August 11th, 2007
Reclaiming the Garden

Zanthan Gardens: Bog Garden
2007-08-09. Before the bog garden can be planted, the caliche must be removed.

With the garden house project at a standstill this week, I decided to clean up the meadow garden which, thanks to Austin’s unusually heavy rains this year, is mostly weeds and rotted bearded iris. Even the paths are overgrown and covered in cement dust and other construction detritus.

The area around the garden house is the most dispiriting.

Zanthan Gardens: Bog Garden

This is where I laid down most of the Christmas tree mulch last January. And where I plan to put all my tropical plants. During excavation for the garden house foundation, mounds of caliche were piled up there and, with workmen walking over it constantly, has been packed down anywhere from six inches to a foot deep.


Caliche, as I’ve said, is almost as impervious as concrete. The rain runs right off it, exacerbating our drainage problems. (Since my return from England, our garage has flooded in every heavy rain.) Luckily it come up in big chunks.

As you might suspect, caliche is a poor planting medium. All of it will have to be removed before I can plant the terraced bog garden.

My day’s work.

If you are planning any project which requires excavation, be certain to specify who is responsible for hauling away the dirt!

by M Sinclair Stevens

7 Responses to post “Reclaiming the Garden”

  1. From Carol (Indiana):

    Thanks for the tip. I can’t believe what you’ve dug up already. I assume it is also heavy like concrete? Ugh, my back aches to see that.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    Yes, Carol, it’s as heavy or heavier than concrete. It’s much more dense. Luckily it comes up in nice chunks. — mss

  2. From Julie (Austin):

    Yikes! Where does this stuff keep coming from? Seems like you did major haul-away earlier in the project. It’s enough to make one nomadic.

    Over here, wild morning glories and bamboo are taking over. I battle briefly but the mosquitos make it pretty intolerable. I vow to follow your 7-9 am example next week.

    Read an interesting book that notes how prevalent Seasonal Affective Disorder is IN THE SUMMER, since many folks (like me) want and need to hide out.

    Julie, I definitely believe in SAD for those of us who suffer through southwest summers. I look forward to fall the way people who live through dark, northern winters look forward to spring. As for the caliche, less than half of it was hauled away and that only when I put my foot down and said no more could be dumped in the garden. As it is, the builder is charging me an extra $620 for that. — mss

  3. From Ki (New Jersey):

    My brother-in-law struggles with caliche in NM. He said it took him a very long time just digging a hole to plant a small barrel cactus. I hope you have heavier tools to use than just the square spade on the caliche. We always have had a pick mattock and use it regularly on our NJ clay especially when the soil is bone dry. I found it’s the best tool to dig in heavy ground but it still is tough going sometimes i.e. when I dug down 3 1/2 feet for our koi pond.

    I have a pick-ax, too. However, now that the ground is drying out, the caliche is cracking and I can easily get the spade in between the cracks. The caliche was dumped on thickly mulched paths which provide a layer of material between the caliche and the good dirt underneath the mulch. — mss

  4. From Diana Kirby (Austin):

    I totally empathize with your debris dilemma. We recently built an outdoor kitchen, and even though the builder tried to be respectful and I put a temporary fence up, they destroyed so many things and left dirt and mounds and giant ruts in the dirt. I guess it’s part of the process, but it certainly is disheartening. And to top it all, to remove most of the fence for access, I had to tear out my beautiful climbing roses and trumpet vine and plants. I’ve since replanted, but I miss my roses. Good luck with digging out the caliche — and once you get past that you will have so much fun making the garden! Come visit my new blog sometime – I’m in SW Austin. Good luck.

    Welcome, Diana. It’s always good to hear from another Austin Garden Blogger. You should go sign up on Stuart’s Gardening Blog Directory. So how did you get rid of the mounds of dirt and get your garden back in order? — mss

  5. From Pam/Digging:

    What a pain in the butt–or should I say back? And yet, I predict that in a year you’ll have forgotten how it looks right now and will be enjoying your new garden house and tropical-plant garden.

    Ah, Pam, the eternal optimist. You’re right, though. I have forgotten how terrible the garden looked last year during the drought. When I look at last year’s photos, I’m horrified. No doubt, the same forgetfulness will occur in this case. That’s what I told AJM; I need to work on this, to do something to make the garden mine again. — mss

  6. From kate (Canada):

    Ouch, but that looks heavy. When I had to shovel away all the dirt and debris when my back fence was moved, I kept telling myself that I was strengthening my bones … it worked, but just barely. Mostly I was just mad that I hadn’t noticed before the fence guy left.

    At least you have mulch underneath … one more use for mulch has been found!

    Mulch is certainly a great protective cover–in ways I never before imagined. — mss

  7. From Annie in Austin:

    I’ve seen your unfulfilled dream in person, M., and while hoping that Pam’s counsel turns out to be right, I also know that your photos don’t show the scope of the mess and the problems.

    Maybe you could call on St Vita of Sackville-West for strength – she who struggled with decrepit buildings, horrible soil, and long-buried boots and bedsprings as she made Sissinghurst.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I knew you were an intuitive. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. It is a mess and I know it. It’s comforting when other people know it too. Speaking of Vita (given that you’re a movie buff) did you ever see the 1992 movie “Portrait of a Marriage”? She apparently had quite a deliciously messy personal life. Yet they were able to work together to create Sissinghurst. If I remember, he did the structural layouts and she did the planting schemes. — mss