New Project: Building a pathway garden

It’s time to tackle a new spot in the garden. Actually, I have two areas that need reforming, but I’ll get to the second, and larger, area another time.

Here is the wasteland between the rain garden and the property-line fence.

new pathway garden starting site

The excuse I offer as to why I haven’t done anything with this spot is that it’s an easement for the power company. Of course, if you take a look at the post oak that’s sitting in the top of the photo, in the middle of the easement, you’ll see how often the power company makes use of it.

The space is 10 feet wide from the fence to the bricks that line the back of the rain garden. It’s time to do something here.

We’ve had 10 inches of rain over the past week, and rule number 1 of gardening is to never work the soil when it’s wet. A footnote to that rule, however, states that gardening in wet soil is permissible if one has been shut in the house with two bored children for a week, going steadily mad.

What luck!

Step 1: Layout

Using a garden hose, I laid out an outline of the path and bed. The path will echo the curve of the back of the rain garden, and the bed will be everything that’s not path. I used a scrap piece of lumber, about 4′ long, to help guide the hose and ensure the path’s width is even along its length. Then, using a flat-edged shovel, I dug a smooth edge behind the hose.

laying out the path and bed using a hose and scrap lumber

Step 2: Soil prep

Compacting the already-tiny pore spaces in my heavy clay is not an optimal way to start off a new garden bed, but working in 3 inches of leftover grit-manure mixture to improve the drainage seems like a reasonable compromise.

path garden till

I tilled in the mixture only for the first third of the bed, because it was 92 degrees and steamy out, and clouds were on the horizon. I took a soil sample of this area a week ago, so I hope I’ll have a response after the holiday weekend. But guess what? I know it’s going to be impossibly acid and void of any nutrients, since that’s the condition of the rest of the unworked garden, so I sprinkled in a very light mixture of lime and a balanced fertilizer. I’ll add more as appropriate when the test comes back.

Step 3: Install edging.

I still have plenty of salvaged brick lying around. Some bricks have more mortar on them than I want to chip away: The return on the labor involved isn’t that high, particularly in the current semitropical conditions. But those bricks are perfect for garden bed edging: Set them so the mortar will be on the planting side, and no one will know.

leveling the brick edging on the path

I dug in the trenched space marking the edge of the bed, and laid the course of bricks. If you look closely, you’ll see the bubble in the level is high on the right. That means it’s not remotely level.

This isn’t surprising; the lot slopes downhill to the north, and the fence runs along the north border of the property. What was surprising was the amount by which I needed to raise the bricks to make them level.

By the way, like many projects, I am doing this one backwards. I should set the pathway first, and save the bed for last. But that’s not as much fun, and I have plants I shouldn’t have purchased now waiting to get in the ground that’s too soggy to be worked.

I leveled the bricks, to each other and to their mates across the way, using a layer of rubble. Then I packed everything firmly in place with lots of sticky mud.

Step 4: Plant those things you couldn’t resist buying last week.

When I stopped off at Big Bloomers last week and hauled away three flats of perennials, among them were 2 oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’) and three Japanese beech ferns, Thelypteris decursive-pinnata, which may be semievergreen here. Crouching on a scrap piece of wood to avoid compacting my fluffyish new garden bed, I planted one of the hydrangeas, adding a mulch of chicken grit around the crown to help stave off rotting, two of the ferns, and a handful of seedlings of Iris tectorum that I grew in my winter sowing adventure. I mulched with a layer of shredded leaves on the newly tilled section.

path garden planted 3

The sun is out today, so perhaps, if we are fortunate, by Sunday the ground will be sufficiently dried out to carry on with the rest of the bed.

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The way of all projects?

I am keen to finish the rain garden project. I don’t have very much left to do; perhaps 25 square feet. But, as always seems to happen, a few other responsibilities have preempted that work.

I am having a large tree removed from my garden this week. Continue reading

Propagation, part 1

With the weather being rather miserable last week, I decided it was time to bring the garden indoors. As things naturally slow down this time of year, and we return to school and work routines, my head clears a bit and it’s easier for me to realize that I’ve got to begin planning for those inevitable bursts of gardening drive that hit me in late February (or maybe sooner, weather permitting).

I have had fairly good luck with propagating plants from cuttings. Some plants work better than others, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way I’ve found to get loads of plants quickly. I also have had moderate success growing plants from seed. So I’m starting the process now, hoping to keep myself and my budget out of trouble later.

I begin by scrounging whatever pots and containers I can find in the shed (self-watering are the best option for lazy gardeners like myself), and giving them a good sanitizing with a solution of bleach and water. Scrub vigorously and rinse well. A little baking soda helps get the encrusted grime off.

My starting medium of choice these days is coir, which comes in compressed bricks from various sources (I got mine at Gardener’s Supply Company). These are easier to deal with and far lighter than sacks of potting soil, and using them alleviates eco-guilt over peat bog destruction. Plus, when it’s all done, it goes in the compost and won’t set up like brick when it gets mixed into the sticky clay of my garden beds.

I unwrap the brick and drop it into a bucket, and cover it with about 4 quarts of warm water. It blows up as it absorbs the water and becomes the lovely fluffy stuff you see here.

I found a slug in one of my pots. Eeeaauugh. Pass the salt.

A sparkling, shiny container ready to go.

These are seeds and seedpods from Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris. Okay, these aren’t cuttings. But I am going to give them a try.

I fill the container with the coir, water thoroughly, sprinkle the seeds over it and add a little more coir over top (just enough to cover). Water again, and stick it outside in the cold frame.

My theory here is that if they scatter their seeds this way in nature, and they’re open to the elements, and they’ve managed to reproduce themselves for who knows how long, then surely I can use the same minimal approach in my garden and expect at least some similar measure of results. Who knows. I imagine it’s perhaps easier with Iris tectorum to divide the clumps, but if I’m lucky with this approach I will be able to have a lovely river of purple-blue blooms next year or year after, whereas with the dividing approach I will have merely a puddle.

Next up: actual cuttings.