  

The sun was going down and we were ready to call it quits when my phone rang.  Our septic installer, Ann's brother, Fred, was on his way to survey our site and see what the soil conditions were like.  We were both surprised since we'd pretty much given up on the idea this fall.  After looking things over, now we're tentatively optimistic we may be on Fred's schedule this coming week depending on what the inspector decides.

We determined we had to remove two large trees to make room for the mound system, so we'd might as well do it right away on Sunday morning just in case.  Joel volunteered to come home and do the chainsaw honors at 8AM. 

The sad part is one of the trees is an over thirty-year old sumac.  Sumacs don't usually grow as large as this one did, but it was right smack dab in the middle of the mound site.  It had to go.


 I couldn't help thinking the stump had a sad 'face' here.  Ok, I have a vivid imagination.
Sumac wood is gorgeous, there are so many different colors in the grain.  Though this is not poison sumac, some people are allergic to the wood; so to be on the safe side, we do not burn the brush and Carl uses face masks when he does any lathe turning.  This is the biggest sumac tree I've ever seen.

 Carl kept the bigger limbs and trunk for future projects.   

A spruce tree had to go too.  We saved all the greenery for my urns and for our friend Jill to use for wreath-making.  The top six feet of the tree is sitting in the pond right now; I might use it as a Christmas tree if the needles hold that long.

 My camera battery died before we were done, but with Joel's help, we had the trees cleaned up by 11:30AM and he was on his way home.

Carl and I went to town to buy groceries for Mom and for us and after a light lunch, we were back at the Pachyberm/Thing Two renovations.

David stopped in for an impromptu visit, and with any luck, this may be the last time anyone drives between the two Things.  Thing One is on the left, Thing Two is on the right; for now, Two is safe from demolition.  

Carl and I shoveled muck up the hill and moved about six big rocks into place this afternoon.  What a job; it's hard to drive the tractor because the clay sticks to my feet and causes them to slip off the brake and clutch pedals.  

 There was a Green Bay Packer football game on TV this afternoon, and during a lull in the activity, I checked the 'Grandma Cam' to make sure Mom was watching her favorite team.  To my alarm, she was seated in the living room with her head hanging to one side.  Carl called her house phone and after fifteen rings, she hadn't moved, so I jogged up to her house to check on her.  When I opened the door, she woke up instantly (phew!).

"Why are you here?" she asked.

"I wanted to know if you're watching the game," I said, taking the remote and locating the station.  Apparently the game was delayed and Mom had fallen asleep when she couldn't find it on TV.  With the game on and Mom stationed in her rocker, I gave her a kiss and headed back out the door for home.  

We continued working until darkness descended again.  The lawn is all chewed up from the big lugs on the new tractor tires, but I'm still optimistic.  This coming week is going to be a doozy, like usual, I know we've bitten off more than we can chew.   But that's nothing new.  

Carl said he's either out of shape or the rocks (and gravity) are getting heavier.  I agree; I was dangling off the end of a crow bar this afternoon while he was trying to shove some muck under one of the boulders and it was all I could do to keep one end of the rock a few inches off the ground.  Surely it wasn't this bad the last time we moved them?  I mean, really, we're not getting that much older....?  

Ok, we are, but I encourage him by pointing out we're cutting back on the work in the long run.   (Hey, it sounds good.)   My timing kinda stinks too, especially with the septic work a possibility this coming week.

 But I don't want Carl to revolt. 

These sort of signs don't work with gardening, either.


FlowerLady Lorraine said...

You two wear me out, just by reading your posts about moving rocks, cutting down trees, etc. Small rocks are heavy, so I can't even imagine moving those monstrosities you deal with.

I hope this work will ease your garden chores next spring/summer.

Happy Fall ~ Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

Shirley said...

Wow! You two are so ambitious and I love reading about your latest escapades!! I've never thought of those signs in those terms! Made me laugh!! Hope your weather holds for you.

Carol said...

Okay that I've read all of that my body hurts and says it's time for a nap :) You amaze me with all you get done. I'm still just trying to clean up flowerbeds and stay on top of the leaves and it's not working for me. LOL!

Karen said...

Rainey, I sure hope the rocks cut down on weeding or I'll have to apologize to Carl again. :-)

Shirley, I'm glad you found our escapades entertaining, thank you! And I love the sign, too. Makes me laugh every time.

Carol, I don't think we're going to get all of the gardens cleaned out before it snows either, I have to step up my pace. I agree, it's time for a nap!

Sue said...

You guys have a gift for making beauty. I'm glad Carl gave in---I'm sure it's going to turn out great. Rest up well this winter---I'm sure next year will be even busier!

Indie said...

It is always sad to have to cut down such big trees. The rings on that sumac are so pretty! I love all your rocks. There will always be people with different tastes (I happen to find some popular formal English gardens incredibly bizarre), but to each his or her own, and I love how you put a spin on the comment and now call it your 'pachyberm'! I'm glad you have some tractors and machinery to help with all that work. Is a garden ever really truly finished?

outlawgardener said...

I'm always in awe of the scale and scope of your projects! You two are amazing and your writing always brings a smile.