I have survived the last three years gardenless, and I’ve managed, but this year, I was goin’ for it. Kevin went off to church, and I went to commune with my own personal deities, such as they are.
The air smelled like spring today. It was in the seventies, there was a warm breeze, you could smell earth and greenery. The redbuds are blooming, and sundry other things are starting to push out buds. Mourning doves waddled down the gravel driveway, picking at the ground and a lone turkey vulture circled overhead, hoping that I, or perhaps the beagle, would suddenly fall over dead. The sun shone, the wind rustled, a mourning cloak butterfly circled his territory* and every spadeful of dirt I turned over was full of fat, frantic earthworms.
It is probably possible to be more content, but you couldn’t prove it by me.
The edges of the yard has been planted with some foundation shrubs, mostly natives–red chokeberry, deciduous holly, Mt. Airy witch hazel and indian current–which need a good growing season or two to fill in. (Plus there’s some spots that I need to drop more shrubs into, particularly if I can find some wild indigo, my great love.) So there’s not much I can do on the edges of the yard yet–I feel like it needs time to establish before I go mucking about too much. So today I built a flower bed.
Well, about a third of a flower bed. There’s a limit to how much dirt I can pack into my little car. First I laid out the bed and edged it. I’m using cut lengths of local wood** about eight inches thick and between eighteen and twenty inches long as edging. They’ll hopefully last a couple of years before they disintegrate, and then I’ll just move the bed out six inches and edge it with something else. Then I took out most of the biggest clumps of grass (transplanting them somewhat lackadaisically into the ruts that the moving truck tore in the lawn six months ago when I moved in) and filled a section of the bed in with dirt, spread a dense layer of bark mulch over top of that (I am a rank amateur, but I can say I have learned my lesson–MULCH EVERYTHING.)
The resulting bed will take a few days and multiple trips to Lowes to finish filling to dirt, but once it does, it’ll be an irregular kidney shape perhaps two-thirds the size of my old flower bed back at the house in Raleigh. One end encircles the bird-feeder, the other the silk tree (god, I hate that tree! Kevin likes it, though, and since his weeping cherry was just pronounced dead a few days ago, and it’s now the only small tree in the yard, I will grudgingly allow it to live until such time as I can replace it with something better.)
So the bed is forming. I planted a couple of placeholders, nothing spectacular–some native Carolina jasmine to climb the birdfeeder pole (we’ll see if that actually works, or if I need to move it to someplace with a trellis) some salvia for butterflies, chives for caterpillars and Kevin, and to go over the edging, some creeping phlox and wallflowers (beloved of bees and butterflies) and some strawberries. (There is no chance at all of actually getting berries from them–the birds are gonna get there waaaaay before we do–but hey, more power to ’em. ) I also put the bareroot spicebush into the bed, where I can keep an eye on them–those’ll have to get transplanted out once they’re a bit bigger, they turn into a fairly large shrub in time, but I want to give it a chance to establish a bit, because they are SERIOUSLY wee at the moment. Hopefully they’ll be big enough to move this fall.
(My gardening philosophy, for those readers who missed my earlier gardening days, is that I only plant native shrubs if I can help it–I’m a little more lax on the herbaceous stuff, and I’m willing to allow well-behaved and…well…COOL…non-natives there. And pretty much everything I plant is for birds, bees, or butterflies***–I believe in plants earning their ecological keep!)
I feel, I confess, rather more ownership of this garden than I did of the last one. The last one had been put down by somebody else, and laid out by somebody else, and I was a well-meaning but reasonably inept interloper. There was a lot of joy of discovery, but a fair amount of horror as well. (Oh god, the gooseneck loosestrife…) Here, it’s MY bed. I laid it out, put in the dirt, and it will have what *I* want in it, which means that I won’t be fighting the invasive lemon balm and the gooseneck loosestrife and whatnot. I will undoubtedly get invasives wandering in (and occasionally being planted!) and I am not notably more competent than I was, but they’ll be MY mistakes.
To round out a fantastic day in the yard, Kevin helped me put up a nesting box–it’s sized for bluebirds, but since I haven’t seen a single one in the yard, it’ll probably get used by wrens. Which is fine, wrens need a place to nest too. He propped me up while I stood on a stool with the power screwdriver (the most useful tool available to the non-mechanically inclined) and attrached it to a conveniently located long-leaf pine. (We decided it was for the best if I did it–I have what Kevin calls the luck of the Ursula. If Kevin had done it, there was a small but significant chance that it would end with a screwdriver through his eye. If I did it, in the event of catastrophe, the screwdriver head would fling loose, go careening into the woods, fatally injure a squirrel covered in bot-flies, and while digging a grave for it and sniffling, I would accidentally locate buried treasure, or possibly the septic tank.)
I can’t imagine a better day.
And tomorrow, I’ll be in a metric buttload of pain because of how badly I have abused my out-of-shape self, but it was so worth it.
*Mourning cloak butterflies overwinter under tree bark, and the males will keep and defend a territory from rivals in much the same manner that birds will, which is pretty impressive in an insect. One landed on my head the other day, possibly attracted to the bright red color of the bangs. Kevin was very amused by this.
**By local I mean "from about twenty feet away." It’s all blow-downs from a hurricane that came through six or seven years ago, which Kevin cut up and stacked into a woodpile. Since he doesn’t have a wood fireplace, it’s not much use to humans, but it wound up making a fantastic habitat for lizards and overwintering mourning cloaks, to say nothing of providing scavenging materials for yours truly. I feel a little guilty for having disturbed the lizards, but I barely made a dent in the woodpile. There are a great many blow-downs still laying in the woods, and piles of broken up branches. Kevin shares my opinion about the removal of not-about-to-fall-on-the-house dead wood, which probably accounts for some of the health of the local woodpecker population.
***Okay, okay, there’s almost no reason to put in a clematis except the love. I’ll probably do it anyway, because I love clematis a lot.