10 May 2011

Waste Not, Want Not, Part II

Our landscape plan included bamboo muhly grass in front of each side of the garage. (What's bamboo muhly grass? Not important -- google it if you're curious.) Our builder suggested that we use gulf muhly grass instead because its reddish color would look nice against the stone of the house. (What's gulf muhly grass? It's like bamboo muhly grass, but reddish, and not so bamboo-like.) On one of our many (many) nursery outings, we learned that gulf muhly is green most of the year, only turning red in (I think) the fall, but purple fountain grass is purple year-round. (Hence the name.)

Over time, it will grow feathery, wispy flowers that look kind of like water shooting out of a fountain (except, you know, purple). In case you're wondering, here are the purple fountain grass's specs:

(You don't often find plants that are described as "rewarding," much less "very rewarding." We're obviously in for a treat!)

Although the fountain grass will max out shorter than either of the muhly grasses, that seemed to fit our requirements, so we bought two of them. But when we got them home, we discovered a problem. Here's the left side of the garage:

Looks good. But here's the right side:

Because the right side of the yard slopes down from the driveway, two identical grasses planted on either side wouldn't match in height. Not good.

But we have a ton of leftover stone (as mentioned here), not to mention a pathological need to reuse stuff, and a little retaining wall seemed like a pretty good solution. So, as Steve got started planting our agave, I took out the grass (which, since we started the project just days after the grass went in, was as simple as picking up a piece of sod and setting it aside). Then I marked off a quarter-circle with some flags and started digging a trench to lay the first row of stones. That step was pretty frustrating -- stone masonry is definitely not my calling -- but after a few rounds of dig-level-repeat, I managed to get the first row dug in:

I used the level in many different ways -- checking to see that the piece I was working on matched up with the piece I just put in, checking to see if each piece was level from front to back, from right to left, and diagonally,....

I had measured down from the bottom of the house stone to the top of the first row, and it looked like there would be space for three 4" tall rows, but as I got close to the end of the first row, I realized that, because the driveway slopes downward toward the street, the wall couldn't come up as high as the bottom of the stone on the garage. Since I had a level on hand, I set it on the driveway and measured the space between the top of the first row and the bottom of the level (instead of the level, a yardstick or any straight edge would have worked, too). Based on that very rough measurement, it looked like a second 4" row of stone would hit about 1" below the top of the driveway.

If I'd had one more inch, I would have switched to 2" stones so that three more layers would have lined up perfectly with the driveway, but it wasn't meant to be, so I continued with one more layer of 4" stones (which I simply set on top of the first row, only digging in at the end closest to the garage where the slope was the steepest).

When I finished, for kicks, I set the level down across the whole wall to see how well (or whether) I managed to keep it level from left to right:

Not bad. Maybe I have a future in stone masonry after all....

I filled in behind the retaining wall, added some compost, and planted the feather grass on both sides of the garage.

Much better!

Now we're just sitting back, waiting for the reward(s) we were promised.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog through your comment on The Wonder, Weeds, and Why blog. Your stonework looks nice, and so do the purple fountain grasses. Just FYI, though, purple fountain grass is an annual in all but the warmest winters in Austin. It's entirely worth planting as an annual that will give you 3 seasons of interest, but it won't come back like Gulf muhly or bamboo muhly. Actually, bamboo muhly is a little cold-tender here too; it got hit hard by our last two winters, though in normal winters it stays evergreen. And even Gulf muhly has serious downtime in late winter and early spring.

    Maybe the solution for such a visible spot is to enjoy your fountain grass until winter, and then place pots with winter annuals in that spot until the following spring, when you can plant more fountain grass. Anyway, happy gardening!