Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sandbox Garden

When we moved about a year and a half ago, we did so because we wanted to find our “forever home” before our daughter started elementary school.  It was important to us that we give her the chance to grow up with the friends she would make at school and not have to go through the experience of leaving her best buds if at all possible.   Obviously there were other factors we had to consider as well, but that one certainly drove the timing of our decision to move.   

One of the things I was looking for in a new home was a larger yard where I could stretch my gardening wings a bit more.  I wanted a yard big enough to allow my gardening interests to flourish but still coexist with a child’s inalienable right to play.  I wanted room for a collection of Japanese maples and a Wiffle ball field.  I wanted a yard big enough to grow watermelons in and to lay out a slip-n-slide at the same time.  In short, I wanted a little slice of Americana.    

So when I saw the sandbox beneath the fruitless mulberry tree - the same mulberry tree that had wooden steps nailed into the trunk and ropes hung from a sturdy limb to support a swing, I thought for sure that I had found a yard that would work for both me and my daughter.   

I took this picture on the day of the home inspection.  You can see the swing at left.
I think the yard, in general, looks really different already.

In the months since we moved in, my girl has climbed those wooden planks several times and stood inside the canopy of the mulberry tree.  She’s marveled at the new world from up there and she’s decided that living in a tree house would be “so cool”.  She’s also begged me to find a swing to hang from those ropes too.  A request I have tried and failed to fulfill.  But she never got interested in the sandbox like I thought she would.  Maybe it was the more than occasional cat poop we found.  Or the omnipresent spiders.  Maybe it was the hardened sand, the constant leaf litter, or the fact that she’s already too old for sandboxes . . . if there is such a thing as being too old for sandboxes.  She just didn’t seem to care about it one way or another which was amazing to me because I was a kid that spent days on end in a sandbox.    

On the Saturday before Father’s day, I found myself standing outside, just soaking things in; plotting my next steps.  After my eyes kept stopping on my own misplaced clutter, I determined it was past time to find places for the things I had brought from the old house.  First and foremost was the fountain my wife gave me when I turned 30 a year or two ago . . . give or take the better part of a decade.  Since the move, the fountain had been left out of the way and unfilled under the mulberry tree just because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it.  I would need the fountain to be close to an electrical outlet for the pump.  I would need level ground.  And I wanted it be away from the house because I had learned through experience that it tends to splash and leave hard water stains which are as hard to get rid of as glitter on your skin. 
Tangent: I overheard a guy say to his girlfriend in a craft store a few months ago “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.”  I’m pretty sure he adopted that line from a comedian, but I gave him due credit for making me laugh anyway.   
Given that one of the three outside outlets in our backyard is just feet from the sandbox it quickly dawned on me that the sandbox would be an ideal location.  But what would my little girl say to that?  I have seen her, several times, suddenly proclaim her rekindled affection for a toy or stuffed animal only after we decided to donate it to Good Will.  Would she suddenly have a hankering for sand castles or for finally embarking upon her long-planned digging expedition to China through the center of the earth?

The gap in the sidewalk was just wide enough to run the cord AND drip irrigation tubing.  Score!

I drilled a small hole at the base of the sandbox for the wiring and irrigation.

Clearly I was going to have to run it by her and get her buyoff.  So I asked her point blank, “are you gonna play in that thing ever again?” or something similarly eloquent.  And she said, basically, “of course not, Daddy.  I’m a more grown-up big-little-kid and I would prefer to do more productive and creative things with my time.”  So, with her permission, and with her help, we started digging out the sand.  It took a surprising amount of time since I didn’t just want to throw the sand away.  I could use the sand to level the pavers I had haphazardly placed as a walkway around the corner of the house.  So as we dug out the sandbox we also leveled the pavers (in the picture below).  That took us most of the afternoon - a long time to ask a 6-year-old to help you in the yard - but the two of us had a lot of fun working together especially since some of that work was just looking at the bugs that fled their homes when we unearthed them.

The smaller square rocks were leftover from a Tic Tac Toe game (using river rocks) that didn't get much use
after the first year so I repurposed them here.  They could use a cleaning, but I'm otherwise happy with the look.
On Father’s Day, after being spoiled with breakfast and coffee delivered to my lazy butt on the couch, my daughter accompanied me to the “rock store” (basically a quarry with a nursery attached to it) so we could buy a smooth paver to use as a base for the fountain.  Then we went to the nursery to pick out plants for our new sandbox garden. 

I took her to the shade plants section and basically said, “Anything you want we can get”.  She chose a couple good looking coleus plants and I picked a few ferns.   And together we planted them around the fountain.  One of the coleus plants lost a limb on the drive home so I showed her how we could put it into some water and it would grow roots of its own.  This was amazing to her (frankly, it’s amazing to me too).  As we worked side by side I got to listen to her daydream aloud about how we could sell coleus plants to people at a lemonade and flower stand. 

Our first "new" coleus is doing just fine.
We took cuttings from the other two types we bought and put them in a window sill in my man cave.

As far as Father’s Days goes, this last one was pretty great.  I am lucky to be a father and to get to spend time with my family.  And part of my fortune, I realized, is getting to see the world through the eyes of a child and discovering that it’s not always going to look the way I think it’s going to.  Sometimes that world is going to look like lemonade stands and plant sales instead of sandboxes.  And you can find happiness in either one.

