Down the Garden Path

Above is the garage apartment a year ago, as Dennis was putting up the clapboard siding. You will notice the building’s metal roof. Metal roofs are handy in snow country because snow will not stick to them. For the same reason, however, they can be a hazard because a load of snow or ice may suddenly break loose and come down in an avalanche.

In the case of my garage, I realized any such avalanche would fall on the natural path to the apartment doorway — or on travelers on that path. I knew I had to figure out a method to redirect traffic away from the building, out of harm’s way.

We didn’t have much snow last winter, but whenever the snow dumped from the roof, I marked how far out from the building it fell. I decided I would build a raised garden bed that would physically block any visitor from walking in the danger zone.

Thus in June when I was recovering from knee surgery I built a tiny stone boat, a sled I could pull behind my truck to drag stones from elsewhere on the farm. Many of the stones were too heavy for me to lift, but my friend D had given me an old hand truck and my friend Mike had replaced the rotted tires, so with that and my trusty four-foot pry bar, I began to collect rocks.

I painted my intended curve on the ground with red spray paint and every few days, between family and farm chores, I would spy a likely stone somewhere on the back acres, lever it onto my mini stone boat, and drag it up into position.

Most of the rocks here in the High Peaks are cobbles rounded by ancient glaciers. For my border I wanted two somewhat flat faces, for the top and the outside edge, in stones of similar height. To achieve this look, I had to sink some of the biggest stones.

Finally I had my garden border. Next I slowly dug out all the grass sods, weeds, and rocks within it with a pick-axe.

Now I had to fill the 24-foot half-moon with topsoil. My hardscrabble acres are virtually topsoil-free. I asked D, a trucker, if I could pay him to haul in a load of topsoil and a load of mulch for my flower bed.

“Flowers!” D scowled. “I hate flowers.” But over the next couple of weeks he brought me both.

Between other chores I filled the garden space with topsoil.

Now I had to build the path running along the garden to the doorway. I figured the path should be four feet wide except where it flared to meet the house. Again I scribed a curve on the weedy ground with red spray paint and cut out the edges with my spade.

After that it was back to the pick-axe. My goal was to remove the hardpan and rocks four inches deep, down the length of the path.

I tried to make myself swing the pick-axe for an hour a day. When Alex came after school he would haul the fill away with the lawn-mower and cart. It did cross my mind: 53-year-old sweating with pick-axe, 17-year-old sitting on mower — what is wrong with this picture? DH would scold me when I walked in the door at night and headed straight for the ibuprofen bottle. Eventually my bad right elbow could take no more and I had Alex finish the last few feet.

Next we unrolled the weed barrier my family gave me for Mother’s Day.

I had ordered five tons of gravelly fill — called “ones and dust” here — to be trucked from the quarry but D heard of the plan, canceled it (he knew the trucker), and delivered it to me $50 cheaper. He is a good friend.

Now we just had to shovel and spread the five tons. The first day, Alex loaded the wheelbarrow…

…and I spread each load.

After that, I was working alone. I finished graveling the path. A friend came to stay at the apartment and inquired, “Why aren’t you putting down flagstones?”

I explained that my budget was limited. Not just my financial budget, but my budgets of time and physical energy. I had built a flagstone walk of uncut native stone when Lucy was a toddler — I knew I did not have the necessary reserves. What I needed now was a clean path to the garage apartment: flagstones were a frill, a trim.

“After I get the house built,” I promised.

We’d already had snow by the time I was able to transplant into the border a bunch of divisions from my old perennial garden at school. In my race against winter I didn’t really have a garden plan beyond vague symmetry, so it will be interesting to see how it comes up next summer. Then I mulched the bed, and added some inexpensive solar lights. (These lights only have the brightness of a glow-worm but they do reveal the curve of the path.)

For the moment, this project is finished.

Of course if I’d been able to focus on it, to the exclusion of everything else, it could have been completed in a few days. If I’d had heavy equipment, it could have been done in a few hours. As it was, it took me . . . six months. I was telling someone about this recently and he said, incredulous, “Six months? You’ve obviously got a lot of patience.”

Actually, I don’t. I’ve just learned from experience that every tiny step of progress I can eke out of a busy day will eventually add up to move the dream forward.

4 Responses to Down the Garden Path

  1. jay ward says:

    Great to read and see the rest of the story. I’m really enjoying your blog posts delivered to my inbox.

  2. Kirby says:

    It looks great. I am so happy you have such great friends willing to help. I chuckle at the response you sometimes get from D about your projects. He sounds like such a character.

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