“Bottom of ze Barrel”

“foul is fair and fair is foul.”

I caught the ESP witches milling around this frost bitten shrub this evening on top of one of my mounds, (and YES, those are my citrus trees in the background!)  Something had prematurely brought this foul trio down from out of my post oak.  My heart immediately sank for I knew exactly what this signified…something or someone had once again died in the Patch, it was too early for the witches to stockpile gulf coast toads after all.  I instinctively grabbed my wrist, and was relieved to find that yes, I still had a pulse… phew.

I decided to consult my own seer to see if she could shed some light on what had happened…

Esmeralda gazed deep into her sparkling rubber ball and pronounced in her overtly charismatic accent…

Must it always be a ridiculous Romanian accent? That is Romanian right?

I naturally added more coins for more wisdom, but as usual, Esmeralda’s impressive worldly advice wasn’t pertinent to anything at all that was going on in my life, or anyone else’s “journey” for that matter.  I grumbled under my breath and read the random (most definitely not Romanian) “Engrish” phrases on the rear of the dispensed fortune card. One particular line towards the end caught my immediate attention…

“Death,ries’ waiting at the bottom of ze barrel”.

On reading this, I immediately grabbed my camera and canteen and ventured down the steps into the Patch.

With Esmeralda’s cryptic, generic fortune telling, I strangely knew exactly where to start looking for a death in the Patch. My fears were confirmed as I honed in on this little barrel cactus after noticing a small something suspended in it…

…and no it wasn’t Bear Grylls, though it did “bare” (ahem) a remarkable sleeping resemblance…

Yes, this will make it into the “looks like” page of the ESP: http://www.eastsidepatch.com/visual-comparativies/

I climbed in closer, and realized that the suspended beast was a poor baby anole, laid to rest on a bed of thorns. My immediate thoughts wandered to the Naboo tribe, they had been awfully quiet of late after all… never a good sign.  I came to the conclusion though that this poor little chap must have froze during our last freeze, his tiny feet were still defiantly gripping tight to the cacti spines.

“RIP, young anole of the barrel”.

I suppose the inherent armory of the barrel cactus had prevented anything from already snacking on his corpse, including Bear Grylls (well you know he would, given half a chance).

“You know me too well ESP, aang, aang, aang, aang.”

And RIP to this abomination, lurking in a brand new, yes, a brand new tray of purchased cherry tomatoes. More of a disgusting Santa beard than a tomato.  Brrr!

Moving quickly on…

“Houston we have a go for launch”.

Engage the advil boosters…
for today, the conditions were perfect to hit my hell-patch.

I have been waiting for the right time…a long deep soaking from the rain, a nice cool sunny day with which to dig, and today fitted the bill perfectly.  The ground in this strip is usually baked so hard it would require a pneumatic drill to even make a dent in it, but not today, oh no, today my pick axe lay off to one side, I didn’t reach for it once, today my shovel went through this soil like butter. Okay not quite, but you get the general picture.

The grade needed to be brought down quite a bit to get rid of the mounding and to allow for a decent future layer of decomposed granite. It was a royal pain working around this desert willow tree. The kid-size mattress in the background I curled up on every thirty minutes or so for a quick rest. That turned some local heads I can tell you.

I also went around the perimeter with a trowel to make sure it was clear of any hanger-on weeds, of which there were plenty.

Then a good over-lapping layer of weed barrier…

…a few bags of decomposed granite thrown over the seams and a few temporary rocks to stop the weed barrier from blowing away and I was done, at least for now.  It will stay like this until another delivery of moss boulders and decomposed granite is in my future…Esmeralda?  My plan for this hell-strip is a mass planting of transplanted and divided bamboo muhly to soften and hide the rectilinear shape, and some soft leaf yucca dotted around to create sharp, vertical contrast.  I will cut holes in the fabric when I settle on the planting arrangement and drop in the plants. I will also hide the straight lines by creeping some of the rocks up onto the sidewalk before I back-fill it all with the granite.

Start to finish in these perfect conditions: five hours, that was the good news. The bad news is that…

…I still have the other side to go, and my right leg is now not quite right!  Now, where are those epsom salts?

