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Gardening

Grant deadlines have kept E busy ’til now, and lucky for us, the weather up North has been cold and the spring has been slow. We saddled up the truck and jumped out of town in a hurry, as soon as E could break away. After a cool and blustery drive up, I unloaded the truck in a twilight rain squall.

June 17th at the ranch. Job #1 is always The Yard. We have arrived three weeks late for our spring mow. The overall season for Montana is 20 days behind the average, and up here the lilacs have just bloomed and the Iris are coming in.

The morning’s high grass needed to dry out from last evening’s rain before mowing, so I set about fixing the water heater, frizted during last fall’s hunting party, replacing both elements and the bottom thermostat. The elements were really stuck in there, and took some ranch-ineering to create smooth enough application of leverage to break loose without breaking. Got it all figured with a thick old bent nail and a section of pipe.

The cold & wet spring convinced us to forego the bicycles, and instead we brought up my lawn mower to live out its golden years helping this brush mower keep the yard in check (E found a used electric mower for our little postage stamp of lawn in SLC). Once I knocked it all down, we let it dry and E followed up with the bagging mower. The bag would fill at every turn.
E pulls wagon loads of weeds from the flower beds while I make the initial pass of the brush mower.
Nora helps me keep the old brush mower set at its highest level- the front end likes to drop from its pins.
Many late freezes have nipped the lilacs, blooms are still emerging.
We take a yarding break for some Bluebirding: many nest boxes are full- 6 chicks in most nests. My white pvc cylinder nest boxes are all full of Tree Swallows.
This was a busy deer bed two nights ago; two days of yarding to address the lawn.
Imagine if the 400 iris I planted a few years back hadn’t all disappeared.
E and I have just finished weeding the bed, to the right is the mass of weeds on a now infamous rubber mat.

-from E’s letter home: Last fall, Dan had put down a used rubber pond liner to deter weeds there at the edge of the iris bed where the foot bridge ends over to the corral gate. He pulled back the liner and discovered where all the garter snakes were living and a larger snake that looked like a rattle snake without a rattle. Eghads what a greenhorn mistake! Nine or ten garter snakes (each 24 inches in length) slithered away, but the other snake stood its ground. We had both been walking all over the rubber surface and stepping on the snakes, so that added to the weirdness of the discovery. Dan was pretty freaked out and decided to off the larger snake to be on the safe side. Internet searches when we got home confirmed that we killed a bull snake. They are difficult to distinguish from rattle snakes and flatten their heads to resemble rattle snakes when threatened, which is just what the snake did. So, we feel pretty bad ….. but with treatment cost of rattle snake bites coming in at $100,000 – $120,000, we thought better safe than sorry.¬†

It is warmer along the S wall of the house, and the lilac garden is in full bloom.
The bigger Iris bed in front, expanded last summer, will begin to bloom by week’s end.
This year’s cold spring have kept my hard trim of 7 lilac bushes looking ratty. The two in the middle are beginning to fill out. Later in the week I trimmed the suckers around 5 and laid ground cloth around one. It takes a whole lot of cloth to go around a bush, and I wanted to save some for the big iris bed at the corral (all prior to the discovery of the rubber mat snake haven).
Last summer’s White-Faced Wasp nest is now the home of our friendly Wren.
The willows are off to a slow start with frost pinched tips. On our last morning two pair of Bullocks Oriels arrive- double our previous nesting population!
The creek is running clear and strong, as we’ve pulled debris and cleared the shores for the past few falls. (and the cattle are up on the hill as yet)
A little marsh ends here at the bridge, a Mallard and his mate flushed from just around the bend.
The mower and I freed the poppies from the overburden of grass and weeds. Just through that shadowed spot at center is our Rhubarb patch.
Nora with the rhubarb.
This section of the yard is left wild. In 2013 I removed all the metal scrap that been heaped for years, which was replaced by weeds and wild carrot that I knocked back, and now it is finally looking healthy.
The Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Wrens, Bluebirds, Goldfinches, Calliope Hummingbirds, Kingbirds, Oriels, Bats, and bunnies are all pretty happy with the digs. No sign of our house bees, although the sub-letting bumble bees are busier than last year. I just learned of the Old World tradition of “Telling the Bees”- informing the household bee hive of any deaths, births, or marriages; best done through rhyming song sung softly at their entrance.

