One of the selling points of our house was the fact that you walked out of the living room onto a deck at ground level. One step down and you were in the garden. We love everything a deck affords: the ability to be in the garden but dry shod, to be able to sit and read or eat outdoors, to have room for guests and on and on. We've used the deck since day one but never really done much in terms of upkeep, other than pounding in a nail here and there.
As it's aged and been shaded, it turned almost black and had gotten very slippery after a rainfall. We knew that and were appropriately cautious. A couple of years ago we even bought some mats to throw across the deck when we had garden tours on wet days. But this year we had the ultimate cure, we had the deck power washed by the gentleman who painted our house.
It looks like new and it's no longer dangerous after a rainy night. But it's still in character with our furniture that, like the deck, has never had annual coatings of waterproofing. The power washing proved a much better solution than tearing the old deck out and replacing it. Now we and the deck can continue aging in place.
On the opposite side of the house in the moon garden is a beautiful lantern composed of stacked rocks. Mark built it one day a number of years ago after I pointed out a similar lantern in a book on Japanese gardens. Ours is symbolic since the stone under the wide cap does not have a carved opening to hold a candle like the one in the book did. Unfortunately our lantern became unbalanced a couple of years ago from winter ground heaves and toppled over. The huge stones stayed where they fell because they were too heavy for Mark to lift without the equipment he used to set it up originally. He kept saying he'd get a few guy friends to come over and help him set it up again one of these days.
Lo and behold, I looked out the window the other day and realized he'd re-stacked it on his own using a crowbar and block of wood as a lever and fulcrum. I was amazed that he managed it and thrilled that it was back in place as it was rather an eyesore collapsed halfway into the garden path. It's always been one of my favorite features in the garden and I'm very happy to have it back.
When we first moved into our house we dismantled a raised bed that had been built against the east end of the house and funneled rainwater into our garage. We designed the gardens around the house to have a 2 foot clearance so we could paint the house easily. This is clearly visible in this view from about 1998.
Looking back in the opposite direction from the image above you can see how the garden has grown up since then. In the intervening years we've started to have problems with snow melt when the ground is frozen at the end of winter. All the water ends up where it's warm: next to the foundation of the house. When we have the kind of torrential rain storms that seem more common these days, we've been getting water into the basement as well, despite designing a dry stream into this area to channel water away from the house.
A year ago at this time, Mark decided the only solution was to dismantle the stone "painting path" against the back of the house. He needed to remove the large gravel as well as the vertical stone edging.
The next step was to regrade across the back of the house foundation and along the west side to make the land slope more steeply away from the house. The string line indicates the point where no plants could be located. That meant I had to find new homes for a number of perennials.
This included woking around long-standing features located along the foundation like this water/electric ututility box.
Once that was done, Mark put down an impenetrable layer of roofing rubber, cutting it to fit around the window wells.
And he began to add a stone edge. This time, the edging was put down flat as opposed to being buried like the first stone border.
Setting it that way also helped to hold the rubber layer in place.
In addition, he added window wells around the basement windows on the west side that had lacked them.
He worked a little on the slope against the front of the house but the trees, shrubs and overhang keep a fair amount of moisture away from this wall.
Next it was time to put the top layer on . . .
an expanse of large gray gravel to a depth of three inches.
It went across the back of the house from the west end to the deck.
And along the entire west side of the foundation.
Mark also added covers to the window wells on the west side.
Even though our gutters have extensions on them, he added additional lengths of rubber tubing to channel rainwater away from the house even more. We take these extensions off when we have visitors and flip the ends of the metal gutters up.
We had no rain in the basement last fall or this spring when the snow melted. We finally had water come in for the first time this year in recent days when we had four inches of rain in 3 days. Though we still got some water it was much less than we would have had in the past. Sunday night we received an inch of rain in about an hour and nothing came in. It was a lot of work but it's been well worth all Mark's efforts. And he did it all in a way that is an attrative feature that doesn't detract from adjacent garden features.
Today is my sister's 36th wedding anniversary. I'll never forget the noontime storm we experienced that day on the way to the service. It got so dark that the streetlights came on. For years afterward I always anticipated a major storm on June 17th. Eventually I forgot about it when the date went by without incident. It all came back to me last night when we were awakened by the tornado sirens going off at 12:01 a.m.
I drive almost daily through the Midvale Heights neighborhood very close to ours, where a tornado went through in 2004. And my brother-in-law and his family lived on Alice Circle, the street that was the epicenter of the 2005 F-3 Stoughton tornado. Luckily they were on vacation out of harm's way.
That's why I got dressed and grabbed the essentials: my purse/phone/flashlight/iPad/rainjacket and went in the cellar last night. I briefly watched the TV news with Mark but could hear the wind rising and the bells by the back door ringing madly. I stayed down there until Mark announced it looked like we were OK and could go back to bed. I have to admit I was a bit frustrated that he exhibited typical guy behavior and stayed upstairs by the TV in a room with huge windows. Especially since we have a TV in the basement to say nothing of laptops and iPads.
This morning the garden is sparkling and water lilies are blooming even though its pretty gray outside and rain is forcast for most of this week. The rain gauge measured 1.49" and there were only a couple of twiglets down here and there in the garden. (The center tube holds one inch and the bigger tube holds the overflow).
Mark just came home from the coffee shop and sheepishly announced that whatever blew through last night did serious damage a mere three streets away from us! According to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal this morning, Mark and I were very lucky. Lots of trees down and at least 23 homes seriously damaged. This side of town is known for its big old trees which is one of the joys of living here.
