I still marvel at how the garden paths have given the flower garden here at Seven Oaks their shape, and something of a personality. I really underestimated the impact that hardscapes - the permanent (or nearly permanent) landscape features have on the garden. Frankly, I find hardscapes boring. I hate looking at stone edging at Lowe's and I'm terrible at picking out something that will look good. You should have seen me picking out colors for the tile in the house when we were building it - I was a nervous wreck. I kept telling myself, "If you really hate it, you can change it. It's expensive but you can change it." That's kind of how I felt about the hardscapes here.
First of all, like most things in this garden, they all happened by accident. I never intended the flower garden to have pathways. Originally, we didn't want to mow that steep hillside with the riding mower. So John asked me to plant "a few flowers" (famous last words around here.) I ordered some daylilies and peonies. It wasn't enough to cover the hillside. Every time it rained, channels like the canals on Mars appeared in the red clay soil on the hillside. All I could see was the remaining topsoil washing into the woods without plant roots to hold it in place. We couldn't wait for the daylilies and peonies to help hold the hillside in place.
That's when John asked me if we could buy some garden kits he'd seen in a catalog. I said yes. We decided to carve out beds or "garden rooms" for the plant kits. Most of the area is in full sun, but we did have a shady area so that became the shade garden, the flat area became the butterfly garden, and the top of the slope next to the driveway that gets baked by the hot summer sun welcomed two "sunny perennial" gardens.
But what to do about the pathways? First, I gathered pails of rocks from the lawn area. They only wreck the lawn mower blades anyway. I outlined the paths and chose a natural, flowing outline rather than a stiff, formal look. It suited the country atmosphere and the hybrid architecture of our home, a combination of formal Victorian and modern.
|Spring 2008 - you can see the bare garden, the original paths|
Paths outlined, now we worked on the beds. The first two years, I spent many summer mornings on hands and knees weeding the pathways. I finally got sick of it. We decided to buy slates for the paths but we made a big mistake. Instead of buying slates made especially for pathways, we bought slates used for stone walls. What's the difference? Slates for pathways are of an even thickness. Slates for stone walls are uneven. When the slates are uneven, you're walking on shifting slates or an uneven path, and it's not pretty.
So then we tried to fix the pathways with sand. Another big mistake. We thought that by putting down landscape fabric first, then sand on top and the slates, we could fit the slates together like a puzzle. Not only was it impossible to fit them together but the rain washed all the sand away from the path and dumped it into my shade garden. My shade garden was history for about two years. Sand + Clay = Concrete (or what passes for concrete in the shade garden.)
So the last option John came up with were the pebbles. We found economical bags of them marked for concrete work at Lowe's. We didn't have a truck, just a regular small compact car, so we bought about six bags at a time each week that first year. We got about a third of the paths done before winter. It looked nice. We used baseball or larger sized rocks from around the property cemented together to create the edging.
Now we had a third of the paths done and were eager last year to finish them. As soon as the snows melted last year we drove to Lowe's. We couldn't find the same bags. We searched and searched and finally the manager tracked down the product, but it was no longer made! So now we had one third of the garden with white rocks and we could not find the same product anywhere.
A quick to Jamersons, the local building supply company, and we found something similar - but not a perfect match. A dump truck full of stones arrived and we mixed them in with the white rocks so that the paths were now uniform. Sigh of relief. John finished placing the slates, I weed whatever dares grow among the rocks and pebbles and we have PATHWAYS!
|A littler nicer in 2012 than 2008, wouldn't you say?|
It took us four years - from the spring of 2008, when I first used smaller rocks to outline the pathways to spring 2012 when we completed the area we'd originally set out to do. It was hard work. I will say that hauling pails of stones and pushing a wheelbarrow full of slates and stones did wonders for my biceps. I like weight training exercises but in the spring I don't have to weight train - hauling pails of rocks is enough weight training for the best of us.
|Similar view to 2008 (well cap among boxwoods helps you compare) - May 2012|
So here are pictures, taken last evening, of my garden. It needs more weeding (okay, when doesn't it need more weeding?) but May is always its best month. The spring flowers bloom and the Japanese beetles haven't arrived to dine yet. Rains are still plentiful and the heat tolerable. In a few short weeks, heat, drought and my unwelcome beetle visitors will make it look like a horde of college kids on spring break wandered through. But until then, I feel like I've created a bit of paradise on earth here at Seven Oaks.
Tomorrow, Saturday May 5, 2012, is the Heart of Virginia Festival in our home town of Farmville, Virginia. If you are coming to the festival, please come to the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners' Plant Sale. The Master Gardeners will be at the old train station on 3rd Street selling plants and answering your gardening questions. I will be there early in the morning until around 10 a.m. but go gently on me with the questions - I'm new at the Master Gardener thing. I hope you stop by and find some plants you like at the sale!