Just after dark a funky short semi truck drove past, and a bit later E saw bright lights up the coulee. It was our bee keeper, dropping off hives while the bees are all home for the night. He headed down and placed hives at the neighbor’s as well.

This pair of swallowtail butterflies kept busy in the lilacs.
As big as my hand and always here or there or drifting in between.
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As a kid I would visit my dad on his dry acreage in Shepherd outside of Billings, Montana. The most regular summer chore was setting the siphon tubes from the county irrigation ditch into the crop furrows. This involved dunking short bended tubes into the ditch, and getting the gravity-fed siphon to pull water from the ditch into the furrow: my dad referred to it in many iterations of “irritating”.

Here in Xeriscape Utah, everything in the garden must be “irritated” or turn to powder under the high altitude desert sun. A friendly timer-robot with four valves attaches at each of three spigots on the house. Two of the robots run to the old buried sprinkler system- one in front and one in back, and another in the back is set with 1/2 inch black tubing delivering water to all corners of the back 40. This spring’s irritation project was to finish out my xeriscape water plan and to bolster our new trees and garden spaces.

10 years ago, when we bought the house, the prior home owner had set all the sprinkler systems for the lawn and hedge, and had run a line to water the parking strip and never brought it under the sidewalk. He showed me the line’s start set with the other underground lines at the driveway spigot in the back yard, and gestured vaguely at the front of the house saying the other end was out in the hedge by the sidewalk. Years back I pulled the lawn from the area he gestured toward, and set in Xeriscape and replaced the sprinkler heads with multi-head ports delivering water to each plant in the landscaping: I never came across his gestural tubing. So I dug around for it. First out by the hedge, along his other buried water lines (nothing); then at the start of all the lines into the side yard (found it); then where all the lines (but that one) lined up before going under the driveway; then I dug along the line through the side yard and it bent out toward the driveway hedge- I poked around in there for a bit and found it! I had bought a gizmo to water-bore under the sidewalk last summer (I’ve been not getting around to this for awhile now) when the city put in a new sapling on our parking strip- instead I hand watered it all summer. A bit of swearing and banging around and making a mud pit, and draining the mud pit, and banging around in my spare parts bin and soon enough there was a water line out to the parking strip. The next bit took the longest, so I’ll make it the shortest: pull all rocks by section; lay in new ground-cover cloth; lay in new waterline and set water to each plant; replace rocks.

The three Miss Kim lilacs we put in a few weeks back spoke with the rose bushes, and they all decided it was time to pull the 6 pop-up sprinkler heads and replace them with multi-head ports for 1/4 inch water line, moved back 2 feet from the driveway toward the fence. So I hopped to it. The underground PVC water line at the last pop-up head had a cracked T-connection, and the interwebs showed me that there is a part just for that particular fix. I went and got it in the wrong size, and went and got it in the right size, and put it in place. Then ran 1/4″ line to every plant, each with its own watering solution. The next bit was the longest, so I’ll keep it short: then I did that last bit for all the new plantings, split plantings, and replaced and repaired many of the old irritations as well: 200-ish? I don’t want to know. It may have wrapped up today.

