Reconstruction, garden variety

Here it is November, edging into the middle of the month, and for a brief and lovely week, the march of the seasons hit pause-and-rewind.

Old mercury thermometer outdoors on weathered wooden fence post, with green turf, walkway, and white-washed farm buildings showing in spaces between fence slats

“Old thermometer” by Stanley Mlha is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After a couple or maybe three hard frosts in mid-September (I may be in denial about the third, or I may be imagining things, both of which seem to be turning into a national sport), and another whack of unseasonably cold weather in October, topped off with snow the day before Halloween, Ma Nature has taken mercy on us here in WMass. Since last Thursday, or maybe it was Wednesday (see first sentence of this paragraph), we have been basking in days pinging up into the 70s by mid- to late afternoon.

Given that the sun now sets before 5 pm since we lost daylight saving time, the warmth is a welcome gift. I don’t even terribly mind (although I do mind some) that it still goes down into the high 30s some nights.

The warm spell put me back on the hook, though: things I had thought were past praying for, all of a sudden weren’t. Things I thought would just have to wait till spring, now became not only possible but even, perhaps, mandatory. After all, there were (and still are) piles of mulch and topsoil in the driveway, waiting for me to do something with them. They must be dealt with, or horrors will happen when my marvelous neighbor tries plowing the driveway when we get real snowfall.

Chard in pre-nightmare state.
“Swiss Chard” by dnfisher is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Therefore, it’s reconstruction time! That strip right behind the house, above the stone wall, has been taunting me since early spring. Do something, already! Only the peonies looked good there this year. Oh, and maybe the lettuce and the chard in very early summer, before the chard demonstrated what a nightmare it can turn into if you don’t pick it in time.

Sorry I didn’t take a picture at the time, but I didn’t know back in June that I was going to be doing a garden blog. Don’t worry; I’m bound to neglect it again at some point next year, so you’ll get another chance to see it.

Front page of website of Infinite Cedar showing several raised garden beds products set on green lawn and filled with soil

Infinite Cedar made the beds.
Aren’t they lovely?
My screenshot, website

But I didn’t do more with that strip because I knew I wanted to reconfigure everything: to put in raised beds, add a slightly meandering walkway, etc. etc. Way back in June or July, I bought a couple of 4X8-foot raised-bed kits made by Infinite Cedar (great quality, in case you’re looking for something like that), but they sat in their boxes in the garage while Anthony-the-amazing-helper and I struggled to get all the more distant permanent-perennial plantings wrestled into shape.

When it snowed on Oct. 30, I started wondering where I could stash those gigantic boxes for the winter, to make room to park the car in order to make room in the driveway for the plowing (and to avoid having to get snow off the car, sometimes a foot or more of it undercased by ice—note my play for your sympathy here). And I had a spot all figured out, but then we got this warm snap (good till tomorrow!), my conscience woke up, and I called my amazing handyman Carl with a cry for help—and good golly whiskers, did he deliver! Which meant that I had to deliver, too, to get ready for that help.

Small shoots of geranium leaves amidst leaf litter, as seen from above

Aw shucks, the blushing turtle is back!

On Friday I trotted out to various retail establishments to load up on additional supplies, especially meaning hardware cloth and things for assembling it. I’ll explain more on that shortly.

Out in the targeted area, I dug out the huge perennial sage and nearly as huge French tarragon plants and put them into pots to await resettlement.

And made an amazing discovery, under all that herby foliage: the blushing turtle geranium lives on! It too got dug up, and awaits a new home more removed from the rodent menace. By the time I’d done all that (digging, rooting around in garage for suitably large pots, putting more soil in pots, tucking in the transplantees, watering them…), the sun was dropping, splashing up lots of orange and purple (see the header photo), and it was time to pack it in.

For the last couple hours of daylight on Saturday, and the first hour of daylight Sunday morning, I set to work dismantling the old chicken-wire-fenced area that had discouraged the bunnies but never fazed parsley-crazed Tamerlane-the-woodchuck, even though we’d buried the chicken wire down about a foot when that fence went in.

Garden plot area, bordered on right by sonte wall; level area covered with leaf debris and mulch just to left of stone wall, and beyond that on left, several tarps held down by stones covering more of the ground; red tool bucket on bare soil in foreground

Part way into demolition

And I peeled away the three humungous tarps—one green, one blue, one brown—that had overlain the rest of the strip since Anthony had to pull out the obstreperous weeds for a second time, during the summer.

Sunday morning, while I was in a writing workshop on Zoom, Carl and a crew of two assistants showed up and set to work. By the time I had a little break in the workshop, I poked my head out and they had already finished ripping out the part of the fence that I hadn’t gotten to (full disclosure: a good half of it), and had created a beautifully leveled-off surface, approx. 20 feet by 12 feet. By the time my second break rolled around, they’d assembled the frames of the beds. And by the time the workshop was finished, the beds were in place and they’d nearly finished digging out the inside, to a depth of 10 inches.

cedar raised bed frame in position, with soil dug out to 10 inches below bottom of frame

In position…

This was soil that I’ve already dug up and turned umpteen times over the past six years, so the digging wasn’t for softening up compacted soil.

