Monday Montage for Spring (Without Words)

Top left: Wisteria blossoms; Top right: Narcissus
Middle left
: Deep Purple Tulip; Middle right: Blue Bearded Iris
: Blue Bearded Iris

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Before and After: The Drainage Project

I have mentioned many times before that our home sits at the low point of our street with everyone's water from both directions heading toward us in a big rainstorm.

A few summers back my brother came between semesters at his university and, with pickaxe in hand, dug a massive trench in the hardened clay soil. He lined the deep trench with river rocks and dubbed it "Trenchy" (said with a heavy French accent... emphasis on the "ee"... just because my brother said it that way).

"Trenchy" became the main dry river bed (or "arroyo") that led all other drainage efforts to the back corner of the property where a large county storm drain sits just on the other side of our property line. Each successive drainage project was heavily dependent on "Trenchy". One hidden drain system next to the house was even dubbed "Trenchy Junior".

As I've gone out during winter storms and observed the flow of rainwater since "Trenchy" was dug, I knew that there would be further adjustments over time once I figured out what we were doing with everything else back there. Last summer, I got into "Trenchy" and removed all the river rocks that had lined its banks. Most of the rocks were buried in layers of silt and their beauty was wasted with them buried like that. Since I was demolishing a large concrete slab adjacent to "Trenchy" it made more sense to remove all the river rock and replace them with large chunks of recycled concrete. Then the lovely river rocks could be used decoratively elsewhere around the garden, including filling the head of "Trenchy" with a bed of river rocks that supports the new flagstone sitting area that I put in next to the pond just last fall. The river rocks are great for draining the water out of the hidden "aquifer" that is under the flagstones built with crushed concrete, pea gravel, and sand. You can see the river rocks against the flagstones in the photo at right.

Once all the river rocks had been removed, I lined "Trenchy" with the concrete blocks at the same time as I demolished the concrete slab. I'd sledgehammer out chunks of concrete and then fling them into "Trenchy", going back later to more carefully arrange them.

Once "Trenchy" was lined completely, I installed large diameter french drains (those cylindrical white things in the photo at left) with branches going up mini trenches to take the floodwater away from the areas around the pond when it floods in heavy rain and quickly divert it down "Trenchy". The drains sit at a slight incline to shed the water toward the storm drain and they sit at the lowest point down the center of the trenches. I then took more chunks of recycled concrete and fill in up the sides of the french drains.

When that was done, it was time to hide everything under a thick layer of pea gravel and make "Trenchy" into "Super Secret Trenchy". We had 3 cubic yards of pea gravel delivered to our driveway from the local landscaping outfit, and I hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of gravel to the back to fill the foundation of a new garden shed as well as "Trenchy". The few wheelbarrows' full, my back was gone so Hubby kindly came out and finished up the pile for me.

With the pea gravel in place, the trench and french drains are now completely hidden. All you can see are pretty gravel paths that meander toward the back of the garden past raised planters made from recycled concrete where the dogwood (far right in the photo) and the olive (left foreground in the photo) have found their permanent homes.

Rainwater will now drain through the gravel into the french drains and be diverted to the county storm drain so we have less flooding under our house after heavy rainfall (hopefully I will be able to alleviate that all together with a few more minor tweaks farther up toward the house).

And the big bonuse is that I'll be able to walk around in the back garden without any difficulty even though it may be pouring rain. Before, it was like crossing multiple fjords back there. Now I won't even have to think twice!

The view from the back of the garden looking up toward the pond and house is now one of my favorites. The shadows lacing the path are being cast by the huge white oleander and the cherry and apricot tree conglomeration that I call "The Thicket" because the birds love to hang out in there where they feel safe. You can see the newly planted olive tree on the left in the raised planter with narcissus coming up around the base.

At the right is a 150 gallon horse trough that I used to house the goldfish for a while during renovations to the pond a couple of years ago. The horse trough will eventually become a part-sun water garden with a small recirculating waterfall in it. I'm really excited about that because up until now the only water plants I've been able to have in the pond are full-sun water plants. It will also serve as a nice little oasis to just sit and relax in the shade when the summer temperatures are scorching hot and soaring over 100° F (38°C).

