The Steps Project

I am calling my last big yard work initiative of the season the Steps Project. It’s been an interesting, challenging, “dirt under the fingernails” bit of work that combines archaeology, tricky balance, digging, pulling, and lots of roots.

The Steps Project began when our 80-year-old neighbor visited our down yard as part of our earlier tree-cutting work. He’s lived in this neighborhood since he was a kid, and he recalled the hillside being a treeless expanse with stones that the kids used as steps to come up and down on their walk to and from school. Steps in that location would be a good thing because the hillside slopes at close to a 45-degree grade, and getting up and down on a dewy morning can be a slippery proposition. But the steps he recalled were long gone, covered now by a thatch of moss and weeds.

Obviously, stepping stones don’t just vanish; they were under there somewhere. And I think having a kind of stairway to get from top to bottom of the slope would be useful. So the archaeology part of my Steps Project involves figuring out where the stones are buried. When I find them, I cut through the thatch, pull out the moss and weeds, and then cut or pull out the tree roots that grew over and around the rocks. Then I use a brush to clear off the dirt and other debris so the rocks—now exposed for the first time in decades—can dry out in the sunshine. The balance part of the project comes in because I’m doing all of that while trying to hold myself steady on the slope and not taking overly aggressive actions that might send me toppling down the hillside.

Yesterday I finished with the last two “steps,” and now I’ve got a rocky, ersatz set of stairs on the side border of the down yard that you can see in the photos accompanying this post, from the above and below perspectives. Of course, the steps aren’t perfectly aligned like a staircase, and you have to zigzag and take different length steps to get up and down, but they are definitely a safer way up and down. And they are kind of fun, too. In fact, I feel like one of the kids in my neighbor’s old gang when I use them.

A Downyard Project Update

This summer I haven’t had a chance to do as much work as I’d hoped on the downyard—which is too bad, because it really needs the help. We’ve had a lot of rainy weekends, and other weekends have been devoted to travel.

This weekend, however, Mother Nature cooperated with the puny plans of mortal men, and I was able to devote a full day and a half to working on the project before the rain started falling around noon today. Because the downyard attracts weeds like mangy dogs attract fleas, the concept is to limit the potentially weedy areas and introduce plants that can hold their own against the weeds in the Darwinian struggle for survival. I’ve tried to do that by exposing the many rocks as possible (because I’d rather see rocks than weeds), digging out the weedy areas, and mulching over the whole rock-infested area.

In the process, I’ve tried to spot the small fern plants that naturally grow in the yard, weed around them, and then mulch around them, in hopes that once they’re freed from surrounding weeds and get more water and sun they’ll grow into bigger fern plants that will keep the weeds at bay. Those little green plants at the far end of the mulched area are ferns. I like ferns, and they seem to grow well here and are capable of holding their own against the weeds.

The project featured a fair amount of shovel work, lots of weeding, bug bites galore, digging out and tossing or carrying all kinds of rocks, hoisting and dumping five large bags of mulch and six medium bags of mulch, and then using a rake to spread the mulch. I could have used another bag of mulch to really finish the job, but I’m happy with the results.

Tiered Up (Cont.)

I’ve finished with my tiers project — for this weekend, at least — and am reasonably happy with the results. I created the beds, planted some spider plants I picked up at the farmers’ market from the local garden club, and replanted the ferns. Unfortunately, my efforts to replant the wild rose bushes failed. The root systems of the rose bushes are just too difficult to dig out. And speaking of digging, I successfully removed some tree stumps, too, which was satisfying.

After two solid days of yard work, I’m ready for a celebratory beer.

Before And After

We’ve been working on the lower yard this week. It was totally overgrown, with weeds that were knee high in some spots and a bunch of spindly chokecherry trees blocking the visibility of the huge granite outcroppings and the nifty birch tree growing out of a crack in the rocks.

We wanted to see what the yard looked like with the overgrowth cut back and the chokecherries chopped down. Fortunately, Russell is skilled with a weedwhacker — a great invention if there ever was one — and I can manage a saw and clippers. Together we tackled the jungle-like growth, and after a few days of cutting, sawing, clipping, and raking we cleared away the underbrush and ended up with a lower yard that is neater, cleaner, and (in my view, at least) a lot more visually appealing. The before picture is above, and the after picture is below.

Incidentally, yard work like this also makes you feel like you’ve really earned that cold beer at the end of the day.

Weed Warrior

Yesterday, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  Ouchy back and all, I got down on my hands and knees to weed the front yard.

I don’t know if it was caused by our warmer than normal winter, or if our grass is just getting wearing out, or if our lawn care service changed the spraying schedule and deferred the weed killer application, but this spring we have been beset by a grotesque plague of weeds.  Dandelions, clover, and other ugly looking plants had sprung up everywhere, ruining the uniform, velvety green carpet all homeowners aspire to and making our yard look like a patchwork quilt of unsightliness.  It was offensive to look at, and I didn’t want the neighbors to think that we were letting our yard go to seed.

So I went out on weed patrol, with my paper bag and my weed control tools.  I know spraying is effective, but I think it’s best to get down close to the spot, get some dirt under your fingernails, and dig the weeds out roots and all.  I use some spoon-sized shovels to get under the weeds and work them out of the ground; dandelions, for example, come out with a satisfying pop.  And, because I’m using small shovel, the yard doesn’t end up looking like I’ve got a gopher problem.

I worked on the front and side yards for a few hours yesterday and left them looking moderately presentable.  Neighborhood pride is a powerful motivator.

A Yard Work Saturday

We’ve reached the point in the summer where all of the fruits of your spring yard work have begun to, well, rot.  Those loathsome weeds have once again invaded your flower beds.  Your shrubs have sprouted stray shoots that make them look as unkempt as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Your brickwork looks more like weedwork.

Today I decided to tackle those problems.  It was a brilliantly sunny, hot summer day.  I began by trimming the shrubs and the fast-growing bushes that the neighbors planted to screen their house from ours.  Those plants grow at a ridiculous rate and have virtually made it impossible to grow anything in our side yard, so I cut them back.  It felt good to use the clipper and, after some liberal pruning, to see the sunshine once again reaching our hostas.  Then it was on to weeding and watering the beds — nothing like reliving a bit of your childhood and drinking cold water straight from the hose on a hot day! — and finally to the brickwork on the patio and the front walkway.

Some people would hate to waste a beautiful summer day on yard work, but I find it immensely satisfying.  For those of us whose jobs often do not involve clear cut success or immediate congratulations on a job well done, yard work allows you to have a sense of prompt accomplishment.  You begin with a weedy, somewhat overgrown yard and you end with neat, tidy grounds, well manicured flower beds, dirt-stained hands, and a budding farmer’s tan.  After a yard work Saturday, a cold beer sure tastes good.