Posts Tagged ‘landscaping’

washing away

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Another hot couple of days but luckily the thunderstorms have replenished our water collection tank. Yay! However, take a look at what a torrential downpour does to our yard…

there goes our yard

That brown stream? That’s our yard going down the storm drain!

Still not enough plants holding our new soil to the slope, apparently. The front slope with all the Curlex is holding just fine. And the beds that have mulch are holding fairly well. But the water runs down the paths I’ve been digging out that have yet to receive pea gravel and then pours out into the street. We need the gravel to slow down water. Yeesh, always a plan and just never enough time to make it all happen!

Hoping we can get a few truckloads of pea gravel delivered soon before our entire yard washes away. Sadface.

much mo’ betta

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Sunrise on the cedar arbor with its new stainless steel rods. Was definitely the right decision. Just needs the vines to get growing…

love the new arbor now

What it used to look like.

modding the Asian arbor

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

About that arbor I ordered…

arbor just after it was installed, avec trellisy bits

Yup, that one. Love the Asian influence. Hate the unnecessary busy-ness that detracts from the simplicity of the form. I blame the traditional trellis bits up the sides and across the top. Not a big deal — it can be simplified. First, you pull those trellisy bits off. You are so outta here…

trellisy bits are so outta here

See, looks better already!

a clean slate

Then you take the .25″ OD (outside diameter) x .028″ wall T-304/304L stainless steel tubing you ordered from to fit where the ugly wood trellis was…

steel rods

Why steel rods? Strong. Minimal. Modern. They tie in with the steel going on elsewhere in the landscape now. And steel and cedar look great together, duh.

You measure and mark equal distances for the tubing, then drill a hole wide enough to insert it…

measure twice!

Then you hammer the tube into the hole. The tubing will cut itself into the cedar in the opposite post (where you marked it).

apply hammer liberally

Saw off the excess rod…

saw off the excess steel rod

You countersink the rods so they’ll sit just below the surface of the cedar rather than flush, leaving you room to wood putty the holes for a cleaner look…

countersink the rods

And the next thing you know, your arbor looks much, much nicer…

all done except the top!

The simple steel bars fade into the background. With the offending wooden trellis mess gone, the focus is on the architecture of the uprights and the upswept Japanese torii pieces across the top of the arbor. Essentially, a torii symbolizes that you’re stepping into an inner sanctuary or sacred place. Welcome to our garden, neighbor!

Steel bars still need to get installed across the top, but I really love how it’s looking…

steel rod closeup

Thanks, David! You rawk.

the roots of a veggie garden

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Progress! Our hot dip galvanized steel planter boxes and stair risers were delivered by Rhode Island Welding just a few days ago and our buddies at Savage Trucking helped us set them in place. Here’s all the heavy metal action you missed out on.

Rhode Island Welding drove up with our load of steel…

the boxes arrive

The Savages unloaded everything with their big digger…

boxes come off the truck

Rich helped maneuver the boxes into the driveway…

gratuitous beefcake shot of rich

It required a little layout to make sure everything pieced together correctly. Figuring out which end was “up” was a little challenging…

laying them out in the driveway

Then the boxes were hoisted up to the top of the retaining wall to their new home…

hoisting them up

Each box was constructed to fit the angles of our crazy slope, so they had to be fitted together just right — like the pieces of a puzzle.

setting them in place

Once everything was in place, Smithfield Peat delivered 7 yards of planting soil — 60% compost, 40% screened loam, per my request. Since the backhoe was still there, we were able to avoid lugging the soil up the slope shovel by shovel. You rock, Savages!

adding soil

They’re a little bit taller than I’d pictured, but all in all the new steel boxes look awfully pretty…

boxes from across the stree

And they’ll probably last longer than I will.

ready for planting!

Ready for planting! Our tomatoes will be thrilled.

hardening our hardscape

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

So we haven’t talked hardscape in a while. Let’s. Remember how I like to dream big? No? Maybe this will refresh your memory…

d-crain corten steps |

d-crain corten steps |

Not so long ago, I confessed an unrequited love for Corten steel in the garden, like those steps backfilled with gravel. Gawgeous. Minimal. Streamlined. Perfect in a modern landscape. [Shot from above and many more examples on D-Crain’s site. And Andrea Cochran’s site. And Lutsko Associates’ site.]

With visions of steel in my head, I did a little research and learned that Corten lasts a long time in a Mediterranean climate — like in sunny California. Less so in New England with its damp, cold winters. The patina from the corrosion is what makes it appealing. But the rust can bleed onto other surfaces, including our brand-new concrete retaining walls. And burying the steel in the ground speeds up corrosion. So is there a way to make steel last longer, considering the investment?

The answer is hot dip galvanized steel. Hot dip? what the heck is that, you say? The steel is “… immersed in a kettle or vat of molten zinc, resulting in a metallurgically bonded alloy coating that protects the steel from corrosion.”

