All I wanted was some lining-out space.
I belong to not one, but two garden organizations that have plant sales. As an officer in each, I am Expected To Have Things For Sale. The trouble is that anything good propagates and grows slowly. The bits that you chop off the side of a clump and pot up for sale the next week, no one will buy.
So, I thought, it’s time to make a new bed and grow things—line them out—for future sales and for use elsewhere in my own garden. I marked off 24’ x 24’ on the slightly sloping back “lawn” (euphemism for crabgrass over clay) and set down an approximate square by putting railroad ties, three on each side, on the surface of the ground. Then I started to dig out a full shovelful deep within that space.
Well, this was work. But it would be worth it…
Then my Beloved Partner, whose back (ahem) does not bend in the garden, said, “Oh, look, isn’t that a crack?”
I took all the turf and roots (lazy man’s compost) and piled it up in the hedgerow; I saved the good soil off the top, such as it was (or wasn’t), and put it aside. This left me about 18” of height to refill, the eight inches or so I’d dug out below ground level plus the ten-inch or so height of the railroad ties. I brought in pickup truckload after pickup truckload of composted horse hooey from an acquaintance’s stable. The stuff was full of weed seeds, but I Had A Plan. I dug eight inches of the stuff into the subsoil below where I’d dug out. Then I brought in compost from the county landfill, truckload after truckload again, and mixed it, about 2/3 compost to 1/3 of the set-aside topsoil, for the top ten inches.
I didn’t do it all at one time, of course; I started digging at one corner, and had a wide area dug to the deepest level—then over that a smaller area with the horseapples and subsoil—then a smaller area yet with the good stuff on top. I would get a bit done of the bottom layer, expand the upper areas correspondingly, and plant things the instant I had any new “good” ground in place.
This took me from March of that year to the end of August, and I was less than half done. I worked in a “U” shape. By May, at least I had enough ground dug to plant my four dozen ismene bulbs, 20 plants of bulbine (both not hardy here in Maryland), and 35 iris sprouts from an iris rescue that spring.
Then my Beloved Partner, whose back (ahem) does not bend in the garden, said, “Why don’t you put in that little plastic pool that you were given last year?” Repeated emphasis that this area was strictly for growing things in rows did not avail me anything.
So, fine. I hacked a deeper hole in the clay-trying-to-be-rock to accommodate a six-foot, doggie-bone-shaped rigid pool. Leveled the hole. I started filling the pool with water and filling in around the outside as I did so. Just as I got to the shelf level of the pool, my B.P. said, “Oh, look, isn’t that a crack?”
If you could have seen my comic-strip thought balloon at that point, it would have been a skull and crossbones, another skull and crossbones, and more skulls and crossbones…
So off we went, and for this “free” pool we purchased a 15’ by 15’ liner. Have you ever noticed how often the free stuff turns out to be more expensive than the bought? Beloved Partner found YET ANOTHER rigid plastic pool at the store, on remainder (small wonder, it was 16 kinds of ugly, the entire interior is made to look like rough rock). But it was deep. This was to go near the first pool. Guess whose labor would dig the hole?
Once home, I excavated a wider area around the hole of the first pool about a foot deep. I laid the liner down in the hole for the pool, then I started building a rock wall to the level of the pool. The liner lapped over the wall. Then I reinserted the pool in its hole, on top of the liner. I filled the space between the pool and the rock wall with a mix of sand and peat. Then I put flat stones over the rim of the pool and the liner. This gave me six more inches of height above the water level of the pool. I filled it all in.
Gradually, I refilled the pool. Now I had a pool and a bog. And since the liner’s lowest point was at the height I wanted the water in the pool to be, any excess water would drain off and the bog would never flood. Luckily, I also had some flat pavers. These last made a walk around the pool/bog area.
I was done by October, while the rest of the garden went to absolute ruin, along with my knees and my back.
Another walk growed like topsy out of the first. Between them they made the whole space unusable as a “row crop” area. At this point I said, “To #$%^ with it,” gave up, and made most of it a permanently planted bed. I had—this spring—JUST enough space left to plant out my seven dozen ismene bulbs, 20 more irises from the same rescue (potted since last year, Lord help us, and 40 more to find places for), and about 30 plants of bulbine. But they multiply, and I will need twice the space next year. To make matters worse, the fall bulb catalogs have begun to come in. So now, when the ismene and bulbine are dug up and brought in for the winter, daffodils will fill their places.
My project this fall and winter?
A new bed. For some lining-out space. ❖
This article was published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #107.