After ripping out the liriope, a new problem arose— the yard was even with the sidewalk, so there was no way to prevent mulch from spilling from the beds. The two obvious choices for solving the problem were digging around the perimeter of the bed to lower it below the sidewalk or to raise a barrier to keep the much in. The barrier won. After considering all the easily obtainable stones, I became enamored with Belgian granite blocks that weighed 30 lbs each (gardening magazines again). The stones are 11 inches long, and measuring the border, about 150 stones would do the trick. Now, why is it that the perfect solution to any problem is the usually hardest one to accomplish?
Local quarries wanted too much per stone, had high delivery fees, and were vague about what delivery meant. For example, one quarry would bring the stones to your house, but you had to unload them from the truck. Delivery issues almost made me give up. Then, while searching Google for delivery options, Home Depot popped up. Home Depot online had a listing for 50 stones for 300 dollars with a fifty-dollar delivery fee to your door from New Hampshire, the Granite State! It sounded too good to be true, but I took three deliveries. The first two went well. The last convinced me my luck might be running out. The delivery was post-postponed twice by the carrier. In the end, all was well. As it turned out, 150 was just the number needed.
The next unexpected problem was digging out the roots of the overgrown red-tipped photonias cut down a few years earlier. They are supposed to be ornamental bushes, but ours had grown to be 10-12 feet tall. When digging started, I discovered those roots had grown up to 10 feet into the yard. Pulling them out of the ground was back-breaking work that required a hatchet, saw, and a lot of prying and twisting. Some roots were three to four inches thick, and since they were buried, enough space had to be made around each to make using the hatchet possible. It was brutal, but there was no turning back.
In gardening, soil is everything. In my naive state, dirt was dirt. Reading gardening books, I knew that clay soil was the hardest to work with because of poor drainage. A few shovels of dirt and I was greeted by a layer of pure clay. And that is how I learned about amending soil. “Amending” is a nice way of saying you need to buy manure by the 40lb bag. So, the digging stopped while I learned all about soil.
Composted manure smells, but not as bad as fresh—you get used to it. The best formula seems to be one-third clay soil to two-thirds manure, which allowed the water to drain well. In all, the main rectangular bed required about 12-15 bags of manure to start, and more have been added each year. Knowing what I do now, I should have used twice as much manure. A final word of caution should you be tempted by dreams of flowers and butterflies—a 10 x 18-foot area takes far longer to dig up that one would expect just by looking at it. And if you have clay soil—well, be prepared to buy manure by the bag.