Some images from the labyrinth as the days grow shorter.
The northeast corner of the labyrinth has been neglected for years. Nominally a quiet sitting area, with a redwood glider nestled among ferns and lily-of-the-valley, it became an overgrown dead-end — lovely to look at, but useless as a meditative station. Also, the redwood slats were rotten.
So when my brother-in-law Daniel made us a lovely bench for Christmas, I knew it was time to rework that corner. I pulled out the glider and began yanking out the undergrowth, clearing a spot for the new bench. I cut a 3×5 foot piece of RAM board to give me a guide as to how much flagstone I needed, and to keep some of the undergrowth from growing back.
This was over a month ago, and that’s where the trouble started. For years I have been heading out to Mulch & More on Highway 34 for my flagstone needs, but this time I was told they had a new policy: whereas before they had an open pallet of flagstone standing on its end so you could riffle through like records, now they leave it lying flat and you have to buy what’s on top.
However, what was on top were small pieces of flagstone for which I had no use. I asked about the policy — they changed because they were getting stuck with “a lot of waste.” Hm, I thought to myself, and now you want me to buy your waste?
But I was determined to kill with kindness. I kept going out there twice a week, smiling and waving and cheerfully leaving when there was nothing I could give them money for because no one else had given them money for the stone I couldn’t use. Finally, this Monday, there was a piece of flagstone on top I could use. I bought it, pointedly telling the office staff that it was great I could finally give them money for one piece of flagstone. The young man who assisted me out in the yard confessed that he thought the policy was self-defeating, but what is one to do?
I posted about it on Facebook, and Craig recommended I try Vining Stone out in Sharpsburg. Yesterday I drove out there, and you will scarcely believe this, but even though they have basically the same policy, they’re not idiots about it. (Their words, actually.) I came home with plenty of stone to finish my project.
I had to take all of that out in order to till the soil and rake it flatter.
Still in rough shape.
For an Abortive Attempt, it will do. I’ll revisit it in the coming week. I can reshape some of the stones for a tighter fit, and I’d like to make the apron circular.
The next Successive Approximation will find a way to include these:
Anybody got a way to drill large holes in flagstone?
— — — — —
 Yes, records. I’m old. Get off my lawn.
Remember how the water symbol endstone crumbled at my touch?
After a good solid rain, it completely disintegrated:
Oh well. Try again later.
This week’s project has been to reseed the labyrinth — FOR THE LAST TIME, I TELL YOU. As I’ve mentioned before, the soil in the labyrinth is topsoil — not garden soil — that I just shoveled on top of the paving stones. It’s only two inches deep; below that is red clay. It becomes impacted without my even walking the labyrinth every day, and on top of that there’s been too much shade for most grass to grow, even that which promises to be “deep shade.”
So after my back yard neighbor removed the large pecan tree that provided most of the shade, I decided I would give the thing one more try before settling for bare dirt and weeds.
My original plan was to do a small test area to see if my idea worked. I bought one bag each of soil conditioner and compost.
I mixed them. (Time will tell whether I will regret using the conditioner, which is basically fine wood chips. Bare feet may not be happy.)
I tilled the soil by hand with a garden weasel contraption, sprinkled the conditioning mixture on it, sprinkled seed on it, then re-weaseled it all.
Then I decided — probably hubristically — that I should just go ahead and do the whole labyrinth. What could go wrong? That meant multiple trips to The Home Depot for conditioner, compost, and seed, and not all at the same time.
Bit by bit, path by path, I got it done, until finally, this morning, I was finished.
And now we wait.
The lovely water endstone that I finally got around to making on Monday?
Too much water? Not enough water? I need advice.
More disturbingly, my back yard neighbor took down the pecan tree. He had alerted us that he was going to do so, but it was still a surprise to realize on Tuesday that there was a crew on the other side of the fence — my new fence — removing the giant. I had left stuff out, so I quickly moved everything breakable away from the fence. Good thing, because Thursday morning there was a chunk of limb where the Dancing Faun sculpture stands.
