Accidental Hillside Gardening Project

Spring City, TN

Today was not planned. It just sort of happened. I can't really explain it.

So I've got this bare red clay hill that has been roughly terraced with landscape timbers so each terrace is 4-6 feet front to back and 70-160 feet long. The bottom 3 levels have about a foot of mushroom compost and bought topsoil and I have been planting perennial flowers, leaving room for bulbs and veggies next year. I'm building 4' wide steps every 20-30 feet so I have access to the beds all the way to the top of the terraces back into the edge of the woods. There are already some 6-year-old evergreens and rose of Sharon (althea) there on the lower 4 terraces, but above them are either woods on the left side of the terraces or 4 more terraces and then woods on the right side of the terraces. I'm using those shrubs to had height and structure where lower-growing flowers, bulbs, veggies, etc. can not. I want to add MORE in the form of Rhododendrons in the edge of the woods and out in the sunnier sections crepe myrtle, more rose of Sharon, forsythia, and dogwood -- those kind of small to medium flowering shrubs/trees. It will take YEARS before this project is too shady, not worried about that, especially since the taller things are on the upper levels. It also gets full blazing sun from noon to dark.

Today I was minding my own business and cleaning dog kennels and mowing grass and watering plants I have not yet got in the ground. And I'd keep on eye on the terraces because I have a BUNCH of new shrubs just waiting to find a home. I would eye a spot, think about it, eye it again, and go get the shovel. Once I had the spot picked out, picturing mature shrubs and the path of the sun and the wooded area around and behind it.... dig the hole and plant it, baby. That was the easy part since the first 3 went into the edge of the woods in old established woods loam. NICE digging.

However, I kept glancing at this one spot and picturing a crepe myrtle there. So I went above the terraces between the edge of the woods and the more established terraces -- carrying topsoil and compost in buckets is hard work and hasn't happened as much as is necessary at the top levels. It was like the frontier of my yard. No man's land. Nice woods dirt above. Lovely terraces below. This was bare red clay. I dug a hole in the bare red clay about 18" around and carried most of a 5 gallon bucket of water.up the steps and dumped in the hole. Water just sat there for more than 10 minutes. Disappointing but expected, It's red clay after all. No one has done anything to help the bare red clay. I let it soak. Came back half an hour later and ALMOST all of the water was gone, so I dug the now-workable clay out to 24" around. I WILL put this crepe myrtle here. It is SUPPOSED to be here.

Used more water -- digs out just fine when there is ANY dampness -- and finally cut down the open edge of the "hole" to make it a shelf instead of a hole. It has a jagged bottom from deliberate shovel cuts that is 48" left to right and the shelf is 24" deep on either side but almost 36" deep into the hillside in the middle. Went back with landscape timbers, cut them to fit, drilled the corners and pegged with rebar so it can't move. And now the front edge of the "shelf" is "dammed" with landscape timbers 20 inches tall. It is a "mini-me terrace."

This is sort of an accidental project, because all I wanted to do was put a shrub in that exact perfect spot... Why? I dunno. It just seems that that particular spot needs a shrub. I try not to question these things. I'm 3 hard hours into this project when I could have planted this shrub somewhere else in half an hour, start to finish, and I'm no where close to done on this project. Once I started, I realized a hole was going to drown my crepe myrtle and one thing led to another and well....

Tomorrow I'll carry up buckets of pine bark fines, mix with the removed clay, add a LOT of chunky gritty mushroom compost. And maybe the day after that too. And maybe it'll take a week to fill this accidental project.

Since this is no longer a simple planting "hole" but took on a life of its own, I'll be adding other things to the "bed" after the crepe myrtle like variegated vinca that I love and have elsewhere and bulbs so all that hard-carried soil doesn't sit and feel neglected. Mmm, have to be big bold flowering bulbs to see them 30 feet up the hill.... I can "see" the vinca spilling over the edge of the bed, the crepe myrtle tall and just off center... Maybe I'm delusional, but that's what needs to be there.

Since water makes the bottom of this new "bed" workable, and other shrubs are doing well once established on lower terraces, a crepe myrtle "should" do well here. The bed is built. SOMETHING wonderful needs to go here if not the crepe myrtle. No, it needs to be this crepe myrtle. Worst that happens is I murder a Myrtle and have to put something else here. But I just "know" this pink crepe myrtle is supposed to flourish here.

Any input on this -- crepe myrtle or something else flowering and tallish?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I think the "spontaneous / serendipitous" method is working great. Take some pictures and put one in your pocket.

Next time you're at a nursery or Lowes or a neikghbor, and see a plant that tweaks your interest, glance at the photo. If it demands to have THAT plant right THERE, you'll know what needs to be there.

As the Spirit moves you.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I might only add that crepe myrtle can vary widely in mature size/ height so that might bear careful checking. Or not.

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