Other Patch notables this week:

Agave americana displaying a sharp array of teeth and great coloration.

Gopher plant getting ready to bloom…

…and a visitor rolls into the Patch.

Some fresh sand in the sandbox, life is good, at least it was for this hobbit until she was then dangled over our fish pond to clean off her feet in the icy water. Oh yes, she really liked that.

Image of the week:

One of my recurring nightmares.

Stay Tuned for:

“Hell Raiser, Star Chaser”

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

  • Pam/Digging February 6, 2010, 11:24 pm

    Yes, today was an excellent day for back-breaking work in the garden, ESP. I spent it hauling heavy flagstones and bags of sand into mine. Where’s that Advil?

    The hell strip plans sound great. Can’t help being curious about using that plastic underlay. Does it not tend to hold water when we get one of our Texas downpours? Of course, hardpan might do the same. Good luck with the other side. I’m sure it’ll look fabulous when you get it all planted Patch-style.

    • ESP February 6, 2010, 11:42 pm

      It was the best day to do some hauling and slicing, I agree. It felt like I was gathering Scottish peat digging in the ground today, it just sliced away in slivers…unheard of in a hell-strip. And oh yes, I am hurting big-time. Leah looks at me and says…”I cannot believe you just did that, you have not dug for months, then you do that”? I try to turn to look at her, then I hurt, then I give up…”it was the right time to do it” I said to her without moving a muscle, staring straight ahead of me.

      The plastic is really a porous fabric and it allows the “wet stuff passage” (Gandalf voice). I have used it in select “weedy” places in the Patch with good results. After today I cannot even look at the other side of the hell-strip! Perhaps in a month or so :-)

      I am excited about the planting scheme, it is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time.
      Cheers Pam.

  • The Garden Ms. S February 7, 2010, 2:10 am

    That is one pretty visitor to the patch.

    Good for you for tackling the hell strip! These are the jobs that give great satisfaction – after the aches and pains subside :)

    Hi Ms. S, the cat is a looker. I am so happy that he came over to the Patch, and hope he will pay a return visit, this way my hobbits get to play around with a cat and pet it etc, meaning I do not have to get one! A few people on my street took the soft ground opportunity and did some major front yard digging, got to love that, I even got a cheer from a car! It seems everybody likes to see the demise of a typical weed and grass hell-strip, myself included.

  • Linda Lehmusvirta February 7, 2010, 4:19 pm

    Oh, wow! I feel your excitement and feel your pain. It is a joyous day to make new ground and put in a new idea. But yes, I would be shaking in my mud-clogged boots at the idea of doing the other side. As I hobbled over for more Advil.

    Hi Linda.

    I cannot wait to get busy with the planting scheme, most of muhly I already have, with some select dividing this should go a long way. I will need about five soft leafed yuccas for this half of the strip. I am planning on getting the plants in first (to get them going) then follow up with the boulders and granite. The earth that I dug out of here has formed some more ESP “hillocks” which will get larger when I dig out the other side.

    The hardest part is always starting, oh, and waking up the following morning!

  • Jenny February 7, 2010, 4:47 pm

    I bet you had a great sense of satisfaction after you finished that back breaking project. We got in the tub last night after our efforts of the day. It was a glorious day- so much better than today. I worked outside all the same but although good exercise none of it was any fun. The slow realization of how many more plants are “kicking the bucket”.( must look that one up) Is that a cat? Sure looks like a wild thing to me and your poor anole. I love those little guys. And the gopher plant. Did that come through the cold with no damage, unprotected? If so I must give one a try.

    Hi Jenny. It was really rewarding to finally do the ‘big push’, and tackle at least half of the hell-strip, half was was enough for me for one day…lets just say today I have been moving somewhat slowly, with the odd “ooo” and “owch” thrown in when standing up.
    I know what you mean on the dying plant front, my particular concerns are my Barbados cherry and my dwarf bottle brushes, they look most “ill” right now. Almost all of my bamboo have been stripped clean of their foliage, so it will be interesting to see what they will be up to this year. The gophers all did well unprotected, right now they look about the healthiest and vibrant plants in the patch, all sending out a bunch of new growth.