A few shots of the new "sandbox garden":

Planted with asparagus ferns 'Myers', Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), Silver Lady Fern (Blechnum gibbum), Coleus blumei 'Electric Lime', Coleua blumei 'Rustic Orange', and Coleus blumei 'Crimson Gold'.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mother's Day Garden Tour II - Much Belated

Boy, oh boy, have I been slacking off.  Way back in May I posted some pictures from the Annual Mother's Day Garden Tour that supports an elementary school in East Sacramento.  I promised a follow-up and just never delivered.

What can I say?  Life has been busy both at my day job and after hours.  I've always thought that the cruel irony of garden blogging is that when you are doing the most gardening and would have the most to blog about you happen to have the least amount of time to blog.  

Since it's been nearly two months since I went on this tour, I'm just going to post these pictures and make a few comments.  I won't go into a great deal of depth and I trust that's okay.  I suspect most people just look at pictures on blogs anyway.  

With the delay in this post, I should have PhotoShopped this picture to read "Welcome Back to East Sacramento".

This shady garden was a gem.  I suspect the above chairs were planted just for the tour though.

My daughter is seen here in the red coat.  I gave her a small point and shoot
 camera and she took hundreds of pictures in the gardens.  

I have these same pots at home.  I totally know where they bought these.  I admire it when people can stick to one type of container.  I can't seem to achieve that level of restraint.  

If you hate mulch, you probably hate this garden.  I can't imagine the upkeep once the leaves fall.  But on this day, everything looked clean and crisp.

A Strawberry Tree was growing in the dappled shade.  I took this picture of the trunk because of the bark and also to remind myself of the lighting conditions.  After seeing this, it occurred to me that the three strawberry trees I have planted were all in full sun.  Two of them are dead now and one is at our old house.  It never seemed to take off for me though. 

More mulch and crisp lines.

Isn't this beautiful?  No?  Well, one of the things I like about garden tours is seeing the ways other people address problems.  On this tour I saw how people hung cafe lights and how they brought water to veggie beds (above) among other things.

Artwork done by the kids at the school

More artwork.

A simple brick pathway - easy and timeless.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Suffering from a Lack of Focus

It’s become increasingly common for me to have conversations with friends about our growing inability to maintain focus on one thing at a time.  We blame the internet.  Commercial break?  Check Facebook real quick.  Pause in the conversation while you wife sneezes?  That’s a perfect chance to check your fantasy football scores.  Three minutes before you have to go to a meeting? Refresh your e-mail to see if anyone else has written.  Sad to say, it’s gotten bad enough for me that it’s no longer uncommon to stop what I’m reading mid-sentence and check stock prices or to see if any of my favorite bloggers have published a new post.  And if someone posts an online article with links in it, you can pretty much write-off any chances of me finishing the original article.
All this is to say that this sort of internet fueled ADD has bled over into my unplugged life.  It used to be that I could go outside and tackle a project and work on it until completion.  What is more likely to happen now is that I will go out to deadhead the dianthus and I’ll end up working on sprinklers, picking up liquid amber balls of pain and fury, or check my phone to see just how hot it is because it sure feels hot.  Oh look, here comes the ice cream truck.  I wonder what kind of profit they make on days like this.  Do you think that’s a good job or is it just miserable driving around listening to that one song all day long?  What is that song anyway?  I should Google it.  Now what was I going to do with these pruners in my pocket? 

Gardening is supposed to provide us with a break from these kinds of distractions isn’t it? 

Our drought and the heat make these succulents feel like the only responsible plant I can buy right now.

This past weekend being Memorial Day weekend, I decided to make a mini-vacation of it and I took a couple extra days off.  This allowed me ample opportunity to work in the yard in the mornings before the afternoon temps hit close to 100 degrees.  While I worked, I tried really, really hard to focus on one task at a time.  I was mildly successful.  But at after a few hours of weeding, it occurred to me that maybe multi-tasking does have its benefits.  For one, it allows you to use some different muscles and relax others.  The biggest advantage of focusing on one task though has to be the satisfaction that comes when you actually complete something and know that you’ve done it well. 

I installed a brick mow strip to border a new bed I created a few weeks ago. 

I still need to add some sand to the cracks between the bricks and clean up some of the excess dirt from excavating.

I weeded that new bed, a bed I made last year, and the vegetable garden. 

My fenced-in vegetable garden as seen through a young pomegranate tree.

I planted plugs of dwarf mondo grass in a small foundation bed.  I trimmed and pruned the dead wood from several trees.  I hacked off an enormous amount of mulberry branches that were touching the roof of the house.  I extended my drip irrigation system to include a few more plants that were looking worse for wear. 

One of the trees I trimmed was this potted Chaste tree.  When this tree blooms, it's pretty awesome.

I replanted a Strawberry Tree that was competing with the lawn to gain a foothold.  And I thought about, but decided against, cleaning out the potting shed.  But I want credit for just thinking about it because the thought alone made me tired and irritable.

This tree looks so pathetic right now.  Its droopy leaves and sparse
branches make this look like the landscape equivalent of Charlie Brown's
Christmas tree.  Hopefully my decision to replant it now will help
it along and not sped up its death.

I stretched my body and my mind and I came away with a renewed appreciation for what a little focus can do.

Same view as the one above a couple shots but with a different focus.
See, even my pictures can't stay focused on one thing!