It also left a huge mess of smaller limbs and sawdust everywhere. On Thursday afternoon, two of the workers rang my doorbell to offer to clean up the back yard; we went back to double-check for damage, but I told them I’d pick up the sticks and use them in the firepit. (I’m assuming they couldn’t vacuum the sawdust up.)
All of that is just niggly little stuff, of course. The sawdust will incorporate into the landscape, and that will be that.
What I’m having a very hard time with is the loss of the vast green-ness that was once part of the labyrinth’s “outer wall.”
I am also now missing a great deal of shade:
The good news is that I won’t have to put up with pecans all over the place any more — and maybe fewer squirrels digging holes? — and perhaps I will finally be able to get grass to grow.
More work is required.
I had a completely free day this Monday, and so I was able to get out into the labyrinth and get Things done.
I did a general cleanup of ivy, bamboo, and other growth.
I planted a couple of macho ferns on either side of the nook…
These are European macho ferns and should grow to about 5 feet tall, but without spreading aggressively as some cultivars do.
I planted some echinacea in the upper area…
And I finally got around to re-making the water endstone for the labyrinth…
(You can read about the original project and its purpose here.)
I had enough concrete left over to pour a little base next to one of the macho ferns to put a candle stand on. (For years I’ve just been jamming it into the ivy to make it stand.)
I had help, of course, from the Assistive Feline™.
This is her glamour shot. She sat there for about thirty minutes waiting for the chipmunk to make a move.
And I had time to write a letter.
A good day. Of course, yesterday my neighbor had the big pecan tree taken down, so I have a little clean-up to do today before I can move on to the next project: cables across the top of the fence, for art thingies.
When last we left our hero, I was working on leveling the granite circle in the center of the labyrinth. I was also excavating the drainage system beneath the bowl, and creating a seal between the bowl and the other components so that leakage of dirt into the bowl would not be as big a problem for the next ten years.
I leveled the quarters with paving bricks, and replaced the river stones in the drainage pipe.
I placed the bowl back in place and began fitting the rubber pipe insulation around the rim.
I tested for the gap. On the east side, the rubber gasket idea was perfect. On the west side, though, the gap was bigger. I considered leveling the bowl, but there’s a second, tiny drain hole on that side so I left the bowl tilted. I adjusted the gasket level instead.
Also, the L-brackets showed when the granite was reinstalled, so I cut those in half. I ended up cutting the long pieces in half as well, and using the built-in adhesive strip to hold it in place. (Hold that thought.)
Finally I was done.
Or was I?
As I walked away from it, I realized that rather than use the L-brackets and have a mishmash of unconnected pieces, I could just run a single piece of the long insulation all the way around. Hm. After the hurricane gets done, I’ll re-explore.
Next project on my list: make a new endpoint for water. Translation: the labyrinth is basically four long lines that wrap around each other, and at the end of those a couple of years ago I created little concrete markers with the alchemical symbols for the four classical elements. Unfortunately — and ironically — I used too much water in the endpoint for water, and so it immediately crumbled.
Even more embarrassingly, this is the second time I’ve done that. So I’ll redo it again, and finally water will look more like earth:
To be continued…
For a while now I’ve noticed that the granite circle at the center of the labyrinth was not level and for some reason that bothered me. I would show you a photo, but for some reason I do not have a good shot of the center.
Here it is ten years ago before I build the bowl for the center:
And here it is last fall, all cluttered and dirty:
For those of you just joining us, the center is four pieces of black granite with a ceramic bowl set into the ground. The bricks are aligned with the points of the compass.
Anyway, I have a short list of improvement projects that I’ve been waiting on warm weather to do, and on Friday I decided to knuckle down and start with this one. As we go through the process here you will understand why I was reticent about starting.
First, we remove the granite pieces and give all the ants time to find new homes.
I thought I had marked them on the back as to their location (NE, SW, etc.) but I couldn’t see any such markings. Perhaps they’ve faded.
I placed them so that I could remember which one went where. (They are not quite equal.)
