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One of my favorite flower beds is right out the back door. It’s a little triangle that is always full of something growing from May through October. This year, I tried to snap a photo diary of the corner garden.

I missed April – when the grape hyacinth and the tiny wild violets are the only color in this little corner.

May

May is peony time.

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The Dragon Lily (dracunculus vulgaris) ends May and starts June with its stench – and striking beauty.

June

Even though the Dragon Lily is in full bloom, the corner seems a sea of green as the peonies fade, the milkweed and the asters push upward.

July

July. The peonies and dragon lilies fade as the milkweed blooms, fragrant and alluring. The corner goes from one aroma (dead meat) to another (sweet milkweed) in a matter of weeks.

August

August. The asters bloom when the milkweed fades – red and tall in the back, purple and lodged in a crack in the sidewalk. (The yellow mum was a potted plant.) You can see the faded glory of the Dragon Lilies, seed heads brilliant red, and the peony leaves turning brown. Seed pods are forming on the milkweed plants now.

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And just like that the sun is low in the sky and September is leaching the color from the milkweed plants.

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It is late October now. The rains have held off. The leaves have fallen from most of the milkweed. The asters cling to a little bit of green, but their blooms are all but faded now.

Soon, it will be an empty space of grown, brown and sad, all the stalks cut back before the new growth begins again in April. The rains will come, the days grow dark and – for me – depressing. But the cycle will resume in four short months.

The grape hyacinth, the violets, and the peonies came with the house and this little corner. I pulled back a blanket of creeping myrtle (aka periwinkle or variegated vinca minor) to bare the ground. We planted the Dragon Lilies, babies from a single corm we stole from a rental many moons ago and have carried around with us for 30 years. (Want some? We’ll gladly ship – up to zone 8.) I planted the little purple aster from a plant a dear friend gave me some 25 years ago. It’s been divided and planted elsewhere, but this little bit insists on pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk right at the apex of the flower bed. The tall red aster surprised me that first autumn in the house – an added bonus of the many flowers already here and hidden by neglect.

The milkweed, now – that was a project. I tried two or three times over the years to grow it by seed. I gave up four or five years ago, but one fine day three years ago, a small plant survived long enough for me to identify that it was, indeed, showy milkweed. Last year, more came up and they flowered for the first time. This year, they tripled in number. They are truly one of my finer moments in gardening, even if they are now rather prolific.

 

 

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And I have not raised my hand once to type out the tales of my days.

There were birds. Dozens of birds. The Bewick’s Wrens built their nest in the garage and fled as soon as the babies fledged. The Spotted Towhees taught their fledgling to bathe in one of our three bird baths. The Dark-eyed Juncos fooled us with fledglings that looked more sparrow than junco. The Bushtits took communal baths. Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Band-tailed Pigeons, Sharp-shinned Hawk,. Rufous Hummingbird challenged all other hummingbirds and sometimes the bigger birds. Anna’s Hummingbirds came and chirped in our faces.No dogs to chase them. No resident cat. The birds moved in and became our pets for a season.

I dug in the earth, turning over earthworms and pulling out ribbons of grass roots to make room for more flower beds. The flower beds bloomed and fed the birds, bees, and wasps. The flowers faded and turned to seed, continuing to feed the birds. Soon, the milkweed pods will burst open and the yard will be littered with fluff. I’ll save it for the nesting birds next Spring.

I spent time sitting with my husband, shushing his political rants and encouraging his dreams. We drank too much beer. We made new friends. We had a couple hellacious rows. We rekindled our love, the love that covers a multitude of sins – and, as it were, disagreements of political nature.

We mourned the loss of our youngest daughter as she chose to remove herself from our lives. It may – or may not be – permanent. She wasn’t ready to commit to either possibility, only that for now, for herself, she must separate herself from her past, which includes all of her blood family. We wish her well, but we will always mourn her.

In August, I had an epiphany: I could do this retirement thing at the age of 62. I am finally at an age where money will come in – slight, but enough to subsidize my dream of writing and painting. I applied for my Social Security Benefits, told my boss, and contacted Human Resources. Now, I am counting the days. December 28th, 2018.

The coldness is creeping in. The days are still bright with sunshine, but the edge of winter will come with clouds and rain, rain and clouds. My prayer book is brimming with the heartbreak and needs of my friends. My dreams are restless and thematic, always returning to sharing a bedroom with my messy little sister and trying to decide what items to pack to move. Often, there is a dog in the dream, or a loving cat. Once, I screamed in my dream, venting my frustration at all things emotional: it wasn’t a real scream, not the kind that wakes you up. It was all inside my head, exploding.

