This weekend was earmarked for Major Earthworks out front. The roses had arrived from David Austin in Texas, and I had some work to do. Here's the starting point for the front yard:

Front yard before

The game plan was this: The two lavender closest to the sidewalk were going to move up to replace the lavender that got whacked during construction. Then that bump in the far side of the yard was going to be smoothed out, sloping gently away from the house, and a deep cut would be made to put in a bed for the roses that would end up being about six inches deep, 30 inches from the sidewalk, and four or five feet wide.

The soil from that cut would go to fill in a weird hole left over from construction.

And here's my secret weapon: 8 yards of the cheapest compost available, delivered Friday morning. It turned out to be cheaper than topsoil, amazingly.

Compost pile

The roses were bare-root roses, packaged in plastic and boxed up. They arrived earlier in the week and Noel kept them happy by watering them and keeping them in the darkest depths of the basement.

Roses packaged

Before getting the earthworks started, I put the roses to soak in the dog pool. The dogs were very interested in this, but the thorns were a bit off-putting.

Roses soaking

When I unpacked the boxes, it really seemed like there were more roses than I was expecting. They didn't all fit in the dog pool, and I had to re-wrap some of them and drag them to the shade. I figured the large size of the roses was throwing me off (these were easily the largest bare-root roses I've ever gotten), and also that I was very bad at estimating how many roses I had really ordered.

By the way, I definitely recommend buying from David Austin direct. They may be more expensive, but the difference in quality of the stock is amazing. Just stunning. If I had another spare inch for roses, I would be buying them from there, no question.

Not all the roses fit

So: the earthworks. First I moved two lavender plants further in along the walk, which took about as long as it took Noel to go get a wheelbarrow (the little red wagon is terrible for hauling dirt around) and pick up a sod cutter from the rental place. Then we set to the yard. On one side Noel removed the sod easily, and on the other I began digging away sand to open up the rose bed. As I dug, I kept finding more bricks, and Bermuda grass roots. Noel brought the sod cutter over to help me, and that made it easier, but we still spent most of the day on this one section.

Sod cutter

The debris from the process went into three piles: removed weeds and Bermuda grass for the city green bin (I don't put weeds in my compost bin), bricks and assorted trash for the garbage, and extra dirt to fill in the big hole by the driveway.

Making a mess of the sidewalk

The big hole by the driveway, mostly filled in, is barely visible in the lower part of this picture. After removing the sod on one side of the front walk and regrading the other side, we made large berms of compost where the rose beds were going to go. Someday we will build a small retaining wall along the front, with a metal fence on it. Until then: berms.

Now, you can plant roses by mixing some compost into your regular soil to add nutrients and help the roses out. If you have clay soil, I recommend that. But compost was cheap (this gigantic pile was about $250 delivered) and in sand you don't need to break up the soil to let roots get through it. So we just planted in straight-up compost. This makes roses very happy. Roses need lots of food, light, and water. Don't plant them unless you can provide all three.

Shovelling compost

We made two large berms, one roughly straight to the right of the front walk (facing the house) and one longer one that curves at the end of our lot to the left of the front walk. Then we rolled them with the lawn roller and added more compost, and rolled them again. Makes a nice, firm bed without compacting the soil too much.

Making beds

With the berms mostly made, I brought the roses to the front and began sorting them by variety. That was when I noticed something odd. I ordered three Geoff Hamiltons, and there were six. I ordered one Bonica and one The Fairy, and there were two of each. Some portions of my order were doubled up. To the point where it was actually a problem, because I didn't have enough space in the berm for them all.

The final count was this:
Brother Cadfael30
Constance Spry12
Geoff Hamilton36
Gertude Jeckyll12
Queen of Sweden12
Sceptr'd Isle37
Spirit of Freedom35
St. Cecilia36
The Fairy12
Mme Alfred Carriere01

Sorting roses

So I planted the roses much closer together than they ought to have been. This means they will form a dense shrubby hedge, which is OK. I will also have my pruning cut out for me (heh). Even so, I had four extra roses I could not find places for. One I gave away to a friend who came to drag us out for sushi, two I might plant in the back, and one I'm going to give to our neighbor for beside her front walk (we have its twin on the other side, so it will melt our landscaping together and balance her yard, too).

Planting roses

Here are the beds when I got the roses all planted. You see that giant pile of bricks in the front walk? Those were all pulled out of the yard today. I have a theory that when I die I will spend eternity pulling bricks and Bermuda grass out of an endless yard. Another theory is that that is what I am doing right now.

Planted roses

We used only about half the compost, which is good because I have great plans for it in the alley.

Compost pile

Tomorrow we have more earthworks, moving sod (with the help of the sod cutter) and planting the citrus trees that came this week. A pink-fleshed navel orange, a pink-fleshed lemon, Key lime, and a blood orange. Good stuff.


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posted by ayse on 02/11/06