Everything Non-Remediation

Throughout all the EPA lead remediation work, things have continued to bloom and grow in the rest of my garden. There has been plenty of beauty, though I haven’t wanted to do much work outside while I waited for the remediation work to be over. In some spots, the blooms happened in spite of all the remediation work. Here’s a look at the rest of my garden:

And here are a batch of cat photos and videos for the cat fans. The Ladies have had plenty of time to sit at their back window and survey their backyard domain. Perry gets to go out for daily walks. We never stray far from home but stay out for at least a half hour. Meanwhile, our neighbor has now ejected three male cats from her home. They hang out in our yard all the time and are generally pests. John and I really hope to get them neutered in the hope that it will make everyone (including our cats) happier. That will be a big project, however.


The EPA subcontractors have come and gone. In short, the plan was followed and everything should be OK, but it sure took a lot of my energy to get to that point.

The longer version: Back at the beginning of March I met with representatives of the subcontractor in charge of doing the EPA lead remediation in my yard. I’m sure they have their own version of the events, but my version is that they said everything in my yard was slated to be dug up. Everything. And just 6 days after that meeting.

After the meeting, I voiced my concerns to the project supervisor at the EPA. I had many of them. I said that I’ve seen the process go well and I’d seen it go badly, and so far this was going badly, but I knew it could go better. I started clearing what I could from my garden (most of my plants were still dormant), felt horrible, and finally realized I could ask for more time. I heard unofficially that my yard had been rescheduled. I followed up more. Several weeks later I got a call and arranged a meeting with the contractor the next day.

Six or seven men showed up wearing their official safety vests and hard hats. It was a little intimidating. But, they were all very nice. They liked cats and birds and gardens. They complimented my garden, which by then had begun to emerge from dormancy. And they asked what I wanted to have done. They made new notes and a plan that would spare the perennial beds where I’d already added so much soil and so many plants. They asked when I would prefer to have the work done, and we came up with May 10, since I could get off work that day.

I waited and completed my final garden preparations. There was a false start when the excavation crew had their equipment in place and were ready to start about a week and a half before I’d anticipated. John told them, “not today,” and they moved on to the neighbor’s yard.

May 10 arrived and they were running late, but they still honored our agreement. They got their equipment in place on the 10th, and digging started on the 11th. They finished removing soil on the 13th. After some initial damage from trying to get the excavator into too tight a space, they were incredibly careful in the restrictive spaces of my yard. I was impressed with the care with which they manipulated the excavator claw so it missed my shed and fence on every pass.

After the contaminated soil was out, they brought new soil in. Whether it was the complaining to the project coordinator or dumb luck, I got some fantastic soil. At the initial meeting, they said I’d get fill dirt and only the top 4″ would be topsoil. In the end, it was all topsoil and “platinum grade” topsoil at that, as the contractor explained. It came from a source in Kentucky who mixes in racehorse manure, resulting in a relatively high percentage of organic material.

Of course, I still needed to argue with the skid loader driver so he wouldn’t try to fit his machine through the same spot where the excavator guy had tried and failed. The argument went longer than need be. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of work in my yard that needed to be done by hand and in the end they had people do it.

The topsoil was added, then sod and mulch. Now we’re a week from when it all began and I’ve started to put things back where they belong. It felt good to get back to creating a garden again after holding back for so long. Even with my perennial beds being spared, it will take the summer to get things back in shape. I had them leave the back section bare where I hope to have a garden again just like I did before. However, the soil is incredibly compacted, so I’ll need to find a tiller to work it up before I can use it.

Below is a slideshow of what the process looked like, along with some videos to give you a feel. There are captions to explain what’s what. My cats should be on retainer for the EPA. They provided a lot of very critical supervision.

The excavator working in the tight space:

Lady Ygraine keeps an eye on the guys doing the hand digging:

Lady Ygraine Views the Quiet Excavator:

The skid loader brings new dirt:



The Most Beautiful Time of the Year

I’ve been so busy taking pictures of my garden that I haven’t had time to edit and post them! All through April, I saw wave after wave of beauty come through my garden and the entire city. The soft greens, bright spring bulbs, pastel redbuds, frothy cherry trees, pink and white dogwoods, fluorescent azaleas, and deepening greens make the world feel airy and light. Everything is new and perfect.

My garden emerged from dormancy. At first I was still waiting to hear what the EPA contractors and subcontractors would do to it or not do to it. Now, however, I am much more hopeful. If everything goes as I’ve discussed with all the workers, things will be OK. It’s taken plenty of energy, though. I’m really not one to complain and put up a stink, so it’s been a lot of work to continue to be “that crazy lady” to all of them. Hopefully it pays off in work I’m happy with.

