How does my garden grow?

#514 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2006, Hills Newspapers

My garden at home extends on an up slope above my house and concrete patio. When I first saw the house about 15 years ago, the slope was so covered with trees and ivy that I had no idea how far the land went. All I could see was dense greenery.

The house at that time was Anet’s house and it was about to be for sale. I was wondering aloud if it might make sense for my then-husband and me to buy it. But I am a gardener and as I tried to see around and through the thicket, I wondered aloud, “Could I live without a garden?”

Anet was standing there with me, both of us facing up the hill. “You can have a garden here,” she said. “I’ll show you.” She led me to a spot at the back of the patio where it was possible to climb up a tall step and squiggle through the lot. I ducked and stepped carefully and could see a good sized piece of land that was almost entirely covered over with bay trees and acacias, junk trees that had landed there, probably by bird. And ivy, big ivy, the kind of ivy that has long root hairs hanging off the trunks, the sort of ivy that looks prehistoric.

There was an apple tree, light-starved, gnarly-skinned, white-fly infested. And an orange tree thick with branches and also oranges. That was about all I could see that first time. We bought the house and first thing, we hired a tree guy to cut down a great many too-skinny, too-tall, too-sick, too-close-together, or simply unappealing trees.

And we hired a boy who spent many days, maybe even weeks, hacking and pulling out ivy, so much ivy that it is hard to say how much. Underneath the ivy he found many beautiful rocks, some cemented into waterways and little ponds, or at least they would have been if there had been water there, but there wasn’t then.

We moved many rocks (the loose ones, ones that had not been concreted) and used them to form walls, and we smoothed out areas for paths. At the same time, we were also working on the house and as part of that job, we removed four-inch-thick concrete chunks from a porch. Those were carried to the top garden terrace and stacked (leaning back so they wouldn’t fall or wash forward) as a wall. That top garden bed became my rose area.

We hired a genius carpenter to build redwood steps for access into the garden. The steps begin at the concrete patio. We put a layer of golden granite under the redwood so it would last longer. Rebar was used in spots to keep the steps from shifting.

The first rise connects with a short graveled landing, then there is another rise of steps – different sizes and shapes to conform to the hill – then a landing and a turn. More steps, and so forth; next batch turns to the left, then 4 or 5 wider steps, again to the left to the top of the hill.

All the paths are gravel. All the lumber for steps is two-by-eights, which means that they are a little less than 2 inches thick and not quite 8 inches deep. Most steps are around 4 feet wide but a few are about 7 feet wide.

They have weathered to a soft brown-gray and are very beautiful. I am careful with them. I do not drag anything down them because redwood is soft and I love their surfaces to be even. There are some places where the wood has rotted, mostly side pieces that stay in contact with the dirt all the time.

One of the trees that was in the garden – at the very top — was a huge, double-trunk acacia. At the tips it was almost 200 feet tall. We hired a man to take it down. He did, and in the process, what garden we had managed to plant was covered in sawdust and was damaged by chunks of tree trunk dropped from on-high. But the steps were not hurt.

The tree man left the bottom of the trunk, maybe six feet high. He said he couldn’t cut it lower. So for all these years, the trunk has stood there, bare and ugly, and I’ve gardened around it. Until this year. I asked my good tree people (I have planted several trees in the garden that I keep smallish by yearly pruning) if the trunk could be removed. I wanted it cut down and the root ground out so that I could plant something in that spot. I wanted it to look like that acacia had not ever been there.

Yes, it could be done. Subcontractor. $800.

Subcontractor came and sawed and sawed resulting in enormous and heavy chunks of tree trunk. Mounds of red sawdust. Two men brought their grinder and chewed away for hours at the lower trunk and roots.

One of them rolled trunk chunks down the wooden stairs, down the side of the house, down to his truck. Anet and I came home to find a guy with earplugs grinding away, another guy taking a rest, and the front edges of many of my precious wooden steps hurt.

Where the chunks hit the steps, at each spot of impact, there is damage. Scrapes, gouges, splinters. Mostly, it’s the front edges where the steps show dents and broken fibers.

Broke my heart. I looked at those steps and just stopped dead; couldn’t talk, didn’t know what to do. Anet was there. She saw and she knew, and she could see that there were still many large pieces of trunk at the top of the garden, chunks that no doubt the men planned to roll down the steps.

She told them no. She said they’d have to think of some other way to get the chunks out of the yard. And what could be done about the damage? She did ask but we both already knew the answer. The men hadn’t even noticed there was a problem.

Believe it or not, they returned the next day while we were away at work, and they rolled the rest of the logs down the steps so that things were made even worse. This all happened a few weeks ago and I’ve been going into the garden everyday since trying to make myself believe that over time I won’t even notice the wrecked up stairs.

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