Easter picts just posting now: Tulips and new Serviceberry tree in bloom.
Last summer’s new garden area, with last fall’s tulip planting emerged.
Still a few freezes; she blooms before the lilacs or the big crabapple tree.
Waxy orange.
Dainty peach tutu’s.
Serviceberry bloom.
…still Easter
end of Easter
Roses and Miss Kim’s all starting to bloom- and all with xeriscape water solutions.
One of six multi-port heads is to the left of the Miss Kim.
Middle Miss Kim and domestic red rose both beginning to bloom. The big lilac bush is at the end of its flowering, so Kim’s timing is perfect.
I planted many bulbs of these hybrid Columbine throughout the yard this spring.
Our purple soldiers are all about to put on their parade hats, meanwhile all last summer’s xeriscape flowers are starting up (some were hit by a frost and are trying again). The waterline to the parking strip was discovered on the other side of the facing hedge. Just today I discovered the dripline for the entire hedge has a leak somewhere in this same bit, and realized it has been leaking since last summer as I recognized the puddle forming on the sidewalk. I couldn’t find it, and got scratched bloody trying. I’ll have to figure something out- like my leather welding jacket…
Last summer I pulled out this wedge of lawn and converted it to xeri-bedding. After this image was taken I pulled layers of black plastic out from under the entire hedgerow, hoe’d out a mess of dead leaves, put in feeder soil formulated for bushes, and put in a dense layer of mulch- it was while doing this job that I checked the soaker hose running the entire hedge and found the leak without actually being able to find it.
All the new flowers overwintered and are coming along.
Our new Honeylocust tree, now with a soaker hose- and restaged rocks over new groundcloth, over the new waterline.
The waterline passes under this first slab of concrete, delivering water to each bush and tree all the way to the yellow bush at the end.
Today’s approaching storm blew over this entire bed of Iris. They were even closer to the ground by the end of the day. Next season I’ll build a barr for them extending from the old fence post line.
Last weekend E and I went to the big plant sale fundraiser at Red Butte Garden (up by the Natural History Museum & UU Campus) and put in our veggies and bird protection over the lettuce and shard on the big hugel. I have since learned to mulch right around the tomatoes and strawberries (the only veg-plants that like this) as fruits or leaves touching bare soil is how harmful microbes infect the plant. So the far side of the Hugel is now mulched. All the junky cinder blocks and offcuts hold back the mounded soil, and will eventually come off as the layers digest and everything settles.
We also picked out three varieties of grasses; some low and bushy, others will get over 5 feet tall, others have nice fan heads of seed. Plus, the log hugle at L is putting up its garden. I dug close the the log putting in the grasses, and there was already an amazing amount of squirmy life down there e.g. millipedes, worms, and friends, which is pretty amazing in this usually sterile clay soil.
Lots of additional plantings from Red Butte, and lots of splits, and new emerging plantings from bulbs earlier in the spring, and the new Serviceberry tree.
The ranch poppies are all about to pop, and the Devil’s Root bush I transferred last fall (in the middle of the round old table) survived and is leafing out. Since this image I had a youtube lesson by an Australian gardener (an even more severe desert climate) and reset the mulch around it, the Serviceberry, and the Miss Kim’s: all ringed with 3-4 inches deep and 6-8 inches wide of shredded cedar over a layer of feeder-soil, and recovered with the old woodchip ground cover.
The super-hybrids are beginning to bloom.
The herb garden. Two re-grew on their own, two are replanted from the sunroom, and we added one from Red Butte as well.
This section in front of the lilac bushes got a new section of 1/2 inch black tubing T’ed off the main line, with many 1/4 inch lines to each planting.
The Clematis from Ohio is getting a good start- it barely made an effort last season.
The fish are all just visible boiling the surface behind the potted plant.
My waterline work here wasn’t as subtle as last year, but the plants may not have found their best positions yet, as the morning sun blasts in from the R, then fries along through the afternoon just where the foremost plant has become sunburned.
Storm approaching, and the tulips close.
Fish from the upper pond made a winter migration to the lower pond- @30 swimmers.
Came back to my fist attempt at bricklaying, and finished the far side.
