Tag Archives: retaining walls

Hope Springs, Patience Wells

My great, great grandmother’s maiden name was Patience Wells.  I grew up sleeping in a spool bed made of Black Walnut from her Texan walnut bottom.  A walnut bottom, which I think was her dowry, is a low, flat place which has enough water to support good growth of walnut trees.  It was worth quite a bit. My great grandfather thought he had probably been born in that bed.  But she died young, and he grew up an orphan, raised by his older sister along with another six brothers and sisters. This wonderful name to me is forever linked to the bed. It is true that if hope springs, patience wells. I have needed a lot of it in the last few years, and the slow, seeping well of patience hasn’t let me down yet. Maybe it comes from Patience. Her name is all I know of her.

Finally we have gotten something to eat from the property. Today my friends Val and Dek helped me bring roof tiles up to the bodega and I was able to offer them a big bag of lettuce.  I am learning how the rainy season affects the garden. Some things, like my looseleaf lettuce, go wild with the unlimited rain in good  sandy soil. I say good, because it drains and is rich in minerals.  Apparently heading vegetables, like Napa cabbage, may rot. And now that we have put irrigation on the beds, the lettuces may continue into the dry season, if the rock edges protect them sufficiently from the winds that will come soon. If they don’t, I can stretch cheap shade cloth across the beds and that may do it. The rain also means that any slopes of recently worked loose soil will gully, so we lay down rows of rocks with small angular pebbles to block openings underneath, and the next rain terraces it. The idea is to slow the flow of water so that it can absorb into the soil more deeply, and not carry off nutrients; big terraces like the one in the picture as well as tiny ones perpendicular to water flow.

In the other beds I have planted kale, dill, basil, mustard, arugula, okra, pretty runner beans, a few Prudence Purple tomato plants donated by a friend, papaya seedlings, artichokes, and Guato, which is a bean tree!  Leafcutter ants ate the okra. I put out a sulfamide bait resembling smoke- smelling mouse turds, which they happily gathered up and carried back to their secret mushroom beds. The sulfamide isn’t toxic to us but it is anti-fungal so it destroys the ant nests that are feeding on my garden.  They aren’t actually eating the baby okra- just cutting it up to feed their fungus farms.  It worked; I planted more okra and they are still standing! There is hope yet.

Nibbling at the Edges

Staring at the formless void of the entire job, my husband looked a bit bleak. I had spent hours imagining various landscaping ideas. But as our friend Bill Salomon said of housebuilding, in the end, it builds itself. Form follows function. One day at a time, Poco a poco. Whatever.

We decided on two driveways; one upper one lower. The bottom entrada needed a ramp, so we made one using a bulldozer. That created the need for two retaining walls.  “Huh, that looks messy and if water comes down that gully it will erode the driveway. Bet some rocks would help.”

The first one I built myself, laying one rock on top of the other, puzzling out how they fit together solidly until somehow it became a sitting height wall. Then we backfilled it and started planting.

Francelin looked at it, smiled kindly, or maybe smirked,  and started making more walls where earth might otherwise slide or an edge needed tidying.  Needless to say, his are much finer than mine, especially since he can maneuver rocks weighing  more than he does with the delicacy and precision of a Japanese netsuke master, using only his hands and a large baretta.

I walked in one day and there where there had been only a weeded slope was a tidy little bench terrace. So I filled it with walking iris, succulent flowering sedum, and pineapple plants. Then we put in a massive dry rock wall to hold the driveway, and it seemed logical to terrace and put in a bed to use the earth that had been between the rocks.  The place that is windiest seems a good place for lavender, but further in, I need to start some things to eat, like kale and lettuce, and then there need to be some things to hold the slope, and my friend has some coffee plants that a client is ripping out, that are bigger than mine. A jump start on having our own coffee. So bit by bit the area around the road in is taking shape.

Thanks to photographer Gloria Davis