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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Midnight At The Oasis

A FEW COLUMNS BACK, one of my articles mentioned that Mimi and I were preparing to have a wedding party in our back yard. That party happened this past weekend, and we pulled it off with a bang. Until our kids grew up, we had a Memorial Day hootenanny party in our yard for about a decade. Throwing a party is the best way to get around to tackling those bottom of the list jobs in the yard. You know, the ones that are the hardest to get done, so they keep getting knocked to the bottom of the list.

Since the last hootenanny, about five years ago, this was our first large yard party. Hosting the party was our wedding gift to these special friends of ours. But unlike the laid-back hootenanny, this party was to be more sophisticated. Don’t get me wrong. This crowd partied as wholeheartedly as our hootenanny bluegrass crowd did. At the hootenanny, everyone who could play an instrument or could sing would join others around the yard for bluegrass jam sessions. A friend of ours brought the sound equipment and would sing and play his heart out while people joined him on the stage all afternoon and into the hot evening… great fun.

For this wedding party, our friends hired the best band around, a Jackson favorite, Chris Gill. His band set up on a cotton trailer turned rolling stage that was big enough for eight musicians, singers, and a horn section. They played funky chicken dance music, and this was a dancing crowd. Mimi and I danced for many of the songs, which is something we haven’t done in a while, thanks to Covid, except maybe in our kitchen from time to time. I remember telling Mimi during the party that this was the first Martinson party that we’d ever been to. Usually, Mimi is hosting and I’m cooking a pig and working the party without much of a chance to relax until late night when we are too pooped out to do much about it.

This party was different because our friends had everything catered and tended to. They had their close friends help with the food and the layout, hired bartenders, a cleanup crew and even hired Max and two of his friends to park cars. I overheard Max bragging that besides parking cars, they were also hired to be eye candy for the ladies. They also had another friend’s daughter driving a vans of folks back and forth to a nearby hotel. Max parked guests in our side yard, and we left the driveway open as an Uber lane for the smart people who didn’t want to drive. Most of this crowd of about 75 people were from out of town. The weather was perfect that night. The biting bugs left us alone. The frogs around the pond joined the singing, and the dance floor was rocking. It couldn’t have been any more perfect, and I learned a thing or two about a thing or two. Mainly, I learned that the next time we have another big party, I’m getting lots of help, so we can kick back and enjoy it.

The days leading up to the party were my favorite part. We knew it was coming months in advance, so we had time to get our annual flowers planted in time, so they’d be in full bloom for that night. We chose misty lilac wave petunias because they kind of glow in the evening, and we thought they’d make a perfectly romantic backdrop to the evening. We also got all of our pots around the house and yard freshly planted in plenty time to have them fully filled out for the event.

It’s a good thing we work well under pressure. We had just scheduled to have the most extensive back yard project ever to begin right before we offered the yard for the party. A main area of our backyard slopes directly downhill toward the pond, and we had been watching it slowly erode away over the years. We knew this needed addressing, so we decided to terrace the space by adding retaining walls and steps that lead to a new patio sitting area next to the pond.

WE FELL IN LOVE with a landscape style that we discovered in Austin on a visit. It was on our trip to Big Bend with the kids I wrote about recently. The retainer walls and steps leading down to the flagstone sitting area are made of CorTen steel. CorTen is raw plate steel that weathers to a beautiful rust patina that, in turn, acts as a protective coating to the steel underneath. It’s a very clean look with lines that give great definition to the borders. When we saw this application about 20 years ago, we loved the sharp juxtaposition of the modern lines with soft plant material.

We also loved the color of rusted steel in the landscape and had been dreaming about a project to use this in our own yard. This land erosion necessity provided the perfect opportunity. We also used six-inch CorTen edging to create pea gravel walkways around the yard. The extra depth allows you to see its curves from across the yard. The pea gravel paths are wide enough for our golf cart, which makes a gardening day much easier.

To top off the whole project, we let the best lighting guy in town come in the yard and do his art. I thought I knew a thing or two about lighting until I met this guy. The lighting turned out to be the show-stopper that night. All of my favorite trees were illuminated. The house was lit. The steps were lit, and our live oak lined driveway was spectacular. It looked like a botanical garden or a resort. The new gravel paths that meander through our planted beds were lit, and it was fun watching couples touring around the yard over the course of the evening. Lighting can really transform your night yard into an oasis, which is when most of us are usually at home.

We added irrigation to some areas where new beds were created, and 10 pallets of zoysia sod went down several days before the party. It looked like a plush carpet of green had been laid on the ground. All the new and existing beds got mulched with shredded pine bark. All of these things have to get done in the right stages and some of the stages were being held up by the frequent rains.

There was a time that Mimi and I had doubts that this would be possible to finish in time. It rained all day the day the sod showed up. It rained all day the pallets of stone showed up. It rained the day the lighting guy showed up. It was amazing to watch our landscape contractor, Gabe Grothe, wrestle this project to the ground, literally.

He not only had to oversee this project with all its adverse weather conditions, but he also had the challenge of figuring out the construction of the steel walls, which none of us had ever attempted. My hat will forever be off to him. He had irrigation guys, sod layers, lighting guy, landscapers and himself working in the rain to get it done for weeks. My hat is also off to this crew that wasn’t going to give up and got it done, literally, the day before the party.

Now that the party is over, Mimi and I now have a new yard and new beds to begin designing the next layer of plants. We are excited about that. We’ve been collecting interesting plants for the past year to begin filling in this clean palette with… now the fun begins. The hard part is done. The beds are filled with great soil. The fences have been freshly stained. The windows have been washed. The driveway has been pressure washed. The garden floor is now made of clean pea gravel, and flowers are blooming everywhere.

All we have to do now is add anything we feel like adding in the new planting beds. I feel like we will have more events in our back yard. It’s way easier than heading out to try to find something to do, and it’s a lot of fun to have a band at your own place and invite the people you want to visit with for a night at the oasis. Having good help to get preparations done before and during these events is something we will continue to do. Going to our own party is great fun.

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