Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson and Kim Palmer are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.

Posts about Tools

New garden brings many lessons

Posted by: Holly Collier Updated: May 16, 2011 - 9:34 AM


It’s been nearly two years since I discovered the sinkhole. My sewer line had broken, and the excavation and repair left me with an unplanned project  -- a blank slate of a front yard scarred from the heavy equipment that compacted the

heavy clay. I wrote about it then, imagining that I would spend all winter dreaming and ordering perennials from catalogs, ready to grab a shovel as soon as the snow had melted. My high-energy boyfriend and I had cleared out landscape rock and spread topsoil in the fall. I had visions of grandeur by spring.

It didn’t happen that way. 

High-energy boyfriend gave me a ring. We got married, sold his house in an

awful market, and then worked on merging two households into one.

As my husband said goodbye to the beautiful gardens he had worked so hard to build, we started planning our own – together, as a wedding gift. We had visions of grandeur by early last summer.

The rain washed away our best-laid plans. Weekend after stormy weekend.  We didn’t get started in earnest until the weather was blistering hot. We stripped the sod, tilled in soil and amendments and shopped for bargain plants for our project. And we learned a lot along the way. Some lessons, and some photos:

  • Tape measures and graph paper are garden tools.
  • The two-hour minimum on a sod cutter rental is dangerous. My husband sliced up the front yard in 25 minutes in the 90-degree heat and was eyeing the back yard – and offering to take up the neighbors’ lawns, too. (“We have to get our money’s worth,” he said.)
  • Gyms are for people who don’t have lawns. (So said my husband after Day 2 of heaving rain-soaked clumps of sod into a dumpster.)
  • Correcting the grade is more difficult than described on
  • Whoever coined the phrase “dirt cheap” has never ordered triple-screened topsoil.
  • A landscape rake is expensive but invaluable. We learned this a little late in the project.
  • The dirt  in a city boulevard  is only slightly better than the dust in an ashtray, only it’s pocked with chunks of broken asphalt.
  • Front-yard gardens create community. There’s nothing like ripping off your lawn and spreading 12 cubic yards of topsoil and compost to pique the curiosity of neighbors, the UPS driver, the mail carrier and curious passersby. Among the questions: “Are you crazy? It’s dangerously hot outside.”
  • A husband who wears a pith helmet while operating the rental roto-tiller piques neighborhood curiosity AND prompts strange looks.
  • Purple Emperor sedum detests daily rain. We replaced it once after it rotted away. When it disappeared again, we switched our plan to asters and Autumn Fire.
  • A landscape is never finished, even after the mulch is spread. High-energy husband has installed a patio and is dreaming of a pergola fence and climbing roses in the back yard.






Over the rain barrel

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: May 12, 2011 - 8:32 AM


All this rain, and me with no rain barrel.


I'm behind the curve on rain barrels, partly because I'm not sure which one to choose, partly because many of them seem to cost a lot so I want to research them carefully first, and then, of course, there's inertia.

Initially I was kind of put off by the looks of them, except those handsome wood barrels that seem to cost heaven and earth. But now I'm seeing a lot more attractive options, some with slightly less scary prices. (Although I'm so not buying the one I saw in a catalog recently that's supposed to look like a landscaping rock but looks more like a cheesy prop from a 1960s B sci fi movie.)

I need help from rain barrel veterans to overcome my indecision and inertia: Has it been worth the effort? What size do I need for a house with a smallish roof area? Any tips for setting them up that I should watch out for? And did you buy yours or go for DIY?

Chainsaw massacre

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 3, 2010 - 10:18 AM


I'm a city girl, and I haven't had much experience with machinery. Sure, I've wielded my share of weedwhackers and mowers.  But for the most part, I was a power-tool virgin. Until last Saturday.


That day, I woke up determined to rent a chainsaw and tackle my gnarliest landscape chores.

I was inspired, in part, by you, dear readers. I blogged a couple weeks ago about fixing landscaping bloopers, specifically a big, ugly bush that had swallowed the front of my house. Your comments were ruthless: "Show no mercy." "Cut it down." "You'll be glad you did." A few of you scolded me for letting it get so overgrown to begin with. And at least one of you pooh-poohed my wimpy assertion that it was too big a project to tackle myself.

OK. Why not? I'm a big girl -- why shouldn't I be able to handle a chainsaw? 


"Gas or electric?" the guy at the rental place asked.


"Ummmm... I'm not sure," I mumbled. "Which one is lighter?"

Electric, he told me. So electric it was. I paid for three hours, went home, donned gloves and goggles, and eagerly plugged in.

I felt a surge of satisfaction as the blade bit through the big, ugly bush. It had many trunks, but the biggest were no thicker than my ankle. Within a half hour, the bush was a pile of branches.

I moved on to the barberry, which had gotten too tall and too thick to trim with hand clippers. Brrrzzzzzz! In no time, they were the height I wanted them. This was great! Might as well attack the juniper while I'm at it.


Finally came the buckthorn. My husband and I had spent many exhausting hours sawing through them last year, but we never got around to killing or removing the trunks. Of course, they were back, bigger and badder than ever. But they were no match for my blade. By the end of three hours, my yard looked like a tornado zone. And I was definitely hooked on chainsaws.


What's your favorite power tool? And any suggestions on what I should plant in place of the big, ugly bush?



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