Let’s pause for a second. The levelness of the center was not the only problem I wanted to solve. Beneath the bowl was a drainage system: a 6″ PVC pipe extending down three feet, with river rocks both inside it and around it. After ten years, it had finally filled up, and I was going to have to excavate it.
Also, there was a gap between the bowl and the granite, which allowed dirt to wash into the bowl (and fill up the drainage system). In fact, the bricks don’t actually rest on the bowl; I used four little scarabs to prop them up. (One disappeared at some point.)
So: 1. level, 2. drainage, 3. gap.
The first problem I faced was getting the bowl out. I was terrified of breaking it. I loosened the soil around it with the weeding tool.
Then, using other garden implements, I dug out around the bowl…
…and removed it.
A closer look:
The pipe had to be cleared out; I decided to leave the outer rocks alone. Ick! I may regret that, but if it becomes a problem, I’ll go back in. Some day. Cras melior est, as they say.
The bowl, freed:
Slow work, digging out the muck and removing the river stones that filled the pipe. I had put the stones in there with the idea that when water collected at the bottom of the pipe, mosquitoes would be too lazy to work their way down to it. I think it worked.
River rocks, collecting:
Done. I didn’t dig all the way down to the bottom of the pipe, because my arms wouldn’t reach much further. Also, my plan was to create seals between the bowl, the pipe, and the granite, so that there wasn’t as much leakage of dirt into the bowl.
The bowl, all clean. There is a message on the bowl, on the bottom, I think, that I wrote when I installed it, something about finding your path. I chose not to look for it.
I had no clue what I was going to use to create the aforementioned seals. These notches seemed problematic.
I headed to Home Depot and lo! there were these pipe insulators, rubber…
Turn turn kick turn — yes, it would work! (Hold that thought.)
I also decided to use some landscaping bricks to help level the granite.
And here’s where I left it Friday afternoon.
To be continued…
Have you ever wished for a plain old dirt path labyrinth?
But that’s what I’ve got:
It’s never been this bad. And I have a group coming to visit on Saturday, a Mindful Walk. I’ve warned their leader that it’s not all green and pretty, and there’s not enough time to plant seed and have it come up—even if it did come up, I wouldn’t want mindful pilgrims trampling it. So maybe next week, after I get back from my jaunt up to the new burn site.
This past spring I replanted the grass in the labyrinth — again — so that it would look reasonably beautiful for the spring equinox. That was a mixture called “contractor’s seed,” and it was a blend of winter rye grass and fescue. Guaranteed, etc.
The winter rye sprouts quickly and is lovely, but it is a short-term seasonal solution. After a few months, it dies. No worries, because then the fescue sprouts and establishes itself, right?
Not so much.
Even worse, I was gifted a bag of seed from a grass specialist, which three weeks ago I planted in a test patch visible in the above photo. This seed is zoysia, and I have misgivings. Yes, it provides a lush, thick carpet of grass, but it will also devour anything in its path. Our front yard is zoysia, and before we installed my parking place there was a brick walkway which I had to laboriously uncover at least once a year from the zoysia’s encroachment.
Still, this seed was professionally advised, so I thought what the hey? Plant a test patch, see if it’s actually going to come up in the shade, and then I can decide from there.
The two paths on the left have been seeded with zoysia and watered every day. The path on the right is untouched. There is no difference, Kenneth.
Right now, of course, the entire labyrinth is essentially mud, between last week’s rain and the daily watering. I’ve turned the daily watering off for a while to see if that will allow anything to come up for air.
Maybe I’ll just kill all the grass and go with plain dirt.
When last we left our Viking River Cruise up the Danube, we had left Vienna and sailed to Krems.
I forgot to mention that the day before, on Mother’s Day, the captain gave roses to all the ladies on the ship:
Here’s a photo of our ship, the Viking Tor, docked in Krems.
The red arrow? That’s our stateroom. We laughed when we woke up to find ourselves behind the dock.
