More rock, more aching back work

(This entry was originally posted Friday, 8/3/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

Here’s what G and I accomplished today, finishing what we started last Sunday.

I’m amazed at what we’ve accomplished, amateur rock wall builders that we are. Each rock successfully placed feels like such an accomplishment. And yet, at the end of another exhausting day, I wonder, “Will we ever be done?”

Yes. I think I can even see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When we finally finish, I’m going to pull all our receipts and add up how many pounds (tons!) of rock we’ve installed in the landscape. Now that should be interesting!

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That’s how the boulder crumbles

(This entry was originally posted Sunday, 7/29/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

We tackled the wall between the steps and the waterfall. The one big rock right next to the waterfall (at the edge of this photo) was too big for us to pick up and carry. It wasn’t so bad getting it out of its place in the other hillside and rolled onto the patio but we didn’t think we could heft it to its new home. We guessed it was close to 200 lbs. So G decided that he’d roll it from the far side of the patio and up the hill.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

It worked for a few rolls, and then, dang it, the top half of the rock cracked off.

Bummer.

Instead of crying over a split rock, we decided to look on the bright side. We now had two manageable halves, not one huge rock and it was a clean break – all good things. It was much easier to put it in place and place the top back on so that the break was barely noticeable.

We still need to figure out how to merge this space to the edge of the pond but that will wait for another day.

Oh, yes, we laid sod, too! Doesn’t it look nice? Amazing that an non-lawn aficionado like me can be so pleased with new sod.

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Stepping up to the challenge

(This entry was originally posted Saturday, 7/14/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

We finished the wall we started almost a month ago and added steps. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?

That’s 4 steps, 8 stones, 960 total pounds. Let me tell you there were many ughs, grunts and groans in the process.

But, oh, so worth it! I’ve run up and down the steps many, many times, giggling and grinning like the fool I am. Who’d a thunk that such a simple thing as a few stone steps would delight me so much? Certainly not me.

The soil in front is waiting for sod. The lawn level had sunk below patio grade about 1 1/2″ but what surprised us was the 4″ drop just a few feet away at the base of the slope. We debated how to fix it and in the end, hauled in soil and opted for sod. I can’t wait to see the sod in place. That’s right, me, the one who is usually ho-hum about lawn can’t wait to see new grass go down. Will wonders never cease.

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Shade, shade! my kingdom for shade! (with apologies to Shakespeare)

(This entry was originally posted Wednesday, 7/10/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

Neither my garden nor I are hothouse flowers. Heat makes us wilt and fade away. Excessive heat, as we had yesterday (102 deg F yesterday), really puts us out of sorts.

I’ve been dragging the hose around to all my newly planted treasures, deep soaking my beds while I check for signs of sunburn and imminent doom.

Most are fairing well. However, my Corylopsis pauciflora’s leaves are crispy critters. The heat is only partly to blame for that. We’ve been redoing the bank where it is planted and I’m sure we disturbed the roots, making it more susceptible to heat stress.

Our South-facing backyard, with its large patio and deck, soaks up and radiates heat back at us. Every year when the heat hits, I vow to plant more trees to provide respite. So far, I’ve planted 13 deciduous trees:
one Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak), two Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura), two Cornus kousa (Korean dogwoods), one Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’, one Lagerstroemia ‘Tuscarora’ (crape myrtle), one Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ (Japanese maple),
one Stewartia pseudocamelia, one Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’, and three Acer circinatum (vine maples). Some are relatively young but my more established trees are already providing much needed shade.

I fear I’m going to lose my scarlet oak, though, and that breaks my heart. When I began to notice something was amiss, I poured over resources and scanned the internet for clues to no avail. I called in 2 tree experts to come take a look. One finally gave me a tentative answer and it was one I did not recognize – exogenous bark. At least I think that’s what he said. Basically, my oak is trying to grow multiple trunks within its bark. He didn’t think it would mean death but he said to watch for dead and dying branches.

When it leafed out this year, there were many – too many – bare branches.

Not good.

I think it’s time to call in the cavalry and see if there’s anything that can be done for it. I sure would hate to lose it and the shade it provides.

As would my garden. Neither of us likes the heat.

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Rock by rock….

(This entry was originally posted Saturday, 7/7/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

I had no idea how much more planting space I’d have once we built the wall and were able to level out the area. Yippee, more plants!

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They’re called chorus frogs for a reason

(This entry was originally posted Friday, 7/6/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

I stopped in at Hughes Water Gardens the other day. I needed more floaters to shade my pond and advice about controlling string algae on my waterfall. I love going there, not just because the staff is helpful and knowledgeable but also because it’s a delightful place to visit.

While I was contemplating which floating plant to purchase, I overheard another shopper ask one of the staff if she could buy tadpoles. When she heard they didn’t sell frogs, she asked where she could purchase them.

“Sorry, but it is illegal to sell native frogs.”

