A garden project for mid-August

What was I thinking?

In the heat of August I am accustomed mostly to doing nothing. Well, perhaps something, but very little other than pulling a few weeds as I wander about in the evenings, and this is followed by a long rest and several ice teas.

A week ago I was home for a rare extended weekend, and the morning after a thunderstorm I was strangely motivated to do something, but what? The lawn was a bit shaggy, flopping over into the planting beds, and many of the shrubs have grown too large for the space alloted them, but I’ve ignored this for years, so why should there be an inspiration to undertake this project in this hottest of summers?

Despite my better judgment I set out to redefine the beds, and to expand them in the area where the Wolf Eyes dogwood had grown too wide, and where one of the edgeworthias was planted too close to the bed’s edge from the start. The bushy Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ (below) was shoehorned into a sliver of space near a prostrate growing blue spruce several years back with the thought that the bed area would be expanded at a later date, and somehow, for some reason, this seemed the appropriate time.

There were three new ground cover roses, two loropetalums, and a few perennials on the driveway awaiting planting, but I had planned to keep them watered until a cooler weekend to plant. The area surrounding the large swimming pond in the rear garden is the only spot with sufficient sunlight, and so the project was begun to redefine and enlarge the beds in much of the rear garden.

The tool for the task is a d-handled spade with a flat blade, and mine is the sort that will survive long after I am dead and gone, constructed of heavy tubular steel except for a bit of hard rubber to cushion the grip. The steel shaft has a bit of a curve to it, a result, I am certain, of the spade being used inappropriately to pry some large something intended for transplant that should have dug more and pried less.

In any case, the angle of the shaft is only slightly distracting from making a clean stroke with the spade into sod, a motion that was once second nature when I performed this ritual daily. The spade is thrust straight down, and with enough force to sink the blade several inches into the clay. The spade is then tilted so that a chunk of sod is dislodged, but with a series of precise strokes a clean curve is left as the bed’s edge.

Today there are machines intended to perform this function, but I have only a spade, and I believe that the edge created by hand is superior, though not quicker. My intention was to edge the planting area that borders the pond, ending the edge as it disappears beneath two large variegated leaf redbuds, and on the lower side to end the edge by a stone path that separates the upper and lower gardens. This span of no more than two hundred feet seemed a reasonable task for an afternoon, and the following day I would clean up the chunks of sod.

As often happens, at least when I am working on a garden project, the original intent is lost, the plan forgotten, the hypnotic rhythm of the spade distracts me, and a trench of perhaps five hundred feet has been dug. All of which is necessary, but now the sod must be lifted and hauled, and in some areas where the bed area has been expanded the soil must be stripped from the sod’s roots lest the area be too low, so the follow up is a considerably greater task than planned.

Of course, the next day my enthusiasm has waned, and the day is hotter than the day before, so the going is slow, the ice tea breaks are longer, and I must accompany the wife on an errand. As you would guess, the project is not completed as planned, so here I am a week later, and thankfully the temperatures are not ghastly, and the chunks of sod have been cleaned up and dumped in a pile near the compost.

The roses and loropetalums have been planted, and hopefully the loropetalums have been planted soon enough, for they are only marginally winter hardy, and if I’ve been tardy they will not develop sufficient roots to survive until spring.

The new beds created are large enough that I will be able to add a few of the low care rose ‘White Out’ that is said to share the genetics of the exceptional Knockout roses, and from what I’ve seen in other gardens it has an extended period of bloom, and clean foliage through the worst of summer. And daylilies. The newly enlarged beds are wide enough that weeds could grow if the space is not occupied, and I’ve often thought that I’ve too few daylilies, so here is an excellent opportunity.

There is space, also, for a few of the rebooming, compact buddleias, and at the forest’s edge (where a bed was created that was not needed, and not considered until the moment that the spade met earth), one, or perhaps two of the yellow, cutleaf sumac ‘Tiger Eyes’ will be splendid. I’ve tried to figure a spot for them for years, unsuccessfully, until I had a sudden moment of inspiration.

What luck! And excellent planning.


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