Capability Gray

I may not be installing giant lakes, building fake temples, or displacing villages full of peasants, but I have been improvin’ my landscape lately, indeed I have.

First, an update on the play structure thingee I started building in February.  To refresh your memory, here is what it looked like several weeks ago:


And here it is today.  Ta-da!


The bottom deck is 6×6, and the top deck is 6×7.5 — cantilivered out, to provide a little more room upstairs.  The ladder and railing turned out a little…well, crooked, but thanks to encouragement from my fellow blogger and garden philosopher Calvin Caley, I have learned to embrace the imperfections in my handy work and simply call it wabi-sabi rather than stress about it.  Calvin shared with me his outlook on outdoor building: “after all, you’re not building a grand piano.”  Thank you, Calvin.

I still want to paint it or stain it (you can see where I tested a color), and maybe add some fun little touches like a pulley or something.  So far Charlie’s favorite thing to do is go up onto the second level (the Ledo deck) and fling his shoes off of it.

Next, I painted the little portion of fence and the gate leading to my backyard.  Here is before:


and now:


Not bad.  The metal sun and moon I attached to the gate was a purchase from a vendor at this year’s Philly Flower show.  It was created from an old oil drum by Haitian craftsmen with a hammer and nail. Pretty cool!

I want to paint some words on my gate, too, around the sun.  I think I want to name my garden…something French.  At first I was worried that would be too pretentious, especially since I don’t know a word of French and have never been to France.  

But then I remembered, this is my garden, I can do what I want!  Hurrah!

Third, I built this little trellis in a part of the yard where my annoying neighbor has a clear view of us.  He stands on his porch and often calls over with some unwelcome question or comment, so I figure if I can get a vine to completely cover this, it will reduce our neighbor’s comments by up to 80%.  (Seriously, I’m not being an ass here, he is genuinely irritating and weirdly intrusive.)


I made it completely out of stuff I found in my shed (I’m so sustainable!) except for the paint.  I’m proud of my bold color choice, but I have to say that the metal fencing between the posts is not too attractive, is it?  I am hoping an aggressive clematis will cover it up in one or two seasons, otherwise I will have to think of something else.

Last, I have a new retaining wall!  Early readers of my blog may remember the post where I dreamed of a stone retaining wall to replace the rotting timbers that are there currently.  Well, finally Mary collected enough pennies to make it happen.  So no, this was not a DIY project…

My old, terrible wall:


And the new!


This wall is cinderblock, with stone facing.  I also looked into brick and those decorative concrete blocks by Techobloc and Belgard, but the wall I wound up with cost less than half of the estimates I got for using those materials.  Anyway, I am pleased with the color of the stone they used, because the rusty color matches the natural stones I find in my yard.  I wish a nice thick capstone had been in my budget, but c’est la vie.  (Oh look, I do know French!) 

And while I love my new wall, I am very demoralized when I look at how decimated the little garden behind it was left.  Where there were once cushions of Carex pensylvanica there is now packed red clay and gravel. 

I guess a Landscape Improver’s work is never done.

Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Mistakes

“A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery.”

–James Joyce

13retain1_lgThen again, Joyce was a man of ideas.  I’m sure no contractor ever said to a client: “Oh, that retaining wall I put in last fall is collapsing now?  But of course!  How could something so bourgeois hold back the anarchy of our modern age??  Don’t you see??  It was futile from its inception!!!”

Anyway, it only took me a few minutes to compile a long list of mistakes that I have made over the course of my study of landscape design.  Here are just a few:

1. Giving landscape design advice to people who didn’t ask for it.  You might think that this would be obvious, but when you’re a new landscape design student all super-excited about what you’re learning, like I was, sometimes you can go a bit overboard.

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Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Bouquets to Art

On February 13th, I went grocery shopping on my way home from work.  Right away I noticed things seemed different in the store.

 Men.  There were lots of men.

Oh yeah, tomorrow’s Valentine’s, I realized.  So there were the men– old & young, fat & thin, hirsute & hairless, all kinds – buying flower bouquets for their sweethearts.  They all looked slightly bewildered, and they were all purchasing either Valentine’s Day Default Gift #1 — Red Roses with Baby’s Breath in a Plastic Sleeve for the Big Spenders – or Valentine’s Day Default Gift #2 — Pink Carnations in a Plastic Sleeve for the more frugal/slightly less-committed set.

I thought, awwww, how cute.  Until I realized how much they were clogging up the checkout lanes, and then I was like, get a move-on, you unimaginative bunch of lemmings! 


“Surprise! I put zero thought into your gift!”

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Bold New Ventures

Hey there! Check out my latest off-season project — a sort of double-decker birdwatching platform/playfort thingee, tucked in the far corner of my backyard. According to the various building plans I have consulted, a project like this should be do-able in a weekend! Ha-ha! (They should list alternate time estimates for the out-of-shape and/or clueless). This is where I am so far, after about 10 hours worth of work (with one 6-yr-old helper):


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Is Designing Solo the Best Way?

Photo Credit: US Mission Geneva

Photo Credit: US Mission Geneva

In the Final Comprehensive of my Landscape Design Course, we had to work in teams of three. I was in a group with two other talented people (both professional designers), and our task was to redesign a small park on the campus of GW.

We brainstormed. We sketched. We had meetings — many, many meetings. We discussed. We argued. We tried to change one another’s minds and we attempted compromise.

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Appalachian Spring Suite: a Poem

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National Mall Renovation Lookin’ Snazzy

I went downtown today to hit the US Botanical Garden and a couple of museums, and I got a peek at the renovations to the National Mall.

Here is my exclusive, professional-quality footage:

Turf renovation on the National Mall

Turf renovation on the National Mall

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Where’s Walnut?

Some of you may have been wondering what has happened to Black Walnut Dispatch over these last few months. Why so few posts? Has Mary been ill? Has she been writing a book? Has she been involved in some amazing new garden project?

Loyal reader, I shall now reveal to you the reasons for my blogging negligence. Without further ado, here is what I have actually been doing lately instead of blogging:

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