Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

It’s cool and getting ready to rain right now, but for the past three days I have taken my coffee outside to sip while I watch the world around me grow. Some mornings were a tad chilly, but a towel on my bench and a blanket over my knees, hot coffee in hand – who cares as long as the sun peeps out from behind clouds?

The birdsong this morning drowned out the ambient sounds of the city (the distant freeway, traffic on the street beyond our fence, the drone of airplanes): “Cheery Up! Cheery Up!” sang robins delineating their territories and calling their mates. The familiar “Brr-Whirr” of the Spotted Towhee told me that they are nesting nearby.

The past few days, a male Anna’s hummingbird has been doing it’s dangerous aerobatics over our heads: it flies thirty feet up into the air, hovers, then makes an arcing dive. Ten feet above the ground, it abruptly changes directions back toward the heavenlies and the wind through its wing feathers creates a loud “CHIRP!” overhead. He’s courting a mate, but often she’s nowhere in sight. (It is a startling sound if you don’t know it is coming and he lets loose his miniature version of a sonic boom just over your head.)

My computer is being crazy slow today and my photos are not loading properly.

IMG_5745I’d love to show off the new flower bed I created in front of the house, where I have planted my rose (which is showing no signs of life!), a Rose of Sharon, and left room for many more perrennials while cutting down the need for lawn mowing. Purple anemones, Vinca Minor, hens-and-chicks, above the wall, Lady’s Mantle and orange daylilies below, on the city right-of-way.

Along the back fence, I pulled and cut and swore at English Ivy that has entrenched itself over the past 15 years (the last wild spot in our yard). I’ve weeded and planted – no more than three hours per day (my mind wants to keep doing but my hands and back rebel – especially my hands! – and I have to give the work up. Still, I have accomplished more in April of this year than any single year in the past – yay for retirement and the freedom to be out there when the air is clear and the day is still cool enough to work!


The crazy Camellia is over-laden with blooms, a cacophony of pretty pink-and-yellow flowers, new green leaves, dying yellow leaves, and messy wet fallen blooms. I hate it when it looks like this, the limbs drooping low with all the weight and the slippery mess underneath.


My husband broke my garden bench (it was rotting through). I’m excited about this corner because I have Comfrey that will try to push past its boundary of weird metal grating – a perfect bee flower I have to gold in check because it *is* invasive and it can cause caustic reaction to skin. I planted a blue elderberry to the right of the comfrey (behind the yew), a blue huckleberry just to the left of the white grate and a red flowering currant behind the bench. COLOR! (The black plastic is killing the nasty Oregon Grape). I plan to encourage the forget-me-nots to fill in a neglected space – but I also love them right where they are in this photo, blooming bright blue and covered in mason bees.


It looks sweet and tiny here, inside its cage, but that broad-leafed plant will be six feet tall by mid summer: Comfrey.

I love this time of year, my hands in the dirt, the small insects and invertebrates (except the slugs!), and the myriad of birds who come to visit. Mesmerized by diamond-dew drops in the early morning, I sip my coffee and know I will not get anything done inside the house on such a day.

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My husband and I sat around our little outdoor firepit tonight, discussing gardening, weeding, and animals I counted at least 22 ducklings in the community pond this morning, and at least five mama ducks. One hen had one duckling. The hen I have been following still had nine (hers are the oldest, hatched Thursday of last week). Three pairs of Rufous-sided Towhees flitted around us, emboldened by the absence of dogs, perhaps. Never have we observed the elusive towhee behaving as boldly as tonight, the three pair!

The sun set, the sky darkened, and the first bat of the season flitted – briefly – overhead. A large bat, at least 8″ wingspan. We both have fond summer memories of bats diving in while we played out our last evening games, and horror stories of bats entangling in hair (my parents discouraged such hysteria). We both tossed rocks to bats in those dusky summer evenings to see if they would catch them: they always did.

Last night, as I took my husband on a tour of the front yard and the weeding/edging I had done on this first absolutely gorgeous Spring day in the Pacific Northwest, we nearly stepped on a small gray animal. It was deep in the moss and grass of the lawn, just a slight movement, followed by a naked pink half-tail. It was oblivious of us standing above it, watching. I forbade my husband from pulling it out by the tail just to see what it looked like: we both know what moles look like. It just wanted earthworms or crane fly grubs.