And of course, as soon as we stepped off the ship we were on Hofvonsteinian soil. (I will admit to an embarrassing geographical ignorance: I assumed that the Danube was the boundary between Austria and Slovakia/Czech Republic, but of course it’s not. It’s over in the mountains somewhere.)
The morning’s trip was to Göttweig Abbey. I have no longshots of it because I was on the wrong side of the bus. Here’s one I stole from Wikipedia:
It’s pretty spectacular. It’s a Benedictine Abbey founded 900 years ago. Today, they produce wine and a host of apricot products including wine, sparkling wine, and liqueur, which we probably bought. Also jams and bath salts and other stuff.
First though I had deal with this:
Some in my party became extremely amused by this sign, even though it clearly just says “Bus Lane.” Some people.
This was in the small garden/orchard at the front. It is in fact a bee hotel, and I knew what it was because my friend Richard was making a whole bunch of them out of bamboo as an art project for the Euphoria burn. This one is more elaborate, but the concept is the same.
We began following our tour guide toward the abbey gate, and as we walked I looked over and saw circles of cobble stones, and lo!
It’s rather new, only a couple of years old. It’s a little smaller than mine, but it’s the same seven-circuit pattern. The center is a rose bush.
The view from the abbey is all-encompassing, and they own almost everything you see.
They have a winery, but mostly they grow apricots. Lots and lots of apricots.
Inside the gate, you are met with several large and beautiful buildings, most from the 18th century.
On the left is the Imperial Apartments, built because the Emperor (or in this case Empress Maria Theresia) had the right to stay there, which she did only once. If you look closely at the windows on the far left façade…
…you’ll notice they’re painted on. That’s one way to save money, both in construction and in taxes. For reasons unknown, many taxes were based on the number of windows you had. (In Paris, a similar tax on the number of floors in your home led to the Mansard roof, which claimed to be an attic, not a floor. Everyone politely looked the other way, kind of like the whole idea of the Hapsburg Austria-Hungarian Empire.)
Inside, it’s about as lavish as you might expect an Imperial Apartment to be. The staircase, for example:
The stairs are extremely shallow and difficult for us 21st century types to navigate. They are presumably easier if you’re wearing high heels and restrictive clothing, such as corsets and paniers.
The ceiling of the staircase:
A masterpiece of trompe-l’oeil, it is actually only about fourteen inches deep. The decorations overall are seriously Classical pagan, which is a measure of the power the liberal Maria Theresia and her son Joseph II (“Too many notes, Herr Mozart, too many notes!”) had over the church within their domains. Another measure is the church itself, which I noted to the tour guide had an impressive dome in a contemporary etching. Ah, she said, they were not funded for the dome and it was never built.
A lovely chambre in the apartments:
The floor is marquetry, all wood.
The church is a simple, noble baroque structure…
…until you get inside.
…where it is no longer simple. Actually, as these things go, it is fairly restrained.
The altarpiece is typical:
All in all, the abbey (of which I have tons of photos) was one of our favorite places on the trip. It had a serene atmosphere, secluded as it was on its mountaintop. It is a Benedictine abbey, which means that the brothers must all earn their keep, which they do by supervising the apricot orchards and their products; working/leasing the vineyards; and managing the forests.
We exited through the gift shop, buying plenty of apricot products: jams, chutney, apricot sugar (for cocktails!), and a bottle of their apricot liqueur, which I will also use in cocktails. (More than a few from Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails call for it.)
Back on board, we set sail up through the Wachau Valley, which Soren narrated for us as we went. It was chock full of fun things like abbeys and ruined castles:
This one held Richard the Lion-Hearted captive until he was ransomed by his jongleur. (The way it was said made it sound like his vassal lords didn’t give a rat’s ass that their liege was being held by the Austrians.)
The scenery both fore and aft was lovely, and you can see the weather was glorious. I ended up napping on the sun deck, awaking as we approached a lock to find this school looming over me:
On we sailed, through the sunset and night, towards Passau.
It was pointed out to me that I omitted one of the sights in the Wachau Valley: Willendorf, where archaeologists discovered the Venus of Willendorf. The site is now marked with a little monument: