Monday, August 11, 2008


I fear I am not up to the excellence of the gardening and other creative work to be found at the Mighty Corrente, but I stay busy. Lately, I've been doing a lot of digging.

There are old planting beds along the south wall of the house that haven't had anything new planted in them since sometime in the 70s. It was mostly twigs, dirty crushed white rock and some out of control birds of paradise. Between our grubbing and the construction work, everything except a single shady tree has been removed. We started by digging up, sifting out and washing off the decorative white rock. Then we dug out a 3'x8' nail & glass impregnated patch of weeds near the back steps, just downslope of an old and prolific Meyer lemon tree. While the spousal unit leveled the ground and mortared a row of bricks in place, I sifted the detritus out of the dirt, separating river rock and good fill rubble from metal, glass and other garbage. The dirt itself is building up in a large pile, waiting to be mixed with manure and other amendments when it's time to plant.

The rubble went back to form a drainage layer. On top of that, we mixed some coarse decomposed granite given to us by a neighbor with most of the decorative rock scraped from the old planters and tamped it down into a firm yet water permeable walkway. Water is a big issue in San Diego. We use too much and don't use it wisely. Ironically, during the last drought in the 70s, many people ripped out plantings and paved vast swaths of what used to be lawns, or else laid down mile after mile of black plastic and covered it with crushed rock. This has created a situation both impossibly ugly and water-hostile, as any runoff goes right down the storm drains. The City is in the middle of a water emergency now. Our goal for the house is to put in a landscape with drought tolerant plants and do some aggressive water management, but I get ahead of myself.

The next task was to create a pleasant sitting area near the kitchen in the shadow of the sunroom bumpout. Right next to the sunroom steps, we excavated five wheelbarrow loads of hardpacked dirt and rhizomes from the old bird of paradise plant. That went into a large mound in the backyard. Next, in the wider area, we scraped away the top layer of construction crud (I could probably open a hardware store with the excess nails), weeds and junk. Into a different pile for sifting. The clean dirt underneath we raked and redistributed and made relatively flat.

We went to Home Depot and picked up eight bags of fine bark and two of cocoa bean shells. Back at the ranch, we mixed a quarter bag of cocoa bean shells into the regular bark, and then dumped the mix into the wider area (about 7'x16'). The rest of the bags followed, making a dense, chocolate scented base. Add two old benches we've dragged from apartment to apartment over the last decade and a couple of beat-up tables with uneven legs and we had ourselves a lovely spot for a warm summer evening. Mulched up like that, it keeps in the moisture for the Pittosporum that shades the area.

What's next? Sifting the dirt dug from the hole. I'm about 1/3 of the way through it. Rubble to fill up the bottom of the hole, then mix up a nice planting mix with the clean dirt and other stuff. For next to the stairs, probably some salvia - purple and dusty green against the saffron colored walls should be nice. Further along, in the part we haven't excavated yet, I'm planning an herb garden. The sitting area will get some colorful pots and plants.



Shainzona said...

I "didn't know" you when you started your house project so I just went back and read up on your escapades. Well done! You obviously saw great bones when you bought the house and the hard work you're doing now will really top it off.

We just moved to Tucson this past winter and are learning all sorts of things about cactus and drought resistant plants. The most amazing thing - to us - was this past spring when, behind our new house, the desert bloomed...without any help from beautiful bright yellows and purples.

Truly amazing. And truly beautiful. Enjoy!!

harpie said...

It's lovely to read about your home-making!

For us it started 22 years ago with a 30x60 foot garden which we excavated 2 feet deep...the resulting rocks made a 2ft. high wall 60 ft. long. The wall is still there, but the garden is half that size...just too much to keep up with. But we've done lots of other projects: walkways, patios, planting beds, etc, [and raised two children]over the years.
I feel lucky to have been able to plant my roots and stay in one place.

I wish you the best in your endeavors!

janicen said...

Congratulations on all of your hard work! I've just moved across the country and am busy with interior work, but I can't wait until the weather gets a little cooler and we can get going on the outside! I LOVE cocoa shell mulch. It looks gorgeous, is good for the soil, and smells wonderful!

Common Sense Gram said...

Thanks! i needed that! I am so sick to death of beating my head against the wall in the political battles that I have spent the last few days on the more mundane but ultimatley more satisfying chores I have long negelcted.

Wish I could ship you some of the excess water we have here in NW PA. The weeds have outstripped my ability to keep up with them. My tomatoes are green as green can be- too cold for them to ripen. We are getting down in the LOW 50's at night already. AH well, the sugar snap peas are making a come back- in AUGUST!

I am canning wild blackberry jam today- apparently they LIKE all the rain!

Teresa said...

I don't know if you have dogs, but I've read in reliable sources that the cocoa bean shells are poisonous to them (just like chocolate). Google it and you'll see.

Home Depot claims theirs have been stripped of theobromine, but you never know.

Justa warning.

daily democrat said...

Happy gardening, Anglachel! It is lovely that you can balance your intellectual work with some physical labor outdoors. I enjoy gardening too, so when you described your plans, I immediately had plant ideas.

Though London is famous for rain, we do sometimes suffer drought. And that is what happened one summer during the mid 1990's, just when I had decided to cultivate, in my garden, a new south-facing border with a high yellow brick wall at its back.

I remember that certain plants I selected for their scent: cistus (the rock rose), helichrysum italicum (the curry plant), and salvia sclarea (clary sage) did exceptionally well in that bright sun and thirsty soil.

And in that border I also grew poppies, some tall thistles, and a big rosemary. All were very happy in the dry old wall's heat.

show me said...

You write as well about your projects as you do politics.You might try the High Country Gardens catalogue, they have some beautiful drought tolerant plants.

Missouri is like PA it rained all summer. We are having a Maine like week with days in the low 80's and cool nights. I am not complaining. I have hardly had to water all summer and the lake I live on has replenished itself. At the end of last summer of drought my boat was sitting on it's pontoons! We should have a georgous fall.

Deep Trunk said...

You should seriously look into using charcoal and nitrates (the manure will be good)

Turns out it creates great soil