  • Nicole February 8, 2010, 3:11 pm

    Interesting post. In a couple months I’ll be tackling our hell strip in our new house and I have been going over planting choices.

    Thanks Nicole.
    I have had so many ideas running around my head for what to do with the H/S, after this winter, and seeing what made it through the yucca was an easy choice. I am thinking a combination of bamboo muhly and other ornamental grasses to fill the area in. Good luck with yours!

  • TexasDeb February 8, 2010, 4:41 pm

    Well done Patchster! Hope your back forgives you soonest. The pain always subsides more quickly when there is the prospect of a long planned for improvement as reward. And think of this -your back would hurt just as much if you’d dug that out some other time of year, only you’d have had heat exhaustion to deal with on top of everything else. So good on you for forging ahead.

    RIP little anole. It pains me to see the dead ones, they’re so much fun to share a space with.

    Thanks Debster.

    I am feeling more human again today. I have an awful feeling that the other side of the strip is in my destiny (Esmeralda and Germi both saw it in a Tarot reading) for this upcoming weekend. I am determined to make good use of all this rain, and was amazed at just how soft the ground was in this area, It is usually baked clay and completely futile to dig…I have tried the pick axe on it before and lost a couple of teeth.

    What a strange place for the little anole to draw it’s final breath! I am glad the Bear Grylls could not get in there to devour the little chap. RIP.


  • Fits and Starts Austin February 8, 2010, 5:11 pm

    I nominated you for a Sunshine award! See my blog at:

    Thanks for the award, my reputation apparently does not precede me :-) As much as I would like to get into these awards they just take to much time for me to execute. I am grateful you thought of the Patch though, I really am.


  • Germi February 9, 2010, 1:36 am

    HA! There was a ticking in my brain on Friday evening and a mist clouded my field of vision … and I saw it… the shovel, the HellStrip, the mattress – but it was the BEAUTIFUL Opuntia tree (good job, ESP!) that oriented me. NO! You are attacking your HellStrip WAY before me! Okay, I have to hurry up and get my part of this Hellstrip Challenge 2010, ESP and Witchy G, underway!
    I can’t wait to see the result of your fantastic scheme … it is going to be a vision! I’m going to add Muhlenbergia capilaris to my HellStrip in honor of your planting. Not biting your style, mind you, merely an HOMAGE…
    The little anole made me sad, but I very much approve of the dramatic mise en scene it created for its end of life tableaux. Bravo. I appreciate theatre in all its forms, especially when it happens in a garden! Lovely, lamented anole!
    The teeth on that A. americana aureo-marginata (it IS called that, isn’t it? I might have just brazenly made up that name!) REALLY make me want to bite something.
    By the way – are you a fan of Mario Bava, by any chance? If so, you have to watch the beginning of ‘Black Sunday’ – scary, but the shot you started the post with made me think of it. Make sure the Hobbits are asleep!
    Another exciting visit to The Patch! THANK YOU!!!
    Gypsy G, Esmerelda’s sister

    • ESP February 9, 2010, 7:58 pm

      Hi G.

      The Opuntia tree is slowly gaining in height, I try to be as brutal as I can with her up-pruning. I am sure I should probably be more aggressive with this activity, but after the agonizing demise of the Cactus man, I am leery of such drastic measures.

      “They are under Hellstrips orders and they’re off”“and making the first turn it is ESP who has the short lead from Witchy G who got off to a slow start in the Hellstrip challenge 2010 because of some impromptu shovel sharpening in her shed…” I look forward to seeing what you come up with in your little strip of Hell. I am just amazed you have any time left to do this, with your work and book writing! With each others support we will prevail and freeze our hell strips over, wait, bad choice of words after this winter!

      Yes, poor little anole. I must admit though, the Bear Grylls eating “all things dead” image quickly cheered me up.

      Agave americana var.marginata ‘Aurea’ it is indeed Germi. I have some Aurea babies planted around the base of the Opuntia, but they have also taken a hammering this winter, I lost one for sure, it just sort of vanished in a puff of mush!

      I am not familiar with Mario Bava but will check into him. The Hobbits never sleep!

      Bye for now Gypsy G, (sister of Voltar AND Esmeralda).



Leave a Comment