Part 1: The Mud And Guts

paver drivewayYou may remember my post late last fall about the installation of 33 pinus flexilis. These trees were 10 feet tall, and had 36″ diameter root balls. We had to push them uphill with the help of an electric pallet jack, as the new driveway was not ready for vehicular traffic.  The driveway you see in the picture above was slated to be replaced at the same time that the new landscape we designed would be installed. This sentence sounds benign, but the actual logistics were anything but. The installation of a landscape and a new driveway usually means a driveway first, and the landscape to follow.  There are good reasons for this order of events.  Any hard structure needs to come first.  The grade of the driveway, terrace, or walk sets the grade of all else. The grade of the ground can be changed. The grade of a hard surface is a given. Decisions would be made about the proper planting level in advance of the drive being finished. That is a dicey proposition, especially when planting big trees.

mud and guts (12)The installation of driveways, walks and terraces involve the placement and staging of lots of equipment and materials, none of which are so friendly to plants. We planted 5 large caliper beech just prior to the old drive removal. The new drive would be installed in 4 phases, and would take better than a month to complete. The rest of the large tree plantings would be worked in and around the phases of the drive. I knew there would be a limit to how long we could work outdoors. The long range forecast was calling for a very mild fall. I was hoping I could take that prediction to the bank.  I had never installed a project of this size, in such a short amount of time, under such daunting circumstances.

mud and guts (13)At this moment in late October, giant piles of old asphalt were waiting to be loaded up and hauled away. Pallet after pallet of new pavers were lined up along the side of the old drive. The lower portion of old driveway was still intact, so we hauled as much plant material to the top as we could. We coordinated with the driveway contractor.  Wherever he was working, we would be working somewhere else.

mud and guts (16)What these pictures do not show are the countless pieces of equipment and people involved in the project. Work was being done on the interior of the house. There was drainage work to be done.  The irrigation system needed revamping. The landscape would be lighted, meaning there would be lots of conduit to be dug in.

October 29 2015 098Removing an old driveway and installing a new one is a huge job. It turned out to be an incredibly good job.  They were as organized and speedy as they could be. The job itself is beautiful. I will say that the day we could no longer use the drive presented serious challenges to our landscape installation. By this time, I was no longer able to drive my suburban to the job. I had to park on a sidestreet a block away, and walk up. Later on, I would hitch a ride with Dan. Her is a great landscape superintendent.  He works along side his crew all day long, and has an unfailingly genial personality. He was able to sort things out with other contractors, even when tempers flared.

mud and guts (20)Once we were in to November, we had rain, and more rain. It became increasingly difficult to get from one place to another. You can barely see in the rear right of the above picture the new pale blue paver driveway advancing towards the road.

mud and guts (19)Mud and guts were the order of the day.  I have never had to work someplace, in spite of having no way to get there. The project manager from the general contractor overseeing every aspect of the work both inside and out had a very big job. He is young and resourceful.  His focus on moving every aspect of the project along in service to the finish was amazing to watch.  From him I learned something new about the power of saying yes. And I told him so.  A little appreciation can go a long way to mitigate a difficult situation.

Dec 2 2015 049After Thanksgiving, the job has become a mud spectacle the likes of which I have I have never seen. The weather was bearable, but moving steadily towards the chilly side. The lowest spot in the yard had a series of drains installed. With a project like this, it is better to plan for the worst case, than wait and see if a problem develops. The big beech you see here had only been in the ground 2 months. The grading around the tree, and the attendant drainage system would protect the tree.

Dec 2 2015 059
Eventually the driveway was finished. The task of repairing all of the collateral damage to the property that came with rebuilding the drive was just beginning.

Dec 2 2015 050Regrading sopping wet clay based soil is next to impossible. Rather than make a bigger mess of what was already a hopping mess, the sod contractor brought in truckloads of sand.  Sand gives up its water instantly, and can be graded and smoothed out. The old sod was stripped off at least 30 feet either side of the finished drive.  Sand was added to produce a smooth surface and graceful slope to the drive that was not too high, nor too low.

