Starting a Small Wall & Garden From Scratch

“Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree . . .” -Genesis 18:4

In the beginning of chapter 18, a scene is described where Abraham is waiting in the doorway of his house, in the heat of the day, for random travelers to come by who he can host. He is not some poor peasant with nobody to keep him company; he is a wealthy man who could be occupying himself with numerous other things. Abe at this time is around 100 years old, and when he sees three strangers, he runs to meet them. And then he runs to get a calf to cook and puts in a lunch order to his 90 year old wife to get crackin’ on a good homemade meal. He is so humble and eager to serve them, he acts as though feeding and waiting on them is his sole purpose in life! Did he have servants to do this? Yes, and slaves. But the couple served the strangers themselves.

Are you a good host? Is it okay if I honestly admit that I’m not? You have to actually invite people over to be a good host. You know what I didn’t read in that passage? Sarah was worried what people would think of her dirty floors, or was insecure that she wasn’t a good cook, or she was super annoyed that her husband made her cook an entire meal in addition to all of the other things she has to do.

I just listened to a sermon delivered by Holly Furtick called The Gift of Interruption; she’s the wife of the pastor at Elevation Church. She said, “Sometimes life’s greatest invitations come packaged as interruptions”. If our human nature causes us to desire things that are not good for us, then maybe all of the “plans” that we make for ourselves are not as pure and selfless as we think. Maybe it’s ok for God to send an interruption so we remember that this day is not about us.

If this were Nate and I in the story, I would have been astounded (aka super pissed) that he had just signed me up for more work to do, instead of being pleased at his generosity. Do you know how much work it takes to serve a calf for dinner from slaughter to plate? A lot!! Is he going to buy the groceries, and cook the food, and clean the bathrooms at the same time he is hosting his new friends? Impossible! The last thing I would have considered is that it’s an opportunity to die to my own desires and serve others the way God has commanded us and more importantly demonstrated in the sacrifice of His son and the common grace we experience daily.

Abraham and Sarah have no children together at this point (which also resonates with me) and they work as a team to eagerly serve strangers that pass by. You know, I have strangers that pass by our house all the time and who start conversations while I’m working outside. Some will make jokes about me coming over to their house and helping them in their yard. But what if I actually did that? What if I said, “Ok, here’s my number, when do you want to do that?” What would happen? I have no idea! But it would be an opportunity to serve someone sacrificially so they could “rest under the tree”.


My day started out under a tree, but I wasn’t resting. This is what the retaining wall on the right side of the driveway looked like before I touched it.


I guess I never really got a decent photo of it. This is what it looked like after I pulled the concrete block out to use on the left side.

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You can imagine the muddy mess I created with all of the rain we have been getting. Sorry, honey. As I dug, I encountered more tree roots (grrrr), but I found more concrete block buried under the dirt! YES! Every time I found one it was like finding gold. Nate kept giving me crazy looks when I yelped with excitement.


And this is what it looked like cleaned up and ready for the wall building.


I found a few more hostas in the back to place on the top of the wall.




This is what the corner on the right side looked like before.


And this is how I started out. Since I don’t have any extra block to add tiers on this side, I decided to add a strip where I could plant hostas and dwarf grass.


I wasn’t entirely sure where our property line ended, so I was nervous to go all the way down to the next driveway without permission.


But then I noticed that the neighbor didn’t mow anything on that side of his driveway and it lined up with the fence, so I figured it was ok. He has given me permission with everything else I’ve asked him, so I took a risk since he was nowhere in sight.


Not bad progress for my first day on the right side.


So the next work day I got a wild hair that the little strip by the sidewalk wasn’t going to be enough. The grass under the tree was spotty and not very attractive anyway. So I took the maddox and started chipping away the grass clusters.


I tried to make a nice line that mimics the angle I created on the left side of the driveway.


Because the tree roots were so prevalent, I knew I would not be able to plant anything there without adding top soil. Nate had mentioned that if I removed all of the dirt around the retaining wall clear to the sidewalk, there would be room for a rain barrel and the trash and recycle bins (which are always in the way now). He had me at rain barrel! So I figured if I removed that dirt and bermed it under the tree, I wouldn’t have to push the dirt clear to the back of the house. Winner all around! So I got to work.

While dumping several loads of soil under the maple tree, a neighbor came up and asked me for a load of dirt to patch some holes his dog had made in the yard. His name is Alan. I have seen him in the distance watching me work while he smoked on his front stoop. Once he shouted down the street at me, “Bend with your knees!” And I shouted back, “I can’t!” Haha, I have joint pain in my knees and elbows, so I struggle with putting extra weight on them. I appreciated that he cared. 🙂 So after awhile, I wheeled him down a load of dirt.

I’ll admit that I was reluctant to share at first. I had plans for this dirt! But I felt the Holy Spirit pinch me and say, “You are seriously not going to share dirt? It’s DIRT.” Geesh, you would think I was fertilizing a money tree or something. And I was rightly humbled and so shared my dirt.

I removed the hostas and sedum off the small retaining wall, since I would now be removing most of the dirt there. It took me a little bit to figure out how I wanted to place them on the new berm I created. I decided that since I am not using retaining block there, I had better plant things on the sides to keep the soil from eroding. When the root systems develop on the plants, it should hold everything in nicely. The plants will also keep the mulch from sliding off entirely when it rains.

So I planted the hostas and sedum, transplanted the dwarf grass from the backyard, and did some other scavenging to round up fall sedum, day lilies, and Solomon’s Seal (Which is edible, btw. Nate made my mom and me eat some, it tasted like sweet lettuce, really good). Then I planted more zinnia seeds diagonally from corner to corner across the top. I learned that the two blue hydrangea bushes I ordered (commemorative of our 5 months in CT) will grow in full shade, so I added one on each side of the hill. At full maturity they will be 3-5’ tall/wide.


Then covered it with mulch. But put only a little on the top to hold down the zinnia seeds and also let in some light.


Solomon’s Seal.


Blue Hydrangea bush.


Hostas and sedum.


I may have found a home for my bench and pots. I will add flowers when I finish my window boxes.


Berm garden done on the second day, I just need to finish my small retaining wall. Rain barrel, I’m coming!



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