I have stared at the screen of my computer, wanting to write. I have stared at the blank page, wanting to draw. Nothing came. I rolled with the punch, not wanting to fight the cosmos. Who has the energy? I asked.

Tonight, I am standing up and punching the cosmos in the eye. I can do this thing!

 

 

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We have had a long, hot, dry summer – the kind of summer I love, but which is not natural to the area where I live now. The earth has been parched, the Cascade Mountains are on fire, and smoke has been lingering in the valleys. We looked and felt like Reno on a typical summer day, but a little more humid. There was one sprinkling of rain in August, but we haven’t had anything that felt like real rain until last night, when we were blessed with about three hours of steady rain.

The garden looked so happy to have received this gift from Heaven this morning, that I had to take photos. These are the result on my time spent worshiping the Creator (making any kind of art is a form of worship). Enjoy.

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There are definite signs of the change of season around here. The birds are starting to pair up, the air is warmer, and buds are beginning to swell.

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Heck, I might even have daffodils to pick next week!

The Periwinkle is already beginning to boast a few flowers, and crocuses are in full swing (all except mine, which are woeful), and the Camellia has a few pink blooms open. I noted the honeysuckle is leafing out, too.

Last week I even started some seeds: two kinds of sunflowers and one variety of heirloom tomatoes.

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The sunflowers wasted no time in sprouting upward and today I noticed that the tomato plants are making a brave attempt to sprout.

I decided to start the sunflowers this way because the last two years have been a bust for me. In 2011, my sunflowers started but stunted. In 2012, not a single sunflower seed planted out-of-doors bothered to sprout. I don’t know if the chickadees ate the seeds as soon as I sowed them, or is something else came along and nipped the fragile sprouts, but I had no sunflowers last summer.

My husband never got the vegetable garden sorted out last summer and the only tomato plant we had was a volunteer that sprouted up by the compost bin. It did eventually produce some fruit, but that corner of the yard is only full sun for two months out of the summer and by September – when tomatoes need the sun the most – it is a shade garden. I thought if I had some nice tomato plants started this year, I could work them into my full-sun flower beds and maybe – just maybe – I would have some tomatoes by the season’s end.

Of course, the veggie garden may be a “go” this year, but I’m not holding my breath. We get distracted and I am certainly not going to be the one to haul out the rototiller and attempt to turn all that soil! Sure, I probably could, but my husband can be territorial. So I will leave that to him, and if he gets it done or not will be his decision. But I will incorporate veggies in and out of my flowers, just in case.

My garden desperately wanted me to go around and finish dead-heading all the flowering plants that faded after the rainy season started, so I worked on that today. I re-staked my grapevine win hopes that I will get some grapes this year. This is year number 3 and I have it pruned down to the strongest vine. Crossing my fingers on that one.

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This was my first project of the day: getting the rain barrels set up. I have two. One is permanently plumbed into the drain for the rain gutters. It has an on/off switch and all I did was open the flange so the water from the rain gutters will now be diverted into the rain barrel. The second barrel is free standing.

First, I replaced the paving stones I had with regular cinder blocks, and made the ground a lot more level than it was last year. Then I removed a 4′ section of the rain gutter drain (when we had the new rain gutters installed, I made them set this pipe up for me so I could remove that 4′ section every March 1 and replace it every October 1 with little hassle).

I found a rain barrel pump that I hope to purchase before watering season begins. The biggest problem with the rain barrels is there is no water pressure! The only downside to the solar pump is that the pictured rain barrel is in a very shaded location. The other barrel is in a sunny location. But if it is portable enough, I can probably make it work here, too. That would be beyond awesome.

That was pretty much all the prep work I did, other than to peruse garden catalogs and dream of new plants.

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Harvey was quite bored with the whole thing. “Walk! Walk! Food! Walk! Food!” He’s such a “Dug”.

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Darn. My wallet is lighter this evening because I saw two perennials I just “had” to have for my garden. It’s an addiction.

First off, I want to say I did not intend to buy any plants this weekend unless I stumbled upon some sunflower starts. For some vague reason, my sunflowers are not coming up (again) this year. I had the same problem last year but I thought it was because I came home on Memorial Day weekend and I didn’t get any sunflower seeds in the ground until then. This year, I have planted sunflower seeds several times and nothing comes up. Either it’s too cold, the birds are getting my seeds, or…?

I only browsed the plants at the grocery store because I was looking for possible sunflower starts.

And this caught me eye. It’s beautiful. It’s a perennial. It was $6.99.