Dec 2 2015 047By late November, the only vehicles that could navigate the ground were track powered machines.  Anything with wheels would sink in up to their axles. Luckily, these areas that had sustained such heavy and frequent compaction to the soil from machines would be planted with grass.

Dec 2 2015 046All of the landscape machines had to use an alternate route into the yard, since the driveway was unavailable. This is the scene at the road on December 2nd. A scene it was. Plywood was covering a staging area for trees. A truckload of gravel had been delivered to fill the drainage ditches.  And of course, the many yards of sod waiting to be put down. Needless to say, the general contractor had the street cleaned every day for several weeks.

Dec 2 2015 064It was a happy day indeed, when the driveway reopened in mid December.  By this time, most of the large trees and evergreen shrubs slated for the landscape were in the ground. The last of the grading and sod would go quickly. As it turned out, we finished the last of the mulching and gravel the first week of January. I was just there this past week. All of the plants look great. I owe it all to a very long fall, and a mild winter. The landscape portion of this project-I will post about that part next.

 

The Easter Rabbit

3-BunniesMy first Easter with Buck produced a giant pink stuffed rabbit. It was an Easter gift to me. It was spectacularly big and fluffy, and would have made a quite charming addition to a nursery-a nursery of the baby human sort.  I was a little taken aback, but I did not want to appear ungrateful.  I casually asked him about it over our Easter dinner. He had plenty to say about them. Rabbits are the most non confrontational animals on the planet. They eat lettuce. They are squeaky clean vegan creatures. Even their poop is polite-little perfectly formed pellets. They are soft, cuddly, and have eyes that could melt a heart of stone. They are just plain cute.

best-house-rabbit-breeds-on-the-planet-54d4f74d4d59f continental giant rabbit Buck built a rabbit condo in the mid 1980’s. He found two rabbits at a garage sale, and bought them. Luckily, both rabbits were the same sex. There would be no baby bunnies.  Of course the rabbits needed a house. The house was basically a large box, constructed from beveled cedar siding, with a hip roof structure on the back side. Half of the hutch was completely enclosed.  The hardware cloth floor was with covered with straw. A pair of  mouse hole shaped doorways permitted travel from the covered portion of the hutch, to the open air terrace. The roof was hinged, and could be raised up, so the straw layer could easily be replaced. All this for a pair of rabbits. au_pets.19535.1flemish giant blue bunny I have a client who had a pet rabbit for almost a decade. This rabbit had a name, and a house. He ran around inside, and as he got older, outside. He would take a carrot, or a lettuce leaf from my hand. He was a big warm furry and utterly peaceful beast who bore no one any ill will. He was perfectly content for me to hold him, just like the Flemish giant blue bunny pictured above.

Eastern_Cottontail_(Sylvilagus_floridanus)Rabbit species are many, and are indigenous to ecosystems world wide, one of which is the Eastern cottontail pictured above.Even my back yard. I spotted a rabbit of incredible size out of my bathroom window last week-I could not believe the size. Later that early morning, I spotted the damage to my early spring garden.  Crocus flowers were sliced off. That rabbit even sliced off hellebore flowers.  Astonishing, given that hellebores are poisonous. Deer, which will eat just about anything in the landscape, won’t touch them.  Rabbits (forgive me Buck) are rodents.  Their teeth are formidably adapted to slice through any stem. What was even more irritating was the fact that what was chomped off was still laying there on the ground.  As in the best and biggest big stem of a double white flowering hellebore I have been coaxing along for several years.

Brown_Hare444 from wikipediaI do have clients whose gardens are on Lake Saint Clair. She has a not a rabbit or two, but a population living in her yard.  She would do just about anything to keep rabbits out of her garden. They would keep her perennial gardens mowed down, if they had the chance.  Every day, from spring until fall, they are eating something. I have only seen a rabbit, and rabbit damage twice in my yard, in over 20 years. I consider myself lucky. Pictured above-a brown hare.

lop rabbit Netherland Dutch dwarf from skybirdsales.co.ukThe natural world does not come with any guidelines, suggestions, or guarantees. It is up to the individual gardener to craft a truce, or wage a war with the rabbits.  I did spray my crocus with the most foul smelling natural rabbit repellent I could find. I was not interested in letting the rabbits rob me of my enjoyment of the crocus. I have not seen any damage since. As for my stuffed toy Easter rabbits from Buck, I have many. 12 years worth. I am not complaining. The rabbits and bunnies from him do not have any bad habits. As for the lop Dutch dwarf rabbit from Sky Bird Sales in the UK pictured above, he looks completely benign.

maxresdefault big Flemish giant rabbitI suspect that if my client could arrange to have the rabbits to a sumptous dinner spread of her own making every day, in exchange for them leaving her garden be, she would do it. Gardeners are a dedicated lot. But so are the rabbits.

