Cheap Runs Deep

People often don’t know how they touch the world, what kind of mark they make that others notice and perhaps admire or emulate. My friend Kim’s dad was a make-do sort of man. I admired him greatly for many other reasons before I knew this about him, and when Kim reminded me not long ago that he would always find a way to use what he already had, which I do myself whenever I can, I felt proud to share a good trait with a great man.

The first time I realized I was being like Bertie in this way was when I was making war with weeds this spring. Well, maybe not war, but as much as possible, I was determined not to let them get the upper hand this year, especially in the paths between the raised beds in the vegetable garden. I have piles of mulch right now from when two big trees were taken down in the winter. It’s just sitting there, asking to be useful. Asking in its own way.


That empty middle section was as big and deep as the piles on either side of it.

Before I made (many) trips back and forth from the pile to the garden, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of mulch, I put down some very expensive landscape fabric (that had been kindly given to me) as a barrier between the dirt and the mulch. Weeds would pop through in no time if I didn’t. (Note what happened in the planter box of yesterday’s post – oh, that’s what I can do! I’ll make a barrier against the aliens!)

This was a good plan until that roll of very expensive landscape fabric ran out and I was in the middle of the job and rather grubby and quite unwilling to go to the store, even if I was willing to spend the money, which, despite my understanding of the need for such a thing, at that moment I wasn’t.

Barrier, I need a barrier.

You know that little birdie that sits on your shoulder sometimes and whispers good advice in your ear? (And you either listen or don’t, depending on the day’s measure of good sense vs. stubbornness?) Well suddenly the little birdie was Bertie, and I heard, “All those old cotton sheets you have in the basement, those old towels… they would serve….”

Indeed they are as good a barrier as anything. Water can get through them but weeds can’t, they will break down just the same over time and didn’t cost anything, and I didn’t have to go anywhere to get them except the basement! (And now I have a solution to the alien invasion besides!)

You’d never know it, but the part right between the bench and the bed with the lemon grass behind it has old sheets and towels under the mulch 😊


Some weeks later I decided that the two chicken coops needed a deck between them. You might have seen previously how this looked as a finished project (finished except for the siding on the new coop, which I am still waiting for):


In the next few posts, as I go through the steps it took to get to this pretty picture, I’ll show what’s under those nice deck boards, and you will see that Bertie was whispering in my ear once again.

Woodland Invaders

It’s wonderful how a garden is never quite finished. There are always parts you didn’t get to yet, but also, the seasons are always changing and requiring you to pay different kinds of attention to different aspects of your enterprise. In this way, a garden is like your life, like your character, like your friendships. You do what you can, you always see the shortcomings and challenges (if you are honest), and you are always trying to make it better.

My ten acres is mostly untended forest. If a tree falls down in it, the tree stays right there unless I am lucky enough to have a friend volunteer to chainsaw it out of the way. I have waited years for some obstacles to be removed. In the tended acre or so around the house and cottage, I have a few areas of grass, plantings of perennials around a few trees and near entrances, and a large vegetable garden with raised beds and mulched paths surrounded by deer fencing.


A month or so ago I decided that I also wanted a “woodland garden,” in my mind a kind of space that falls somewhere between tended and untended, with lots of perennials and a more natural look.

“Natural” has such an innocuous ring to it. Clearly an overused word. But whether or not putting a planter box in a woodland garden is natural or unnatural, I decided to do it. Bradley had built the box below about ten years ago and it sat on my back deck. The casters were shot but otherwise it was in great shape. Dirty and neglected for sure, but in great shape. A week ago it had nothing in it except weeds because nothing grows very well on that deck – not enough sun. Plus I’ve been busy with a few other things.


I admit it was looking sad. While I am shocked at myself sometimes that I let it (and other things) just sit, the fact is that there are only so many hours in the day. Some things have to wait. Then along came Fred with his power washer, which made an extraordinary difference. (Thank you, Fred!)

Now why would you leave such a nice planter box hiding on the back deck? Of course it had to be moved. Let it shine!

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Moving it was easier said than done. The wood framing alone weighs quite a bit, to say nothing of the dirt inside. However, it doesn’t weigh as much as you might think. I watched a video some years ago about container gardening, and it said that in such a deep container, you could use filler in the bottom half – big empty cans, bubble wrap, even Styrofoam peanuts. We found these things when we dug out some of the dirt.

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Once most of the dirt was out, it was pretty easy to move. We carried it to its new location near the chicken coop in what is going to be the woodland garden (someday all that space will be lovely, believe me!). But of course we had to first prepare the landing pad.

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You can see that those bricks are not even close to level. But it’s easy to find dirt at my place, so we dug and built up the low corners and checked it, and built it up some more, and moved the bricks and finally got it. Voila!

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If you want very cheap flowers at this time of year, make a trip to Lowe’s and look on their reduced rack in the garden section. Some of these were 50 cents. I bought enough to fill it and make it pretty, came home, added Miracle Gro potting soil to the planter box, carefully planted the new flowers, bedded it down with the same mulch I’ve been using everywhere else, gave everything water and called it a day.

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I was quite pleased. Bought the other plant behind it too – this is the “Sizzlin’ Pink Fringe Flower, a.k.a. Loropetalum Sizzlin’Pink.” Moving right along, and don’t you love it when you make something look nice where it didn’t look nice before? Maybe not natural, but nice.

At that point I still had (okay, I always will have) plenty else to do, so other than giving the new plants a daily drink, I switched gears and moved on to, let’s see, was it polyurethaning the cherry frames of the cottage windows that day? Maybe. Or collecting more rocks for the stream bed and adding length little by little?

Five days later, along I came with the hose and was shocked by these green invaders poking up through the mulch. What are they? They were not invited to the party!

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No fair. Where did the little aliens come from? They weren’t in the original dirt or they would have been there when the planter box was on the deck. Could they have been in the potting soil? That’s never happened with store-bought potting soil before. And I’ve used that same mulch in lots of other places and never had sprouts appear.

I suppose it would be boring to just move a planter box and put flowers in it and walk away. And we can’t have boring. So, hello! (You rotten little aliens!) Enjoy your brief visit. You won’t be here long!