What to do With a Side Garden that Floods

As with pretty much every green thing under my care, I’ve been struggling with what to do about the side garden. It’s on a gradual slope, and it becomes a river every time it rains. Hmph. This strip of dirt is roughly four feet at its widest point and runs twenty-four feet long between the house and sidewalk, and it gets a couple of hours of sun daily.

Last summer I thought I had it figured out. I put down landscape fabric, planted a few hostas, covered with mulch and scattered some large rocks around to keep everything in place. I scavenged the rocks from another area of the yard and did a little switch-a-roo. It was pretty, and I was pleased. Until the first rain took all the mulch away. Right around the bend and into my front yard, actually. By the following Spring, the landscape fabric had been pushed around so much that it looked like a pile of laundry. And the hostas were sprouting beneath it, not able to find the holes I had cut in the fabric six months earlier.

What. A. Mess.

I thought on it for quite a while (read: I avoided it for a long time). The hostas were doing well where they were planted, and they seemed unaffected by the raging river of rainwater. So I knew I wanted to plant more hostas, but what ground cover to finish it off that wouldn’t wash away? The mulch was a joke, and gravel would be bullied just as easily. I thought about a rock garden with substantial rocks, but didn’t want to commit to the budget for that.

Then, like a rock garden angel whispering in my ear, my neighbor told me about a landscape supply company in town. “Supply” anything usually means less than retail pricing. Now I had an idea. As I pulled into the dirt parking lot, I got a sinking feeling that this was one of those places that only sells to contractors. No M’am! I could buy whatever I wanted. And the price was right.

I imagined beautiful hostas sprouting from a river of rocks.

The catch is that you can’t just buy 10 or 15 big rocks. The smallest amount they sell is a quarter yard. It was a grand total of $12 for a quarter yard of basketball and football-size rocks. TWELVE DOLLARS! You know I love a deal. Budgeting is in my blood! The other particular is that a quarter yard is roughly 700 pounds of rock, and it’s a “you load/you haul” kind of operation.

Load it yourself, Lady!
Four trips. I probably could have done less, but it still has that new car smell. I didn’t want to break the vehicle so soon.

The guy in the front-end loader pushed a 700 pound pile of rocks to the side for me and I began loading them into the trunk of the Altima. Pretty quickly I saw that the wheel well-to-tire space was disappearing. It took four trips of loading and unloading, but I got those rocks home. It was 98 degrees with a thousand percent humidity, and by the time the last rock was out of my trunk and on the pile next to the house, I walked away from that hot heavy mess and never looked back. Well, not for about a month.

I never wanted to see these rocks again.

By the time I was ready to look at it again, it was August and all the garden centers were picked over in the hosta department. So I did what any respectable gardener would–I yanked a few from other areas of my yard. Ha! It’s like rearranging the living room, only outside. I love this!

There are four varieties of hostas in the rock garden.
The rocks are gorgeous pink, gray, and slate colors.

I transplanted the container hostas and introduced them to the side garden hostas. Then I once again moved 700 pounds of rock as I placed every last one just so. I now have a rock garden/river of hostas along the side of my home. We’ve had some substantial rain and not a thing has moved. I think it’s actually preventing some of the erosion that had been occurring. But best of all, it’s beautiful.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the project is complete! No washing away of mulch or gravel, no-fuss hostas!

If you have a piece of land that isn’t up to par for flowers or vegetables, consider a rock garden. You might even get plants to grow that would otherwise have been victim to wind, rain, or rushing water.

So go ahead, rock on with your bad self!



5K in Every State: Illinois!

Y’all, I’m checking states off my list! In June I hit Virginia, and although I’m somewhat tardy in reporting this next one, in September I did a 5K in Illinois. Can I get a Kimmy Schmidt high five? This was actually my second attempt at a race in Illinois – the first one was a wash (take a peek). No, really. It rained so hard I couldn’t convince my feet to step out of the swag tent. We ran like children to the car and went out to eat instead.

Nine states done! Woot woot!

But the second time was a charm. I have family in Illinois and pop in a couple of times per year, so scheduling a visit around a 5K was no big. And the bonus was that my niece and grand-niece joined me! These two were so sweet to walk with me, and what a trooper Little A was for walking the entire 3.1 miles (she’s 4). Honestly, she complained less than I did.

My team is ready to roll!

The walk was in a little town, a “subdivision” if we’re using the local vernacular, not too far from home base. Plainfield is in northeastern Illinois, southwest of the city. Its population is less than 50,000, with a historic downtown of boutiques, shops, and restaurants. We did the Plainfield Harvest 5K, but there are lots of other festivals and events throughout the year. It was a darling little place, and I recommend giving it a look if you’re in the area.