4544652960Freddie from sheffieldrabbits.co.ukWill I ever get used to the destruction rabbits do to the garden?  Not likely.  They slice stems off that they do not have the good manners to eat. This  is infuriating. But I did enjoy taking some time to read about rabbits.  They are a very diverse group. Pictured above is Freddie, from Sheffield Rabbits in the UK. To follow are more photographs of rabbits I encountered in my reading yesterday-all of them as cute as could be.

P4BzupWubunny buddhism

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IMG_5continental giant rabbit from rossendale-giants.netContinental giant rabbit from Rossendale giants

mini-lop-rabbit-242mini lop rabbit

jack-rabbit-flickr-tinyfrogletjack rabbit

article-2573318-1C06A15800000578-776_964x641mad march hares dailymail.co.ukThe mad march hares, doing their spring dance.

Beautiful-White-New-Zealand-Rabbits-Wallpaperswhite New Zealand rabbits

Runt_and_Paxie flemish giant rabbit from wikipediaRunt and Paxie-can you tell who is who?

Thinking Spring: The First Of The Small Flowering Bulbs

first crocusThe first spring flower in my garden is always a snowdrop, but the crocus are never far behind. This year, they are early. I suppose an unusually mild winter and a decent string of warmish days account for that. Last year, spring begrudging arrived in late April.  My crocus had barely been in bloom a day before one bitterly cold late April night knocked them to the ground. A gardener’s life is much about moments – some of which are very brief. I am more than a week into the crocus blooming-this is a good year for them. This first crocus is blooming through the remains of an old clump of lady’s mantle. I only do the most rudimentary of fall cleanups. I like a garden to have a winter blanket. Still, that crocus bloom pushing its way up through the matted mess of roots and decaying leaves, is a testament to the persistence of life.

FullSizeRender (5)My crocus do not seem mind the thicket of baltic ivy that covers the ground where they emerge every spring.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  Baltic ivy on the surface is a tangled mess of vines.  But underground the roots are stout and unbelievably thick. If you have ever tried to remove a patch of Baltic ivy, I am sure you threw aside your trowel for a sharp bladed trenching shovel. A mature stand of ivy slated for removal takes the sharpest and biggest tool, a steely amount of determination, and a will to overcome. Add to this a lot of sweat and time, and you will get the picture.  My crocus does not mind the ivy. They thrive, in spite of it.

IMG_0144They push through what is underground, and emerge above ground-effortlessly. Gracefully. They manage their life with equal parts of grace and tenacity. It could be that my most favorite part of the crocus blooming is how they make me get down on the ground to see them. Being close to ground level is an experience of nature like no other. Ground level in a garden is an experience of a living city that is thriving. That experience is what keeps me gardening.

FullSizeRender (3)The story of the earth, and all of the life teeming just below and just above the surface, is a tale that delights each and every gardener. I am sure that what makes gardeners such a close but equally diverse group is their respect for the miracle that is nature. Everyone experiences gardening differently. Those differences make for lots of stories that get passed around.  The respect that every gardener feels for that incredible force that we call nature is what glues us all together. On the flip side, I am just about unglued waiting for our winter to end. The crocus is making that easier to bear.

IMG_2853So my story, this 23rd of March, is that I have crocus in full bloom. Crocus are incredibly beautiful. They are a member of the iris family.  The white stripe at the center of the leaves is typical. Crocus bulbs are planted in the fall. The corms are small, and not very expensive. They take next to no effort to get them planted 3 inches below ground. Even on a cold November day, planting crocus is doable.

