Archive for the ‘Garden Notes’ Category

When in doubt, call Kathleen!

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Scary Seed Pod

It’s been several months now since our replacement septic system was installed.  The smooth expanse of sand over the new installation has given way to clumps of grass and dandelions, a bramble or two, and a number of recognizable weeds.  We trust that all of that will be taken care of in short order when our landscape service puts in a replacement lawn.

Meanwhile, it becomes more and more unsightly and then, suddenly, a big ugly plant sprang forth right in the middle of the area.  You could just tell to look at it that it was something nasty.  It had a number of prickly seed pods and some deceptively attractive blossoms.  It looked evil.

Mystery Plant

“I just sent some photographs to you,” Nyel told me on his return from the early morning chicken run.  “When you get them, send them on to Kathleen and ask if she knows what that plant is.”  Kathleen Sayce is the best go-to biologist we know when it comes to identifying our local plants.  And a lot of other stuff.  Besides, she is a neighbor and a friend and always seems to enjoy helping us naturalist neophytes.

“Oh my!” was her response. “That is definitely not from around here. It is a Datura relative. I will find the name and let you know. May I come by and take some more photos?”  Absolutely!  And within minutes here she came armed with her camera, a digging tool, and gloves.  “It’s jimson weed,” she told us.  “You definitely don’t want it around.  Every part of it – stem, leaves, seeds, pollen – is toxic.”  And not just a little bit toxic I read later.  Even a small amount, if ingested, can be fatal.

Deceptively Pretty

She dug it up and we suppled a big black garbage bag to put it in.  “I don’t advise composting it,” she said.  “Better to send it to the dump.”  While she was at it, she walked around the area, identifying other plants that were cropping up – but none toxic, thank goodness.  The seeds for some of them could have been here before the construction, but most likely the jimson weed seeds came in on a piece of equipment that was being used.  Sneaky seeds!

I feel a lot better about that area now.  I’ll feel even better about it when we finally get a lawn planted and we can get back to the grass being greener over the septic tank.  Meanwhile, thank you Kathleen!!  You are amazing!

Gardens! Music! Art! Appetizers!

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Music in the Gardens is coming right up!  Saturday, July 21st from ten to four.  We’ve have our tickets in hand.  We also have lists of musicians and artists, which gardens they will be in, and at what times. Trying to decide where to go first and in what order to proceed is a lot like putting together a life-sized three-dimensional puzzle.

Tickets, which include a map and the garden descriptions, are the crucial element.  They cost $20 and are available at the English Nursery in Seaview, the Basket Case Greenhouse in Long Beach, and at the Bay Avenue Gallery in Ocean Park.  Hurry!  Do not pass go!  They are your entrée to a day of enchantment.

If you are like me and want to see it all, musicians and artists schedules are available on the Water Music Tour Facebook page:   Rather than duplicate that information here, I’ll just give an overview to whet your appetite.

Garden #1 – Singer Songwriter Brian O’Connor with Ceramic/Garden Tile Artist Renee O’Connor.
Garden #2 – Jazz Musician Tom Grant with Basket-Maker Susan Spence.
Garden #3 – Tanz and Sea Strings (musical duo Judy Eron and Charlie Watkins) with Metalwork Artist Jacob Moore.
Garden #4 – Brad-n-Dave Acoustic Band with Watercolor Artist Betsy Toepher with Kent Toepher selling garden books.
Garden #5 – Jean-Pierre Garau and Al Perez of the Al Perez Band with Sculptor Constance Jones.
Garden #6 – Guitarist George Coleman with Potter David Campiche and Topiary Artist Nansen Malin.

Coordinating the times is the tricky part, especially if you want to catch all the musicians.  For those, checking the FaceBook page is really a must.  If it helps any, the artists in Gardens #1, #3, #4, and #6 will be there all day. Other artists and all musicians have two- to four-hour blocks of time.  As I said at the beginning — Trying to decide where to go first and in what order to proceed is a serious challenge – but a delightful one, even so!

The tour will truly be a feast for all the senses!  Oh… and did I mention food?  Many of the garden hosts will be offering appetizers – often being served on porch or deck. I hope to see you somewhere along the tour route on Saturday!

