Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spring Ho!

I know it's a little early to be getting ridiculously excited about the onset of spring, but I can't help it! When I went out to run a few errands this weekend, I didn't take my coat with me. Know why? Because it just didn't feel that cold outside! And while I know a single warm-ish day in February is pretty meaningless up here in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather changes with more frequency than John McCain's position on George Bush, after a couple of weeks of frigid temperatures and gloom, I had this little burst of glee on Sunday. I was 100% parka-free in the grocery store, and they were selling bunches of tulips, three for ten bucks!

Spring -- it approacheth!

So, when I got home from my errands, I decided it was time to sit down and start making a list of all the things I want to get done in the yard/garden this year. It's a work in progress, of course, but I thought I'd share the first draft with you guys and see what you thought (remember, of course, that I'm the resident rookie, so advise away!).

One of my goals for this year is to simplify a few areas in our yard -- areas where I spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy every year struggling to keep them ship-shape. Every year I think to myself that I should just take a weekend and do something about those areas, so I could quit spending all my time weeding and get back to the garden-related things I enjoy more, like planting, nurturing, and eating!

I also have chronic pain problems -- my back, hips, legs, and hands -- and the more time I spend on my knees pulling weeds, the more I start to connect being in my yard with agony. That ain't no good, my peeps! This year, changes will be made! Here's what I've got down so far:

1. Replace all the soil in our raised beds with better, healthier stuff. We have five small raised beds in our backyard, and the soil in them is rocky and full of dead, disconnected roots. We keep meaning to scoop a bunch of it out (we can use it to fill a few sunken areas in our backyard) and replace it with good plantin' dirt, but it's going to be a huge (back breaking!) job, so we've put it off every year. The problem is, stuff doesn't grow well in those beds because that soil stinks. This year I'm ready to take a weekend to make that section of the yard a healthy place for plants, in the hopes it'll turn into a healthy place for ME once we finally get things to grow there that taste delicious (hooray for peas!) and make me happy! I have no idea how much dirt I'll need, but hey, that's what they made geometry for.

2. Replace the gravel walkways around those same raised beds with something else. I don't know if you guys know this, but there's nothing more torturously hard to keep looking nice as white gravel walkways underneath lots of trees. They look great when they're pristine, but they only stay pristine for about thirty-seven minutes (I've timed it, seriously -- okay, not really).

I've tried everything I could think of to keep those walkways looking nice -- I even spent six hours last summer washing all the gravel (stop laughing!) so it would look great for a barbecue we were hosting. It worked really well, actually -- all you have to do is fill a wheelbarrow with water and scoop a bunch of the gravel in there, then stir it a bit and let it sit for a few minutes. Soon all the dead leaves and twigs and such will float to the top where you can scoop them off. Dump the gravel back out on your paths, and voila!

But, frankly, life's too short for that kind of nonsense. And seriously? Washing ROCKS? That way lies madness. . . I'm thinking maybe mulch instead of gravel? But if anybody has any recommendations, hit me with 'em in the comments.

3. Build a fence in the front yard. We have no sidewalks in our neighborhood, so our front yard directly abuts the street. In order to make it look a little nicer -- so it didn' t just look like grass running irregularly into gravel running irregularly into pavement -- the original owners had created a mulched strip that runs across the edge of the yard. It looks great, that mulched strip. But the grass takes it over extremely quickly every fall and spring, and I've spent WAY too much time over the last three years out there weeding it. If we had a short fence that served as a boundary instead, we could let the grass roam free (vive le herbe!), and even plant some shrubs and flowers along the inside of the fence as well. It'll look nice AND be a lot less work to maintain, an extremely appealing combination.

4. Do not let the blackberries win.

5. Finish removing the strange bush thing that runs along the fence by the driveway. We have this strange bush thing -- I see it all over Seattle but don't know what it's called (when it flowers this year, I'll post a picture of it and maybe you guys can help identify it) -- and it's a nightmare! It looks fine, and the yellow flowers that spring out on it in the spring are lovely. But the problem is it sends little shooters out under the ground -- hundreds of them! -- and they spring up in our grass and start turning into more bush! No more bush! (Hey, I sound like Obama!)

I go out there regularly to chop the heads off the little springer-uppers (and yes, before you ask, that IS the technical term!), but that's really all I can think to do about them. They're connected securely to the mothership underground, so I can't just yank them out, and yet, if I leave them alone -- well, did you ever read that online novel Stephen King started called The Plant? The one that was about a plant that started to take over an office building? Unchecked, I think we'd have a jungle on our hands. So, it needs to go, and then we need to put something else in its place -- something less aggressive but still pretty. Anybody have a hedge-type shrub they like? I prefer leafy to pine-y, and it helps if it's something that doesn't grow too insanely tall (this one is about mid-thigh height at its tallest, which is about right for where it is located).

6. Take a day in the next couple of weeks to sit down with my gardening guides, all the catalogs the brilliant Janet just educated us about (thanks, Janet!), and a hand-drawn map of my yard, and really make a planting plan this year. You know, instead of just going to the nursery and winging it, which, to be honest, is really not workin' out all that well for me.

7. Do not let the dandelions win.

That's all I've come up with so far, but I'm already super-excited to get started! What are your plans for this year's gardening season? Got any major changes you want to make to your yard? Got any new plants you want to try out? Got anything gardening-related you want to learn more about? Let's hear it, people!


Janet said...

Wow--sounds like you have some great plans! Re: your gravel walkways, you could go low-budget and mulch them with pine needles. Free and easy! Just don't try to wash 'em.

Now I'll have to post my to-do list, once I wander around the yard and make one. #1 on the list will be: Do not let the bindweed win!

Meg said...

Luckily, I don't know what bindweed is, so even if it IS winning in my yard at the moment, I remain blissfully ignorant. :)

Pine needles -- that's an interesting idea. I confess I've never even heard of pine needles as mulch. Do you buy them at a nursery like with other types of mulch? Or do you just sneak over to the neighbors', whose yard is full of piney stuff, and sweep their decks while they're asleep? I kind of like the latter idea, except for the part where they might hear me and call the cops. But if they slept through it, they'd wake up and be all, "Hey, the sweeping elves were here again last night! It's a Christmas miracle! In June!" How fun would THAT be?!

My mom suggested paving stones, which would be a lot of work, but also fun in a Tetris-y sort of way (and then also easily sweepable and/or hose-able when messy). The only concern I have with that idea is the impact that task might have on my body (and also, cost is a factor, though it might be more cost-effective in the long run than replacing the mulch every year).

That's a lot of time on my hands and knees, though, not to mention a lot of time carrying rocks from the store to the car to the backyard. Something to think about. Maybe I can hire some local teenagers to do the heavy lifting parts.

Mom's neighbor has paving-stone paths around her raised beds, though, and they sure look nice. She planted some ground-covery stuff in between the stones, and it looks very natural and pretty.

Can't wait to see your list, Janet!!