Tammy SchmittTwo thousand pounds of Carpe Diem

Before you read any further, I must warn you I’m a fairly energetic person. While this statement is in direct conflict with the sloth calendar that hangs in my bedroom for mornings I’m so groggy I need the type of empathy only an animal that sleeps 20 hours a day can provide, as a general rule once I’ve had a few hours to wake up, my energy level switches from a zombie-like trance to a steady simmer that keeps me going til I collapse into bed.

I don't recall posing for this picture...

I don’t recall posing for this picture…

Last month I decided to extend my rain garden after realizing a 13 foot section of my lawn was full of standing water and mosquitoes. Tired of muddy dogs and of dealing with a problem not solved by planting clover or allowing native carex to take over, I had a single day available to complete the project before a week of rain slowed me down. With my family only able to provide limited help, I knew if I wanted to get it done, I’d have to do it myself.

So I did. It only took eight hours.

Permanently boggy area in my gardenThe drainage pipe from our sump pump as well as a pipe from under our patio kept this area so saturated it stunk.

Boggy swale in my gardenThis is the swale that leads to our rain garden. It is a total bog most of the year and grass only grows in a drought. It is also right in the middle of the dog path my dogs use to run about the yard. Since one of my dogs is blind, deciding to rip this up meant I’d have to train him to cross the new riverbed.

River pebbles for the rain gardenI bought 1500 pounds of cheap river rock to form the base of the bed.

laying the river pebbles over drainage fabricBecause the new extension would be feeding directly into the existing rain garden, it was vital I kept the soil at the same grade it was before I started digging. While this sounds challenging, it wasn’t. I simply dug up the soil and flipped it over, grass and all. Very little soil needed to be removed, which sped up the process. I used water permeable landscape fabric made from recycled soda bottles as a weed barrier.

mixing larger stones and river pebbles in the rain gardenDigging the extension and filling it with rocks took eight hours. Later in the week, I added 500 pounds of decorative rocks and created stepping stones from beautiful pale green flagstone. Almost everything in my garden is soft and curving so I kept the new grass path as curvy as possible.

My dog Scout, blind from diabetes

My dog Scout, blind from diabetes

My blind dog Scout navigates around the garden based on surface texture and freaked out when he discovered a chunk of his lawn has been replaced with a new river bed. Despite sliding a plate of bacon and eggs across the flagstones to convince him to cross, he simply ate the food when he got to the other side and then avoided the rocks.

Rain garden planted with iris and acorus (sweet flag)I added Japanese iris (Iris ensata) and variegated sweet flag (Acorus) to keep it from looking like a shallow grave.

Flowering iris in the rain gardenNative carex grass has already taken over but I don’t mind. I looks more natural. I needed plants that would thrive in wet clay as well as survive a four dog squirrel chase.

Japanese Iris 'Butterflies in Flight'

Japanese Iris ‘Butterflies in Flight’

I filled this little area with blue eyed grass since my dogs like to run through this part of the garden to bark at people walking by. It stands up to dog traffic quite well.

Blue eyed grass alongside the rain garden

Blue eyed grass alongside the rain garden

The new extension blends seamlessly into the existing rain garden.

New rain garden area blends with the old

New rain garden area blends with the old

The caladiums, which like well drained soil, are planted in a pot that’s been sunk into the ground. If this area fills with too much water, I can just lift the pot til the subsoil drains. But they’re the perfect compliment to all that fabulous purple, so I had to think of a way to work them into the design.

Sand dollar fossilsI finished off the project by adding a few of my sand dollar fossils to the garden.

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Tammy Schmitt

About Tammy Schmitt

I am a passionate middle school teacher and gardener. I've gardened in South Dakota, South Carolina, and in upstate New York near the Canadian border. My current garden, in an overdeveloped suburb near Washington DC, has been my most challenging. My desire to create a true refuge for our native birds and butterflies has helped me battle unpredictable weather and compacted clay soil. My garden isn't perfect, but it's always a beautiful escape. Read my full blog at Casa Mariposa.

3 thoughts on “Two thousand pounds of Carpe Diem

  1. Libby cameron on said:

    What energy you must have, Tammy! I’ve been thinking about a dry riverbed in my garden for so long…carpe diem indeed!!

  2. You grabbed the day, for sure. The finished job looks great, Tammy. Congratulations.

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