Sunday, April 29, 2012

Professor Storm

Yesterday we escaped the heaviest of the weather that swept through this region from noon until after midnight.  We had some hail, but nothing as bad as the baseball-sized chunks that fell a few miles east of here.  The hail did not break the skylights over our living room, and our house took in no storm water.

We had fierce winds and heard the tornado sirens around dinner time, but suffered no horrible twists of fate such as those people partying under a large tent in downtown St. Louis.  One person died, several were critically injured when the tent collapsed.

We suffered some mere setbacks in our landscaping.  I lost a few hours' sleep because the ferocity of the final rain around 2 a.m. gave me a scare.  It was so hard, I imagined it was hail.  Daniel Koenig, my nurseryman, told me today that we had four inches of rain yesterday.

This post is a survey of what the storm has taught us about heavy flows of water on our sloping ground.  When we went outside to see if our potted flowers had been trashed, we found very little sign of a hail storm.  Kathy's newly-planted window boxes were full of intact petunias.

When I walked down the driveway and looked left, I saw that the wind had taken down the best of our three Redbud trees, planted last May.  It had the fullest foliage and presented a "sail" to the gust of wind that snapped the trunk in spite of two supporting wires.  I sawed it off just below the break and dragged the beautiful top over to the driveway.

The storm drainage swale that we cleared of excess rubble and debris last month was somewhat rearranged by the force of water flowing off the neighborhood and down this channel to the lake.  Many of the large stones that used to serve as a reinforcing wall on the left bank were pushed down to form a dam, and the channel was deepened there.

The water dug out the right side, too.  This is an awkward spot where the former poured concrete broke up and collapsed.  The debris that was pushed away formed a mound in the center and helped create that new flow on the left.

That much new water raised the level of the lake and covered the stones in floor of the lower section

Looking directly to the right from there, you can catch a nostalgic glimpse of a piece of old Highway 94.  Last week I dug that piece out of the garden along with a companion piece just as heavy.

Just when I thought the Rubble Museum was closed, up pops another donation to the collection!

The most pressing landscape challenge now is deflecting and channeling storm runoff on yonder hill, where I grow my seedlings.

The darker green area in the picture below is sod I laid last summer after I dug a drainage swale to channel water coming over the road from the upper neighborhood.  I can see from this vantage point that there is a slight hump at the top of the hill in the middle of the picture frame.  Water flowing down from the left side of the picture is being deflected by edging I installed at the end of the summer.  But water coming down from the middle of the picture is flowing straight down the lighter green grass and over the seedling beds in the foreground.  The short-term fix will be to deflect the flow with some edging material.  Long-term, I think I'm going to need to contour the light green area just enough to create a flow to the right.

The seedling bed planted this past week lost some of its surface, and maybe some seeds.  The next bed up was empty where the water flowed over it.

The left side of these seedling beds is also a problem.

The edging material on the side of the keeper bed protects the unplanted area from runoff, but the runoff is not stopped effectively by the raised edge of the seedling bed in the foreground.  There is additional water flow off a neighbor's yard to the left.  Again, some edging material to deflect the water is the short-term fix.

Much of the washing-out in these beds was a consequence of a torrential straight-down rainfall.  The same thing would happen if I were watering with a wand and didn't know when to pause or stop for good.  In a few seconds the ground becomes saturated and then everything else runs downhill.

Yesterday the new magnolia trees came into bloom.  The flowers were undamaged by the hail.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Second Season of Planting Our Landscape

Last night just before Kathy served grilled salmon, I stepped out on the deck with my camera to record a few things that please me.  We've had a fantastic April in terms of beautiful working conditions and beautiful results from our repeated "nursery crawls" all over the metro area.  Our favorite nursery still is the closest to us, Daniel's Farm and Nursery.  They are not the biggest nursery around, but everything about their site, their people, and their plants resonates with our life histories of living in rural areas and getting to know "real" people who operate distinctive family businesses.

On one of our trips there a couple of weeks ago, we walked through one greenhouse devoted entirely to Hostas, and we walked out with eight pots of "First Frost" for the east-facing border of our patio.  Here is the view straight down when you walk out of the dining room and cross the eight-foot-wide sitting area there.

There are the pavers that Steve and Tim laid last fall, and there is the new sod from Daniel's that came in the nick of time before the November rains provided all the watering needed.  There is Hosta "First Frost" with cranesbill "Max Frei" growing next to it.  Kathy has planted Max Frei at intervals between the clumps of First Frost.  The powder blue leaves with cream accents make a perfectly composed emotional impression, and the small purple flowers of Max Frei lift that impression out of the merely sedate and into the sublime.

Here's a look at more of the border and more of the plants.

Looking beyond the patio, I see the product of Kathy's afternoon work on the bed she envisioned outside the basement and below the master bedroom.  She laid out the curved stones at the end of the summer.  This month a local youth brought more stones down and laid them in a row.  Kathy didn't like the lack of symmetry, so she took a tape measure and moved the near end of the row out onto the grass a foot or so, making the bed of uniform depth.  We're going to remove the old Hostas there and replace them with some majestic beauties, anchored by a dwarf Colorado blue spruce bush at the far end.  We bought the bush this afternoon.

Our neighbor's son, Adam Dobbs, planted those two Japanese maples and helped with planting a dozen other trees last week.  He's a great worker.

Looking in the other direction, there's our only shaded garden spot so far.  This hillside was eroding from storm water that washed over the driveway in small surges and flowed through the blocks of that wall.  In my previous blog post I showed the work on a new French drain in the flood side of that wall.  Kathy has been working on that shade bed for a year, and it is really starting to show what it will look like when the plants grow in.

At the base of that hill is the veggie garden plot.  Since it receives any runoff, it seldom dries out, and so it seldom is tillable.  Kathy had one of our helpers move some bricks and blocks down there so that she can build five raised beds in that area.

Then looking to the right you see the daylily beds we planted in early June last year.

I am moving a lot of plants right now, and every time I dig a place in those beds, I encounter more of the buried rubble that was hauled in years ago to raise the level of the back yard.  In a way, this back yard is "historic," if highway construction refuse is truly history.  Why wouldn't it be?  Whatever happens is part of the story and there's nothing that's outside the story of God's creation.

I am removing the clay I dig out of the hole and dumping it along the shoreline to build up the border there.  I'm replacing the bad soil with a topsoil/compost mix from Daniel's Nursery.

Down on the shore Kathy has placed two white poles to mark the locations for two more smoke trees. We'll have a trio down there, two yellow and one deep purple.

Back up on the deck, we have creatures great and small who like inspecting the world from behind those comforting vertical bars.  There's Topper, the immense and extremely conversational cat, with Lola the Poodle.

And there's Ginger, the resourceful hunter of birds and the lover of evening Netflix movies on the couch.

This is the cat who chose Kathy years ago in West Plains and who carries her mystique about her at all times.  I am happy to be a part of those times!