“Hell Raiser, Star Chaser”

I woke up this weekend morning like I always do…

Oh I don’t think so!…

Yes, that’s a little more like it!

I rolled over for a few more minutes of hobbitless blissful slumber, then something slowly started to creep quietly into my subconsciousness, something that immediately started to niggle at my quiet dream-state psyche, but what was it?  The niggle turned into some obligatory mouth forming of some “sleep-words” that apparently became grumblings that quickly mutated into a full-fledged nightmarish scream… “uuuuhhhh?…Noooooooo!”

“HELL-STRIP ESP? …You’re Not Done Soldier!”


One sleep-deprived bloodshot eye reluctantly snapped open, followed by a deep sense of digging foreboding,  for I now knew exactly what was in-store for me again today…yes, more digging in the now only semi-softened Hell-Strip in the Patch.

Oh who am I kidding?  I jumped out of bed with a smile on my face whistling for some reason the theme tune from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, (perhaps in memory of some hard summer pick-axing I had performed in the same area last year before giving up)?

After a typically British breakfast of clogged arteries champions, and yet another mild (not had one of these since my Scotland trip) cardiac twinges, I felt fighting fit and ready for some Hell-Strip action.

“Yeah, Baby, Yeah!”

Here it is in all it’s compacted, weedy and irritatingly mounded glory.

I had a distinct sense of Déjà vu as I started nibbling away in the first corner. This side of the hell strip was a lot different in character then the one I gnawed out last weekend, this side was stodgy, heavy, black and clay-like. The clay would keep sticking to my shovel, which is heavy at the best of times, being of an all steel construction (anything else I snap in seconds, sometimes before I even leave the store), and my boots?..By the time I had finished this little triangle I was an inch taller! I slowly realized this was not going to be an afternoon job like the previous side of the hell strip.

“What a piece of work is a hell-strip, how un-noble in the weedy season,
how lacking in aesthetic faculties, in form and moving,

how dull and unadmirable in compaction, how like an … etc.etc.

My day laborers naturally joined me on the construction site armed with a bowl of milk to attract a neighborhood cat…that took about five minutes.  I welcomed the distraction.  And the digging and hacking continued.

The opuntia tree received a bit of an early pruning to allow me better access around it to my wheelbarrow. This is one of the few sago palms that escaped relatively “un-browned” through our freezing temperatures this year.  I think the opuntia acted like an umbrella protecting it.

If you are wondering what the mad color scheme is on our front door?  Well…

the pink fairy paid us a visit this week and granted us one wish…we decided that our old house needed a new lick of paint.

“Did he say the Blue Fairy Joe”?

“I don’t think so David.”

I think she wanted a wish that was a little more errr “magical?’

And the mounds continued to grow and grow.  There is another very peculiar law of physics that exist when digging out the earth in a hell-strip. As soon as it is lifted out of the strip, it apparently instantly doubles in mass.  In no time at all, I found I was quickly running out of areas to put it, the solution?  Some creative moundage around my front garden…perfect!  What started out as a “clean out the hell-strip” project had quickily morphed into full-on reconstructive surgery on my entire front of house…needless to say, my grinning at this point was beginning to take on “Here’s Johnny” (The Shining) proportions. Everyone ran into the house.

And the digging and hacking intensified.

I excavated this…

And dug out this…

This retainer wall has always disturbed me, with it’s straight lines mirroring the sidewalk, oh no, this had no place in my fluid master plan.

“Ach, ESP!  That wall was the only thing keeping the English oot! I canna believe ye wud knock doon the”…

Oh shut your pie-hole William.

The base of this mound is going to have an arc of moss boulders to replace the demolished straight wall, and the mounds will be covered in a good layer of decomposed granite before planting. The curves, even at this stage, create much more visual movement to the once static scene…if it will only stop looking less like a construction site!

Now, where did I leave the Aleve from last weekend?

In the Patch this week…

New growth in the pond, spring is knocking.

Blossom on a Meyer Lemon making the back-deck smell like spring.

Loquats forging ahead…

…and these strange holes have formed on my pine-cone cactus…are those eyes in there?  Brrrr… (back violently spasms followed my a series of small, almost comical, right knee movements).

Nessy emerging from the murky depths of my feeder pond for it’s annual scrubbing.