Bounty on the Hoof

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Apple Tree (after thinning)

It seems to me that this spring has been especially lovely here on the Peninsula – not just weather-wise, but in the greening of the trees and in the great profusion of budding and bursting and blooming  wherever I look.  I can’t remember a year when our roadside blackberry bushes have been as laden with blossoms as they are right now.  The honeysuckle near our woodpile is blooming to beat its record and yesterday Nyel thinned our dwarf apple tree four-and-a-half-pounds worth!

That thinning process always pains me.  I think how hard that little tree (and the birds and bees and other pollinators) worked to produce all those apples and I can hardly bear to watch Farmer Nyel in his ruthless pursuit.  But, the rule of thumb is to thin when the apples are about as big as a dime in diameter and, also, to wait until after the ‘June drop.’  That’s the time (usually around June 20th) when the trees naturally drop some of their fruit.  The final bit of advice is to leave about six inches between the remaining apples.

The Promise of Applesauce

Well… when it comes to second-guessing Mother Nature, it’s not a perfect world.  June drop hasn’t yet occurred in our one-tree apple orchard, it’s a few days before the 20th, and the apples are already the diameter of quarters.  Furthermore, Farmer Nyel left about two or three inches between the remaining apples, not six.  But he probably did the right thing considering this is a teeny tiny tree.  (He could reach to the very top without even using a ladder.)


The bag of thinnings is in our refrigerator crisper.  In his usual waste-not-want-not manner, Farmer Nyel’s plan is to make them into applesauce.  That makes me feel a whole lot better about that entire thinning process.  Those little baby apples seemed so hopeful!  Applesauce seems like a suitable fulfillment.

Meanwhile, there are blossoms on the old pear tree near the gazebo and the honeysuckle that surrounds it fills the air with its sweet perfume.  The garden smells delicious!  Good enough to eat!  And when those apples and pears are ripe, it will be.

And… will that grass be greener?

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Wow!  A day and a half and our new septic system is up and running.  There were only ten minutes of “no flushing” during the change-over from the old to the new.  Then everything was good to go, so to speak. As soon as the county signs off on the electrical part, we can think about restoring our lawn.

We’ll also be thinking about those unsightly green covers – three of them – that seem to be a crucial part of this new era of Septic Landscaping.  “Oh, don’t worry,” we were told.  Once your lawn comes up, they’ll blend right in.  No.  They. Won’t.

I was somewhat relived to learn that we can put something on top of those ugly intrusions.  Like a big pot of flowers.  I’m thinking huge tubs.  “As long as they can be moved off when needed,” we were told.  “Maybe by a derrick,” I’m thinking.

But we’ll cross that bridge later on.  I’m not really sure I want tubs of flowers out there, anyway.  It’s not like the placement of the covers was done with an eye to artistic arrangement.  It’s one of those form-follows-function things I guess, and we all know the function of a septic system.  Right now, randomly placed tubs of flowers in the middle (actually, more like on an edge) of the lawn isn’t my idea of appealing.

We’ll have some time to think about it while we watch the grass grow.  I don’t really expect that to go smoothly, either.  We’ve had experience growing lawn grass*. It was a smaller area and it finally looks great, but it took several years and more than one application of grass seed to fill in the iffy areas.  I’m already working on my Patience Factor.  I hope the girls in the coop are doing the same.  It’s likely to be a long spring and summer.  

*(Did you know that if you look up ‘growing grass’ these days you have to be specific as to lawn or marijuana?)

Yard Art?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Well, I’ve heard of the Ashcan school of art which, according to Wikipedia, “was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century that is best known for portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.”  What was happening on our Croquet Court today wasn’t the Ashcan School.  More like the Outhouse School.

For a fact, it was happening not far from where the old outhouse used to be. Appropriate, I thought.  It could also be termed kinetic – lots of big movement. And noise. And it looked like several things were happening at once.  Dirt coming out of a big hole while sand was going in.  It’s the beginning of our new septic system – a happening right here a stone’s throw from my bedroom window.

