Front Garden Digging

I consider the start of spring here to be the full bloom of our Jon-Jon magnolia. That would be today:

Magnolia in bloom

Which is a great time to tell you about a project I meant to write about last year and never really got around to because it is slow and tedious.

In the front garden, around the magnolia, I want to put in a new green patio area with seating and planting beds. But the soil level in the front yard has been all messed up since the foundation replacement started in 2004. There is a good foot of extra soil around the yard and it makes me a little crazy because first and foremost it slopes part of the yard slightly towards the house, and also because it is lumpy and weird.

OK, I'm not saying this was strictly rational.

Anyway, the project involves my digging the yard down to the original level, and it has been a real process in recognizing and overcoming my own perfectionism.

Let's start back in May:

Marking out the tree bed

You can see here how the yard mounds; when we bought the house the yard was at the same level as the walkway.

I started by marking out the main root zone for the magnolia with a hose. This isn't the full root zone, but the area where there are the most surface and shallow roots (magnolias in general have shallow root systems, but for some reason this magnolia has only a few shallow roots. Maybe it's the very sandy soil). My plan is to leave the existing soil level around the tree in that zone, and dig down to original grade in most of the rest of the yard.

Getting started digging

In the back of the house, I have a plan for making some mounded areas, so my idea here was to take this soil, sift the rocks, bricks, and oxalis bulbils out of it, and pile it up to use in making those mounds.

I cannot emphasize to you how slowly this process went. This photo is after several hours of working on it. I was dirty and exhausted. I had a tiny amount of sifted soil to show for it. Did this convince me to change my ways? It did not.

More digging

A few days later, I had more to show for my work but it was just ridiculous. I was spending a huge amount of time on it and my actual job was getting so busy I just didn't have the time to take a two-hour lunch every day to dig in the garden.

Let's skip forward in time. You may recall that just about the whole state started on fire over the summer and the outdoor air became unbreathable for months on end. In addition, around June the soil here dries out enough that you can't really dig it because it's just a dust pit. It sounds like it would be easier to sift, and in some senses it is, but only if you like breathing dust while you do it. Wearing a mask actually helped a lot with this, but not enough, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice my stash of N95 masks for garden work. So the project halted until the rain started up again.

Then almost immediately I was asked to join a city task force which was like a second full-time job, and until last week I've been working almost every single day, often late into the night, and everything that wasn't my work or the task force suffered. We finished up our work last week, and I finally have time to work outside again.

In the meantime, I realized that I was letting the perfect be the enemy of the done, and I did not need to painstakingly soft all that soil because I could just dispose of it in a debris box and when we are ready to make the mounds in the back I can purchase good garden soil to make them with.

Current digging progress

So this weekend I went out in between meetings (I work most weekends because of the nature of my work) and spent about 45 minutes digging and hauling out more dirt. The area I had finished up in May is on the left: about two weeks of working at least a couple hours a day. My progress in 45 minutes on Sunday is on the right.

Anyway, I think I may have made the right choice in changing tactics.

posted by ayse on 03/02/21