I piped up, apologized for eavesdropping, and said that my experience was that “if you build it, they will come.” My pond was just over a year old and I had loads of Pacific tree frog tadpoles in my pond. She said her pond was much older but she’s never had tadpoles.

“Do you have fish?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Well, that’s likely the reason,” I said, “Fish eat frog eggs. I don’t have fish, so I have frogs.”

And then, she said – and I still can’t believe I held my tongue – that she wanted to buy tadpoles just to have them for a little while anyway, she didn’t want frogs, she didn’t want anything making noise at night.

As she walked away, I shook my head and wondered that she didn’t see how absurd and wrong her quest was. For the sake of our native frogs, I hope she doesn’t find what she seeks.

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Look ma, (almost) no tail!

(This entry was originally posted Monday, 7/2/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

One of my favorite things to do when I take a break from gardening tasks is to sit and peer into my pond. It’s so restful and yet there’s also much life going on in my tiny puddle of a pond.

I could barely contain my excitement this weekend when I spotted a tadpole so danged close to adulthood, it had crept out of the water and onto a lily pad.

It was only when I cropped and sharpened this image, that I noticed what had its rapt attention – 2 mating insects coming dangerously close, unaware they could be dinner any moment. I know love can make us blind but I didn’t think that applied to the insect world. I’ve no idea if they survived to mate again or if my little froggie had an afternoon snack.

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Rock on

(This entry was originally posted Tuesday, 6/17/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

Want to know what a half ton of rock looks like? Take a gander at the photo to the below.

We lifted each of those rocks, many of them two-man rocks, at least three times. Once into the truck, then off the truck into the wheelbarrow to wheel to the patio, then from the patio to the wall. With luck, our first guess for best fit was right, but generally, it was not and we had to lift rocks many more times before we found the one that worked best for the spot.

It took us longer than usual to get in the groove with this rock wall. I began to despair, thinking that maybe we should have hired someone to do this. But then, something clicked and we made progress.

There will be a triangular bed, edged in rock, in front of this wall. It will continue on the other side of the steps (yet to be built), mimicking what we’ve built on the other side of the pond and waterfall.

We’re going to build 4 stone steps between the 2 sections of rock wall (the one on the right will be where it’s dirt and weeds at the moment). I would love big slabs of stone but the cost ($100 each!) and the required heavy machinery to place them (many pounds beyond 2-man rocks) put this idea out of reach. So we’re going with Plan B (which I think I like more than Plan A). We’re going to build the steps with squared basalt rocks along the face (the riser), filling in behind with either 1/4-minus gravel or tumbled bluestone (the tread). I haven’t decided which I prefer for the tread or whether this will be mortared in place or dry stacked. That’s my next area of research.

Whatever I decide upon, I may add mosaics to the face of the stone. Something small and simple, perhaps spirals or waves, or maybe a dragonfly. Something to draw the eye to the back garden when you step in the front door.

We built this wall with more than a ton of gray basalt. And boy, did we feel muscles we didn’t know we had.

But, oh, it looks so good!

I find myself standing and staring at it, loving the play of gray rock and green plants. It defines this area so much better than the slope and mixed plantings that once existed in this area.

When I lose heart at the seeming lack of progress, I glance to the right, see what we’ve accomplished and find the motivation and the energy to keep on moving.

As much as I enjoy the process, I am looking forward to the finish line.

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Lisa Albert, artiste

(This entry was originally posted Thursday, 6/14/07 on my website in a foolish attempt to create a blog without blog software.)

I jokingly refer to myself as craft-impaired. I am amazed by the creativity others exhibit, especially when it comes to re-visioning an object. How do they see the beauty hidden in what I see as junk? What gene do they have that I lack? I can follow their lead (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) but I struggle to come up with original creations on my own. Friends tell me I sell myself short. Are they just being kind or are they able to see my hidden artistic potential?

I’m beginning to think it could possibly be the latter since I’ve recently made two pieces of garden art of which I’m quite proud (inordinately so, I admit).

Here’s my first creation.

With the guidance of my friend, Ann Murphy, Marketing Director for OAN and mosaic artist extraordinaire, I transformed a glazed ceramic globe that had lost most of its glaze into an beautiful orb for my garden.

I told Ann she’s created a monster. I find myself looking at my garden, wondering where else I can add a little mosaic art. Hmm, perhaps a few whimsical pieces on the stone face of the steps leading up my bank – once the steps are built, that is. Try not to get ahead of yourself, Lisa.

Here I am creating my second objet d’art (it sounds so much fancier in French).

I learned to cut metal to create a sculpture at a workshop conducted by metal work artist Ivan McLean. I wore the requisite glamorous outfit (do you think it will catch on in high fashion?) as I guided the acetylene torch around the outline of my sunflower (a simple, yet beautiful shape). It took surprisingly little time and I was delighted at the finished piece.

I’m still contemplating what to insert in the center of my sunflower but I’m considering recycled glass, beads or Capiz shell. I want something that will catch the light. When it’s done, I’ll show it off (you won’t be able to stop me, trust me).

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