Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Big Project

A week or so when I listed the projects I wanted to complete this year, I hinted that I had a big project in mind, and I do. Several years ago, I planted several big clumps of decorative grass along the fence that divides us from our neighbor. Mainly it was a place to put some miscanthus grass that I had and did not want to just throw away. When the grass died we tried sunflowers there, but nothing has ever really worked well. Then about two years ago we visited friends in New Mexico and got interested in xeriscape gardening - gardening with minimal water - and some of the plants that will do well in our climate, but which hate our clay-rich soil. Because the fence is at the extreme of our yard it is hard to water and would lend itself to a garden that needs less water, so here's the project: I want to build a raised bed and plant it with bee and hummingbird attracting plants that don't need much water.

There are several challenges: 1) the yard slopes about 8 inches from right to left; 2) the native honeysuckle on the trellis is well established and we want to keep it; 3) there is a rotting tree stump in the middle of the space; and 4) this is Central Virginia and our soil holds water like a sponge. So, here's the plan:

First, I'm going to use timbers of some sort to build a box for the garden. They will have to stair step up from left to right. I will have to level each row until I get out of the ground. Overall, I think I want it about 12 inches tall at the right end.

Secondly, it will have to end about 12 inches from the trellis and honeysuckle. That will create a "well" for the honeysuckle, so I will need to create a swale to run off the water.

Thirdly, I need to try to break up the old stump as much as possible. It can be buried in soil and will not matter, but I would like to clear it away from the fence enough to place the landscape timber between it and the fence. It's been rotting for about five years, so I may be able to take an ax to it and do pretty much damage now.

And finally, I will have to measure carefully since I have to build it from the left end up toward the trellis and that's the hard way! Once I build the box I will put in several inches of gravel and then several inches of sand. I'll top it with several inches of enriched dirt - Mitchell makes great dirt in his composter - and then the plants will be those that like a drenching, but good drainage. I will need to put weep holes of some sort in the downhill end of the box so that the water can get out.

I already have a catalog from High Country Gardens marked and ready to order - penstemon, evening primrose, salvia, creeping thyme, and agastache. I also plan to transplant some sea oats that are spreading where I don't want them, and maybe a varigated yucca that is not doing well where it's currently planted.

With luck I can build it in three weekends. I have a Mantis tiller that will break up the dirt, but I will still have to place the timbers individually and attach them somehow so they can't fall down. I will see what Mitchell can suggest for that. Then it's simply a matter of carrying in bags of gravel and sand. Stay tuned for progress reports.

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