It’s one of those love/hate experiences that many of us here on the Peninsula eventually must face up to.  Living, as we do, on a fragile little sandspit with the water table not far from the surface during the rainy times, our septic systems are mega-important.  And, if you need to build one from scratch or even replace one after forty years like we do – mega-expensive.

On the other hand, when your pipes gurgle at you every time you shower or flush and you fear that something may come up the drain at you, the sooner the situation is corrected, the better.  It’s a complicated procedure these days.  There are specialists to hire.  First of all, an expert to draw a plan.  Then the county must approve it.  And then another expert with big equipment and a long waiting list must be engaged to do the work.  It all costs about leventy-leven times as much as it cost my grandfather to dig the hole for his outhouse.

And then, I suppose, there will be repair work to be done in the garden.  But, I console myself that the grass is always greener over the septic tank.  Erma Bombeck said so.  Right now, that’s about the only happy thought I have.  That and the end of gurgling.

Whew! Guilt Free!

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

I’m not one to do much reading of gardening books or watching or listening to programs about tips for a better crop of lettuce or aphid-free roses.  I find they make me anxious and discontent.  Somehow, “they” make it all sound so easy but when I go outside and consider what’s in front of me, the prospect of making order out of chaos seems overwhelming.

But, on Tuesday I happened to turn on the car radio just in time to hear most of “In Season” – a program that “explores the gardens and farms of the Lower Columbia Pacific region” says KMUN’s website – and I didn’t find it daunting at all.  In fact, I got home before it was over and sat in the garage, listening until the very end.

Last Year: Surprise Poppies

The hostess of the program is Teresa Retzlaff who, with her husband Packy Coleman, owns a small farm on the other side of the river.  Her guest on Tuesday was a fellow-gardener, Jessica Schleif.  They were talking about spring gardening tips and cautions and I found them to be reassuring to the max!

My main take-away (and music to my ears!) was: resist the temptation to plant anything yet; the soil is still too cold.  When I heard that, relief washed right over me and I was actually able to listen intelligently to some of their other points.  As in:  this is a good time to observe; pay attention to what’s coming up in the garden – things you might have forgotten you planted a year or so ago.

In My Mind’s Eye, A Garden Past

Say what!!!  These really-o, truly-o gardeners are saying that they sometimes forget what might be in their gardens?  It’s not just me?  The ‘surprises’ I see each year might have been surprises to the experts, too?  Oh my!  I like these women sight-unseen!

As for what I can do right now: put out the slug bait.  Okay.  I can do that.  Otherwise, just wait patiently for things to warm up.  No problem.  I’m on it big-time!

Getting the Itch

Friday, February 9th, 2018

South Garden in Summer 2013

There’s nothing like a dollop of sunshine in an azure sky – even if it’s for just an hour or so – to get you in the mood for a go at the garden.  The other day, I couldn’t help myself.  Even though I had to layer up beyond ease of movement, I managed to make some headway on the south garden.  Mostly ripping out dead ferns and old dahlia stalks, but it was a start.

The biggest impetus to my gardening zeal (does 45 minutes of ripping and pulling qualify as zeal?) was the example set by Beach Time Landscaping.  Little by little they have been pruning and shaping us back into symmetry.  The view out our east windows is soothing beyond belief.  There’s nothing like a bit of balance and proportion to make you feel better about your universe.

English Cottage Garden

But, my plan for the south garden – the first area to assail one’s senses as they approach our door – is as usual.  I want a riotous tangle of color and texture –  flowers enough to cut for inside with plenty to distract from the weeds that will undoubtedly settle in first.  In my mind’s eye, those beds are an English cottage garden in all its glory.  Usually, the best I can do is nasturtiums running amuck over the porch.

But… there’s always this year.  If I’d quit stewing and get doing, I might have a chance of success.  Maybe next week…

February! My Favorite Month!

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

There has never been a doubt in my mind that the very best month of all is February.  It’s not absolutely perfect weather-wise, of course, but I’m basically an indoors kind of girl so I can easily overlook the weather.   And never mind all those poets who say things like February, month of despair,/with a skewered heart at the center. (Margaret Atwood)

I first loved February because it’s my birthday month.  And then I loved it because it’s not like other months – it doesn’t always have the same number of days.  And sometimes, like this year, it doesn’t even have its own full moon. Usually my birthday is on the last day, but sometimes it’s not.  And, thank goodness, it’s the shortest month no matter what.