Inspirational “Concept” of the week:

In the designers words…

“Books are always considered as static objects in people’s mind, transferring through words, pictures and imagination they produce. To break this traditional impression, I embed some industrial design elements in this prose florilegium which name is “book on life”. People can plant whatever they like in the left side of the book, they should care for it and watch it grow. During this process readers do not only learn the meaning of life but they create life themselves. 8 small LED lights are fixed on the bottom of the plants, in the evening the book can be turned on to become a lamp with the unique light reflect from the leaves”.

Designer: Eric Zhang

Stay Tuned for:

“Planes, Trains and North Sea Ferries”

All material © 2009 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by  late  (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.


  • Diana February 16, 2010, 7:46 am

    Wow. That sure is some endeavor! You almost had ME reaching for the Aleve after reading all about the excavating and digging and moving of dirt. I do like the new mound in the front bed, though. Isn’t it funny how 1 thing always begets another in the world of projects? But it will be a good thing, and I’m sure the hell strip will be fabulous when you are done with it as well.

  • ESP February 16, 2010, 10:20 am

    Hi Diana.
    Yes, what started off as a hell-strip make-over seems to have somewhat expanded to encompass most of my front garden! Yikes! And you are right, one thing always turns into ten. I am having a lot of fun in here though, I am always happiest tearing something up then rebuilding it (hopefully for the better).

    I like the new mounding too, even though it is quite bare right now, I can see the end result through squinted eyes.
    Thanks for dropping in Dianna.

  • Bob Pool February 16, 2010, 7:50 pm

    Something about the thought of eating beans at breakfast just about made me spew. That just ain’t right.

    Digging out the hell strip is the kind of exercise you need, not to weigh 300#, when eating like that. Man that looked like work. That retaining wall looks like it was built to last with all the concrete under it. A real tough job to be sure. Did you know your water meter was there? I bet when the shovel hit that cast iron it jarred your joints a bit.

    I do like the look of the Sago and the thornless pear cactus together, totally different but complimentary of each other. Is that tree in the front yard a Vitex? If it is I bet that takes some work to keep it tree like. I had a couple at our old place and I swear they grew faster than I could cut. I much prefer the tree look that you have.

    If we ever meet I will explain the reason the dirt grew this time and why at other times you can plant a tree and the dirt you dig out isn’t enough to fill the hole back in even with the tree in it. You will like the story. It was told to me by an old man in Liberty Hill.

    Are you going to any of the Garden Design a Go Go’s? I will if you will.

    Hi Bob.
    Are you kidding me?…Heinz baked beans are little-orange-British-breakfast-icons, “just about made me spew?” Bob!
    And it is right, oh yes so very right! They may take a couple of hundred years to catch on over here, but they will, mark my words! THEY WILL! (insert George Costanza’s voice). PS. Leah agrees with your bean sentiments wholeheartedly, her palate is biased strictly towards spicy black beans, such a Texan! I love a full English breakfast, I really do, then a light lunch of Shepherds Pie, followed by an even lighter dinner of Beef Wellington…ahh a perfect day :-)

    I did know the man-hole was there, but it was almost covered, I am thinking it will make a great support for a container…is that even allowed? I do not want to talk about that retainer wall.

    The tree in the front is a Vitex and yes it is almost a full-time job keeping up with all of it’s new growth, a bit of a scrapper, but I love it! When we first moved in it was all “in your face” way too low, but a few years of up-pruning has it looking a little more regal…and the bees go completely crazy on it when it blooms, can’t beat that!

    I cracked up with your “strange laws of gardening physics” …and I have had that happen also, I think we all have: “Where did all the dirt go”? And I have found that it always happens when you have no more good dirt left! There is a funny book with this content…”A Gardener’s Alternative Universe”!
    I would very much like to hear the story, perhaps you could tell me it over a beer at a Design a Go Go, they will have beer right? To get the creative juices flowing? Yes, I dare if you dare, (pulls up a dark collar on his full-length rain-coat, and looks nervously around.”

  • Jenny February 16, 2010, 8:05 pm

    OK ESP, it’s time you purchased a pick axe for that job at the front. We have 2 over here- I’m not sure why but they certainly get plenty of use. Next- what is all this “relatively ‘unbrowned’ ” thing. I call that green! and blossom on your lemon tree, when mine have not a single leaf. OK, no more criticism! I’m glad you are unbrowned and have blossom and will have lemons when the GC visit in the fall. I’m just jealous, that’s all. Keep up the good work, and I love your little pink fairy but where’s the little pixie?

