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Where's the Oasis in this Desert?

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

As a long-time landscape designer and lifetime gardener, I don’t mind staying at home. I do go for walks to build my lung capacity (and to try to keep up with Woody Long-Stride), but home is a great place when you have a small plot in which to get closely acquainted with nature. Now that we are several weeks across this desert of Covid19, I'd like to show you one oasis we can visit.

Come on into the oasis of our small yard. There is water, quiet, no newscasts and space for friends and books here.

Open our driveway gate.

See the garage which hasn't held a car since 1950 because the side porch was added to the house. Only a model T could ever have maneuvered back to that space, so it has been a tool storage for a very long time.

From the garage, follow this walkway to our patio.

We have a paver patio because we have tall cherry trees shading our lot. I used to think the back yard grass did not grow because of our Labrador retriever, Canaan. If you’ve ever lived with a Labrador, you will know that they love to till the soil, and then lie down in the cool place they just made.

However, beloved Canaan died several years ago. And still, the grass did not grow. The roots of the cherries, and the shade of the cherries made grass a non-starter.

So, I dug up all my favorite bedding plants and potted them. And then, we put in the paver patio.

The biggest drawback to such a project is that it needs heavy tools, and it needs skill.

The area has to be excavated.

(Canaan would have loved that process.)

After freeing the soil of grass roots, and then smoothing the soil, six inches of sand go down and gets rolled with a roller filled with water. The water makes it heavy enough to compact the sand. Compaction is critical because you don’t want pavers jumping up as you walk across the space.

Then the pavers go in. And they, too, have to be compacted into the sand. They are rolled to create a slight tilt of the whole patio toward the future garden areas. The tilt is for drainage. Although paver joints take quite a bit of water down into the sand and dirt, we sometimes have gully-washers. Tilt toward garden and away from house is important in heavy rains.

After the right tilt is accomplished, sand is spread over the pavers and pushed and rolled into the joints.

This is the work we hired done because, while I knew how it should be done, I had never done it and I didn't have the right tools. I knew enough to admit that knowledge and skill are not the same thing.

And next, we also put in a drip irrigation system. No more watering with a hose or sprinkler, and no more losing a lot of water to evaporation.

Afterward, I replanted the one-hundred or so favorite plants in the new garden beds. While the work was going on, I had been rethinking the uses of space.

When our youngest son lived at home, he and I had built a pond in one corner. Now he has his own garden and he built his own huge pond with help from dad.

Our old and smaller pond became instead, a rocky path and a bench in the shade among the King George Rhododendrons and some Japanese Maples.

A nod to the old pond is a large pot with a recirculating water system through a bamboo pipe. It gives the sound of the pond and waterfall with a lot less maintenance.

Near the bench is another path where a children's swing hangs from one of the cherry trees.

Woody rebuilt our two boxes for a vegetable garden behind the garage. They were originally designed to accommodate a wheel-chair back when we all thought that would be necessary. However, that need went away, thanks to several doctors, so now the vegetable beds are taller and wider. And where the walkway would have been around them, we now have roses and lilacs.

The lilac and the roses are climbers who can get out of the shade and into the sun.

Sometimes, the roses like to remind us they are there and not to be taken for granted. So, I have a few battle scars from the War of the Roses. Nevertheless, they reward us with summer-long blooms, perfume, and lovely leaves.

Our garage was built forward on the lot, so the roses, lilacs and veggie beds have about 30 feet of space behind it. This is a very lucky circumstance and not available in all the lots in our neighborhood. It allows us to grow many fun vegetables back there.

At the lower elevation of the boxes, the vegetable garden is too shady for some plants like squashes, so we have to plant those in the sunny parts of the front yard and driveway. However, the shade lets us grow several plantings of peas and lettuces, collard greens, spinach, string beans and Swiss chard and early blooming cherry tomatoes and Romas. Some summers we also get eggplant and other vegetables. We test that possibility, but it doesn’t always work out in those summers with many overcast days.

Here is a view of the deck. Our back door is three steps above the patio. Over the years, we have built different configurations of decks here. When our children were at home, we had a hot tub off the end of the house. Kids came after soccer practice and for parties. It's great to have a yard that kids like to come home to.

When they grew up and had their own homes, we found we didn’t use the hot tub as much and wanted more seating room on the lower level for family gatherings. So off went the hot tub and in came tables and chairs. The patio became a dining room and a reading room.

There is one drawback to pavers. Moss, pop-weed and grass grow between the joints. Woody has tried several solutions to this problem. The blow torch looked promising when the weeds curled up and turned black. However, they soon sprouted again from the old root systems.

The more violent plan was to pull them out by the roots each spring and fall. It turns out that pulling is most efficient for dealing with weeds. So, we divide the patio into fourths and each of us pulls a fourth one day and a fourth the next day.

Before you know it, your back knows you’ve been doing this job.

So, maybe, as we get really old, we’ll do an eighth a day and then a sixteenth and, after a time, we’ll just be pushing up grass from the other side.

Meanwhile I have a lot of books to read and stories to write in between bouts of weeding and photographing this one oasis in the world.

When more of us have immunity to the Covid19 virus, and we can enjoy company again, let's get together and discuss the things we did and the service organizations we learned to support in order to help others. We can discuss the politics that disgusted us, the leaders we came to like and the good books we read while apart.


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