It’s a mullein and it is going right here, next to where the sunflowers are supposed to be coming up in my front yard. I lost the little plastic name tag, but I *think* it is verbascum ‘Southern Charm’. It’s beautiful.

I then stopped at the Farmer’s Market. I was looking for the hazelnut mulch stand. Yes, it is time to start buying bags of hazelnut mulch and finish mulching all my flower beds. I figure if I buy 5 bags at a time, I can manage this little project of mulching my garden all by myself.

I was only two booths in when I saw this.

Honeysuckle. A gallon plant for $10. I love honeysuckle. One of the first rentals Don and I lived in had an old honeysuckle vine over the front door. They smell amazing and hummingbirds love them.

I have looked for one off and on over the years. Usually, I haven’t had the money to buy one. Or I simply can’t find a mature-enough plant to make the purchase worthwhile. But there it was: a ten dollar mature honeysuckle.

Dang.

I picked up the hazelnut mulch, too.

Then I came home and hoped it wouldn’t rain.

I edged and weeded and dug and planted.

I planted my fothergilla in the back yard. I mulched it, too.

This is the flower bed I worked on Saturday. Too bad the Shasta daisies are not yet in bloom and the Oregon grape is past. I don’t know about that Oregon grape: I planted it expecting low shrubs and I got these huge commercial variety of Oregon Grape that seem to go viral. They are over 6′ tall!!

It’s peony season in my garden. Just a few of them are in the island flower bed. I have a lot more in peripheral flower beds.

This double-peony is stuck up against the garage. The photo doesn’t do it justice: it’s a soft purple shade that somehow translated to pink in the camera.

This double bloom translated nicely to the camera.

A single pink peony.

I have yellow, pink, burgundy, red, salmon, red-and yellow, single, double, triple, plain and tree peonies.

One can never get enough of peonies.

Except they are done blooming mid-June.

Another plant I love. I transplanted a few wild foxgloves (pink and white) to my garden. I love the wild ones, not the commercial ones. Foxglove is a biennial, meaning that the first year it is only a lot of leaves, but it blooms the second year and thereafter. It’s a great cut flower, will bloom all summer if you do cut it, and the bees go nuts over it.

Idaho blue-eyed grass. No, I do not know why it is named “Idaho” because it is an Oregon native as well. Not a great cut flower: the blooms are there in the day and close up at eventide. But the fragile beauty that is blue-eyed grass is appealing to me.

And, yes, I really have an old hanging basket frame turned upside down over the plant. That way, I know where it is. Doesn’t everyone mark their plants like that?

This lovely insect (according to my Audubon Field Guide to Insects & Spiders) is a Cottonwood Twig Borer (Oberea quadricallosa). I included the scientific name because when I tried to do an online search for the same insect, the Cottonwood Tree Borer came up with several different scientific names.

Whatever: it doesn’t harm peonies. It’s just tucking in for the night.

A dead wasp in the peony bud. No doubt there is a spider behind a petal.

Spider: 1. Wasp:0

A blood-red Lady Beetle. No doubt she is looking for an aphid snack.

Are there male Lady Beetles?

That was a rhetorical question.

I love the seed pods of my tree peonies. The bloom is past and the petals have fallen: this funny little item is what is left. They harden when they dry out.

All I can tell you about this critter is that it is a moth. It is most likely a bark moth of some sort. It is probably not a beneficial insect, but it is trapped inside my house and not in the litter under the rhododendrons. I usually find bark moths under the rhodies where their caterpillars have no doubt been wreaking some sort of havoc. I bear them no grudge since any apparent damage they do is minor.

At least as far as I can tell.

Last night, just as the sun began to set, the light graced the trees with a yellowish tinge. The dark clouds over Vancouver, Washington, were just beginning to build up and slowly roll southward. Shortly after all turned dark and we were settled down in front of the television to watch a movie, that cloud rolled over Portland and dumped an inch of rain in an hour’s time.

It dried out again today and I spent the afternoon digging, edging and mulching. It’s a full-time job that I love.

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I took advantage of the quiet today and did way too much around the house. Now I am aching all over.

I washed the walls in the empty room upstairs in preparation for a coat of paint. Since the walls are canted (this is a bungalow-style house and the second-floor is actually the attic converted), washing the walls was a little tricky and a lot of up-and-down on the stool, and a lot of crawling along on my knees. But I got it done and I’m ready to paint. Except I can’t decide it I want to paint the baseboards white or paint them blue like the rest of the room? If I leave the door and door frame white, shouldn’t I paint the baseboard white? And what about the window sill?

