Friday, May 27, 2011

Three Cubic Yards

We’ve been getting some mathematics lessons at our house. Especially me. For years we've talked about doing something with the back yard. Something other than let the grass grow, let the grass dry out, over-water the grass, then mow the grass. Repeat cycle. Something pretty. For some time I’ve had a bit of an attraction to gravel. I liked it. Then I just had to have it. This year we decided to put gravel pathways in the vegetable garden. Of course, it got a bit out of hand.

It really began last summer when we did the unspeakable. It was so un PC, so retro, so anti-green that I'm almost ashamed to admit it. We cut down a tree. It was a large and very healthy tree which I secretly hated. About twenty years ago we planted a Magnolia in the backyard. I had the impression we were getting the variety with the obscenely beautiful pink blossoms. My ex thought we were getting the kind that grew in front of his childhood home in La Jolla. The one with the large, white blossoms and leaves that drop all summer long. The tree that grew so tall it shaded the entire house. Guess which kind of tree we planted?

That first spring the tree revealed its true colors. I was disappointed, but somewhat committed to its prosperity. In the early days Lucy and her friend injured a limb by climbing on it. I repaired it with duct tape and it was none the worse. I envisioned the grandchildren scaling it one day. Over time, two circumstances occurred. The Magnolia got so big it begin a death struggle with the Buckeye. Let's face it. The Buckeye was here first, so we trimmed the Magnolia back to give the Buckeye its space. The other situation had a more direct impact on me. When the wind blew in summer, leaves would fall. We live in such a foggy area that every time the fog blew in, which could be daily, more leaves would flutter down. I would rake and immediately the lawn was littered with brown spots, almost like turds. I like falling leaves - in FALL. Not summer.

I didn't think anyone would approve of killing the tree so I suffered in silence (mostly) until one day I broached the topic with Eric. He said he hated the tree and would be happy to be rid of it. What a welcome surprise. Shortly after that we were eating in the backyard with Lucy and Greg. I mentioned the idea of taking the tree down and Lucy stated that she'd miss the dappled light. Greg countered with something like, "I'll miss the dappled light. As long as I live I can't imagine myself saying that." We cracked up and finished lunch.

Tree assassination was a gradual process. I went at it with the chainsaw until I was getting dangerously high on the ladder. Actually, it was past the point of dangerous. Even I, in all my stubborn determination, knew I was being idiotic. I let Eric take over at the end and it was finally gone. The result was fantastic! Light and air and no leaves to rake. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, so ideas began to spring up and turned into plans.

The plans swept us to the building supply center. There we encountered our first math problem. Pea gravel was about sixty bucks a cubic yard so we figured we could get a good amount of gravel for around two hundred dollars plus delivery. Done. Two hours later it was dumped in the driveway. It turns out three cubic yards is a LOT of gravel.

Twenty trips with the wheelbarrow, through the garage, and out to the backyard was all it took before I started hating that rock pile. Jaunts to the local garden store and Home Depot multiplied. In between meetings, showing property and playing matches for my tennis teams, I worked on the chain gang. After one week, probably due to exhaustion, I started to doubt myself. The area covered by gravel was getting so big and the pile wasn’t much smaller.

Lucy called when I was standing in the yard, paralyzed with indecision. Should the borders be curvy or rectangular? I liked the idea of straight lines, giving it a formal look. I was the only one. Curvy carried the day. A boxwood hedge suddenly became imperative. Nine "green beauties" curving along the curvy border. The next impulse buy was a rose arch. I found one online at a good price, but it was only 6 foot 3 inches tall. We have family members taller than six three. The local garden store carried a seven footer. Fitting it in the car was a geometry problem not to be solved. Instead I carried it home on foot - a distance of about three city blocks. At that point I realized I was a bit manic about the project, but couldn’t stop myself. Eric was tied up with work and the weather was glorious, day after day.

The rose arch was a rusty metal and needed some black paint. While I was at it, I painted a bench, a table and the Dutch door - all black. Trips to the paint store: three. For years we've grown strawberries in the fountain, but it was time to restore its former glory. Several hours were spent subtracting mud. Add one trip to the hardware store for a new pump. The sum was greater than the parts.

Time to get back to the gravel. After two weeks of shoveling I hit driveway. Another two weeks and the pile was gone. It felt a little anti-climactic. Back to Home Depot for Foxglove and more Iceberg roses. As with any home improvement project, it's never really finished. Your eye just goes to the next thing to be done, but at some pont you have to stop. We've had uncharacteristic May rain. If this keeps up we really will have an English garden - just when we leave for England.

Note to readers: Pearls and Lemons is going on the road. Watch for posts from Wimbledon, the Cotswolds and the Spanish Mediterranean.If you would like email notification of posts, send me your address. I'll add you to the list.

Rose Arbor and Boxwoods

The Garden Party

The Rock Pile

The Fountain

The Garden Before

The Magnolia Stump