Chicago, Illinois, US
October 15
I enjoy riding my bike around Chicago in my free time, perusing art and gardens, enjoying good beer, and musing on the wackiness of life.


JUNE 9, 2011 12:48PM

an extra special lesson from Mother Nature

Rate: 6 Flag

After nearly a week of intense heat, I was really looking forward to the forecast rain and cooler weather that arrived overnight.  What I didn't hope for or expect was having almost 4" of rain in less than 12 hours, much of it in the last 6 hours.

For those of you who haven't seen the photos of our landscape project on Facebook, I'll give you a quick summary.  Several weeks ago, we embarked on the continuation of a major landscape makeover.  Last summer we had large, scraggly overgrown yew shrubs removed from around the foundation on the side and front of the house, leaving large bare areas as blank slates, ready to be completely replanted.  What you can't see in the "before" photos is all the dead spots in the shrubs.  We intended to replace them with a softer mix of smaller shrubs and perennials, a mix that would absorb rain more effectively than the yews.

Before shrub removal



After shrub removal



We covered those areas for the winter and prepared for the next phases this spring: removal of all concrete (patio and paths) in the back yard, removal of old side fence, replacement of gutter and downspouts, removal of sod along the side of the house (next to old yew location), installation of new fence along side of house (enclosing a larger area than the old fence), sealing of foundation cracks, installation of new bluestone patio and paths, and replanting of all bare areas.  Yep, that's a LOT for one summer.

Needless to say, our wet spring has served up many complications  and delays.  The sand and gravel bed for the bluestone has been in place for 2 weeks.  The stone was ordered and is ready for installation.  With today's moisture, the ground will be too wet to work for a while, so the stone will wait a bit longer.

Right about now, you're probably wondering about the nature of today's extra special lesson referenced in the title.  Can you say "soil erosion," boys and girls?

A few hours ago, I was on the phone talking to a friend in Boston.  I looked out the windows at the rain, noticed that our intersection looked like a small lake, and then "Holy crap!  Our sidewalk has a stream of mud running down it!"   We live on a slight slope, and our sidewalk and street tend to look like small rivers in heavy rain.  Today was no exception.

I got off the phone, put on my rain gear and garden clogs and went outside to take a closer look.  In several areas along our beautiful new cedar fence, streams of mud-laden water were running out from under the fence and down the sidewalk.  I ran inside and grabbed all the newspaper I could find, and all the cardboard and paper from the recycling bin. 

I made small rolls of newspaper and stuffed them under the edge of the fence, hoping it would act as a filter to strain the soil out of the water.  It helped.  I used some of the cardboard in the same way, and laid some over the most vulnerable areas of soil (or what I could reach over or through the fence).  I asked my neighbor what cardboard and newspaper she had, and got a few large boxes.  That went a long way. 

I went up and down the alley, checking other neighbors' recycling bins. It made me grateful that several of my neighbors have been stimulating the economy and buying things that come in large corrugated boxes.

I'm sure I was a comical sight to passing drivers, standing out there in the pouring rain, tearing apart soggy cardboard boxes and stuffing them under the fence.

And how did I get to this point?  We had a few weeks of cool, mostly rainy weather, which delayed installation of the fence until last week.  Once the mystery of the fence installation date was solved, I ordered my clematis - the focal point of my plantings along the fence.  my new clematis arrived yesterday from Maine.


In yesterday's heat, I didn't want to take a chance on leaving them in the boxes one minute longer then necessary, so I quickly unpacked them and got them set for holding in a bucket.  Got 2 each of two different varieties: Ilka and Ruutel


The last few days, we've had hot humid weather, with daytime highs ranging from 94 to 97 - not exactly the kind of weather that's ideal for digging 4 holes the size of bushel baskets, mixing up soil and compost, and putting those newly arrived plants into the holes.  I was hoping for light to moderate rain today, so that I could at least start digging those holes.

Mother Nature had different plans.  Waves of thunderstorms rolled in overnight.  The temperature was still over 80F when I went to bed last night.  When I got up this morning, it was near 60F, over a 30 degree drop from yesterday's high, which fueled the intensity of the storms that started last night and continued into mid morning.  Then, in my sleep-deprived state, I looked out and discovered our new "water feature."




When I woke up this morning, I never imagined that my day would include inventing a new landscape style:  "neo landfill."  I'd hoped that our yard's "ugly duckling" phase would be over before this, but I guess it will last a little while longer.

And what's the silver lining in this delightful cloud?  One of the next phases of my project was to be putting down a weed barrier and covering it with mulch to prevent weed growth and erosion.  Corrugated cardboard makes a fine weed barrier, so that part is started.  ;)  And I got to enjoy the scent of fresh cedar while creating our "neo landfill" style. 

This morning really made me appreciate my rain gear.  Hey, at least the fence looks nice.


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When I posted a shorter version of this tale on Facebook, I commented that I *had* to find some kind of silver lining in this &*#$ cloud. A friend commented, "another one is that I really enjoyed reading the details here." Finding humor in this mess will help me get through until the project is done.
This could be in a magazine. I never thought of using cardboard to prevent erosion and to create a weed barrier. I'm going to get cedar for my plot today. Then I Will probably do something with my garden by September. Ha ha!

R and hugs.
Maybe I should submit it to Chicagoland Gardening? Thanks for the suggestion.

Good luck with your garden - subject for a future post, perhaps?
Ayuh, them Clematis plants ahr just doin' fine indoors, doncha know. I think I know Cindy Tibbetts, but could be wrong. Turner is the gateway to Mechanic Falls or Auburn depending on which way you're heading on route Fow-or (Four).
Ayuh, Sheepie, it's a small world. The clematis plants will have to deal with the indoors for at least a day or two. Hopefully the soil will dry out enough by the weekend.
My husband had to go to a traffic court hearing this morning - extra special drunk driving case. Now that it's stopped raining, and the earlier rain cleared the mud from the sidewalk, he'll probably think I've lost my mind when he comes home and sees the yard.
He just got back from court. His comment (before I had time to explain): "Holy hillbillies, Batman! What happened to the yard?"
well, you know what they say about the best made plans...

It was 40 degrees colder this afternoon than it was 24 hours earlier. Sheesh.
nice fence- yeah, soil erosion blows :(
but, at least the yard will get leveled though, right? ;)
Procopius - Best laid plans, um, yeah. ;) On a Facebook comment about our recent weather, a friend commented "Global weirdness is a more accurate name than global warming." That's about right.

Julie - Thanks. The fence is a nice improvement over the old one. Soil erosion is bad news all around. The ironic thing is that, until the last 2 weeks, the side yard had 1/2 grass cover, 1/2 well-settled soil, so we were having no erosion problems. In preparation for the next phases, we recently had that grass removed and grading done, so it *was* level. Not quite as level now that erosion has created a few little channels.

Looking forward to some getting plants in place (hopefully tomorrow) and mulch over the rest.

In the front, we're putting red twig dogwoods in front of the downspouts, with holly next to each dogwood. The middle will be a pyramidal hinoki cypress flanked by rosa rugosas. I'll be planting those soon.
It sounds like you certainly know what you're doing. I admire a resourceful person. Please post pictures when you've planted your clematis and they've grown a little.
I've done a lot of gardening over the years. The current project is the largest I've ever attempted - by a LOT. I'm also planting species I've never grown before, so this is a huge learning experience in gardening. If I wasn't very comfortable with gardening, I'd never attempt to plant this large an area myself.

I'll definitely post some progress reports as I get more planted and the plants get established. There will be a lot more to see in a year or two.