Below is a slideshow that takes you through most of April 8-27 in my garden. You will see things emerging and expanding to fill their spots in my different garden spaces. I love the way the plants change and develop throughout the process. There are also a few cats mixed in for good measure.

Spring Arrives, but Where Will It Go?

Spring is firmly upon us now. A bright greenness seems to hover over my garden as the new, tender growth unfolds. It’s the same cycle that has passed over my garden for years now: the first shoots, early bulbs blooming, the hints that things are alive beneath the soil, then quick growth skyward. You can see the progression of things in the slide show below. Remarkably, these photos were taken over the course of only one week–from 3/31 to 4/7. There is a lot of growth there. If you flip through the photos, you will find captions.

The plants are growing happy and energetic as usual, but I still see so much uncertainty when I look at them. I met with the EPA subcontractor several weeks ago, and it didn’t go well. Now the contractor is supposed to be meeting with me to go over my concerns, but I haven’t heard anything for weeks. I still hope that things will work out better, but it’s incredibly stressful.

It seems appropriate that this is the first year that I’ve lived in this house that the magnolia blooms were destroyed by cold during their early stages. Instead of the usual exuberant explosion of color, there were only scattered blossoms. It matches my mood.

I’m not planning to buy plants or seeds. It makes me sad. But then a new catalog arrived in the mail and there was a little hope. It was the catalog for next year’s spring bulbs to be planted this fall. That is something I can hope for.

The nice weather has meant that Perry gets to go out for walks on most days. We usually spend a half hour just wandering around our yard and our neighbor’s yard. It’s his daily attitude adjustment time, and the fresh air seems to help with his bitey-ness and aggression.

Yesterday evening, John and I were out walking Perry and a couple kids who live further down the block were riding their bikes on the sidewalk. They were about 5- or 6-years-old, so, young enough to notice and comment on weird stuff going on. One boy looked through the fence at us and said, “Look at that do…CAT!”

Later he rode his bike past while John kept Perry out of the way. The kid looked at Perry and reassured him, “It’s OK, kitty.” It was very sweet. We felt it necessary to tell the kid at that point that he couldn’t pet Perry because Perry bites. He seemed oddly to have already figured that out.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are fluffy and fantastic. They do not need daily attitude adjustment time in order to be good. They are always perfection!

Spring Is Ushered In

My early spring flowers have been blooming, blooming, blooming for about a month now. For them it’s a spring like every other, but I’ve been looking at them and wondering if it’s their last.

I’m a step closer to the EPA lead remediation. Last week a representative from the subcontractor went over my property with me. It really worried me, and I wasn’t sure that everything would be OK, but it looks like things may have changed today along with the seasons. Hopefully we can get everything worked out and I can get this lead remediation done and behind me. Thank you to everyone who has offered your support. I’m grateful for it. It’s been an incredibly stressful situation.

Last weekend, I started to prepare my yard for the lead remediation. It took an entire day just to round up all my garden art. On a second day I started removing plants. There may be a lot more to do, but we’ll see. My yard is barren without the art, but I have quite the cast of characters hanging out on my porch and the inside of my shed is a glittering, magical treasure trove.

It won’t truly be spring until Lady Morgaine leaves her heated cat bed, until the birds grow less frequent at the feeders, and until the Ladies cease their synchronized naps in the heat of their favorite furnace vent. However, the increasing days of warmer weather have meant that Perry gets to go out for walks more regularly and the Ladies have more time sitting at the open door in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, I got some cat cams so I can see what the cats are doing all day while I’m at work. Not surprisingly, they mostly nap. I was a little surprised at how relaxing it is to glance at my phone in the middle of a crazy afternoon and see a peacefully sleeping kitty. The camera in Perry’s part of the house is pointed at his favorite nap spot–his heated cat bed. It’s sweet to see how often he seems to smile in his sleep.

Uncertain Tomorrows

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”  

   –Audrey Hepburn

I should be starting my garden now.

I should have tender tomato plants lifting their first seed leaves toward grow lights. I should have dogeared seed catalogs and fat packets of salad greens, carrots, and cilantro in my mailbox. I should have several dozen caladium bulbs ready to pop into the ground among the irises to take over this summer when the irises start to fade.

But I don’t.

I don’t know what this year will bring for my garden. I don’t know what will survive.

At some point probably in the next few months, maybe, if there are no further delays, but there’s really no telling when, workers will come and remove the top 18 inches of soil from my entire property.