Enough of that. It was another stunning day in the Pacific Northwest: high thin clouds, warm air, lots of sun breaks. I washed the sheets and hung them out to dry on the clothesline, all the while listening to the many birds. The song sparrow is the most vocal, but I could hear robins, a pileated woodpecker, the bushtits, a band-tailed pigeon, and grosbeaks. I looked for the grosbeaks, but they were in the tops of tall fir trees several houses from me and never flew my direction. But I know that’s what they were.

I planted sixteen more glads and covered the new plantings with the dog/cat repellent. Murphy will walk on the stuff, but he won’t dig in it.

I did my normal Sunday housework and watched the birds in my feeder and around the front yard. So many birds this weekend! Yesterday I noted two pine siskins! Today I was visited by an occasional traveler through here: a chipping sparrow (adult non-breeding, probably an immature bird). The house finches are back, too. We changed suet brands and worried that our suet eaters wouldn’t like it, but the Northern flicker (female) and two red-breasted nuthatches came and dined off of it.

I took my camera and tried to capture some of the more dramatic changes out in the yard.

The brilliant red stems of peonies unfurling. Not all of the peonies have red stems and the leaves will change color as the mature.

This peony is already leafing out.

And this peony has BUDS! I’m so excited! I will have peony blooms in March!

The Dragon Flower is sending up spikes. It won’t bloom until the first of June, but it looks like we’ll have several stinky blooms then!

I am going to be moving slowly tomorrow while my body works out the kinks from all the work I’ve done, but I think it was well worth it!

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Balmy February

Apologies to my friends and relatives who live east of the Rocky mountains: we are in an El Niño weather pattern here on the West Coast and February is downright balmy. I remember another February like this, back in 1983: we’d just moved to the Portland  metro area and I knew nothing of a temperate climate. The camellias and azaleas were opening in Portland: I remember the profusion of pinks and whites and the spring bulbs pushing upward, with the yellow accents of forsythia in bloom. I sat out on the ledge of the house where we were staying and tanned my legs in the low winter sun.

I have come to appreciate the El Niño years: more sunshine = less depression for me. The La Niña years mean more clouds.

This past week, it seems like every day was a new burst of color somewhere: a rhododendron along my commute home suddenly pink with flowers. Someone’s white camellia in full regalia. The median of I-205 just south of Oregon City and north of Willamette suddenly brilliant yellow with wild mustard. Pussywillows along the Willamette River are already turning into leaves, and some of the flowering fruit trees are opening up.

In my own yard, the forsythia I planted last year is just starting to open. The daffodils that were just stalks of green leaves a few days ago are now swelling with yellow buds and will be opening next week. Some of the crocuses are poking up out front.

Donald told me that the camellia had a flower or two open already.

It is the only time a camellia is pretty: when the very first flower opens, before any of the blooms have a chance to turn dirty brown and fall onto the ground below in a soggy heap. Delicate flowers that cannot be picked: they turn brown and soggy.

I decided to do some work in the yard. Too many years have passed since I planted my irises. The daylilies have been in their “temporary” location for five years. The Shasta daisy along the north fence had grown too large for its location.

I moved the day lilies out to the front yard where I’ve always wanted them to be, in front of the retaining wall. I planted half of them out there five years ago, but I wore myself out digging and planting, and so set the remainder in the temporary bed. Now they are all where I wanted them. I divided the irises and planted some of them in with the day lilies. And gave away a bunch to a neighbor woman who has never tried outdoor gardening.

(“But I kill houseplants,” she said. “So do I,” was my reply, “but it is darn near impossible to kill irises. These were my mom’s and grew out in the gravel driveway until she died.” I think the very idea that they survived in the gravel appealed to the neighbor because she agreed to take them.)

I was trying to pace myself, not do too much. Stop and enjoy the buzz of bumblebees and other insects happy to be warmed up enough to fly about. Listen to the birds: the song sparrow, the robins, the scrub jay, the English house sparrow next door. Count the blooms in my yard: periwinkle and wild violets and camellia and crocuses poking up.

The Saffron crocuses are in full bloom right now. It was a joy to discover them under the camellia.

I finally knocked the mud off of my garden shoes, put the shovel away, and gathered up my tools to bring back into the house. I brought in the laundry — did I mention it was nice enough to drag out the clothesline? In February? And my clothes dried?

And then I crashed. My muscles ache.

I have 45 gladiolus bulbs to plant. Not sure what possessed me to buy those, but I know right where I want them. I’ll plant them over the next three or four weeks, so that I have glads blooming at different intervals. Cut flowers all summer long is my ultimate goal.

I ordered seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery, too. Veggie and flower seeds. Balmy February went right to my head.

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