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Adventures in Landscaping: Doing it Wrong

I am not good with plants.  Not only is my thumb not green, but it is withered and brown.  (Not literally, but play along.)  I have never managed to keep a houseplant alive.  I do not have flowers in my yard or plants on my porch.  While I am in charge of all yard maintenance, by choice, mind you, that basically entails killing things.  Mowing grass, pulling weeds, and trimming hedges with reckless abandon is more my speed.

But, our house had a problem – fifty-year-old azaleas in front of the house, encroaching on my sidewalk.  I’m guessing, of course, since I haven’t actually lived there for fifty years.  They were definitely old.  And big and unruly.   I tried to manage them, because that’s the way of the brown thumbs.  We don’t plant new things, we manage what we have.  That way if we kill things, then at least we didn’t have anything invested in them.   Also, if you have bushes that have survived for five decades in the same spot, then they’re probably not going to need much attention.

Oh, but they were ugly and I couldn’t even reach all the way across the top to trim them.  I couldn’t cut them back properly because two inches in, they turned to sticks with no leaves.  They hampered our Christmas light hanging.  (If you haven’t read my Christmas light post, then you don’t understand the import of this statement.)  They bloomed for about a week out of the year and, although they were lovely little blooms, my daughter was incapable of resisting the flower picking to be done.  The shot glasses full of azalea blooms scattered around my house were the last straw.  The bushes are done.  I am over it.

Bahaha! I win!

So I did what any normal person would do.  I gathered Hubs, my brother in law, and my dad and we met in my front yard with a propane truck, chains, and a deep seated fear about azalea roots wrapped around my water line.  What?  This is not how normal people remove shrubbery?  You call a professional?  Piffle.  That’s not how we roll.  Besides, what would my neighbors talk about over their Sunday morning coffee if I weren’t yanking out bushes chained to the back of a propane truck?  Anyway, with much excitement and scattering of mud, we did successfully pull out the bushes and not the water line and I was left with a fifteen by eight foot mud pit.  A blank canvas, if you will, that gave me a headache and sick feeling in my stomach.  Now what I am supposed to do with this?  There are HOLES in the dirt now.  There are rocks scattered hither and yon from a long ago landscaping pebble project, or possibly from a gravel pit in my yard.  There’s red clay mud every-damn-where.  I want to throw up.  I want my azaleas back.

Since Hubs made it clear from the get-go that he had no quarrel with the azaleas and this was my project, I got to work.  Step one; rake the dirt and try to level things out a little bit.  This was not made any easier by the marked incline of my yard and the clumped up mud.  And the rocks.  The damnedable rocks.  Why are there so many rocks in there?  Some are landscaping pebbles, but most are just gravel.  We have a concrete driveway and sidewalk.  Where in the hell did these rocks come from?  Before it was all over, I hauled off five buckets of muddy rocks and believe me when I say that was just the scratching the surface.  The rest of the rocks shall stay because I am not that dedicated.  I also found the weirdest stuff buried in there.  No fewer than five ink pens and/or highlighters were scattered about.  I found a half full bottle of car wash soap.  Then I unearthed a tire iron and visions of bloody murder weapons and dead bodies convinced me that my raking was finished.  I’ll fill in the gaps with mulch or something, because I am not brave enough to risk discovering the real reason all these strange things happen in my house.  (See my post about being haunted for more on this subject.)  This is the fun part, now, right?  I get to go to Lowes and pick out new plants!

Now, I’m not going to lie.  Home improvement stores scare me a little.  It’s intimidating to walk into a place and have no idea what to do with 95% of what they’re selling.  I rarely venture into Lowes alone, but instead buy large things that require my dad to meet me there with his truck. (By the way, no one’s buying my excuses, but if you can’t be a little scaredy girl with your dad, then what can you do?)  Anyway, Hubs and I venture into Lowes to pick out some nice bushes to fill the mud pit.  He has slightly more gardening knowledge than I, but we were still pretty clueless.  We picked out some bushes that looked pretty and looked like something that wouldn’t grow too tall.  We I picked out the cheapest mulch they had, because after all, it’s mulch.  How different can it be?  I might have been wrong on that, but more on that later.

On to the digging/planting stage!  I decided to do this on my day off while the rest of the family was off at school and work.  My mom agreed to come supervise me, since I am completely clueless and reckless, but I was too impatient to wait for her and off I went.  I had a couple flower things that I wanted to save, so I started digging them up for transplant.  And I immediately hit a nest of worms.  I never knew that worms lived in disgusting little clumps like that and the knowledge now gives me nightmares and loss of appetite.  The best way to deal with it is to immediately cover them back up and try not to vomit on them.  There’s a reason God decided to make those little suckers live underground where people don’t have to see them.  I proceeded to dig up my flower things (forgive me, I have no idea what they are, but they’re nice and I like them), working around worm homes, and set them aside for replanting later.  It was brought to my attention that I should have put them in water whilst they waited, but that seemed like an unnecessary step at the time.  With those set aside, I got right to mulching.  There’s something incredibly satisfying about tossing bags of mulch around and slicing them open with a box cutter.  At least, there is until your mail carrier wanders up to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.  Hey, dude, I don’t tell you how to deliver mail, don’t you tell me how to landscape!  Crap, I’m doing it wrong.  You should plant before you mulch.  Shit, it made so much more sense to me to do it the other way.

About this time, my mom came to my rescue and offered up her opinion that I was, in fact, doing it all jacked up and backwards, but with her great wisdom and green thumbery, we could carry on and all would be well.  She taught me how to dig a hole (I avoided the worm farm area) and properly plant my baby plants.  You know, digging is hard.  It sucks and I can see now why I’ve avoided it for so many years.  But I persevered and planted all my new plants and finally replanted my dried out, sad flower things.  The result was light years better than my raggedy azaleas and I was infinitely pleased with myself.  Hubs was so impressed with me that he even offered to make dinner!  Possibly he was just too polite to say that I needed a shower far worse than he needed dinner, but we take it where we can get it, don’t we?

Nah, looks normal. Unless you look at it for a really long time, then it starts to resemble a deformed big toe...oh my, now I can't unsee it.

Five days later, I am a bit dismayed at my ugly, grayish mulch and my brown and wilty flower things.  I’m checking on my thumb again, because I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with it.  On the brighter side, my new bushes are all growing nicely already (thank you, Miracle Gro) and the mulch issue is easily resolved by buying a few bags of the good stuff to cover the cheap uglies.  I have the utmost faith that my flower things will resurrect themselves, since they have survived the most careless abuse in years past.  They’ll probably grow back where I don’t want them, but they will grow.  Unless…unless the worm nest was keeping them alive.  Oh, I can’t think about it. shudder

The moral of the story?  Leave well enough alone, but if you can’t, plant before you mulch or your mailman is going to laugh at you.  The bastard.

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