Friday, July 24, 2020

Worth The Wait
Twenty-one years is a long time to wait for a patio. But I have no regrets. 

Last weekend was spent laboriously hacking back my enthusiastically overgrown hedge of rhododendron bushes. As I worked, alternating between standard clippers, long-handled pruning shears, and a no-nonsense hand saw, I considered the garden around me. 

I wasn't satisfied.

The basic design was okay - a pair of perpendicular paths ran along the hedges and then out to the driveway, and a couple nice beds of blooming flowers. But something was off.

It was the area in the middle of the largest bed. Originally this space was supposed to fill with small flowering ground covers that would make a poetic spot to spend a late summer afternoon, presumably in a floral sundress and a straw hat with a book of verse and a glass of lemonade. But the ground cover was under constant assault from tenacious dandelions, evil Columbine, and other unfriendlies, and the soil was cratered by my furious attempts to dig them out. 

This was not a pretty place.
I did not like to work here.
And I most definitely did not entertain any readings with e.e.cummings. 

Why? I wondered to myself as I hacked back another rhodie branch and admired the rising blister on my thumb. Why did this space go so horribly wrong and what can I do to fix it?

And I realized I already knew the answers to both of my questions.

It was back in 1999 that I first designed this space. And I'd seen it right from the beginning - a small flagstone patio, perfect for slim volumes of Emily Dickinson, etc. etc.

You've heard all that before. 

But at that time, we were supposed to be working on a different patio project. I'd convinced my husband to jackhammer up our old aggregate rectangle of a backyard patio and help me rebuild it in a bigger footprint, using classic red bricks instead. And to be fair, he held up his part of the bargain. I was the one who went completely off the rails, dreaming up not one additional patio - the one in the far corner of the back yard - but a second add-on here in the front. 

Even though I had this marvelous vision of  a precious flagstone seating area in the middle of this flower bed by the rhododendron hedge, my husband heaved enough of his patented heavy sighs that I knew I best throttle back my enthusiasm and offer up a compromise. 

Forget the flagstone, I told him. I would make do with ground cover.

And for twenty one years, I did. But then last weekend happened and my patience officially wore out. 

So as I hacked and chopped and pruned away at those rhodies, this original vision for a flagstone patio came floating back into my head, like a helium balloon launched decades ago that suddenly floats right back into your hands, and I knew the time was ripe for change.

Do it this week, I dared myself. Don't waste another day. 

And so last week, I built myself my long-awaited flagstone patio. I finished on Friday afternoon.

^ Before starting in on the patio proper, I forced myself to rebuild the little rock wall that holds the slope under the rhodies in place. The old wall, built from smaller, fist-sized rocks stacked three high, was sadly tumbling down and in a precarious state of disrepair. Once I got the new wall built and happily resettled with fresh soil, it was ready for new lodgers. I salvaged much of the ground cover fighting to survive over in the main garden, and relocated it here.

^ ^ Here's one of my favorite pro tips for building a patio: create a flood. Once I cleaned the ground cover and yes, more weeds, from the center of the bed, I cranked the hose and used hydropower to even out the soil and carve out the possible edges of my patio's future shape. It's a great way to visualize the arcs and curves, and for my money, a fabulous excuse to play in the mud.

^ A casual observer strolling up my driveway or along the sidewalk may not notice my new creation...

^^ ...but step up closer and look over the taller mounds of flowers, and there she is, my new flagstone patio, for all the world to see.

^ This side of the yard slopes gently from the uphill rhodies down toward the driveway In order to keep my creation from descending into tilting chaos, I built the patio level with the driveway, and created a step up to the main path which sits about ten inches higher.

^ Which gave me just the excuse I was looking for to buy a big stone to use as a step. I could not be happier with the slightly wonky shape of this big boy and his next-door neighbor stone, and I plan to plant a little spring of ground cover into that little round opening between the two.

^ I tucked more mounds of ground cover and a few wayward foxglove children into the spaces along the edge of the new patio stones. They are happy for their rescue.

^ As per usual, Gracie was my constant companion and second-in-command. Which means she mostly laid on top of my hostas and napped. Good dog.

^^Maybe it's just me, but the flowers around my new patio seem to be thriving in their newfound glory. Apparently they appreciate the upgrade as much as I do.

^ Ahh, so satisfied. Now pardon me as I finally delve into some Dylan Thomas. 

Twenty-one years is a long time to wait for a project to finally bear fruit. But I must say, this little patio was well worth the wait. 

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