DuPage River in Plainfield IL
Part of the walk was along the DuPage River – beautiful
Cornfield in Plainfield IL
If there’s a cornfield, you’re probably in the Midwest
It was a leisurely walk…

Typically, my 5k trips take me to places I haven’t been, but this one was all family, all the way, which was a nice change of pace. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in seeing the world that I forget how much I enjoy hanging with the fam. After the race we grabbed a couple slices (only in Chicagoland will you be provided post-race pizza rather than the usual banana and granola bar) and headed back home where we set up for my grand-nephew’s birthday party, complete with a piñata! I’m telling you, no matter how old you are, a piñata causes some excitement. These kids were little and no match for my candy-stealing skills. I’m kidding!

It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to stay a while and visit with the Illinois contingent. Most of my travel energy was devoted to getting to the middle of Wisconsin (which is no easy task) to spend time with my Mom, usually leaving me with just an overnight in Chicago. Since Mom passed away, I haven’t been back to Wisconsin. I have to admit, as much as I loathed the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles spectacle of getting to her, the empty slots on my travel calendar where Mom used to be are weighty. Still, it was nice to settle in and relax for a few days with my sister and extended family in Illinois–and the fact that it came sans guilt for enjoying family time without Mom was a pleasant surprise. A relief.

We visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, which was beautiful! If you haven’t been, get there. Seriously, go. We burned the better part of four hours and saw just a fraction of the place. It is huge! We saw the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Waterfall Garden. There are 26 other gardens/features to see, which means I need to get back to the CBG.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden – go see!

The best part of this trip was spending time with my people, some of whom I haven’t seen in quite a while, and doing everyday things with them. You’d be surprised the bonding that can come from a trip to WalMart for a Halloween bucket or a beer run to the corner gas station. It seems the older I get, the faster time passes. Truth be told, as much as I treasure my freedom to travel near and far, I could use a little more “every day life” in my life.



Most of What You Need to Know, You Can Learn from Gardening

Last week’s spurt of container gardening to pretty up the approach to my yard has got me thinking back to my gardening roots. I have never been much of a flower gardener (aside from the occasional potted plant on my deck), but Mom and Dad loved their vegetable garden, and by extension, it became part of my life, too, albeit briefly.

Our first garden that I can recall was when I was 10 years old and we had just moved from Illinois to Wisconsin. We rented the downstairs of a small, two-story house in the middle of farm country and forest. My parents purchased a pub and diner in a nearby town, but had not yet closed on the house that went with the deal, so tenants we were.

Dad tilled up a small patch of earth so he and Mom could grow tomatoes, green beans, radishes, carrots, corn, and cucumbers that summer. Not to be left out, I insisted on a corner of the plot just for me.

Much like when a child promises to feed and walk the puppy but inevitably slacks, so I did with my garden. I watered it some, and pulled a weed or two, but Dad helped me a lot. He let me think the glory was all mine, though.

I and my niece show off the biggest tomato from our garden at the rental

And Lord, did I make a fuss about having grown the largest tomato! I’m not certain who snapped this photograph, but I directed the shot to be sure the depth of field was so that the tomato looked as big as it could compared to my crouching niece. (The photography bug got me a couple of years prior.) This photo was taken with my Kodak Instamatic 104.

The Kodak Instamatic 104 is one of my treasures

I have fond memories of that summer. Family visited often, which provided me with some company other than the June Bugs and bats. Seriously. My nephews, niece, and I would run through the huge cornfield that began at the edge of our yard and rolled on for acres upon acres. We ran without a care in the world, the sharp leaves slapping our arms and faces.

We went on nature hikes so I could take photos, and on one such outing we happened upon a skunk. This was revelatory as to who could keep their calm and who could not in a hairy situation (a good thing to know about the folks you’re tramping through the forest with in northern Wisconsin, i.e. bear country). Mostly, we generally horsed around like kids do.

The following summer we were in our permanent home, and I guess that sense of ownership took hold of Dad, because he dug up half the county and planted enough seed to feed an army. We added cabbage, zucchini, squash, and peas to the mix, and the corn section gained a whole lot of real estate. If Mom and Dad were home, there was a good chance they were working in the garden.

Sister and Dad planting one corner of the permanent garden
Mom was super excited about those carrots!

