Archive for May 9th, 2008

Trench Warfare

Actually, this isn’t a post about grading papers. That will come next week. Lawn, meet Mr. Shovel!Right now, it’s the continuing adventures of one gardener versus dense clay soil and torrential rains.

This sort of battle makes me feel like a grown-up. I remember my father out in the rain, hacking trenches into the garden — a hoe blade deep, and a hoe blade wide — snaking like a minature moat around and away from our Victorian house, trying to keep the water from seeping through the sand and horsehair “mortar” holding the basement walls together. [Yes, there was some genuine cement in there, but where you most wanted the water to stay out, there always seemed to be something distressingly porous. And this in a house that only got a cement floor in its basement in 1966!]. During drier weather, those mini-trenches became places for Tonka trucks to drive, for china figurines of animals to have little kingdoms and little adventures…. but during spring storms and summer squalls, my father would be out there, checking our defensive perimeter to keep us safe and dry.

So now I have a Victorian house, and here’s how it’s been going: I chop out blocks of lawn and clay soil, I remove what earthworms I can to a more peaceful location, and then start mixing peatmoss and Leafgro in with the soil remaining. In go the new plants, and the blocks of sod can be used as edging. Theoretically, very neat. The problems start when it rains, and it has been. Then you have plants swimming in their own little moats, which would probably be great if I was trying to grow reeds, or watercress or tadpoles, and probably even would be copacetic with the dappled willows I want near this black elderberry shrub. But not for the elderberry itself, or much else I’ve got in mind. So then you end up with a series of trenches dug to drain away the initial puddles, like this one I started with….. But of course, it’s not where it ended, because this trench Looking up the slope at the Elderberry and Dappled Willowfilled up, too, and this afternoon I added several more, including a 2ft deep hole, which I kept separate from the rest of the trench until the last minute, so that I could watch a miniature waterfall as everything drained into the new “lowest point”.

My glee was short-lived, alas; I could see standing water shimmering through the grass further down the slope, which means that I haven’t yet begun to really change the local drainage patterns yet.

In some ways, this is all academic, because last summer’s drought meant I wasn’t living near a fen, and last year’s waterproofing and setting of nice new bulkhead doors for the basement have stopped the water getting in there. It’s for the sake of getting a better ecosystem going in the yard that I want things other than grass growing, and those plants want soil that drains.

At least right now, it isn’t beastly hot, and I can dig into the dusk hours without being nibbled by gnats.

And now, so you can see it isn’t all slogging through the mud, a selection of blooms from plants that survived the trip from the old Chez Rethoryke to scenic Elsinore!

I’m sorry I didn’t manage to snag a photo of the central azalea when it was in bloom.  It’s called “Klondyke”, and it is indeed an orange, deciduous azalea, with a lovely scent. Here’s a link that shows Klondyke in its glory.


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