Zinc. Hmm. The American Galvanizers Association claims it’s sustainable — the zinc itself is 100% recyclable and the hot dip process protects steel for 50 years. 50 years! That’s a long time! That pretty much convinced me hot dip galvanized over Corten. So this is where we’ll be using it:

For steel planter boxes in the veggie garden area at the top of the retaining wall that runs along our front driveway…

veggie garden area

The layout (click to biggify)…

raised beds layout and dimensions

For risers on the steps up to the veggie garden that currently look like this…

concrete stair disaster

Ugh. The concrete crew just could not get them right. We talked about repouring them ourselves. But then we decided the raised beds would be made of steel and it just seemed easier to make the risers out of the same material and backfill with gravel. So that’s the plan…

dimensions for steel risers for the veggie garden stairs

Which is perfect, because out back we want a full set of steel stairs at the end of the other retaining wall. Remember when I drew that?…

layout for stairs next to wall out back

Now imagine the chalklines in steel and backfilled with gravel. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

So the drawings went over to Rhode Island Welding a few weeks ago. They constructed the boxes and the stairs and then sent them off to a galvanizer in Massachusetts.

Expect to see the result — soon!

what CAN’T you get on eBay?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

A few people have asked me where I picked up the cedar arbor we just put in

remember that new arbor? made our Japanese arbor but they do have other styles — most a little too, how you say? suburban? quaint? for our lot. Found Three Man on eBay.


Real cedar.

More affordable than what I could find locally.

Got it fast.

Came with simple directions on how to put it together — and hardware.


My husband hates it; however, he harbors ill will toward all arbors. The good news is I have an idea to mod it up a little and hopefully he’ll detest it less. Must make time to pursue that.

Cannot attest to quality and endurance until it gets at least a season under its belt, so check back next year.

Did I mention free shipping?

trellis jealous?

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

My plants are pining for vining and just can’t wait any longer. So in addition to the arbor that just went up, David whipped up a trellis for our oddly shaped concrete retaining wall out back. Remember that massive thing?

the retaining wall

Measures about 6’10 high at one end and just over 2′ at the other end. The usable wall face is roughly 14′ wide. The crazy insane slope and our pickiness made it impossible to find the perfect trellis, which essentially meant make one. David picked up copper tubing at the hardware store — the heavier walled Type M.

Then he broke out the graph paper…

mad genius calculations

I can only assume the question marks in his mad genius calculations are an indication of chaos theory. After that, he moved on to real-world application…

david engineering those right angles

He soldered the tubing together one joint at a time to create a frame for the trellis. Dudes dig fire…

soldering the joints together

After that, he drilled holes into the concrete to attach the trellis frame to the wall. Not easy…

concrete drilling

Keeping it level was a challenge but it all worked out…

lots more drilling

David DIYed some brackets out of the same copper pipe. Clever boy…

DIY brackets

Then drilled holes through the pipe and used 3/32″ steel wire to oh-so-patiently create his trellis grid…

steel wire spool

threading the wire

bolting the wire in place

And look — DONE!

detail shot

Simple. Ish. Minimal. Love it. And to adorn his new creation…

trellis with rubus calycinoides planted

Rubus henryi bambusoides (also called Rubus henryi var. bambusarum). From China, the leaves resemble bamboo…

rubus calycinoices closeup

… although it’s actually a bramble, like roses, raspberries and blackberries (all related). Tiny thorns. Small pink flowers. But it’s really all about the foliage. Planting this is kind of an experiment as I’m not sure it will be hardy here in New England, although it appears that Arnold Arboretum may have had some success growing this. We’ll see. Should it not return next year, I can always move my Akebia quinata Shirobana here. Nothing kills an Akebia.

gnome, part deux

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Remember a few days back when a tall, handsome garden gnome showed up in our yard and knocked together that arbor? Well, he returned, worked his gnomey-is-to-nub-me magic again and now the arbor is installed. Yay!

Graham worked up a sweat digging post holes 3′ down…

post hole digging

Note his precise motions into the hole. There was much repetition…

post hole digging, mo deepa

Holes primed, it was time for insertion. Of Sonotube. G-rated…

sonotube in the holes

David added longish bolts to the ends of the arbor posts…

long bolts added to arbor posts

Graham whipped the concrete to a froth. Of a sort…

concrete mixing

Then, um, the holes were filled to the top with the stuff…

concrete in the holes

The boys set the arbor into the mixture. There was hardening…

setting the arbor in place

not going anywhere

And then everyone smoked a cigarette…

a job well done

Meanwhile, in the wings, my vines have been waiting…

passionflower in waiting

One of my passion flowers (passiflora cereulean) has already started to bloom. Look at that! Like a daisy in a grass skirt! Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds LOVE these. Native but not perennial here in New England, it seeds freely and returns year after year.

Also planting hyacinth bean vine, which starts looking really good in the heat of summer. The dark purple beans in the fall are what I really love. A nice companion for the passion flower and another great butterfly attractor…

hyacinth bean vine |

hyacinth bean vine |

And last but not least, as I’m always one to cram way too many plants into one spot, I have an akebia quinata ‘Shirobana’…

akebia quinata shirobana foliage |

akebia quinata shirobana foliage |

akebia quinata shirobana flowers |

akebia quinata shirobana flowers |

Only flowers for a few weeks, as I recall from my last garden (3 years ago!), but the foliage is bright green 3/4 of the year and has that Asian look I’m going for. I suppose if I were to plant just one vine it would be this one. Just really, really pretty and people always ask what it is.