But for now, I have more concrete to demolish, more planters to build, more paths to install, as well as a shed to assemble (well, Hubby is going to handle that part).

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Easter Weekend Reflections

All week I've been working away at my big drainage installation project in the back garden. This week was full of wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of 3 cubic yards of pea gravel being pushed from the driveway in front to the back. The tedium of the task has allowed me to do a lot of reflecting. My garden inspires me to think of those things that matter in the whole eternal scheme of things. It never ceases to amaze me how trees, plants, and earth do that.

Early in the week I finally put the potted olive tree into the ground so it can set up permanent residence. I built up a planter for it out of chunks of recycled concrete, filled it with rich garden soil that had been compositing under the oleander for the past few years, and then manuevered the olive into place. Some narcissus, daffodils and tulips that needed new homes took up residence around the base of the olive.

There is something about planting an olive that is meaningful, spiritual, and deeply symbolic. The Garden of Gethsemane where Christ spent the night before his crucifixion had olive trees in it. The name "Gethsemane" literally means "olive oil press". Christ spent those agonising night-time hours being pressed emotionally, mentally, and physically until He bled from the pours of His skin. He was the only perfect and sinless person that had or will ever walk the earth. He was like a harvest of perfect olives used to produce the best and finest extra virgin olive oil--the oil that is prized because it is from the "first press". Christ's experience in Gethsemane was the "first press" in so many ways. That Atonement that Christ performed that night, produced the finest and most precious gift that mankind could ever receive--an Atonement for our sins, our pains, our sorrows, and our inquities.

As I tamped down the earth around our own olive tree, all of these thoughts ran through my mind. I felt moved to offer a prayer after the planting was over to ask that the olive tree would thrive, prosper, and fulfil the measure of its creation here in our garden. As I closed the prayer with tear-filled eyes, I felt a closeness to my Savior. It was a fitting way to begin the week preceding Easter.

As I have hauled each wheelbarrow full of gravel and placed it into the trenches that are now paths that run around and by the olive tree's planter, I realized how much that part of the garden is beginning to look like the way I have always envisioned Gethsemane looks even though I've never seen it in person. Over and over I have had the words of a song going through my head as I have worked--I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked. And today as I completed the last of the path that hides the main trench, I sat down to take a last look before the light in the spring sky faded too much for me to see. Again, the words ran through my head.

On this Friday of Easter weekend, I have also been privileged to receive some wonderful inspiration from the blogs of my blogging friends. As I have read of their devotion and faith, they have helped me to put my heart and mind in the place that it should be at this time of year. I found stirring inspiration from Helen at Brushstrokes, etc. both with her art and with her words. I was reminded of important questions to ponder and reflect upon from Holly at 2 Kids and Tired. And I found Easter hope and joy from Kate at Our Red House. I say "thank you" to each of them for what they have shared with me and others. Each of you have helped to give me the proper perspective for this lovely Easter celebration that is ahead of us.

Whether one is Christian or not, the season of spring is full of hope and renewal. Even my friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating a time where nature is getting ready for renewal by shedding the old. Every year when spring comes, I find at least one miracle that draws my mind back to the promise of new life. This year it was a petunia that wintered over through numerous frosty nights in a little pot at the base of the birdbath. It never let go of life. It hung on and is now in bloom again. It's exuberance and tenacity have reminded me that despite the bitter times in life, if we are rooted in a good place we will weather life's winters. We will come through alright and be able to bloom again. Holly asked in her blog "Why do you believe?" and I have to say this is why I believe. Because there is no way that the miracles of my own life and the miracles of humankind's existence in general could happen unless there was a loving Creator that made it so by His powerful hand. Just as the petunia is blooming again and as Christ rose again from the tomb on the third day after being crucified, I can bloom again after each challenge in life and ultimately have the promise of "blooming" one last time to enjoy a resurrected body myself and live for eternity with those I love.