No, this time there is a Plan, hatched to foil Tamerlane and all his brethren and sistren should they hanker to snack on the garden goodies by burrowing from below. And to keep out anyone else who might try burrowing, say, Thumper-the-sidekick-bunny and his accomplices.

photo showing some hardware cloth, rolled up, with old chickenwire rolled up behind it

New hardware cloth; old chicken wire

This time, the Plan is to line the deep underneath of the bed with that aforementioned hardware cloth. Have you ever encountered that magical material? I don’t know why it’s called “cloth.” It’s anything but clothy; it consists of very tough, supposedly stainless steely wire, which comes in ¼” or ½” grids. Maybe it gets named cloth for its woven look.

In any case, Carl and his team had the unenviable challenge of turning lengths of 3- and 4-foot wide hardware cloth into linings to cover the bottom of the beds and to secure the sides of the rim of soil and lap up inside the wooden frames.

I’d envisioned that work of measuring and cutting and uniting the two different lengths all going on inside the beds, but that team knew better. For the first piece, they did the measuring and cutting and linking (with “hog rings,” a term I just recently discovered, and I sure hope nobody is putting those wicked clamps on real hogs) out on the lawn where they could move around. They measured before cutting and measured again after cutting, folded in the sides, then the ends, cut out sections where ends and sides would join up. They they picked up the neatly tailored piece, carried it over to the bed, and placed it in its home.

I’ll spare you the details that followed, the stomping to get the stiff cloth into exact position, the stapling of sides and ends, the filling in with the dug-out soil. You can get some idea from the pictures above. There’s more to do: the second liner still has to go in. But I know it’s going to be done right.

I’ll leave you with this little thought: you may have a plan or a policy, but for figuring out the best way of achieving it, there ain’t nothing like an expert.

Two adult ducks on lawn with 8 fuzzy brown, white, and yellow ducklings

“Ducklings in line” by jpockele is licensed under CC BY 2.0

So, dear readers, it was nice to hear, the day after all this got done, that the President-elect is not waiting for the final ducks to line up, and has already assembled an outstanding team of experts to advise on combating the coronavirus pandemic that threatens all of us in life and livelihood. May their advice prove as effective as the garden team’s approach did.

Oh, if your mind is still on that garden work, and you’re thinking, waitaminnit, what’s to stop Tamerlane from invading over the top? There’s a plan for that, too. But that can wait till spring. I will leave you in delicious suspense, and then you’ll get another blog post or two about that process.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. If you can’t come up with anything else, here are some questions to choose from:

  1. What are your most troublesome garden pests of the larger kind (let’s make mice the smallest size there), and how have you dealt with them?
  2. Are you doing things in the garden in November that you thought you’d be putting off till spring, or are you already on to the mulled cider? (Mulled champagne this week???)
  3. Did you get the spring bulbs in yet? If so, what are they? If not, maybe you should be out doing that, and then come back and leave a comment telling us what you planted.
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6 Responses to Reconstruction, garden variety

  1. Ellice Gonzalez says:

    This weekend was so lovely and I knew the weather would only get more challenging, so it was time to clean up my gardens. Looking at the dried leaves, fallen stalks, flower seeds scattered around, I heard a voice saying, “No, no, no. Don’t destroy the homes & food of overwintering birds and insects.” So, I stopped immediately. Thank you Inconstant Gardner for giving me a guilt-free afternoon of sitting on my deck in this unusually balmy weather & reading a book!

    • Kateri says:

      Funny coincidence (or is it the weather?)–approximately when you were writing this, Ellice, I stopped one of my yard helpers just as he was starting to leaf-blow all the leaves out of the garden beds. They went back! and the other leaves scattered all over the lawn got chewed up by the lawn mower and spread back on the lawn. Maybe the latter is not so good for the ground-dwelling bees, but good fertilizer for the grass. I’m glad that I provided you with dispensation to make the most of the lovely weather! By next year, maybe you’ll be able to stop yourself automatically, but these old neat-as-a-pin garden habits are hard to kick.

  2. Susan says:

    Because the raised beds (bedframes?) look so classy, I peeked at Infinite Cedar’s options. There are one or two that might work in my small urban patio. No promises–but your blog is inspiring!

    • Kateri says:

      Wonderful! I hope you do find a good one for your patio, Susan. I noticed they have at least one that they call a “planter,” which seems to be slightly raised above ground level, so it probably has a bottom section to it. Please let us all know whether you find one that works.

  3. Suan says:

    Thank you, Kateri. While I am one of those non-gardeners who abhors getting their hands dirty, I do enjoy these posts. The sense of humor conjoined with a sense of season and time passing. Love the droll social commentary and how it’s woven in with the gardening.

    • Kateri says:

      Hey, with the right kind of gardening gloves, Suan, you almost never need to get your hands dirty. I have been known to wear those surgical type gloves under my regular gardening gloves for that very reason. Unfortunately, there is no whole-body surgical glove, and the rest of me can get pretty muddy at times. I’m happy to have you be an armchair enthusiast, though. Somebody needs to have the time to read! Thanks for stopping by.

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