We’ve lived in our house since June 1999. In the backyard, under a huge Japanese maple, is a dry, packed-dirt patch that has defied the planting of grass and flowers. Because it’s a long and narrow strip that follows the length of my neighbor’s fence, it has always seemed to be a natural location for a stone path.
But paths should lead you to a spectacle or stopping place, and one planted there would only lead you to my neighbor’s gate, which is never used. These neighbors are homebodies — the indoor kind — and we never stand in our backyards talking or offering pies to each other or doing whatever friendly people divided by fences do.
The path idea, though, had planted itself in my mind. Several weeks ago I picked a Saturday and wrote on my calendar: rent roto tiller! With that, a project was set in motion.
It takes longer than a morning to make a path. The labor happened over a few weekends; as of yesterday afternoon (Sunday June 2nd), it’s done. Here is how it unfolded in 10 illustrations: nine photos and one movie.
1. Tilling begins.
2. Tiller does its thing; man follows. (Note: this is 7-sec movie.)
3. Tilled earth is a kind of blank slate. I like to stare at it for a while and imagine stepping stones and plants before implementing them.
4. Stones from Home Depot in Watertown are eased into the loosened dirt. We bought 18 for $8 each. This part of the project is a pain. It’s a lot of fiddling to make something that looks homemade and yet is still sturdy. Oh, and the stepping stones, one inch thick, are heavy.
5. I make dirt collars around each stone for the eventual planting of ground cover.
6. In this instance, I treat my yard to mail-order ferns and hostas from White Flower Farm. These go under the maple tree.
7. It’s New England, so of course there are stones everywhere. When you till up dirt, you harvest stones, too many to bury again, too many for a rock pile. Sifting through dirt to collect them also makes the project time-consuming. I channel my inner Pa Ingalls.
8. I have the idea that we can discard our stones at the woodsy, rocky sanctuary behind the elementary school. A stone isn’t really garbage: it’s part of the geography. Jimmy loads up the car and drives them over there during the time I plant the perennials. (Eli goes along as photographer.)
9. Winston watches. Wherever I put a hosta or fern or trillium I also insert a white plastic spoon because I have run out of plant markers.
10. After long hours of planting, it is a special pleasure to sit in a plastic Adirondack chair for a few minutes and watch the oscillating sprinkler go back and forth, back and forth, soaking the mulch, bare root perennials, ferns, white plastic spoons, grass seed, and ground cover starter.
Now we need some help from nature: sun, rain, root development, and for those 20 hostas, five trillium, three ferns, grass, and ground cover to settle in and GROW.
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