As gardeners, we spend an absurd amount of time observing, tending and fine-tuning our outdoor spaces in the attempt to recreate nature. As landscapers, we spend just as much time creating and maintaining monocultures: the manicured lawn, the clipped hedge row, the bed freshly mulched in spring.
Two distinct camps appear to surface. The homeowner who meticulously maintains the perimeter of their home with a sea of mulch and strategically spaced plants, versus the homeowner pursuing an ongoing, and at times messy, approach to plants as micro-nature.
My little patch of green space grows and is cultivated along an imaginary line where garden meets landscape and landscape meets garden. It is a space that does not seem to exist in the mindset of homeowners fixated in one camp or the other.
This fine line was established out of necessity.
We had to reestablish a safe garden, which falls more in the camp of a landscaper, but balanced by the gardener who refuses to compromise 38 years of organically built soils, vegetation and habitat.
I have found once safety is established, your garden naturally becomes a beautiful hybrid of garden and landscape. Water is directed away from structures and diverted into bioswales, tripping hazards are assessed and crumbling walls that cannot support the load are reformed or reinvented.
Today, I thought I would share some of the safety concerns of my yard with you. And while I might not work through them in list form, here are my top 6 safety concerns that when tackled will automatically enhance the aesthetic and functional appeal of my garden.
1. Electricity and water
This picture actually illustrates a two issues: a deteriorating wall, which is holding back the foundation of the house, and conduit with an electrical outlet box affixed to the wall. The wiring has frayed over time due to lack of proper installation with a connecting PVC elbow. The electrical outlet was intended to plug-in a pump for a small pond directly below the wall. While the outlet is a GFCI, or ground fault protected, I still did not like the setup with small children and I have disconnected the electrical and removed the pond liner and back-filled the hole.
2. Improper slopes
This is a picture taken of the back of our house. In all fairness, this is not the starting point as I have already dug into this project. The sand base was settling with large flagstone pavers and the downspout was directed away from the house, but not far enough. And a log wall was containing the hosta bed running along the side. The water collection in this area is alarming. This may also be a contributing factor to the failure of the moss-laden timber wall with the improper electrical box illustrated above.
3. Crumbling walls
Crumbling field stone walls are common in the backyard. They pose an obvious problem of not being properly installed to hold the load, but they are also a little scary as a mother with a daredevil 3-year-old in toe. I have literally seen my son walk on and break 2 of these walls to date. Of course all he does is laugh, but it makes my heart skip a beat – or two.
I would also like to point out the attempted reinforcement of the timber wall. It would have been much better to just start over. Most of the walls have been reinforced in this manner and it is a short-term solution that will cause a lot of back pain for me!
4. Downspouts and drainage
The water runs off the property and while this, in and of itself, not a safety issue, the water running over the sidewalk created an extreme danger to the walkability during this past winter’s ice storms. I could not keep up with dangerous slick spots created by water being allowed to run over the sidewalks.
5. The dead
There are many trees on the property that are dead or dying, The large spruce in the front has a double leader with what has been preliminarily diagnosed as white pine weevil. My choices are: cut it down or cut out the dead and inject the tree yearly. I cannot top a tree. Therefore, this large specimen, and not a very pretty one, will come down.
6. Uneven walks
A flagstone path cuts through the hillsloped garden of our backyard. While this one will take the longest to address as it is not as critical as the others, the uneven walk causes our natural gate to be rhythmically choppy. In addition the top step is slipping out-of-place with yet another drainage issue and it has been the culprit of a few falls to date!
A large part of gardening is community building. When I am in my front working away it is very common for me to have three separate conversations with pedestrians, usually curious about the new neighbor and her addiction to the garden. Over time, It is much easier to explain to neighbors why so much activity is happening. For example, when people hear I want to take out the spruce in the front yard, it goes without saying, if you can back up your claim for the gardening camp of people who believe mother nature should not be disturbed while speaking systematically to the camp of landscape-oriented individuals with the facts, you will find acceptance by both. And perhaps one day, acceptance will lead a new, communal camp of individuals who pull thoughts as well as feelings about their yards from both the landscape and garden ethos.