A filthy, filthy Mother’s Day weekend: Faking a retaining wall

A few weeks back, after the long slog of winter, spring burst upon us like she’d been waiting months to say hello. Which she had. This is the first spring in our new home, and surprises have abounded like bunnies hopping on our patio. Which they do.

You may remember how, last year, I spent some time cutting down ivy (both nontoxic and poison) from our fence and trees. I continued my search-and-destroy mission during the one nice day we had in February, cutting the vines from our few remaining ivy-ed trees, and after the requisite shower of leaves cleared, we’ve been rewarded with a much clearer river view than we had last year. As a bonus, the trees themselves seem to be gasping in gratitude: one has leaves growing up its trunk, something I’ve never seen before, and must be the result of its release.

There's a river down there, in the sun's glare.


As the days grow longer, I spend my evenings engaging in various lawn projects: clearing leaves from our “back nine” (the other side of the fence); killing poison ivy in its tracks; planting new flowers and stopping new ivy from growing up trees. Weekends, though: that’s where it’s at. Last weekend I spray-painted my index finger into numbness (I’m serious; it barely has feeling back now) and freshened our craigslist-purchased 9-piece patio set from rusted, tan dinginess into white, glossy glory.

Even the old cushions look happier.


But the real fun came yesterday, when I decided to clean up a mess leftover since we cut off some very leggy forsythia last year. Over the years, the shrubs had grown gangly, shading the soil beneath and keeping anything from growing, and over the time the dirt from the hillside made its way, inexorably, onto our patio. Plus, big bare dirt patch didn’t look very nice.

The forsythias lived under the juniper tree, and were very, very big.


During last year’s Chainsaw Day, my dad took out the shrubs, and cut them back to more manageable stumps. But the dirt was not growing any grass–it was too dry and dead, and the shade didn’t help–so I figured I’d get some mulch and ground cover and maybe dig out some of the dirt.

Following three days of rain, yesterday was the perfect digging day: 60 degrees, and damp. So I started digging. Inside of twenty minutes, I found eight stepping stones that once led a path out the side gate; the deepest one was buried about two inches. So I dug more into the hillside. And more. And found a sprinkler head–six inches underground. The hillside’s slip into our patio had apparently been happening a very long time; makes me wonder what else is in there. Bodies? A pirate ship?

Being my father’s daughter, I rummaged around behind our shed until I found a long, discarded 2×12 board, and several large slate-like stones. I’d bought river rock and mulch at Lowe’s already, so I set about building a mini-retaining wall.

I’d also bought topsoil, thinking I’d need it to fill in the dead spots, but it turns out I had all the topsoil I needed; it just happened to be five feet out of place. I laid down the river rock, propped the board and the stones, filled in the soil, and five hours after I started, I had this. Like our kitchen island, this is a prototype: some day, maybe we’ll have a real retaining wall, built with stuff that’s not from our junk pile.

Here’s another view.

The paving stones are still dirty, but what do you want after being buried for 15 years?

Turns out, on this Mother’s Day, I don’t need Calgon to take me away. Just a shovel and some dirt.

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One Response to A filthy, filthy Mother’s Day weekend: Faking a retaining wall

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