Landscaping the backyard

There’s nothing quite like realizing that your garden sucks.

When I bought the house, I couldn’t really see the backyard gardens — there was quite a lot of snow. That obscured pretty much everything worth seeing and worth hiding. So naturally, when summer rolled around, I was surprised by the plethora of vegetation that was growing from them.

Sadly, mostly weeds. Pretty-looking weeds, in some cases, but still weeds.

I woke up Sunday morning with a bolt of inspiration and purpose: I would landscape my backyard. Well, okay, maybe not something quite that drastic. I was at the very least going to clean up the two weed beds and make something of them. I wasn’t exactly sure what that was going to entail, but I did know at the very least, they were going to look much better. The Wasteland of Weeds was about to come to an end.

For Christmas last year, Mom had given me some money to hire a landscaping consultant to come in and do something with my rather large mess. (This was Mom’s way of suggesting that my gardens sucked. Not that I’m arguing that at all.) Due to other things getting in my way earlier in the year (dating Alex comes immediately to mind), I never got around to it. I figured that at the very least, I could put the money to use and do the landscaping myself.

Scooting up to the Rona near Sunridge Mall in the Northeast, I went in search of a helpful Rona employee. (Yes, I could have gone to Home Depot as well, but I have a healthy dislike of talking with teenagers who think baby’s breath is something that comes from eating too much pabulum.) Luckily, I found Sandra, whom I would describe as a hard-core Calgary gardener.

Yes, I was looking specifically for a Calgary gardener. Why? Because this city has some really bizarre weather, hard water, and soil conditions that challenge even the best of gardening experts. I needed someone who knew what they were doing. ‘Cuz I don’t. Most of my family has a green thumb. Mine’s black.

I gave Sandra the basic view of what I wanted: something low-maintenance (I don’t want to be planting new flowers every year) that would take to my sometimes shady / sometimes sunny (depending on time of year and angle of the sun) backyard. Giving her the approximate sizes of the two gardens, we went off looking at what Rona had to offer. Being “late in the season” (I assume that means planting), there wasn’t a massive selection. But more than enough for my meagre needs.

So began my horticultural buying spree. Plants of several varieties (hostas, junipers, lilies, baby’s breath, asters, small shrubs, echinaceas (not the kind for colds), yews, and a couple of things I can’t remember), three bags of landscaping soil, 150 feet of landscaping fabric, and a hand shovel.

(Here’s a tip about the landscaping soil: Rona has an unwritten rule that if the bag is torn, they’ll give it to you for $1. But there’s a catch — you need a staff member to tell the cashier that the bag was torn, so it’s only $1. Otherwise, they’d have everyone tearing the bags open. Sandra was quite helpful in pointing that out.)

Add onto that a set of outdoor lights to add some accent lighting to the longer garden, and I had a plan in motion. I had planned on getting some solar lights, so I wouldn’t have the additional cost of running cords, dealing with electric set ups, and the benefit of a photovoltaic cell for turning on and off. But Sandra and the electrical expert both warned me away from them. Apparently, they’re quite dim (the lights, not the staff members) and unless you’re in direct sunlight, won’t necessarily charge enough for use.

Then there’s the cost. One solar lamp: $28. A 10-lamp kit (with transformer, wires, etc.): $25. You do the math.

I managed to cram the whole lot into the Mini. (For those of you who think it’s not a big car, I offer this as evidence.) Dumping the load into my backyard, I set out to the task of cleaning things up.

About an hour and a half later, two large piles of ex-weeds, two piles of shoots from the two trees in my backyard, and a pile of branches from the lilac bush (I need to really trim that sucker even more), I had brought the yard at least into a state where I could begin the landscaping work.

Well, as soon as I assembled the lights. That took another half an hour.

Step 1: Lay out the lights so you can snake out the 50 feet of low-voltage cord. Surprisingly enough, it was just the right length.

Step 2: Roll out the landscaping fabric, being careful not to crush the two existing hostas and small red shrub (I have no idea what it is). Cut to length. Cut slits so the existing plants come through the sheet.

Step 3: Layout the new plants so they have suitable spacing, have a good aesthetic arrangement, and are ordered by size (small in front, large in back).

Step 4: Go get a beer.

Step 5: With each plant, cut a triangular slit in the fabric where you want to put the particular foliage. Dug out a hole twice the size and 1.5 times as deep. Partially refill with landscape soil. Place unpotted plant into the hole, and fill the remaining space with landscape soil.

Step 6: Repeat Step 5 until out of plants, or back gives out, whichever comes first. Grab another beer somewhere in the middle of all that.

It didn’t help that it was over 30 degrees, even in the shade. To say that I was hot is putting it mildly. After six hours (from the time I got back home), I hadn’t even finished the one long garden. It was about then that I realized that Alex hadn’t come over (she had to work on Sunday) or had called. I figured it was time for a break.

We would meet a little later at the Prince’s Island Park footbridge (over the Bow River), and walk over to Eau Claire Market for a little air hockey rematch. We haven’t had an air hockey game in a VERY long time (it was something we did almost religiously when we first started dating). I could say my performance was due to exhaustion, tight muscles, lack of proper food, but the simple fact is that Alex was better. We’ll just have to do another rematch at a later date.

Returning home, I got back to tackling the smaller garden (I’d finished the large one before meeting up with Alex). That one required less work insofar as planting is concerned, but I had to move a lot of dirt around, as the bed was a little too low for my liking. Luckily, I had to dig out a lot of dirt to get the rest of the plants in place.

Sadly, I would not finish in one shot, my efforts being thwarted by darkness and the onslaught of mosquitoes. (The ones out here are quite small, almost negligible, but they are now carrying West Nile Virus, and it’s not something I’m too keen on catching.) The remaining few plants will have to wait a couple of more days yet.

Now if I can just figure out what to do with all those branches…

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