Burr hurr aye. (A la Brian Jacques and the Redwall series of books. Read them. They are magical.)

I have been in a funk since Christmas. I haven’t created anything new artistically. I haven’t written. I feel dead inside, creatively. My day job is just another place to go to, and make money, but not a place of passion or exciting change. I’ve felt “dead”.

I don’t know what I am going to do with this blog: keep it, practice writing, or… Family history, gardening, grandchildren? I feel as dull as the grey clouds that hover over the earth, promising only rain, and cold rain at that.

It is good to feel Spring is finally here, and that life might be awakening. I spent yesterday working with my hands in the loam, hoping to rekindle a little life in my heart.


The giant rhododendron on the north… And the broken rain barrel. 😦



The stark differnece between last year’s black-cap raspberry vines and this year’s canes. I need to cut out last year’s canes – nest year’s will go there in less that six months from now, and this year’s canes will be pruned out next spring.

I was going to move this ceramic “bird” house, but there’s a paper-wasp nest inside. I bought the bird house at a farmer’s market… love that the paper-wasps have taken over it. (Mud-daubers, paper wasps).

Finally, tonight we watched towhees – at least three pair – buzz about the yard, gathering sticks and nesting material. Rufous-sided towhees are elusive and secretive birds, more often heard than seen. To have three pair flitting about around us, unafraid, was amazing.

I do not know what I am going to do with my blog. Perhaps it had worn out its welcome and is a thing of the past, and I need to move on. But what if I do not record these seemingly mundane experiences? What if you never learn if the towhees nested and raised young, or the paper-wasps hatched, or the ducklings survived… Or the mole lived happily ever after because we are the gardeners who do not set mole traps or spray pesticides/herbicides?

I don’t know.

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028Blue-eyed grass

When did you start doing something? When did it move from something you do to a hobby, and then to a passion? I’ve always drawn: that is my in-born talent and passion. I didn’t “start” doing it, move on to hobby, and then to passion. Drawing, painting, creating – that’s just who I am.

But gardening. My fascination with wildflowers. That’s different.

My only recollection of a vegetable garden was Child Labor. My parent’s preferred form of punishment for infractions was to ground us kids to two weeks of having to stay home and weed: the garden, the yard, the space between sidewalk and street curb. In the ninety-degree Nevada sun. No weed was to be left standing, not even the pernicious salt grass. We had hoes and bare hands.

I remember a hike somewhere off of the Columbia Gorge. 1972. I was just entering Snarky Teenage Girl stage. I felt awkward in my changing body. We were traveling to some Soil Services Convention (does that sound remotely exciting to you?) in Portland, Oregon. The highlight of the trip was that my father purchased tickets to see the Royal Lipizzaner Horses at Memorial Coliseum. It was in the nosebleed section, but – horses! Because I knew my dad didn’t share my obsession and this was special for my sister and I.

We stopped somewhere along the Columbia River Gorge and hiked out some nature trail. I have no recollection of where it was, only that it was some managed site. I walked through with my father, who patiently pointed out plants to me. He knew both the Latin and common names. At the end, he quizzed me, and I failed. Miserably failed. I saw the disappointment in his eyes, but I was too snarky to care. (Years later, I wrote to him and apologized “for the year I was 15”. He came back with, “I thought it was me.” No, Dad. It was me being 15 years old.

I moved out at the age of 17. Wanderlust had a grip on my heart. My first garden was a little border of annuals I planted beside a rental I lived in for a year. I then moved into a rambling 1920’s square house with two girlfriends. It had wild honeysuckle, Bishops’ weed, and red peonies growing wild in the front yard. There was a tangled mess of a tamarisk bush. I didn’t know anything about invasive species, so I babied that plant and pruned it up pretty.

My husband and I later lived in the same house. Donald loved to grow vegetables. Fortunately, he also liked to weed. I did some of it, slowly learning the names of pernicious weeds – many of which are also herbs – like Shepherd’s Purse and chickweed.

I started canning: jelly, jam, apricots.

We moved to the lower Willamette Valley (Portland metro area) in 1983. We rented a house on an acre in an unincorporated part of Clackamas county and started raising chickens. the yard was a disaster of unkept flower beds. Roses were being swallowed up by grass. I was pregnant and unemployed and I hardly knew anyone, so I started working in the yard. Weeding.

