Thursday, June 24, 2004


Finally heard back from the 3rd landscape contractor on the list. He asked me to describe the yard... wanted to make sure it wasn't "tiny"... Suddenly I felt like I was being interviewed... I felt like I had to "pump up" my yard just so he'd come take a look! When asked if I knew the yard's "footage", I said I wasn't sure, but gave him the total lot size (1/4 acre) and assured him it wasn't a "postage stamp yard". When I mentioned the existing pool (and no, I said nothing about its sordid history), he said a pool might be a "complicating factor" and would have to call me back. Huh?!!! The other two companies I've talked to so far didn't seem to be intimidated by the pool. So, we'll see.

I guess it's a good sign for the local economy that some contractors can be so picky!

If I had to choose one contractor now, based on phone manners alone, I do have a favorite... Also happens to be the most booked-up. We'll see who ends up doing the job. And when.

Shouldn't I wait until fall, the ideal planting time, to be doing all this? Yes, but I'm eager to get going. Depending on how things go, we may be looking at a fall installation anyway... ;-)
Full Bloom

Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Gorgeous Pink Poolside Lily & the Lily-livered Homeowner...

Posted by Hello

The above lilies are gorgeous this year... I think they're 'Le Reve', but wouldn't bet anyone's life on it. When I first planted them last fall, the flower stalks were short (but pretty). This year... WOW! Each stalk is about 4 feet tall and covered with huge, gorgeous blooms. This photo shows only the first bloom.

They're temporarily growing in a wooden container near our frigid (no solar yet) swimming pool because we're "about" to landscape the backyard. I put that in quotes because we've been saying that for... gulp... 8 years. Built a new house in Carmichael on a treed lot; finished the front within the first year; the back has been in a state of incompletion for 8 long years. Time flies, I guess.

What does the yard look like right now? Picture a couple smallish valley oak trees, a redwood and steel play structure (cha ching), a newish trellis-top fence (cha ching) and a freeform swimming pool (cha cha CHING!). Taking up one whole garage stall is a 9' x 12' redwood and tempered glass greenhouse kit (cha ching)... all that's missing are the elves who were supposed to come in the night and build the damned thing. Weren't they included in the "Deluxe Kit"? I thought so...

Having experienced a major emotional breakthrough this morning, I actually called some landscape contractors and set up appointments to get estimates. Why the procrastination? Why the hesitation, even though there's a lonely home-improvement loan waiting to be used? Well, it's complicated. But I can say with confidence that I'm terrified to actually hire someone. Every contractor-hiring experience so far came with surprises... some not so pleasant.

Like the pool. Putting in a pool is a big deal, but if you're going to do it, you have to do it before the rest of the landscape goes in because the process will absolutely trash your yard. Fences come down. Bobcats grind deep ruts in your formerly fluffy topsoil. Imagine putting in a pool after your grass and sprinklers and fences are in. Oh, the waste. Oh, the destruction.

Once we decided to take the plunge (ha ha) and put in a pool, we decided to use the well-known company that put in our neighbor's lovely pool. We even toured other pools the company built and were eager to get going. What could go wrong, right?

Well, everything turned out great except for one tiny little thing... they put in a pool that was 4 inches too high. In other words, they should have dug 4 inches deeper. Oops! 4 inches may not seem like a lot, but it sure had the concrete sub-contractor in a tizzy, because he had to use extra concrete and even had to build special forms to support the now taller patio edges.

Things sort of snowballed from there because now that we had this slightly elevated pool on a pancake-flat lot, we were faced with having to import topsoil to bring the yard up to the level of the pool.

Nevermind the fact that an entire swimming pool's worth of soil had already been carted away, never to return.

We did order a little topsoil after the fact. It wasn't enough, and what the sand & gravel company we'd used for years (no names) delivered as "topsoil" was more akin to "quicksand". In winter, walk outside and your feet quickly sink, oh, about 4 inches. I'm suspecting we got a load of mostly sand... perhaps it was the dregs of what was once a nice topsoil blend.

Also, when you have a slab foundation on a really flat lot, there isn't a lot of wiggle room when you're raising the existing soil level near the house. I do know that piling extra soil up against a house is a definite no-no in all minds except a termite's.

Because of this gaff, we also ended up with parts of the pool decking sloping towards the house. Another no-no. You're supposed to maintain positive drainage away from the house. Ugly little strip drains had to be added up against the house. What a pain.

Why else is the added slope a pain? Cockeyed patio tables. Nobody wants to sit at a table so slanted that food rolls off onto the ground. So, plan B: the tables go somewhere else and the extensive decking is useful only for lounging, not dining. Bummer.

In the end, the pool company made lots of excuses, then went out of business, leaving a trail of happy and unhappy customers. I guess you could say we're happy and unhappy. It's a pretty pool and except for the elevation problem, well-constructed. Let me add that I never even imagined I'd have a pool. It was always something that only other people had... Despite my pool-unworthiness, I still can't help wishing they'd read the plans just a little more carefully.

So, let's just say I don't trust my ability to 'peg 'em'. I learned that even contractors who've done good work sometimes mess up. Or, rather, the people they hire to do the work sometimes mess up.

