Birth of a Path

IMG_0317NOT LONG AGO, my driveway was a straight dirt run from road to house.

For the past couple of weeks, an hour here, an hour there, I’ve been literally laying the groundwork for a walking path from my future parking court — a gravel square approximately 25′ x 25′, yet to be built — to the front door.

My plan is to replace the straight-ahead dirt driveway with a gradual, curving, S-shaped path of cut flagstone. And since the path will be only 4′ wide, and the existing driveway is roughly 10′ wide, that leaves lots of room on either side for generous planting beds.

Because there was nothing but compacted, sandy dirt where I hope to grow a variety of cottage garden perennials next spring, I’ve been moving leaf mold — chopped leaves piled in the woods behind my house by the tree man who recently took down several large oaks — wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow (and then, when the wheelbarrow’s axle broke, by garbage can on hand truck) from the pile in the woods to the front of the property, where I’m using the partially decomposed leaf mold to sculpt curvaceous new beds. Essentially, I’m composing on the spot.

I was inspired by an article in an organic gardening magazine that said if you pile chopped leaves and other organic matter in fall and let it break down over the winter, come spring — voila! Lovely planting medium.

I’ve run out of chopped leaves, and am now using whole fallen leaves, less desirable because they take longer to decompose. While my neighbors rake their leaves to the roadside for the town to pick up, I’m hoarding mine (and coveting theirs) to add to my newly sculpted beds-to-be.

To Roundup or Not to Roundup?

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OVERWHELMED AGAIN as I contemplate all that needs doing, landscape-wise, here at Green Half-Acre. In rough order of priority, this is what I hope to accomplish this fall/winter:

  • Board fence and gate across the front of property (80 feet) to create a feeling of seclusion and perhaps block traffic noise┬á — which no longer bothers me a fraction as much as it did when I first moved here in May. (It’s true what my neighbors said: “You’ll get used to it.”) I’m allowed a fence 4 feet tall without a Town of East Hampton permit.
  • Eight-foot-tall deer fencing around the other three sides of the property.
  • Gravel parking court in front, outside the fence/gate, big enough for 2-3 cars.
  • Removal of 4-5 large trees to allow for more sunlight and expanded gardening opportunities in backyard.

Last, possibly not until late winter/spring:

  • Construction of a patio. I haven’t decided on size, shape, or material yet.

Then and only then will I begin planting. I’m inspired by an article in a recent special issue of Fine Gardening magazine, called Green Gardens, about preparing garden beds without tilling. You just (“just”) outline their proposed shapes and start heaping fallen leaves, manure, etc. Composting on the spot, as it were. It takes time but saves digging. I hope to outline and prepare some of these beds in late fall and start planting next spring.

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When I feel overwhelmed, it helps to remember all I’ve done so far. Above, my overgrown backyard in May ’09, before a major clearing of the property. The more I remove, the better I like it.

Meanwhile, I’ve created a monster in my attempts to do away with the rampant wisteria that invades the entire property. It’s bad throughout, but I’m particularly bothered by one area near the driveway, below, that measures roughly 10’x40′. I spent several hours in June digging and pulling and cutting the roots of wisteria (intertwined with lily-of-the-valley, which made a lovely fragrant bed in May).

Wherever I cut, apparently, fresh new sprigs of wisteria have sprouted up. For every one, there are now ten. I’m at a complete loss what to do. This particular area will be part of my new gravel parking court, so a backhoe will be coming in to excavate and break up existing asphalt. That ought to go a long way toward eliminating the pesky wisteria.

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But the situation is almost equally dire elsewhere on the property. Digging and pulling wisteria is a losing game, like trying to stop the ocean from making waves. To Roundup or not to Roundup? That is the question. Besides disliking the very idea, would it even work?

Imagining a Landscape

MY FRIEND MARY-LIZ CAMPBELL is here in Springs, with her mighty arm and genius eye (not to mention her marking paint and tape in festive colors of neon orange and pink). Mary-Liz is a professional landscape designer based in Rye, N.Y., and she can see things about my future garden I can’t (take a look at her own gorgeous garden here).

While I have a hard time seeing beyond what’s already there — a straight-ahead driveway, narrow paths, and stingy beds — Mary-Liz sees a gravel parking court, generous planting beds, a circular flagstone patio, even a gate and arbor leading from the side of the house to the backyard.

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She also sees more sun, with the removal of several large trees I hadn’t even contemplated, not wanting to mess with the forest (I also tend to see dollar signs as she outlines the grand scheme).

I’m timid where she’s confident. She took a lopper to my giant rhodies and overgrown andromeda, letting in more light and air. I’d be afraid it wasn’t the right time of year to prune, or that I’d take too much and kill them.

As we watched a deer munch its way across my property yesterday, I think we both saw a deer fence.

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We’ve been inspired, on this visit, by a couple of fabulous gardens — one, a private estate on Springs Fireplace Road, by Oehme, van Sweden, the avant garde landscape firm known for sweeping drifts of ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. We went back there twice to drive around the perimeter of the property and spy what we could through the fence.

Last night in the Village of East Hampton, we ooh’ed and aah’ed over the Mimi Meehan native plant garden behind the 18th century Clinton Academy, in mid-July bursting with orange and yellow butterfly weed, day lilies, coreopsis, helianthus and more, all indigenous to Long Island.