I Found My Thrill

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that winter has finally decided to leave us alone. This weekend we took advantage of temperatures above fifty degrees and ventured back out into the yard. Finally, we were able to make progress toward planting the berm we dug out last fall.

One of our two berms with freshly spread mulch.

No need to elaborate on the satisfaction that results from seeing a plan come together. I was surprised it only took one truck load of mulch to cover it. And even more surprised when I dug holes to plant the blueberry bushes. The soil was still as dark and rich as it was the day we created the swale. Big, fat earthworms were everywhere inside, hopefully devouring all of the leaf mulch we buried under the soil, along with the branches and other yard debris. A good starting base for these plants because of their love for acidic soil. Two types of blueberries, Patriot and Elliott, should mean we will get fruit from mid-June through the end of July.

Without a doubt, the thing that made me most happy was the water retention. The whole purpose of digging out the swale was to capture rainwater spilling out of our gutters. The moisture in the soil of the berm was very reassuring. Particularly because my son and I planted two cherry trees on the back of the berm. If it hasn’t already, the swale will create an underground reservoir of water, providing the trees with their private stash of refreshment in the hot summer months.

The trees themselves should help hold the berm in place over time. I looked all over for recommendations on how close to plant them to the little hill, but ended up just having to guess. I’m sure they’ll be fine. We planted the trees in early March, and they’ve already begun to blossom despite the extended cold days we’ve experienced.

A closeup of a cherry tree branch.

The previous owners of our house planted daffodils in strange locations. We transplanted them around the bases of the trees to help with grass suppression and to attract nectar-seeking insects early in the season. They don’t look great in the photos because we’d just finished replanting them, but it’s supposed to rain today, so I’m hopeful they will perk up with a little added water and warm weather.

Another thing we took the time to do, was mulch out around what should be a rain garden. A rain garden is just a fancy way of identifying a low point in the contour of the yard, where water collects naturally. After removing a dead tree there last year, we added straw and mulch in the area we wanted to plant. I built a “well” with some scrap wood that was laying around and filled it with potting soil. We’ll plant vining flowers in it, and sun-loving flowers in the rest of the bed that will bloom at different times over the summer. Because this is a natural low point, it shouldn’t need to be watered as often as say, the beds right next to the house.

One of the cherry trees with daffodils planted in new mulch. 
The rain garden with new mulch. The daffodils are planted around a crape myrtle tree we obtained from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

This weekend also gave us the opportunity to cut the grass for the first time this season. After planning out new sections of the yard over the last year and a half, we’ve reduced the area to mow in the back yard by about one third. It was a little entertaining, at least to me, to realize how much of a rhythm we’d fallen into over the years as far as a process for cutting the grass. It really threw me off when I had to remind myself not to mow over the trees we’d planted, and to let the future fruit tree guilds in the yard begin their first real year of growth. It was also nice to recognize the reduced amount of time it took to mow the entire yard.

I was examining the guild area we planned out last fall. While it doesn’t look like much, the mini berms seem to have done their job with water collection as well. The two apple trees and peach tree are coming along nicely. The three new trees I planted last fall also seem to have made healthy starts to the season. Though, they still look like sticks in the ground. The peach blossoms, especially, made me hopeful.

Peach blossoms on our tree that is now approaching its fourth year of growth. 

I’m looking forward to planting squash in the mini berms in mid June. Their vines will provide excellent ground cover that will eventually become mulch. Plus, because they will be growing in their own protected space, we’ll have more room in the annual vegetable garden. The blooms from the squash combined with the help of the comfrey, chamomile, nasturtiums, dill and other guild plants will be an excellent resource for bees.


Mini swales and berms built in the fruit tree guild will create pockets of water to support the garden through the summer.


Of course, all the work we did to create reservoirs of water around the yard will not be enough. I’ll still have to come up with a way to harvest more rainwater to use when the rains become sparse. More on that next time.

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