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The Rockery – from Idea to Reality

It was a fine Spring Day that May in 2012. While walking down the slope beside the house, I had a terrible fall. It was as though the hill had risen up and thrown me down. I broke my ankle in three places and spent the rest of the Spring and Summer in a wheelchair.

As time went by, I grew to feel resentment for the hill especially after having a couple of near falls again. All in the very same spot.

An idea formed in my head. What if instead of it being a hazard, I could make it into a feature. I could create steps down the hill and make something pretty with same hill.

The summer of 2018, friends helped us create a new concrete path to the front door since there had been damage to the concrete which presented a safety hazard. They worked hard, jackhammered the old concrete and carted it away. Rather than tossing it down the neighboring hill, I thought it best to save them thinking I could use them in my feature.

It wasn’t until 2019 that I actually got down to it. Well, I had to think about it, didn’t I? Charlie was very supportive of the idea but made it clear this is my project. Of course, it was. He also told me not to hurry. If I couldn’t finish it this year, it could be left to the following year. Good to know. However, with a project such as this, once you start you have to complete it. Had I left part of it over winter, it would have been a wreck.

I proceeded to study the natural contour of the hill. Then I went to the shop and bought a roll of landscape fabric. That was June 16.  I started laying out the fabric and holding it down with small rocks.

The large concrete slabs taken from the walkway were laid down first.

There were times when it seemed pretty daunting. It was July. It was hotter than Hades – and oh so humid. The only way to get the rocks from the bottom of the hill was by hand. No other means of transportation worked. My first idea was to use the dolly to hoist the rocks up the steps. That was discarded as it was too hard on the steps plus the rocks had a habit of rolling off. Then I thought I’d simply carry a rock under my arm and up the steps. That would have taken too long.

Charlie came up with the idea of the cloth grocery bags. That way I could put several rocks in the bag, therefor making it more efficient, so I stayed with that.

Dig up rocks, place in cloth grocery bag, climb up the hill to the steps. Climb the steps to where the dolly was parked, tie grocery bag to the dolly. Sit down and rest till panting and wheezing stopped and breathing returned to normal. Then up the hill to where the wheelbarrow stood. Empty into wheelbarrow. Lie down on grass until rested enough to get up and do it again.

All this time, poor Charlie was suffering with Shingles. Oh, the poor baby. He was in so much pain and all I could do was stand idly by. I carefully dabbed various creams on his blistered back where he couldn’t reach. That’s about all I could do. I went through a lot of latex gloves during that terrible time.

Despite the pain, Charlie insisted on helping me. At first, he took his crowbar to dig up rocks. It helped me a lot because I didn’t have to use my pickax. Another time, he’d carry the really big boulders up the first hill, stairs and second hill again. I couldn’t dissuade him and he never complained. I was happy for the help, truth be told.

I always placed the rocks – first from the bottom. Later from the top. It was tricky since the slope took quite the dip and there was always the risk of falling or slipping on the landscape fabric. At those times, I used the dolly to roll the rocks in place always breathing a sigh of relief with every placement.

All this time, our road was chopped up, a lot of digging going on, dust, traffic, noise, you name it. They started in May and didn’t finish till end of August. With the heat and humidity, noise and sweating, it was quite a summer to remember.

One by one. Day by day. Rock by rock. The project was finally completed. All in all, it took about 10 or so weeks. Had Charlie not pitched in to help, it would have taken much longer.

People marveled at the finished product. They all asked the same question: how did you get the rocks up the hill? I don’t know why they found it so unbelievable when I told them about the fabric shopping bags.

I’m still not happy with the steps but I will deal with them next year. I really want rock risers.

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