My sisters would come help and be sent home with fresh-picked veggies, but as I went from tween to teen, I found other things to occupy my time. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time in the garden with my family, but that is now in the column labeled “lessons learned.”

Was Dad inspecting or eating the tomatoes?

Still, whether they knew it or not, Mom and Dad taught me a few things during those couple of gardening years that hold true for just about any aspect of life:

  • Plant only what you can keep up with
    • Give yourself permission to say no
  • Sunshine, water, and fertilizer are essential
    • Feed your body, mind, and soul
  • If a crop doesn’t grow, plant something else
    • Plan your journey, and be willing to choose another path
  • Pick your bounty before it turns
    • Make your memories now

All these years later, I can’t plant a thing without thinking of Mom and Dad, which is one of the best gifts they have given me. When I dig into the soil from which life originates, plant with the hope and anticipation of a child at Christmas, see the beauty of a bloomed flower, or savor a plump, just-picked tomato, I smile and think of Mom and Dad.

Happy summer, y’all!

Pretty Up with Planters – My first try at container gardening

Do you have a piece of yard that is more like cement than soil? Petrified clay, perhaps? Or maybe you rent and don’t want to dig into the land as though it were your own? Planter or container gardening might be just the thing for you!

In front of my house, there is a triangular patch of ground that lies between my fence and the parking area, and it’s divided nearly in half by a paver path to my gate. At the wide end, there is a bit of grass, a good amount of moss, and a rotting stump. At the narrow end there is a large sweetgum tree, complete with giant roots protruding from the ground rendering the soil impenetrable.

Left = Moss
Right = Sweetgum

So, we have the Moss side and the Sweetgum side. These are not teams and it is not a competition folks, but I do love a label.

Today we’re dealing with the Sweetgum side, with the giant roots and hard-as-cement clay. Two very good reasons to opt for container gardening. Even so, I thought I would bury a galvanized tub-turned-planter about six inches into the ground. Ha! I worked for two and a half hours with a shovel, digging fork, and hand saw before conceding defeat. The tub is submerged about an inch into the ground.

To save myself any more aches and pains, I decided to use containers entirely on the Sweetgum side. Because of the tree and fence, this is a shaded, low-light area. I have been counseled by professionals to plant what will grow in the conditions my space provides. Of course I gravitate toward all the things that need full sun, but I’m playing it safe here and bought low-light plants!

Before we get to the planting of the plants, let’s talk about the edging of the edge. This no-dig edging is the best thing since sliced bread! I know, not such a big deal since everyone is gluten-free now, but you know what I mean. I’d been fretting about putting a border in when I knew digging would be nearly impossible. Thank GAWD I stumbled upon this at Home Depot. It really is as simple as the box indicates. I rolled out the length I needed, cut it with a hand saw, and hammered in the plastic spikes (included) to secure it in place.

Edging product and mulch

Once the edging was done, I spread three bags of mulch and raked that until it covered the area evenly, and then came the fun part: decorating planting the space! I haven’t gardened in decades, and am finding it is a lot like decorating. There are as many plants to choose from as there are accent chairs, and as many garden statues as there are lamps. It’s a whole new world to style!

Pre-border, with border, and with mulch. It’s coming along nicely!

You know I love to keep things on a budget, so I used some of what I had (the previous owner left some containers in the shed) and I purchased some new items from At Home and Lowe’s. The plants came from my yard (existing hostas needed to be relocated) and Lowe’s.

An existing plant I brought out front in a gorgeous shimmery planter from At Home along with a sweet bunny garden statue from Lowe’s.
Blue Jute Glass Ball from At Home adds sparkle.


These plants should do well in low light. The two hostas were inherited with the home, and I purchased the caladium at Lowe’s.

I made sure each container had bottom drainage. The galvanized bucket did not, so I drilled holes in the bottom with a 1/2″ bit. You can get away with no drainage indoors because you control the amount of watering, but outside is another story. Here in North Carolina, it doesn’t rain. It pours. No drainage = a swamped plant.

Cute little container garden is quite an upgrade from…nothing!
Container gardening can bring beauty while giving you the option of arranging and rearranging however you choose.

The bonus of container gardening is that I can rearrange this space as often as I want…er, as often as my back will allow. I have the feeling that even though I should be able to plant directly in the ground on the Moss side, I’ll still want to have a couple of planters over there as well.

I’ll bet these teams make some mid-season trades.


Shopping List:
Jute Blue Glass Ball
Vigoro No Dig Edging
Bunny Garden Statue
12″ Clay Milano Planter (Clay is the color, not the material)