Nora notes that this time I staggered the bricks. Good master!
Tuesday’s gardening moved a few little bushes, and added in 30 new plantings- many went into this long run of bedding around the lilacs set last fall.
Daffodils were laid flat by our snow squall last week, but perked right back up.
Hyacinths are the first strong perfume of spring.
The back run. Lots has happened. You can walk around, linking to the front!
At the top of the steps is this brick landing, followed by three layers of steps.
The stepping stones are bricks sunk on end, so they remain stable without edging.
The log planter was converted to a hugel and planted with elephant ears a few weeks back.
The big log hugelcultur is finished and planted, with 5 acea (5ft flowering multicolored columns), and 5 flox (3ft pink shrubs).
This new section of brick leads to the mulch roller’s new platform. I took out two old stumps (I had cut out a slew of “trees of heaven” when I took this section of yard back from the neighbors years ago, setting the irrigation ditch into underground tubing) and completed the line of concrete pillars. There’s always a project that needs done before you can get to the project…
All tidied up. The seemingly infinite pile of bricks feeding these new additions is nearly caput.
Lucky is happy with the increased foot traffic around his corral.
Nora drove 25 miles to the north with E & I to J&J Garden Center, where we picked out 3 Miss Kim Lilac trees, and a Serviceberry Tree. We planted the Miss Kim lilacs down the fence row by the drive. They will soften up this hard view, and grow taller than the fence.
A large wild rose bush had been here, I moved it to the other side of the house creating a long line of three rose bushes.
I’ve been cultivating this big rose back from the brink, someday it will get some Miss Kim shade.
Nora stands in for scale to heavy section of tree. I brought in two rangy truckloads of this hardwood from a neighbor’s yard as a base layer for a Hugelkultur keyhole bed I’m putting in the back of the back yard. This log was too big to throw over the hugelkultur wall- it will find its place.
I dig out the old herb garden (E brought most of them in for the winter), drop it deep down and fill as a hugelkultur: logs, sticks, dirt with chicken manure, then grasses, then dirt with cow manure.
Ready for transplanting when spring warms up.
This is the new tree, a Serviceberry- blooms white, has bright red fall foliage, and produces berries to draw in Waxwings in winter.
One of many loads of twigs and branches for the hugelz.
I refitted this series of steps that I created last fall, putting in a base layer and chip stone.
A long while back I welded up a retaining wall from old military ammo boxes, and had a big pile of these wooden boxes that had served many purposes (bug nurseries, bird feeder barrier) over the years.
The wooden boxes now form the front wall of a giant hugelkultur keyhole garden, the new idea for what to do with this inferno and shade space behind the studio.
After digging down well below ground level, I filled the hugel with two truckloads of the tree Nora stood by earlier. Then filled in with dirt/chicken manure mix, then branches and more dirt/chicken poo mix, then hedge trimmings and cardboard pictured here.
I trimmed the lower branches of the crabapple tree, and in go the trimmings.
The triangle form in the foreground is the “keyhole” hoop of wire (covered with cardboard and a flat of steel) that descends to the bottom of the hugel. This is a composting bin that feeds the hugel.
Next I trimmed down our big Bermuda grasses, and made a straw layer.
This layer will be topped with “garden soil”, of a cow manure mix, and will be the layer for plantings.
The long narrow hole forming behind the barrow is providing dirt for the big hugel.
The hugelkultur is “full”. Full at this point will mean lots more dirt on top, as it will all settle.
The spring veg sale is coming up, and well see what tomatoes and squash and strawberries may happen here.
The hole providing dirt for the hugel is fit to the log too big to put in the hugel, and so forms its own hugel for a flowerbed.
The black form is our compost spin bin. I decide it needs a dedicated spot.
But first, I put in the long remaining length of our plum tree as a retaining wall for the hump- after splitting our blue fescue grasses from 12 humps into 30.
This is the new digs for the compost spin bin.
She tests out her new spot. Spot on.
There is a plan emerging back here. A few more weeks of garden delerium should bring it together. We had a months worth of March moisture in one overnight snowstorm, snapping tree limbs around town and shutting power down around the city (not here)- but it stalled out any weekend progress.