DApril-16a-2013SC_0040-9-620x416When they bloom, there is an explosion of color. The blooms are large and showy. They populate an area readily and without any intervention from me. I have never done anything to them, except plant and enjoy. I greatly admire how they shrug off the late winter weather. The coming of the crocus tell me that spring is on the way.

IMG_2856The beginning of spring is not always so easy to detect. One spring day, the birds start singing. That is my first sign. The dormant garden has nothing much to say, but for the crocus.  The crocus emerge and go on to bloom during that time when nature is not entirely sure it is ready to swing in to spring. If you are a gardener, transitional blooming early spring bulbs might jump start your spring.

crocusCrocus are not native to North America. The first species crocus bulbs reputedly made their way to the Netherlands in the mid 16th century from Turkey. This photograph of crocus tommasinianus blooming, via Wikipedia, provides ample evidence that the species crocus are just as lovely as the more readily available giant Dutch hybrids –  derived from the species crocus vernus. Crocus_longiflorus5 from wikipediaCrocus longiflorus, photograph from Wikipedia

crocus blue pearlCrocus chrysanthus Blue Pearl  blooming around a fence post, from Wikipedia. It is a gardening moment that stops me dead in my tracks. How enchanting is this? Happy spring to you.

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The Hellebore Festival

helleborus MerlinHellebores are the mainstay of the early spring garden in my zone. The plants themselves feature leathery foliage that may persist throughout a mild winter.  The flowers come first, on leafless stalks that emerge from the ground in late March and early April.  Once the flowers have matured, the new leaves sprout.  They range in height from 15″ to 20″, and appreciate a semi shady location in humus rich and friable soil.

helleborus corsicus IcebreakerI grow one group of hellebores in full sun, but I make sure they have sufficient water. Some clumps are going on 15 years old, and show no signs of any loss of vigor. The summer foliage is lush and glossy.  Deer don’t touch them. What appears to be the petals are actually modified leaves.  The small tubular lime green structures surrounding the center in the above picture are the actual flowers.  Those modified leaves will persist on the plant long into the summer.  This give the impression of a very long bloom time.

hellebore festivalMost hellebores are very willing to set seed. I see many seedlings surrounding my large plants this spring.  Given 3 or 4 years, they will grow on to blooming size. Some of the newer varieties of hellebores feature up or side facing flowers.  Older cultivars of helleborus orientalis feature nodding flowers.  Planting them at the top of a slope or wall will provide a better look at the flowers.  If you choose to cut them, do sear the bottom of the stem in boiling water before you condition them. They will last an amazingly long time floating in a bowl of water.

helleborus lividus Pink MarbleNew to us this year is helleborus lividus “Pink Marble”. The hellebore is shorter and more compact than most.  It grows about a foot tall, and 18″ wide.  The leaves have delicate white veins.  As this hellebore is a little more tender than most, I would plant it with some protection from winds.  A layer of leaves after the ground freezes will help protect it.

helleborus Frilly KittyFrilly Kitty features pink fully double flowers. Hellebore breeding has produced flowers in an astonishing range of colors and shapes.  It remains to be seem which will survive the test of time. Hellebores grown from seed will all be different. A hellebore selected for its flower color or vigor will be reproduced via tissue culture, which insures that all of the characteristics of the parent is repeated in the progeny.

helleborus ConnieHelleborus Spring Promise “Conny” is a white flowered hellebore with maroon spots.  The flowers are stunning.  I am sure this accounts for the fact that we are already sold out of this cultivar. It seems to be a fairly strong grower in my garden.  One clump that is year years old has a number of blooms this year.

helleborus SallySally is another member of the Spring Promise series. Spring Promise is a helleborus orientalis type, and bloom from late February into April.  They come in a wide range of forms and colors.  Sally has lovely greenish yellow flowers atop a very strong growing plant.

Helleborus IcebreakerHelleborus Icebreaker is a personal favorite.  The white flowers mature to a most beautiful shade of green.  Interested further in the green flowered types?  I wrote about them here:  green flowered hellebores  If you are not able to get by the shop today, don’t worry.  We have a great supply of many different cultivars. The best part of this year’s festival?  Mild March weather is making it possible to plant them in the ground  straight away.