Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Garden Wall: But Just For Looks





            First disclaimer: it's a very low wall. But I built it. It took almost no time.
            I bought what I needed at Home Depot, cleaning out the available stock of a certain style of distressed concrete border block made to resemble a stone. I had measured the space -- eyeballing the approximate size of the blocks I needed -- with a piece of notebook paper since the tape measure was on sabbatical. I figured on buying a few extra blocks since they were not expensive. When I brought them to the cashier with a few other purchases, she was unable to find the item on her merchandise list and so decided to charge them as something else (and smaller) at about one-third the price I expected.
            I also bought three bags of black garden soil, stopping at that number because I was tired of lifting heavy bags.
            Home, I took the blocks out the car's trunk, two at a time and placed them along the edge of a slate walk we had laboriously constructed two years ago (with real digging) where I thought they belonged. They fit perfectly. I took no more than a couple of minutes to do this. I did not attempt to dig them into the ground because there is no ground to dig in this patch of hard earth bordering the slate walk. It's all tree root beneath a hard, leached surface covered in part by tough weeds, most of these showing ill use from a rain-less summer.
            Any loose, pliable soil in this patch erodes in the rain onto the walk. Hence the need for a low border wall.
            But now that my line of low concrete blocks was in place, I poured the new soil on the tree-root side of the wall. The wall holds the soil in place, and the soil helps to hold the blocks in place.
            Now I had a strip of soil to plant. It took me about two weeks to get to it, but I transplanted vinca from another piece of the yard. This was a much messier job. The roots and vines go every whichway and you can't cut them out neatly like squares of turf, but our groundcover vinca was outgrowing its allotted space and tangling up around a line of low boxwood shrubs while crowding the roots of the roses. I packed the roots of the transplants into the new earth and watered them deeply. Then, for variety and color, I added a few small hardy mums.
            I am not as a rule a big fan of walls. Something there is, as the poet famously said, that doesn't love how walls separate and divide the world up. That something is nature. I certainly do appreciate the walls keeping the weather out of my house and the need for them in all the rest of the buildings required by civilization in a temperate climate. But walls between countries, borders, prison walls, the infamous "separation walls" that  protect the conqueror from the people whose land they have stolen are all blatant evidences of human failures.
            Garden walls, however, are mere points of landscape design. Their purpose is aesthetic. They're a species of outdoor sculpture. They are, generally speaking, straight lines in a realm free of them. But that's what a garden is -- it's an imposition on nature. We make art out of the materials nature provides, changing the look to our own satisfaction. And something inside of us loves to do it.
            Or at least try.