The slugs were the worst. Huge slugs. Slugs of all sizes. Gluttonous slugs. I filled a bucket with bleach water and dropped them into it. I didn’t look and I dumped the mess somewhere behind the garage without looking. You can kill easily without looking. Salt took more time. There seemed to be no end of slugs.

The only thing I took away from that garden was the Dragon lily – and quite literally. We dug up all the bulbs without asking or telling, filled in the hole, and moved to our first real home.

That was a Cape Cod bungalow down by the river. The yard was – again – a disaster. The periwinkle/creeping myrtle had been allowed to overgrow the tiered flower beds. We planted roses and columbines. We lived there for almost five years and I cleared every inch of the flower garden, encouraging flowers every inch of the way. Then bad things happened financially, and we lost the house. Well, we managed to sell it, but we only broke even. It was the beginning of a long, dark, tunnel of financial issues.

Eventually, we moved into a single-wide trailer (I refuse to call it a manufactured home – it was a trailer). This trailer had a small front yard and a large back yard. Technically, the back yard was “our” yard and the front yard belonged to the trailer in front of us. Fortunately, our neighbors uphill wanted the flat area behind us for their yard (so they could put up a basketball hoop) and the neighbors on the other side didn’t care, either way. We took over the shady portion outside our front door.

I took that area from nothing to a sculpted lawn (shaped somewhat like a fish) with flowers, wild ferns, raspberries, roses, and even a row of vegetables in the sunniest portion. Every bit of landscaping was created by my hands with the exception of the espalier apple tree that my husband planted. I even prayed down the deformed pine tree in the front yard.

Seriously. We got eleven inches of snow one day and I looked out at that hated pine tree and prayed, “Lord, just let the snow kill it.” It fell over within the day. Thank the good Lord above! A friend pulled out the stump.

I discovered that I loved to get out there and pull weeds, deadhead flowers, and baby green growing things. Except when my neighbor was the Bible-quoting superwoman of ministry.

This woman could quote the Bible. We attended the same church and she was really a nice enough person, but really? I’d be on my knees, silently praying, and totally enjoying the sound of birds, the smell of earth, and the feel of sun on my back. She’d open her window and lean out.

“Praise the Lord! It’s a glorious day! I just read <insert some scripture> and God says <insert another scripture> and I believe <insert yet another scripture>.”

I cringed every time her window opened and she invaded my private space. I wondered what “unsaved” people must think when a Christian approaches them with verse after verse in the Bible? Doesn’t this person have an original thought of her own? Does she read anything besides the Bible? Does she realize she’s speaking a foreign language to anyone who doesn’t know evangelical Christiandom? I wanted to slap her. I wanted to stand up and say, “You know, I’m out here minding my own business. You’re interrupting me. You could really go out and help your 13 year old son plant his garden and not dump it on me because you’re so busy with your two year old and your memorized-by-rote Scripture.”

But I am nice and I let the poor 13 year old skater boy suffer. I did offer him some suggestions on the side, but all I saw in his eyes was the hurt from being the child of the first “mistake” marriage and the perfection of his younger sibling. Dammitall. They moved long before we moved, but I think of that boy often, and I hope he still gardens – despite his Bible-quoting mother.

We were financially stable by 2001. Bad debts were getting paid off rapidly and our credit score was finally in the mid-600’s. We could get a home loan. It was low, and the market was a Seller’s market, so it was – technically – a bad time to buy. But, we had faith that this was our time.

And it was. We found this cute little Cape Cod bungalow with an awesome bathroom (large claw foot bathtub separate from the shower) and hardwoods throughout. Selling point? That would be the peonies.

They were well past blooming, but I recognized the foliage. There were a lot of peonies in this yard. The yard was swallowed up by invasive grass and would need a LOT of work, but – peonies. LOTS of peonies.

The seller requested that we allow them to dig up some of the red peonies. What the heck? That was an easy request and we let them take some of their favorite peonies. They took the ones that are my least favorites – they didn’t touch the tree peonies or the triple reds or the double salmon ones. And they didn’t take enough of the red ones to hurt that part of the garden. They could have taken more.

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