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Cheapskate’s landscaping

Some months ago, a commenter on someone’s blog (don’t recall who on whose: sorry!) remarked that she had filled in the cracks between her patio flagstones with (expensive!) black stones, to good effect. At the time, I thought there’s an interesting idea! Filed the thought away but did nothing about it.

 Over the summer I cast wildflower seeds between the flags in the front courtyard. This worked to interesting effect…lots of bright, strange-looking, probably invasive blossoms. All very sweet. But the truth is, one person’s wildflower is the next person’s…well, weed. What I had left after the wildflowers had blown was a rangy tangle of straw with tap roots headed for the center of the earth. This, I realized, was not a practical idea.

When Richard the Landscaper installed the flagstones on dirt, the plan was to cultivate dichondra in the cracks between the pavers. Great plan. Except that in Arizona, two other varieties of groundcover are endemic: burr clover and bermudagrass (known in some parts of the country as “crabgrass” and in others as “devilgrass”). Burr clover has a certain charm: it makes pretty little yellow blossoms, and it doesn’t seem to grow burrs. But bermudagrass is as horrid an invader as you can imagine: steel wire with ugly scrawny leaves attached. Left to its own devices, it will grow as high as your hind end. People cultivate it as lawn grass here, because it’s about the only grass that will survive a 115-degree summer. All you need to make it grow is water. It loves heat and water. The more water you dump on it, the thicker it will grow. It has, however, a somewhat contrary personality: this is a plant that thrives wherever you don’t want it and dies wherever you do want it.

Where I did not want it was between the flagstones. Consequently, that’s where I had a fine stand of the stuff. Between the bermudagrass and the burr clover, the dichondra was snuffed out and the whole place looked pretty grungy.

So, last fall I decided to dig all the tired, wiry, failed ground cover out from between the flagstones and fill the spaces with stones. A few trips to nurseries and warehouse stores confirmed that black rocks were well beyond the price range, and besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted black. It’s plenty hot in that brick oven during the summer without paving the ground in black stone. Another discovery: occasionally, Michael’s sells decorative polished stones at incredible markdowns. But even on sale, these would cost way too much to fill in an entire patio’s worth of flagstones. And contemplating the number of little mesh bags of such stones that would be required boggled the brain.

However, this neighborhood is full of river rocks: polished multicolored stones used as decorative landscaping accents. People buy too many of them or get tired of them and dump them in the alleys behind their houses. When I pulled a bunch out of my old yard, two blocks to the north, that was exactly what I did with them: tossed them on the ground in the alley. Lo! A quick reconnoiter confirmed the things were still there.

And they’re scattered all over the other alleys throughout the neighborhood. Free for the taking!

So: for the past many weeks, I’ve been slowly digging out the weeds and roots from between the flagstones, collecting stones from points far-flung, and redecorating the front courtyard. A week or so ago, I got tired of hauling bagsful of stone around the neighborhood (I’ve burned off eight pounds in this endeavor!) and capitulated: drove up to a quarry not far from my neighborhood and bought two big plastic binsful of stone for all of five bucks.

As of this weekend all but one corner of the patio was done. Today I dug out all the rest of the weeds and sand between the stones, and also dug out the burr clover growing under the olive tree on the patio. Around that tree, I planted about a zillion anemone bulbs. Love anemones. A couple of other unknown bulbs had managed to push their way though the clover, and so I’m hoping that with some cultivation these will join the anemones and fill in the basin under the tree with lots of color.

At this point, it should only take another four or five bags of stones quarried from the alleys to fill between the rest of the flagstones. I should be able to gather those in another week or two.

Meanwhile, I think the overall effect is pretty nice, especially considering what I paid for it. Sprinkling on a few polished stones from the craft store really zings up the river stones, and when they’re wet after a rainfall, they all look like they’ve been through a polisher. It will take some doing to beat back the bermudagrass and burr clover until they give up, but a weekly application of Roundup to each new sprig should do the trick, after a summer or so. And no, I don’t like Roundup…but it is biodegradable, it can be applied with a dropper (I use an old Spray & Wash bottle with one of those squirter nipples) to the target’s leaves only, and it’s better than any of the alternatives. Including a yardful of weeds.

So far this project cost me about $15 or $20 plus four months of sporadic work, not a bad price! And it should save on water, because I won’t be trying to cultivate dichondra, wildflowers, or clover.

9 thoughts on “Cheapskate’s landscaping”

  1. The stones look really sharp! The price was certainly right. I too get pleasure from solving problems frugally or free. Bermuda grass is hard to get rid of, so good luck with that — a small goat might do the trick, I’m not sure Roundup will have enough force. Nice project, thanks for sharing it.

  2. Well I’m exhausted just thinking about all the work this task involved! It really looks great! You sure nailed Bermuda grass. I have a Bermuda grass lawn and, as a lawn, it’s great. In the garden, not so much!

  3. I wish I’d known. I have a pile of landscaping rocks in the backyard left over from our front yard landscaping. We could have arranged a visit and a hand off for the cost of the drive.

  4. Another cheap way to get rid of the weeds is boiling water. My dh drinks hot tea every day, year round. So after he pours the water for his tea, he takes the kettle outside & pours it over any weeds in the sidewalks & walkways. Within a few days, the weed is burned up & gone. All the money we spent to kill them is the energy we used to boil the water. Once you’ve cleaned the weeds out, doing this occasionally as you see them sprout, will keep the walkways clear.

    I really like the river rocks. Great tip.

  5. Great idea! I shud’ve thought of it: That actually is the premise of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. The protagonist (or whatever he is…) wakes from a stupor and finds all his wife’s many houseplants fried and his wife gone, along with their canoe. He remembers that he took a pot of boiling water and poured it over the plants, but he does NOT remember (so he tells us) doing anything to the wife. The cops, of course, think he offed her as well as her plants.

    This would go a long way toward controlling the milkweed, dandelions, spurge, filaree, bermudagrass, and suchlike in the desert landscaping. I’m going to try it this very morning!

    • HOLY mackerel! This is an old post to still be attracting readers!! 😀

      Fact is…I spent almost 20 grand on the landscaping for this house. If that’s cheap, it’s ’cause I’ve never made it into the “right” social class.

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