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Perfect Day For Tom Tom

Today the temperature in the garden was a sunny 66°F (19°C)--just perfect for some spring gardening with my garden buddy, Tom Tom.

Tom Tom is a pretty observant kitty. He watches me with half-closed eyes pretending to nap while I go about my in-house routine in the morning. Then when he sees me slip on my garden-wear, he gets up rather nonchalantly, stretches, and mosies to the front door. He's so casual about it when I know he is just raring to go.

Once I'm ready, off we go out the front door. He hangs out on the front porch while I change in to my gardening shoes that sit outside next to the front door. Sometimes he sniffs around the surrounding plants. Again, he's very casual about the whole thing like he could take it or leave it.

Then, when I make my way toward the back garden it's like someone has flipped the "silly switch" inside Tom Tom's little kitty brain. The casual behavior stops, and he starts darting around from one side of the garden to the other. He shoots around with his tail high in the air in the shape of a pump-handle. Sometimes he runs headlong toward the plum tree and either scales it or stops abruptly to stretch and clean those claws of his. What a very silly boy!

We call this behavior "going to town" because he's "going to town" sharpening his claws on the tree. When I see him doing this in the garden I'll say to him, "Go to town, Tom Tom!" That makes him even sillier and he'll dart away to another location, sometimes leaping and bounding like a gazelle. You know for an old cat, he sure can move when he gets the "crazies".

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The Arrival of the Lilacs

Every year, I anticipate the arrival of the lilacs in a way that is hard to explain. The smell of lilacs instantly transports me back to being 6 years old when I first smelled lilacs. My Grammy helped me gather bunches of the pungent blossoms at dusk on a May evening. Freshly cut from my Grammy's hedge at the front of her garden, the lilacs filled a handbasket which was securely hidden in the damp of the water faucet "closet" on the side of the house to be given the next day as a surprise birthday gift for my mom. Like many aroma-based memory triggers, for me the smell of lilacs evokes the happy feelings of peace, tranquility, and steadiness that accompanies the simple yet tender experience of being a six year old and learning the valuable lessons of giving and gardening from my Grammy.

With all of that connected to the lilacs, you can only imagine the anticipation I have as I wait for the lilacs in our own garden to bloom. I watch each bud from the time of their formation some time in December after the last leaves from the previous summer have fallen off. I walk past them everyday on my way to the back garden, from December through January and February, checking their progress as I pass.

When I finally see the first lilac buds bursting open some time in March, I know that spring has truly arrived at Rosehaven Cottage! And then I try to go out and stick my nose in them at least once a day until the last blooms have wilted and faded.

Lilacs grow on a flowering shrub-like bush that typically likes colder climates than our Mediterrenean San Francisco Bay Area climate. Lilacs are the state flower of New Hampshire and love the New England climate with the cold winters. Lilacs need to be stressed by the winter cold in order to set buds and produce blossoms prolificly. And since lilacs only have one big show a year, the lilac-loving gardener (like me) wants as many blossoms as possible.

I have a sad little bush in the front garden that aspires to greatness but never quite makes it. It's quite diminutive for having been in the garden 7 years. Why? Because it's a cold climate lilac--a President Grevy I believe (don't quote me on that). For years, gardeners like me have tried to trick the cold climate lilacs into being stressed by cutting off their water supply around August. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you just end up with a crispy lilac bush.

Since the lilac is my favorite flower of all time, it was very disheartening trying to grow lilacs in this way until I discovered the warmer climate varieties of lilacs that have been bred to do well in California (they also do well in the south and southwestern areas of the U.S.). The warm climate varieties don't require a cold winter to be great bloomers. Hallelujah!

About 6 years ago, I put in an entire row of them going all the way down the fenceline on the southwest side of the garden--probably about 9 in total (maybe more--I've lost count). I planted Syringa vulgaris Blue Skies bushes alternated with Syringa vulgaris Lavender Lady bushes. From their first spring here at Rosehaven Cottage, they have never failed to produce the cool blue-purple blossoms I love with their accompanying heady fragrance. And each year there are more and more blossoms as the bushes rise in height.

I am so glad I found the warm climate lilacs. I don't know what our garden would be without their gorgeous and fragrant display.

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As a postscript to this post, I wanted to thank Lynda Lehmann for the sweet friendship award she gave me. Lynda is a highly talented artist that sees the world in a beautiful way and then recreates colorfully on canvas--both tangible and digital. If you haven't visited her blog, you really should head over there and take a while to visit her online galleries. Thank you, Lynda!
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Happy St. Patty's Day!

This bank of clovers that is on the southwest side of our home is showing all its St. Patrick's Day spirit right now. I couldn't find any four leaf clovers, but that doesn't matter to me. I feel lucky just to have the three leaf clovers right now as I know that many of my blogging friends still have gardens and yards with snow in them.

So I send out this virtual shamrock to everyone and hope that you all enjoy your St. Patrick's Day!

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I'm A Princess by Lucy Maud

I have decided that I am a kitten princess and everything around me is my kingdom.

I figured out how to make Mommy's fancy pillow lay flat so I could lay on it. If I scramble and play around the bottom of it and push on it with my paws or pull on the tassels, it lays flat for me. Then I climb on it and curl up on the velvety soft part so I look very royal. The tassles make this pillow very special and regal looking--perfect for a kitten princess to lay on. And they're fun for playing with even though Mommy scowls at me when I do it.

None of the big kitties do this, so I must be special to have figured it out. That must mean I have royal brains just right for ruling my kingdom. I think all the big kitties are my subjects. Whenever I want them to leave a warm spot I tell them I want it by biting them on the neck. They obey me and leave so I can have the warm spot. That MUST mean that I am their ruler.

Being a kitten princess is very hard work that makes me tired and kinda sleepy. Good thing I'm on my royal pillow because it's also good for napping.

Doesn't the green of my royal pillow look lovely next to my royal spots and stripes? I am an exotic looking kitten princess. On my royal pillow, I can even look fancy, exotic, and royally lovely while I'm sleeping!

I heard that all royalty have distinct and noble profiles. I think my profile is very noble. I also heard that in Egypt cats were pretty special. I think my profile looks like one of those special Egyptian kitties. That MUST make me a princess!

Okay, I'm tired. I need to take my royal nap now.

The End

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Spring Sunday Smorgasboard

The weather has been so gorgeous this past week that tree, flowers, and bushes are budding and blossoming all over the garden. It's so wonderful, I had to stop my garden renovation activities earlier this week, get the camera, and just take some photographs of it all.

The lilac hibiscus is blooming for the first time in two years. I thought I'd lost it in the winter of 2006-2007 to a nasty freeze. I'm happy that it's come back with its amazing blue-purple blossoms.

The My Fifi rose just went in January/February rose planting of 2007, but it's already very established. Unlike the other roses, it didn't lose its foliage this winter. The small, dark, and glossy leaves stayed rust and mildew free all winter.

The pink mystery rose never stopped producing blooms all winter so I thought there would be a lull for a while this spring before there were more blooms. I guess I was wrong.

And finally, the first freesia has bloomed! Hubby loves the freesia fragrance best of all the flowers so I always called them "his freesia". These are for you, Sweetie!

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If I Had a Hammer... (actually I have two!)

Over 15 years ago, my brother acquired a double-bit axe. He loved it so much that he named it the way a knight names his sword. He even wrote the name on the handle of the axe (in Sharpie pen). The name, you ask? "Testosterone". Yes, "Testosterone". With the name on the handle, my brother could say that his double-bit axe had testosterone written all over it. I always thought it was funny, but really didn't "get it". I figured it was a "guy thing".

Well, after swinging a sledgehammer at concrete for the past few days, I now "get it" (light finally dawns on marble head!). I don't know if I can actually express it in written form, but I "get it".

