Monday, March 22, 2010

Ballooning, Raking, and Pruning at Darlington

Early this Sunday, when I took Pompey out for his morning constitutional, I heard what sounded like gas jets turning on and off.  As many of my readers will agree, when one owns a house common sense indicates that such sounds merit investigation.  The noise was coming from the rear of our property, so that is where I went, and what did I find but a hot air balloon flying over our back yard!  I ran into the house to get my camera.  By the time I was able to snap a picture of it the balloon had traveled a distance, so the image I was able to capture is rather small.  Within a minute the balloon had vanished from my sight.  Although not clear from looking at the photograph, the balloon was made of alternating stripes of yellow and red cloth, and was very colorful.

High above Darlington

Later that morning, Rich and Junior arrived to finish repairing the winter damage to our gravel drives.  Although gravel drives are beautiful to look at and delightful to drive on (the crunch of a well-tended gravel drive under tires is a very satisfying sound indeed), they require a considerable amount of maintenance, at least here in the American northeast.  A yearly ritual once the snows have subsided is to return the gravel that has been deposited on the surrounding lawns during plowing back on to the drive and then rake out the surface to reestablish a pleasing uniformity of appearance.

Rich is returning the gravel to the drive while Junior redistributes it
(note tasteful snow markers in first photo)

Rich raking out the drive

A job well done. The same view, before and after
(again, note tasteful snow markers)

Another spring ritual at Darlington is pruning the Hydrangea paniculata 'Kyushu' of last season's canes.  We leave the growth in place for winter interest, but it is necessary to prune back quite hard before the shrubs begin to push out new buds.  When pruned, they look almost Japanese in their severity.  Boy is the master pruner at Darlington--I have been forbidden from engaging in any pruning due to my less than perfect attempts at it in the past.  Boy spent the better part of both Saturday and Sunday mornings pruning the shrubs.  I love the way they look shorn of their canes, ready for a new season of growth.

Boy beginning the pruning of our Hydrangea -- the "before" shot

Two down, and nine to go

A pile of canes from one of the shrubs

The fully pruned Hydrangea -- the "after" shot

Rest assured, these Hydrangea are hearty growers and will send out an abundance of growth.  By mid summer they will be enormous, luxuriant beauties, and covered with fragrant, frothy white flowers well into autumn.

All photos by Reggie Darling


  1. Oh the crunch of a gravel driveway. So many memories. On the Cape, in Mendham, New Jersey, but never here in California. Sadly. Maybe it's our clay ground. Maybe it's just a sign of the family fortune fading:).

  2. Busy at Darlington, yes the gravel is a mess here too. I can not wait to see these 9 hydrangea in full sail this summer.pgt

  3. Those hydrangeas are huge. They must be amazing when they bloom.

  4. My folks have a gravel driveway - I adore it - and luckily they have a Rich and a Junior to tend it for them. I would love to have one (or crushed shell) but our driveway slopes too much and we only have a cranky husband.

  5. Reggie - ask Boy if he wold mind sharing his pruning philosophy? I'm never sure how much to take off.

    He could email me - much appreciated.


  6. Ah yes. The annual raking out of the driveway. My 3' grading rake sits, waiting...Still brown season here in eastern Maine, and this year, have to wait for the DEP to finish THEIR cleanup, and for the temporary oil tank and concrete highway barricades in the middle of the driveway to be removed (yup, there's a story there, I feel a post coming on) before the gravel can leave the lawn and go back to the blocked drive. My exterior life is particularly un-Martha this spring

  7. Balloons overhead are always such a treat. Gravel drives are also, as long as they belong to someone else.

  8. Did you know that gravel driveways deter burglars? Just an extra bonus! We never turn our alarm on. The gravel sets our two corgi mix rescues sounding like two rottweilers! Barking that would scare off a hard-core criminal with guns.

    Gravel is not only beautiful; we love the sound of the crunch; even our insurance company gave us a discount for a gravel driveway!

    PS to Patsy....if you run a row of natural stones.....every ten or so feet (not set in concrete...just laid down in a row....stones around 4" round or a line across the driveway on the sloped part. Solved!
    I can send you pics! So easy! solves all gravel travel problems.....same you can do on the sides.........want pics? let me know!

    Honestly; the five balloon rides I have been on......(Napa Valley, the Serengeti Plain in Africa, Rancho Santa Fe, California......) have been true "peak experiences" in my life! I do not understand objections to the noise. They do not pollute one ounce....they are the "safest form of air travel" and they are completely thrilling in every way!!!

    Penelope Bianchi


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