Friday, September 25, 2009

The Not-So "Great Wall"

My home was built about 135 years ago, and until 1955 it was rental housing for "LIRR" (railroad) workers. About 12 years ago, developers filled in the 'railroad cut' that ran behind this row of 12 houses. I used to chip golf balls into it from my I was sad to see it filled in. Oh well, progress. They created a 'strip park' that has some lawn, a few trees, bastketball and handball courts and a baby playground. From what the old timers say, rail cars passed behind the houses, and the containers were hoisted on to ferries, down at the East River, for various destinations. Railroad workers were known to toss boxes of toys, destined for Macy's Department Store in midtown Manhattan, up to the children in the yards. (I guess "it fell off the truck" orignated with trains!) The residents might have helped themselves to the piles of coal next to the tracks, to heat these homes. This area was a pretty gritty, industrial/residential mix.

To separate our yards from the strip park, large concrete slabs were dropped in and held together by blue steel I-beams. Not very attractive from my side of the wall! Residents asked that at the very least, the I-beams be painted cement colored, to blend in, and that was done. My weeping cherry tree has grown up to about 20' and is 16' wide, and as you can see in the yards to the left of mine, some creeping vines offer coverage here and there.

I don't want to encourage weeds and vines to grow wild in my yard, so to fill in the bare, unfinished wall that I can see when sitting out back, I bought wrought iron trellises. I planted 4 climbing hydrangeas at the base and they are starting to climb well, in year 3. It's been worth the wait.

I was gung ho to tackle this project, because I knew I'd have to make a really BIG mistake to harm a 2 foot thick cement wall (that's not even mine.) I looked at it as good practice for me to use my hammer drill again. (I used it previously to carefully drill into brick to hang a mailbox and into cinderblock to hang a garden hose caddy.)  A 6 or 12 volt household drill would not have enough torque to handle any of these jobs.

Tools I needed:
Safety glasses
Measuring tape
Hammer Drill with a masonry drill bit
Masonry nails (they are ribbed, so they grab the concrete)
Claw Hammer
Picture wire

It was a very straightforward job. I held up the trellises and marked with pencil where the nails would go. I was essentially hanging the trellises from the nails, not bolting them into the cement. Wearing safety glasses (no sense in taking chances if the cement sharded and flew back at me) I pre-drilled the holes. Holding the drill firm, I leaned in hard as the bit went into the concrete, slowly. All went well with the drilling, so the next step was to tap a masonry nail 3/4 of the way in to each hole, and hang the trellises. I ran a length of picture wire across the bottom, to train the plants as they grew. The space from the ground to the bottom "rung" of the trellis was approximately 2 years of growth and I did not want to plants to grow along the ground! I can take down the wire in a year or so, when the plant fully has the rungs to grab onto. 
The climbing hydrangea will continue to fill in nicely and in a year or two the flowers will give some texture and interest to an otherwise bland and industrial wall.  I'm patient.

Pix below were posted April 2010--it's been 2 years, and the vines are climbing!

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