* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A project to start the new year

Planter 01

After completing my Christmas project, I was enticed to continue with a New Year's project, especially considering how perfect our weather has been for such concepts. 

Apparently, all the November rain we had (five times normal) is supposed to be holding us over the rest of the winter, and all the heat we did not have in summer is trying to manifest itself in the middle of winter.

Both conditions create a perfect environment for some serious earth rearranging.  So I took advantage!

Upon entering our property from the street, the lowest level is a bare flat area.  There was a small little garden spot that was terribly aged with not much in it, we assume this had all been graveled at one point in time, and most of the area is needed open and bare for both maneuvering our car and parking those who visit.  But I was sure I could add some vegetation to a particular spot without hindering vehicle needs.  Creating this spot has never been a priority, plus I needed to be sure it really wasn't needed for cars.  After all these years, I was ready to just go for it!

Planter 02
Entrance wall lacking any character

Now, this really isn't all that bad on its own.  There is a nice little rock wall with a planting area on top of it.  It's made a decent area for our trashcan, and we tried putting a little trellis planter to hide the can from the street.

But rain causes all the erosion from higher up the driveway to deposit right there (which is probably why there is no more gravel), it likes to grow weeds because cars actually do not drive there, and it just seems like our entrance could be a whole lot more attractive than this!  So I decided to just install a simple planter in front of it to add some pretty vegetation to this otherwise very bare level.  Dig down the dirt a bit, fork out any big rocks I might come across, plop down some border rocks, install a few plants, and there I'd have it, finally.

Planter 03
Keeping the Doc fit and youthful

Ha ha hah.  Can anything ever be so simple?  When we started digging a bed, we came across solid red pottery clay.  Clay?  We have never come across clay here, although I think our dirt elsewhere is on the clay side.  Loose brown clay.  Everything I have ever read about clay is not very kind. 

I suppose I could have just built another little wall and installed a raised bed, but that thought never entered my mind, and I didn't really want to hide the rock wall.  So we dug a pit.  And dug.  And dug.  This stuff was awful to get out, but I was really afraid of drainage problems.  So we dug some more.  Besides, Doc Leo needed the exercise, after I got it all started.  (Digging the rocks out of the sticky clay was really hard work.)

Planter 04
But I raked out all the rocks at the same time

After we got it as dug out as we thought we needed, this is what we ended up with.  While the Doc was digging, I was raking out the rocks and the big clay clods from the loose dirt.  We didn't dig it all out just to put it all back in, of course!

So here is the fairly decent dirt that remained, the huge pile of rocks and small clay clods that resemble the rocks too much, and behind them, the pile of clay clods.  I've raked through the rock pile a couple more times both to move it out of the way and to sort out the bigger rocks, so I got my exercise, too.  We carted the clod pile up to the hillside project area, hoping they will dry out a bit and can be broken up enough to enrich the dirt up there (clay does have a lot of good minerals, I believe).  I have no clue what we'll do with all the rocks; they just multiply all the similar rocks, ltd., we have above.

Planter 05
How many tools does it take to dig a pit?

After putting down a small rock layer, a bunch of oak leaves floating all around, and a sand layer, all to hopefully act as drainage, we shoveled the dirt pile back into the hole it came from.  Then we added more sand and a bunch of compost to the surface, hoping that would keep this loose clay from packing back down. 

These are the tools of the trade we used, although the jackhammer turned out to be fairly useless in the clay.

Planter 06
Creating a workable line
After two days of intensive labor we hadn't counted on, I was finally ready to create the rock border to hold it all together and keep the driveway rain run-off from washing it away.  We decided we could put the trashcan at the end rather than keeping it as far away from the gate as possible, which gave me a nicer planter area, but I had to measure carefully to line the rocks up with the trashcan base.

The Doc set me up with a really nice straight edge that ran the whole distance, then I weighted it down so it stayed in place.  We have learned a few good tricks over the years!

Planter 07
Looks like it's always been there!

We have no pictures of the work in progress, but didn't the tedious work of manipulating odd sizes of rock into a cohesive, uniform line turn out pretty?

I also finished off the driveway edge with some of the bigger rocks dug out of the pit as a reference for removing erosion dirt before it builds up again.

Planter 08
Sabrina's playground

Our little black woolly bear, Sabrina, prefers to reside in the great outdoors even when it's freezing, but she loves being around us when we care to enter her world and quite often will keep us company.

Now everything looks nice and neat, and the trashcan lines up perfectly.  Whew!

Planter 09
What an attractive entrance
Planter 10
Still a sharp corner

Finally, a week later, I could start planting.  If I've learned anything, hopefully everything will end up being perfect for this area.

Already, the same view looks more inviting than the empty planter above, and it's definitely more homey than the look I started with at the top.

You can see how the route coming down the street then trying to turn the corner to go up the driveway is torturous enough, and now this planter has the effect of doubling the depth of the turn, which I hadn't expected!

Planter 11
Pretty even in the baby stage
I just have to show you a few more views, as I'm just so pleased with it all.

I've planted three anchor plants, then filled in with some different textured things I hope will all work together and be fairly low maintenance.

Here are close-ups of my anchor plants.  I think it will be fun to compare this set with a new one next year to see how they are filling in.

Planter 16
Planter 18
Home-cloned French lavender
Planter 17
Unknown baby evergreen

Planter 12
Softening up the whole driveway path
For those who care, here's what I've planted.  Everything came from elsewhere on the property except for one thing, a gift from somebody else's yard, so this was a totally free endeavor.

We kept the trellis planter, but I think I'd like to paint it, so I'm not planting in it at the moment.  It still hides the trashcan from the street.  Both are sitting on a much more stable base now than before.

Next to the trashcan is the gift, the baby pittosporum (mock orange) that I expect to train to hide the trashcan from the other angle.  In the middle is the little evergreen to add some height, and on the far end is the lavender.  In-between, I've planted a number of agapanthus (lilies of the Nile) I dug off an ancient clump, so I hope they will be happy as they settle in.  In front of those are some bronze clumps of a grass that I've been dividing over the years, behind them are a couple of irises to add some instant height this spring.  Along the rock border are several kind of little ground covers to break the monotony.  The whole thing is mulched with a bunch of oak leaves with some dirt sprinkled on top to hold them down.  We shall see what spring will bring forth!

In the back corner, you can see my Christmas project corner.  This view gives a perspective of the whole area.

For comparison, here is the same view taken before and after.  It shows the entrance impact from the street.  Methinks the tedious week's work will pay off as things grow.

Planter 13
Last week
Planter 15
This week

Planter 19
Owie owie owie
As is usually the case, it is not a good idea to be between a rock and a hard place.  Not only is it impossible to have nicely manicured nails when one is involved in these kinds of project, but I'm also hoping that I can actually keep all my nails.  Yes, it was a definite ouchy at the time as I was installing the border.  It wasn't exactly fun continuing on, either.  Do you know how often you are obliged to hit ultra-sensitive areas?

But, I think it was worth it in the end, don't you?


  1. You guys accomplish more back-breaking and totally successful labor than anybody I know. That looks fabulous! Congratulations on another reclamation!


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