Friday, March 28, 2008

Gardening is about faith ...

... or is it hope? In any event, it's about believing that despite all evidence to the contrary you can make your garden look a certain way. Say, for example, as if has a lawn.

Easter weekend found me ripping up sod. Ripping up sod is easier when you actually have some sod to rip up. This was more about leveling. I ripped, I edged, I graded, I added lime. I did a lot of weeding in the garden beds too -- it was hard to ignore the pervasive wild strawberries.

By Tuesday I was done, but exhausted. I didn't think it would take me more than a half day, but with Easter egg hunts, cooking, spring break (for one child), and school/homework (for the other -- can't we all get on the same schedule?), it took 3 days of working a few hours a day.

Thursday finally arrived and Enfield Farm installed their Riviera Bermuda sod. I guess I had built up some high expectations. It will be beautiful! It will be instant lawn! It will transform my garden! I will feel like the most accomplished gardener!

My garden still looks like crap.

Here's where I make myself feel better: They didn't bring enough sod, so there is an unfinished area, that will look better as soon as they come back today. The grass is still dormant. I knew that it would take 4 weeks to emerge from dormancy and take root. Just give it time. It does look better than it did: it's a uniform light brown instead of a patchy green/dark brown. The green mesh (you warned me Marta!) will disappear once the lawn thickens.

I will try to have faith (or hope or patience or whatever). I will try to remember that good gardens take time. There are no quick fixes. It takes time to set down roots and transition from a dirt pit backyard to a lush, inviting garden.

I am going to water, fertilize, and concentrate on how wonderful my perennials look. I am going to enjoy the warm weather. I am going to sit with my knitting on the patio and bask in the sun before it turns humid and buggy.

And I will remind myself that it will look better soon ... right?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Iris Comeback?

The little spears of iris foliage have been appearing daily. My irises were almost completely wiped out 2 years ago because of iris borers. I recovered some (rinsing the rhizomes with 1:10 bleach:water solution) and last fall I went a bit wacko at the Iris Society booth at the Lewis Ginter Plant sale last fall. (For the knitters out there: you've seen similar behavior at the Socks That Rock booth before.) I hope to enjoy some iris blooms this spring! Take some time to read this essay from today's Washington Post. And for you Richmond Iris lovers, here is a short article on our "alley irises."

Contrary to the author of the Post article, I do not call my Siberian Irises weeds. They definitely are "vigorous" but live in harmony with my poppies as long as I share them with friends each fall.

Celebrate the green in your garden today ... Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Creating a buffer

Since we live in a very neighborly neighborhood, I was very happy when, during the destructive Hurricane Isabelle, we lost our ugly 6' privacy fence. The BackBou built a nice picket fence to match the one of our neighbor to the right so that now I can wave at friends and neighbors in the alley.

I also really like the look of the old brick garage to the left in this picture. And I was fond of the view of my alley neighbor's yard ... until they put up a huge privacy fence. No more borrowed view. And their garage (on the right) is not a thing of beauty. I need a screen. Not a wall, but a screen.

My restrictions: I can't plant anything too high since I have a veggie garden to the right and on the left side of the picture, two Arkansas Black apple tree babies (almost two years old and not much more than whips). I don't want to block too much sun.

So here is my current plan:

Since I recently went to see Richard Bitner's talk "Gardening with Conifers" I knew that I had to try some of his recommendations. However, I love camellias and they grow so well in my yard. I also think I'm going to go with the Juniper "sky rocket" instead of his recommendation of a Thuja "Emerald Green." I'm still on the fence about that. Arborvitae are everywhere (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and I like the color of the Juniper better. The two small blobs are pinus sylvestris "fastigiata" and pinus strobus "nana."

I was going to put in an espaliered Asian pear by the veggie garden, but I think I'm going to have to go with the much easier Hardy Kiwi from my favorite people, Edible Landscaping (they also supplied the apple trees, my blueberries, and alpine strawberries).

I can't wait to start moving and digging! But I will have to wait for at least another month I think ...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Is eco-sod a contradiction?

The current sorry state of affairs with our so-called lawn
This has been a protracted conflict. I have not come to this decision easily. I've had years now to attempt various strategies. I've never fought the weeds, but realized that the weeds were telling me what my soil needed. I aerated. I added lime, compost, and clover. I mowed high. I left the clippings to compost. I let the grass go dormant in the summer to save water. I created garden beds. I hardscaped. I mulched a third of the backyard for an oven area, raised veggie beds, and a play area for the kids.

And yet. I still want just a bit of grass for a little lawn. So we can play a wee bit of soccer. So we can frolick with the dog. And yes, so it can look pretty.

Grass seed never would take. We are outside in the yard too much and just couldn't give it a fighting chance. So much babying. But I hated the idea of supporting the typical sod farmer in the Richmond area whose farm is by the Chesapeake Bay. Sod Farms are exempt from the typical run-off regs for farms. They are one of the biggest polluters of the Bay (not my opinion, but my friend Joe who lobbies for The Chesapeake Bay Association). Yet I didn't want to get my sod from outside this area because of the eco-cost of transportation. I also wasn't ready to hitch my horse to the sod wagon without talking with an expert about all my options. Maybe I just hadn't met the right groundcover yet.

Enter Jerry Carter. When my friend recommended Jerry, I was prepared for the typical landscaper guy. All fescue lawn and double-shredded hardwood mulch. But I was wrong. My first email reply from him was to inform me of the many environmental issues concerning sod and who in the area was attempting organic sod. And then he asked: "do you really need sod?"

This is what won me over. Because let me tell you. Richmondians love their lawns. It takes a brave, clever, enlightened landscaper to suggest that maybe lawns are not the be all and end all of a yard.

We met. We talked. I decided. Since:
  • I really do want a small lawn (I don't have the specific dimensions, but the space is about 200 square feet),
  • we need it to be drought tolerant,
  • we need it to be durable (dog, lots of entertaining, lots of running kids),
  • and it must establish quickly (see above),
we are going to call a sod farm (in the central Va area that is experimenting with organic techniques) about some Bermuda Grass sod. I'm also going to plant some dwarf mondo grass in an area semi-covered with flagstones. I'm thrilled.

So while environmentally-friendly sod is probably not possible in the strictest sense, I'd like to think that I've found a way to solve for the lawn issue while not completely over-riding my environmentalism.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Early March Garden

Pretty things in the early March garden ...