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Gardening as exercise? No, as torture

Late June is a time to sweat, stink, get dirty and plant things. All at once, that is. The first three are easy enough. The fourth one? Around here, it’s brutal.

That’s because we don’t have dirt where I live. Trees, bushes, flowers—they aren’t planted in dirt. They don’t grow in dirt. The soil—if you can call it that—is heavy clay. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you want to dig a hole 8 inches across and about 6 inches deep. You take your shovel and, using your foot, drive it into the ground. But you can’t use the shovel as a lever to break the dirt (clay) up to remove it from the hole. Instead, you have to drive your shovel into the ground on the opposite side of the hole. Chances are you’ll have to do this twice more, covering the entire circumference of the hole. Finally, you’ve loosened the clay to the point that you can get it out of the hole—and it all comes out in one big clump weighing, oh, 35 or 40 points. That’s a lot to keep balanced on the shovel blade while you try to drop the chunk of clay into a wheelbarrow.

And remember: That’s for a small hole.

Planting even the smallest perennial is a chore, and Sherry and I have spent probably 12 hours over the last three days planting things out back. That may not sound like much, but with the clay, heat and humidity, it’s been only slightly more appealing than the idea of being waterboarded. We have hired landscapers to massively overhaul the front and side of our house, and they have removed every significant bush and shrub we had. So we’re transplanting the stuff we like out back, and, unlike professional landscapers, we have just one guiding principle: “It looks good right there.”

The joy of looking back and appreciating what we’ve done, though, is more than offset by the sheer fatigue that occurs during the digging and planting. Truth be told, after I’ve done about two hours of it, I usually uncork a string of F-sharps, throw my shovel down, fling my soaking headband away, wipe off my head with a wet towel and spend about an hour recovering and realizing that there’s more to do. A lot more.

I hear people say they like gardening because of the exercise. To them, I say, “Stop by my place. I’ve got your gardening exercise right here.” The Fire Department would need a conveyor belt to carry the exhausted bodies from my yard to the ambulances.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
So you live in my neighborhood, then.
Jul. 1st, 2014 02:25 am (UTC)
Yikes! So, besides the heat and dryness, you have to deal with heavy clay soil too? You're due for a considerable upgrade in the next life.

Jul. 1st, 2014 02:30 am (UTC)
It was 110 here today with 7% humidity. I am sucking up iced tea like it was a blood transfusion.
Jul. 3rd, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I worked up a sweat just reading this. I'm sorry I enjoyed it as much as I did, but I was sweating with you, not at you!

We're having 19 folks here - our entire immediate family for a reunion - over the 4th of July weekend. Five are staying with us now, more arriving tonight, still more tomorrow. Work has been so busy, and much of the early part of gardening season was filled with heavy machinery in the backyard digging out all that was left of The Albatross and putting in our new paver stone patio. (Hang on, I'm getting to my point) Last weekend, I spent at least 16 hours working the gardens to get things in the shape I wanted them, doing things that would have normally been done over the course of the entire month of May. I loved every stinkin' hour I spent out there, and honest to God, was excited about all the exercise I was getting.

Now to be fair, I only hit solid clay when I'm planting somewhere where nothing's been planted before, because over the years, so much good soil and compost has been worked in to the garden beds, I have to go wider and deeper to get to the chunkage.

The most recent sticky wicket is the new bed the landscapers put in along one side of the new patio. To make the patio, they put down a huge base of crushed stone that's compacted to the density of a paved road. That base extends out beyond the actual patio by several inches and is, therefore, just under the soil in the garden bed where we planted a hydrangea shrub, two grasses, two hostas, and two catmint plants. Digging those holes was like digging through cement. That was not fun, but the end result made it worthwhile.

Now we're dealing with ten million tiny maple trees growing in the newly planted grass seed (tree sperm, as someone aptly called it) and a kazillion tiny cottonwood trees anywhere the maples didn't reach.

Edited at 2014-07-03 12:46 pm (UTC)
Jul. 3rd, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
You probably won't have time to read this, but I hope the holiday weekend reunion goes smoothly—or, at least, as smoothly as possible. I'm thinking the new patio might give you a time and place to just step out to and give yourself a bit of a breather. I can see you out there at night, the house finally quiet, smoking a cigarette if you smoked, which you don't.
Jul. 3rd, 2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
The smoking scene sounds very relaxing, but without the smoking part. Yes, we're hoping for as smoothly as possible, especially since an adult niece and nephew arrive tonight, and the nephew hasn't spoken to my brother or his own 3 half brothers in 3 years...

Ah, good times.

Did you see the news about kiddo's workplace?
Jul. 4th, 2014 01:36 am (UTC)
I saw the story in the News from a couple of days ago. The Martin Group has gained a good man and a top-notch professional. Here's hoping they let him play to his strengths.

Jul. 7th, 2014 04:04 am (UTC)
I gave the flower bed under the mailbox back to the lawn this year. The lawn has been trying to overtake it for a few years now and I'm tired of fighting it. Damned grass grows everywhere except where I want it to grow.
Jul. 7th, 2014 10:43 pm (UTC)
You've got to pick your spots to battle Father Nature.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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