    Hi Jenny.

    I have an assortment of pick axes but you know what? I have been waiting and waiting for the right conditions to get in there and tackle the dreaded hell-strip: a butt-load of rain, followed by some cool-air digging weather…the last two weeks have provided that as if on cue – no axes required, thank goodness. The conditions were almost perfect, I wish I could say the same about my muscles, though I have to say this weekend was a little easier then the last, and by next weekend I should be back to my usual shoveling form. Note to self: shovel something mundane every weekend come rain or shine to keep in shape: If you see a silhouette at dusk in custom stone moving a pile of granite from here to over there, you know who it is.

    Regarding the “relatively ‘unbrowned’ ” thing, you are right, this sago is totally green compared to all the others in the Patch that have turned into copper, I am just used to looking at depressing sago palms at this point, this one got lumped into the depression! :-) Yes, It really came through the cold very well…all hail Opuntia!

    The little pixie…or the little devil?


  • TexasDeb February 18, 2010, 10:12 am

    I’m so happy you keep posting about your heroic efforts. I am so exhausted by the reading it is just the excuse to keep putting off my own herculean chores.

    So tell me – what WILL you call that area once it is all lovelified? It certainly won’t qualify for the “hell strip” reference much longer. “Former Hell Strip” and “Heaven Strip” just don’t have the right zing to them for the ESPians.

  • ESP February 18, 2010, 8:00 pm

    Hi TD.
    I am sure a lot of people are sick of hearing about my Hell-Strip, but is is my major project right now…I have to document it. Glad you like reading about it’s progress.

    Yes great thinking…this area will need a new name. Perhaps because of all the mounds I will call it “Hobbington” or “The Shire” hey, I could even install a scaled down Hobbit house into the side of one of the small hills? Now you have me thinking!!!
    Cheers TD.

  • Germi February 21, 2010, 6:03 pm

    I NEVER tire of hearing about HellStrip adventures! And even though I DO understand Texas Deb’s point – to me a HellStrip is ALWAYS a HellStrip, no matter how beautiful. It is that netherworld that is mine but also public – so no matter WHAT I do, it is always compromised by foot traffic, dog poo, falling skate boarders, and (in my neighborhood) late night beer drinking teenagers listening to thumping jungle bass. HellStrip!
    I am hanging my head in shame. I will NOT be able to tackle MY HellStrip until late May, by my estimation. But that doesn’t mean this still can’t be a throwdown! And it is fitting that yours is tackled first, since my Hellstrip design is going to be a response to what you do, and what is already existing in your Strip. (am I giving too much away?)
    That Opuntia tree is rivaling the San Antonio Honeysuckle Lane one! GORGEOUS!!!
    I can’t wait to see what you have planned for the mounds. It sounds very transformative!

    Sorry, ESP, but I’m with Leah and Bob – those beans are just NOT RIGHT. Gimme some good ole refried beans on the side of my Huevos Rancheros and … slurp. Heaven! But who am I to turn my nose up at an Englishman’s breakfast? You’ve given us High Tea, Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips, and Guiness. Maybe Heinz Baked Beans are next … but I kind of doubt it! ;-)

    Thanks for the inspiration, friend!
    Witchy G.!

    • ESP February 21, 2010, 11:39 pm

      Hi G.
      It seems all I have is Hell Strip adventures these days…hence the reason I augmented my most recent post with some of my insane traveling fiascoes, just to mix it up a little! I am also hanging my head in shame and pain…I had absolutely no idea how tough the Hell-Strip was going to be when I started it, here I am, three weeks into it, and it is still kicking my butt! This will be a two month solid endeavor by the time I have it all planted-up, (and I consider myself a pretty fast hacker of the ground and computers).

      Thanks on the Opuntia front…I am not worthy…And I am most definitely not San Antonio Honeysuckle Lane worthy! I am still thinking about what is going to populate the mounds! Does your comment suggest you will have an Opuntia tree for the Witchy-G strip? I can’t wait for you to reveal your plans. Give it up G! Give it up.

      I am going to ignore your English breakfast bean comment…I do want to remain friends after all!…You will be telling me next that you do not like “spotted dick?” Those “English” sweet beans are absolutely the best compliment to a traditional English fry-up, well they just are!



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