Oh, wanna hear another one? My neighbor hired a contractor to install decking around her pool. It came out this really funny color and started cracking weirdly. Know what she did? She had 'em tear it out and do it over! Not once, but TWICE! I admire her forcefulness, but will be the first to admit that if that had happened to me, I'd have felt sorry for the well-intentioned blundering contractor and rationalized myself into thinking that the crackly pink patio looked "kinda pretty... in a way."

When I have found reliable, competitively priced contractors in the past, I thought, "Cool! Now I never have to use the Yellow Pages to find somebody because I'll just hire so-and-so over and over again." Nope, because once these so-and-sos figured out that we liked their work so much, they started throwing out preposterously high bids on future jobs.

So, back to square one. Open Yellow Pages, evaluate ads in a way not unlike reading tea leaves... medium-sized ad (not too big, not too small)... nice font... hey, cool phone number... pretty drawing of tree... Established in 1976... member of the Better Business Bureau (probably a good idea to look for this one, actually).

So far I've got 2 confirmed contractor bid appointments and am waiting to hear from another. Need to call a few more. Wonder how they'll like the fact that I want them to put in everything but the plants?

"Whattya mean, lady? You want flowerbeds, sprinklers, a lawn and raised beds, but no plants?"

"That's right. I'm going to plant them myself."

"You sure you know what you're doing, lady?"

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Hot enough to fry an egg...

99 degrees F. Think I did anything besides water today? Uh uh. No way. Nosiree Bob.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Armed and Dangerously Minty...

Grabbed the last two cans of Victor hornet spray on the shelf at Emigh. Repeated the practice of first spraying the creeping fig with a hose to rouse hornets that survived the initial nest destruction. By the way, the survivors were likely nest guards or were "out in the field" when the nest was sprayed. The spray seemed quite effective at killing when direct contact was made.

Sure enough, encountered about 4 more buzzing around near the ground and crawling out from inside the vine. Got 'em all with direct hits, but somehow, I have a feeling there'll be a few more encounters before they disappear entirely. I also sprayed the creeping fig to make it less hospitable.

Total cost? $15 for 3 cans of spray... not bad, considering pest control company B wanted $139.

Fear and Laziness

Gotta drag my lazy, uh, self back to Emigh today to pick up more Victor brand "minty hornet spray". Regretting that moment in the store when I thought to myself, "Should I get a couple cans now, while I'm here?" and answered to myself, "Nah, one ought to be plenty." Last time I checked (yesterday), there were 4+ hornets buzzing angrily around ground zero.

Whenever I get near them, they come at me! For now, creeping fig continues creeping.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Uh oh... They're baaaack...

Just went out to check for survivors. Saw no signs of any hornets anywhere. The nest is half-dissolved (by the spray) and empty. Decided to give the nearby creeping fig vine a good spray with a hose to make sure none were lurking in the vine. After giving it a good spray, turned off the water and walked back over for a closer look. Saw one hornet crawl out of the vine and up the wall... ran inside for the nearly empty spray can... came back out and couldn't find The One... scanned for airbornes... holy... there's one... sprayed... dead... there's another... sprayed... dead... and another... uh oh... missed... and another... missed... and those two look mad... ran like, um, heck, back in the house and slammed the door. Now that I'm officially on the hornet hit list, am a little afraid to leave the house. Will report back later. Must check supplies.

Why, oh why, did I watch "The Swarm" at such an impressionable age?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Dirty Deed is Done...

I stopped at Emigh Hardware this afternoon to pick up some hornet spray. Reached for the standard stuff; powerful; cautions about ingesting, breathing, etc.... but then noticed they sell a "Poison-free" hornet killer by Victor, the company that makes Safer brand pesticides. It's called VICTOR® POISON-FREE® Wasp & Hornet Killer and comes in the same style can as the standard stuff, but this one uses mint oil and sodium lauryl sulfate. It's very minty!

Will check tomorrow for any surviving hornets. I do feel bad getting rid of "pests"... but having a nest a mere spitting distance from my front patio table (not that much if any spitting goes on there) was just too close for comfort. Yup, the idea of having someone stung to death whilst sipping French roast coffee; or finally tackling the creeping fig; was a big motivator.

Hornets are "Social Wasps"

Now that I know this, I see that there is a page on the IPM website for them...

How cool!

The Sac/Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will send someone out to your house to spray your pesky hornet's nests. What a great service. They, too, come during the day. We're going to try the nighttime thing to reduce chances of leaving strays wanting to re-build... In any case, check out their excellent website.

Hornet's nest in front yard sitting area.

Hornet's Nest

I finally decided to tackle my creeping fig, which was starting to climb up into the eaves of my house. So, I'm out there, happily pruning away when, wouldn't ya know it, I look up and see this hornet's nest. What do I do? Go to the IPM website for the least toxic but still effective control method. Surprisingly, there wasn't an entry for hornets in particular! Now what to do? Go to Google.

University of Kentucky

From these websites, I learned that hornets can be really aggressive. They recommend full "bee garb", spraying at dusk or nighttime when the hornets are likely to be in the nest. I did call 2 prominent local pest control companies. The first wasn't sure if they treated hornets, then left me on hold so long that I hung up. The 2nd said they'd treat the nest for $139 but when I asked about the importance of treating at night to get rid of all the hornets, the man told me they'd come back within 30 days to re-treat. All they were going to do was spray (during the day) and knock down the nest. Jeez, anybody can do that... Or, rather, anybody's husband can do that. ;-) I was asked twice to sign up for their bimonthly spray service. No thanks.