So anyway, I’m thrilled to get the arbor up. And the next morning, no regrets.

the next morning, no regrets

how’s that curlex holding up?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

curlex rolls

So the Curlex has been in place for a few weeks now. Has it kept our slope from washing away? I am pleased to report that yes, so far, it has successfully b**ch-slapped our erosion issues.

Here’s where we were on March 30 after all that flooding…

washouts on march 30

More soil was added during the first week of April…

new soil added in the first week of april

Then the Curlex erosion control matting was added and erosion control plants put in the ground…

slope fully curlexed

And here’s what it looks a few weeks later after planting and some fairly heavy rains…

dirt from above

No dirt under the matting has washed out. However, dirt from above (not held by the matting) washed down over it. Just a little. And no wonder, with no grass, very few plants and absolutely no mulch, the water just rushed down the slope and took some of our new topsoil with it…

up above, it’s all dirt

Very happy with the Curlex. I see a few weeds beginning to poke their heads through here and there…

weeds coming up thru curlex

I’ll have to put a stop to that immediately.

Remember the slope between us and our neighbor? The area where we found the lead levels so high and had the soil dug up and carted away?…

removing lead soil from other slope

Our lovely neighbors and I thought it would be smart to put down Curlex on this slope, too, before the spring rains washed all the new soil downhill…

adding curlex to the other slope

So I took care of that a few weekends ago and then started plugging in some plants sure to hold that slope back…

curlex and some erosion control plants added

On the front slope, one of the native plants we chose was a Symphoricarpos var. albus (Common Snowberry), which produces big white berries in autumn. I figured that closer to the house it would be nice to have more color, so I chose Symphoricarpus x ‘Kordes’ Amythest (Coralberry)…

amythest coralberry

Not a native variety but it produces the most irresistible, insanely colored berries you’ve ever seen — good for the birds…

amethyst™ coralberry |

amethyst™ coralberry |

I also threw in a few native Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachussetts’ (bearberry) like we have on the front slope…

more bearberry

Not only good for erosion control, it also produces bright red berries for the birds in the fall…

common bearberry |

common bearberry |

And for good measure, I thought I’d see if some of my brilliant chartreuse Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ might work here…

sedum angelina

Like all sedums, it’s a tough little stonecrop that covers the ground quickly and doesn’t ask for much care or much water. Flowers for the butterflies in summer. And in the fall, it takes on the most gorgeous pinkish-orange overtones that will look fab with the colorful berries on the plants around it…

sedum angelina | the BEST gardening blog EVER

sedum angelina | the BEST gardening blog EVER

I’m not done adding plants to the slope…

back corner still to be planted

Something ferny with a bluish or silvery cast would make a nice foil to the other shades going on. I’ll report back when I find just the right thing. In that far back corner slope starting at about the oak, I want to plant Rhus aromatica ‘Gro Low’ (Fragrant Sumac). I just discovered it during last week’s trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden…

fragrant sumac at brooklyn botanic

A native great for holding slopes that fills in quickly, is undemanding and drought tolerant, and offers flowers and catkins (food for birds) in the spring. In the fall, it turns flamey red…

fragrant sumac gro-low |

fragrant sumac gro-low |

What a showstopper. I haven’t found a local nursery that carries it, although there’s bound to be one. High Country Gardens has it, for sure. I think I may be able to use it under our dogwood out front as well.

For those of you have slopes like I do, I came across another great article on not-your-typical groundcover alternatives. Worth exploring.

*     *     *     *     *     *

UPDATE: Okay, I’m having some luck in hunting for slope plants with blue foliage that can handle a mix of sun and shade. There’s Carex Glauca Blue Sedge

carex glauca (or flacca) blue sedge |

carex glauca (or flacca) blue sedge |

Or Carex Glauca (also Flacca) Blue Zinger

carex glauca (flacca) blue zinger |

carex glauca blue zinger |

Ferny, no. But they have a similar upright and then arching manner that make them strong contenders.

front slope done, check

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Just a few weeks ago, April 6 to be exact, the first round of planting our front slope left us two-thirds of the way done…

where we left off

Yesterday, elves descended and finished up the planting. Yay! My friends Shiva and Ellen tackled the last third of the erosion zone using the same plants as the rest of it…

the plants arrive

Same story as before: Cut the Curlex. Dig a hole. Plant…

shiva and ellen slope planting

Later that afternoon, all done…

the slope, finito!!

Amazing how much greener everything is in just the last few weeks. The oaks leafed out, our pathetic little dogwood (doesn’t like being planted in the shade of an oak) is flowering and the plants in the slope have really taken off. Definitely looks like Spring.

And now my little garden pixies are gone… Elvish has left the building. Victory dance.

ellen’s victory dance