There is something visceral about the repetitive activity of breaking up concrete with a trustworthy tool like my sledgehammer. I depend on it to be strong and sure. I depend on it to help me crack the concrete in the least number of swings possible. The hammer becomes an extension of my arms and my strength. Without it I would be unable to crack a thing. But with it, I feel like She-rah Woman Warrior, able to do anything! Well, not quite "anything", but it feels like I could after I've conquered a big slab of concrete. [Insert grunting gorilla sounds here akin to Tim the Tool Man Taylor from Home Improvement.]

Now in the title of this post I mentioned that I have two hammers. My other trustworthy tool is this snazzy pick hammer I splurged on at Ace hardware just for this job. I am constantly amazed as how powerful it is just because of its design and the strength of my swinging arm.

When Hubby emerged from his home office after being buried in meetings yesterday afternoon, he came out to see my progress. He happened upon me when I was "taking a break" (that's code for sitting down) and swinging my pick hammer at the edges of the slab to entertain myself. I told him I felt like one of the seven dwarves with this nifty little hammer. Hubby laughed and said I was the eighth dwarf. I had the song "Heigh Ho" going through my head for the rest of the time I worked out there yesterday.

"So what the heck are you doing?" I can hear you asking.
Well, I mentioned in yesterday's post that a 20' x 20' open-sided lanai/shed/???? was here in the back garden when we bought the house. We know it was built in 1961 because someone etched the year in the concrete before it set up. The half walls on three sides of the structure were thick slabs of concrete with massive non-indigenous rocks and abalone shells set in them. The owners before us had boarded it all up with plywood which we removed shortly after moving in replacing the front siding with white plastic lattice so air could flow through and a wild rose to grow up it while leaving the sides open and the back intact. Even with that air flow it still got about 125°F (52°C) inside there during the height of summer. The pad of the structure was not well planned and over the years had heaved and cracked with huge cracks splintering the pad. Some cracks were split open up to 3-4 inches! Then add to that our drainage problems in that area of the garden, and we had a nasty mess.

After we determined that the structure was unsalvageable (it took us about 6 years to come to that conclusion), we decided that we should take it down and put a smaller pre-fab shed in its place and then use the rest of the precious real estate it was taking up for raised planting beds. My pick hammer helped me to extract the rocks from the half walls fairly successfully as I broke up those last summer. Late last summer we removed the corrugated tin roof, recycled it, and then dismantled the lumber that was badly suffering from dry rot and termite damage making the whole thing very unsafe.

The only problem was how to resolve the drainage issue. The time right before I go to sleep is the time when I churn over such problems searching my brain for a solution. It eventually came to me one night that the new shed should be built on a raised bed too! All I had to do was take the concrete from the pad and build a raised bed just like the smaller planter beds I've built around the garden and then fill the whole thing with pea gravel. That way the water will just drain right through and head down the "french drain" trench that I am also completing simultaneously with the recycled concrete chunks and chips from the demolition of the pad.

Just today I completed the construction of the base of what will be the raised bed for the shed. I'm pleased as punch with how it looks! It was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle with very heavy pieces except there wasn't any "right" way to do. I could just improvise as I went.
I know that the lizards and lots of other critters will love hiding in all the nooks and crannies of this base after we have everything done. I can't wait for them to move in!

A bonus that happened during the process of doing all of this was that I figured out where to finally plant the dogwood tree I inherited and how to do it. Using some of the recycled concrete I built a planter around it after sinking it into the ground over a foot. I was even able to leave the little grape hyacinths growing at the base undisturbed.

Pretty cool if I do say so myself.

I think the dogwood will be very happy in its new home because dogwoods like moisture and this one is snugged up against the trench that will be the major "french drain" that carries water from the rest of the garden to the storm drain in the back corner. And there's more hidey-holes in the dogwood planter for lizards, frogs and other small critters!

I am so glad I'm getting all of this done now when it's cooler outside because there is NO WAY I could do this in the summer!

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