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Anywhere and everywhere in the West: Fires. 5 minutes out from Salt Lake City. Try not to breathe. No rain since May, with 9 inches so far this year out of an average of 16.

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Meanwhile, in Ohio: days of rain with more than 5 inches fallen and it is unremarkable. This is a potted hibiscus on Joanie’s front steps, with hard southern exposure. It is nice to see something that can’t exist where you come from.

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60 mph wind gust, with air laden with the despair of a 90k acre forest fire just to the south  (pm2.5 at 220), dropped her.

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E uses interpretive stance to coax the tree upright again. no go

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The heavy rope tied from the tree, high into the pergola supporting the trumpet vine to the left of frame, ensured that the tree fell away from the fence and into a clear section of yard.

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Exploratory surgery sometimes reveals the patient’s true prognosis.

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This area had an anchor root below, and the big root heading off to the R, but you can see how much infestation I had stopped short of removing, as that would have just cut her down.

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The plank kept her from collapse, but not from being taken down in a strong wind. I considered welding up a tripod to keep her upright in any weather, but she didn’t want to become a limb-dropping killer zombie and had signed a do-not-resuscitate form.

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Her branches were spindly and dry, sunburn had peeled away bark from her upper limbs, and grubs had made their way far up her trunk.

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Forgoing the chainsaw, as the sawzall with a pruning blade is all she needs.

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The upper root comes off easy. Next I’ll dig out her taproot and all the remaining living and dead root system. Then I backfill the hole with dirt from my yarding dirt pile and mix it with compost and gypsum and water it thoroughly.

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All excavated and refilled, ready for a new tree next spring.

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I’ve put in a few new flower beds, and improved about 10,000#s of soil with 1,200#s of my mix of compost and gypsum.

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This is a great hybrid from J&J nursery.

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One of many new flowers in the back yard.

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Out front I enriched this last section of what used to be lawn, and put in 5 Echinacea of various colors, and some ground cover with matching blooms.

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I moved this flowering bush a year after I put in the purple iris, and it has finally taken off.

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Orange Echinacea.

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Crimson Echinacea.

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With this section of lawn turned over to xeriscape, and finally filled in, it was time to cross the walkway.

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Even re-sodding couldn’t keep the Utah sun from destroying this corner, so I converted it to a Xeriscape flower bed to match the other side of the walk.

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The plants all have to be short here at the corner, as there is a sprinkler head in the bushes that waters the grass (and now this bed as well).

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Ready for next summer, even though it is still 90 degrees and more.

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Two little retaining walls of treated lumber keep the long horizontal portion of tree tidy and clear of overthrusting garden. The area around the tree was cleared of grass and old mulch, the soil was turned with compost and gypsum, the vines were cut back to the fence line, and a new curve of rubberized berm wall was set.

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This morning I went back to removing the bore-holed wood mass-infested with grubs (wasps arrived to eat them again!); the adz is the recurved tool, along with large scoop & mallet. Over the weekend I also treated the tree with five medicine dispensers left over from the ranch treatment of the yard’s pine trees. The root at the bottom R drank two doses. I’ll give it awhile before I remove any more, as I’ve taken away a huge portion.

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A lot of rigid dead weight has come free of the living tree, and she got a bit woozy. The big hydraulic jack lifted her back up, the same jack that lifted the side of the ranch house this summer- then she just needed some support.

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The 4×6 support beam has a bevel cut to match the tree, and is pinned in place with 3.5″ deck screws. The beam rests on a pair of concrete bricks and is toed in with three green steel fence posts and a long run of smooth rebar. A concrete landscape brick supports her down low.

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With help from the jack, I slid this fat landscaping block under her hips.

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This footing should remain stable, but this evening when the bees go to sleep I’ll run a rope from her shoulders and sling it through the air to the trumpet vine’s pergola, and tie it off at the ground to the largest vine root (thick as my ankle). This way if she comes down in a windstorm, she’ll yaw into the yard rather than taking out the fence and the neighbor’s garage.

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Xander has been watching me work with the Plum tree from his vantage in the sunroom, and creates a sculptural interpretation with Elizabeth.