I’ve known this was coming for almost five years, but it has always been very uncertain. I live in an area that has been designated an EPA Superfund Site. Over a decade ago, the EPA identified hotspots with extreme levels of lead and arsenic in some neighborhoods north of my house. They remediated the worst area first, then tested areas that were further out to find the outer limit of the contamination. The place where they found additional contamination included the neighborhood where I live and work.

Five years ago, the place where I work was tested and remidiated. It was horrible. A garden was destroyed. Landscaping removed. Trees may have received critical damage. The contractors charged with the work had protocols to follow that didn’t seem to have a category for “garden”. Heavy machinery was parked where cucumbers had grown in soil we had tested and knew to be safe. New soil was trucked in and compacted so that a lush, chemically carpet of sod could be rolled out perfectly flat and with every blade of grass in alignment. I don’t understand how they did not recognize that we wanted our garden returned to what it had been, especially when the subcontractor’s workers had eaten whole cucumbers while they waited for the go-ahead to pick up their shovels to begin removing the soil beneath the plants.

In the EPA’s defense, they eventually learned that things had gone horribly wrong, they apologized, and they offered to fix it if they could. At that point, there was a final garden area yet to remediate, and they bent over backwards to do it right. But by then the gardener was demoralized and wanted to move on, so we’d already planted a small orchard of fruit trees on the crushed land. With all the compaction, it was nearly impossible to dig the holes for the trees. A subcontractor tried to tell me that that was what the soil was like before they removed it. I regularly look at the trees and wonder if their roots have managed to work their way outward and into the soil.

At some point this spring, a subcontractor will contact me and we’ll look over my property together and come up with a plan for remediation. The subcontractor is obligated to return as much as possible to the way they found it before the remediation, but within reason and within budget. Trees should be treated with care and landscaped areas should remain landscaped, but enough soil needs to be removed to eliminate the possibly dangerous exposure to lead.

I’ve assumed that my entire side yard will have its soil replaced, including the area I had previously used as a vegetable garden and the soil beneath my newest raised bed. I’ll refrain from planting anything in either location because it’s very possible that it will be dug up before it can mature. The real unknown is how much of my perennial gardens under the maple tree and next to the house will need to be removed. I’ll continue in uncertainty until I meet with the subcontractor. Only when I know for sure can I really make a plan for what I may be able to save and how I can save it. The uncertainty is difficult. The possibility of a year without a garden is also difficult.

Meanwhile, the spring flowers are beginning to emerge and bloom as always and without fail. Are they a symbol of hope? Fragility? Naivete?

Last spring when I knew that the testing and remediation were upon me, I concentrated my spring bulbs into the perennial beds and a few containers. Gone are my dreams of naturalized carpets of crocuses. Now I’m simply hoping not to lose it all.

In all of this, I am most angry that we continue in the same patterns that created this Superfund Site. The pollution that the EPA is remediating rained down on my neighborhood for more than a century. Factories operating as early as the Civil War made bullets and plows and lead and arsenic went up the smokestacks and down on the city. People used lead-infused coal ash from their furnaces as fertilizer for their yards. Paint stores sold lead-infused paint as the stronger, better solution.

These things may be in the past, but business continues as usual. It’s just the way it’s done. A little bit doesn’t hurt. Pollution controls continue to be relaxed in the name of progress and industry. The added pollutants silently surround us and build. People get sick. Toxic levels are reached. Someone notices and is obligated (perhaps) to act.

We cannot simply scrape away the surface of the earth every century to fix everything. We can do better than this.

**Note: It has taken me some time to write this post. Just today, I heard from the subcontractor. Tomorrow I will learn my garden’s fate.

Orchid Escape

For many years, the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden has hosted an orchid show called Orchid Escape inside their Amazonia exhibit during February and March. It’s a great idea for brightening everyone’s otherwise drab Southern Indiana winters and for bringing guests to the zoo during its slow season.

I’ve gone to see the orchids on several occasions, but my photos have not previously made it to this blog because they’ve always been eclipsed with great snow photos or great crocus photos. But not this year! Here is a collection of photos of the interesting and beautiful orchids I saw this year:

Meanwhile, I have my own Orchid Escape going on in my kitchen window. I’ve got three varieties blooming and bought a fourth from the zoo’s gift shop. It’s a great burst of color and they really shine in the strong winter light coming though the windows.

I love the blooms on the plant all the way to the right in this photo, but they are fleeting.  The others should stick around for longer, though. The new one is orange and yellow, giving a little variation amid all the pinks.

My orchid growing technique is simple: find a south-facing window and put the plant in it. Keep it in a plain terracotta pot. If the plant seems happy, don’t change anything. I’m sure an expert would give much better advice.