The story noted that "John Marshall, a public works supervisor who’s worked for the Madison Streets Division since 1977, was on scene and said the damage was the worst he had seen since an F-1 tornado ripped through several West Side neighborhoods, including Midvale Heights in 2004." Way too close for comfort for me. And Mark admitted next time he's turning on the TV news from the basement.
Here's a link to storm damage news photos.
Moss is the one plant in our garden that absolutely shines during the spring showers we're having this week. Clinging to the pond rocks or spreading across packed clay soil, moss glows in the gray light of a rainy day.
Its cheery brightness helps to keep my spirits up while I'm stuck indoors.
But I will definitely be happy to see some sun and warmer temperatures. Feels like everything in the garden — including the gardener — is in a holding pattern.
To see what some other gardens look like at the end of April/beginning of May visit The Patient Gardener who hosts a monthly meme on this topic.
Every April those of us who garden in northern climes are anxious to get outdoors and into our gardens. We're so anxious that we tend to forget what the season was like the previous year. Certainly I do.
I always picture warm, sunny days and that I was way ahead on garden chores at this time. And the plants were all growing ahead of schedule as well.
Separating my memories from reality is easily done if I just take a look at my garden journal from April and May last year.
Guess what? I was complaining about wind and rain and cold temperatures. The weather was similar to what we're experiencing this week.
And I'm way ahead on my chores this year compared with 2013. Last year Mark got a load of mulch from Olbrich Botanical Gardens on April 25. This year he filled up the truck with bulk mulch on April 10.
I had a hands-on gardening class at Olbrich on May 3rd last year where the weather was so cold and rainy I noted in the journal that I wore tights under flannel-lined pants.
The truth is that memory is never reliable. So I am trying to enjoy the moment and work outdoors when I can and not worry about schedules and dates.
In particular, I am enjoying the clump of Spirea japonica 'Magic Carpet' on the slope above the pond (left side of photo). They have beautiful red shoots and bronze foliage; the only plant in the garden whose brown foliage is a sign of life rather than death this spring.
One of my favorite bloggers, Deborah Silver at Dirt Simple took a look back at her garden over the course of the last year, as did Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden. It made me curious to look back at my own garden for 2013.
One of our massive 58-year-old Austrian pines came down in a storm at the end of December. It took out a couple of smaller trees as it fell but amazingly did not damage the fence. Mark and an arborist friend carefully cut it down in January.
I barely blogged or looked out the window I was so depressed over the loss of my big pine tree since it meant my shade garden was now pretty much in full sun. I cocooned indoors with good food, books and lots of candles.
It seemed like it took forever, but it turned out the snowdrops appeared right on schedule when I compared their arrival date with prior years. However neither winter nor the snow were over.
Fred and Ethel flew in with barely enough open water on our pond for a smooth landing. Looked painful to me but didn't seem to bother them. Look how much snow is still on the ground on April 7th!
The garden finally burst into full bloom with a spectacular month of flowers. Everything from our ancient apple trees to these primroses and Trilliums was lush, given the drought of the prior year.
Record rains kept the garden green and going strong. It also sent water into our basement and Mark spent much of the summer re-landscaping one side of the house to try to send the snow-melt and rainwater away from the house.
After 13 years our Stewartia finally flowered on its lower branches. For years we mostly enjoyed the flowers as they fell to the ground from the top branches. A real thrill!
Despite the wet spring, by late summer it was dry enough that I had to drag out the hoses to water my new shrub and tree purchases as well as all the plants that got new homes after the pine tree came out.
Plenty of flowers were happy with the sun and dryness like this geranium. It's growing in a pot on the deck with a fern and a clump of Tiarella or Heucherella, both of which I just dug out of the garden. I brought the pot into the house at the end of October; the fern has mostly faded but the other two plants are looking great, as is the pot of rosemary just visible on the far right.
Mark spent late summer and fall working on the Tea House. He finished all the doors, windows and a couple of protective shutters. Next summer he plans to do the finish carpentry on the interior. We sat inside with the doors open having a cup of afternoon coffee quite a few days during the fall.
We had a fence built on the east side of the garden, mulched many bags of leaves and also gathered 4 or 5 bags of white pine needles from our neighbors' trees. They will be used to refresh all my pine needle paths in the spring. From my first, rather sad little garden up to the present day, I have no qualms about cutting flowers to enjoy indoors. Making my own bouquets is the main reason I grow flowers. The last thing I did in November was to cut a couple of bouquets of leaves and seed-heads for the Thanksgiving table and for arrangements to put in the bathrooms. One small vaseful of dried seedheads remains, refreshed with evergreen prunings.
Twenty-eight new or favorite trees and shrubs — mostly dwarf varieties — were caged for the winter. We seem to have Peter Rabbit and his family living under our deck. But tracks outside the windows show that someone who travels on four feet has been trying to find the bunnies. Not sure if it's a fox or coyote. So far we can't tell if he's had any success. I am one who likes her plants more than Peter R.
How did your gardening year go?
Fairly quiet in the garden this month. The heat and very dry weather have taken their toll. Sedums, Cimicifugas, assorted Heucheras, a few asters are all contributing color. As always, 'September Charm' Japanese anomene is putting on a beautiful show.
The the big event in the garden here today is rain. We've only had .40 of an inch so far but rain is forecast all day, so I've got my fingers crossed. We had less than an inch of rain the entire month of August so we are in desperate need of moisture.
Visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in gardens around the world this Sept. 15.
I'm glad I didn't wait for the rain that was forecast. Nothing yesterday and this morning it's dark, noisy and windy at our house but no measurable rain so far. Let's hope I don't regret those words . . .
Update: Rain is picking up; keeping our fingers crossed.