Also, it’s the month that’s all about valentines and special candies and secret admirers.  As if that weren’t enough, when I was a girl we had two (count ’em, two!) days off from school – Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday.  I still think of the 12th and the 22nd as holidays.  Just one “Presidents’ Day” is wrong.  All wrong.

February is when the crocuses poke up.  And the daffodils and hyacinths are making headway, as well.  For my very first dinner party of the month, camellias for the table!  There are ducks and brant in “Little Lake” (named by Tucker in honor of my dad) out in our meadow.  There are Canada geese in the big lake near Willard’s Bench.  The eagles put on a daily show as they soar circles over the village.  There are patches of brilliant blue in the sky almost every day.

When I was little, I always hoped for a February snowstorm.  A few days off from school and time to make a snowman, maybe.  Now… I’m content to enjoy the warmth of my fireside, nodding over a good book.  February.  Short, sweet, snuggly February!  It’s definitely my favorite!

Wintery Thoughts Of A Garden Under Stress

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

A Tourist’s Eye View, Summertime

Several years ago, one of my neighbors commented that ours was a “garden under stress.”  No argument here.   Nyel and I had already begun to talk about what we were going to do when taking care of this yard got beyond us.  I took those neighborly remarks as a wake-up call –an alarm going off!  The time had come.

Even so, it took us a while to decide how to proceed.  Finally, we hired a crew to saw and cut, clip and chop those shrubs and trees into submission.  We are about two-thirds done with that first stage now and things are looking much better.  Probably not up to the neighborhood standard, but at least it’s beginning to look like someone cares!


“Intentional” is the watch word of the Head Gardener. Rather than start over with some of the out-of-control plants, his suggestion is to trim them in a way that makes the end result look like that was our intention in the first place.  Works for us!

Stage Two will be to consider that old Gazebo and our need for a woodshed of some sort.  That may be a more difficult issue — time-wise, money-wise, and agreement-wise between us parties of the first part.  It’s the gazebo we don’t see eye-to-eye on.  Maybe not the woodshed either.


We have agreed, though, in the interest of our pocketbooks, to leave the flower beds for us to do.  When I sit in my rocking chair and think about how I hope it will look in summer, I’m sure I can manage.  But… when I look outside at the reality of it all, I despair…  And I haven’t talked to Nyel yet about the vegetable garden.  Will we or won’t we try again this year?

I console myself with the thought that it’s better to have a garden partly under stress than in the throes of a full-blown nervous breakdown.  And that goes for Mary, Mary as well.  No wonder she was quite contrary!  I know the feeling…

For the first time in ages…

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Fall Garden

It’s Saturday and, for the first time in recent memory, we are home with absolutely no plans and no have-to’s for the entire weekend.  Of course, as might be expected, I’ve already spent an hour catching up with correspondence and trying to book a coffee date for tomorrow and a teeny-tiny meeting with a neighbor for today.  Nature abhors a vacuum and all that.

But, it is really lovely to have a full forty-eight hours to do whatever occurs to us – no appointments to go to, no events to attend, no pressing obligations.  Nyel actually has gone back to bed for a little more shut-eye and I am trying to sort through and prioritize those ever-present projects that have been on the back burner for months.  Some are want-to’s and some were once have-to’s but the passage of time seems to have washed out any urgency I once felt about whatever-they-were.


The garden is calling for clean-up but not so loudly as usual.  Since I heard a KMUN program the other day by a Master Gardener who advised leaving the detritus of fall where it is, I’ve ‘almost’ decided to let nature take its course.  Almost.  I did like her argument about the bees.  Bumblebees, in particular.  Did you know that the queen bumblebee hibernates through the winter?  She burrows under a shallow covering of soil, often under a protective pile of leaves, and there she stays until spring.  (Operative words here:  protective pile of leaves.)

After winter. when she rouses, she will seek out a sufficient place to start her brood in a dry, well-sheltered area that has some shade so the temperature of the colony can be regulated.  The queen will then fertilize her own eggs depending on the needs of the colony (fertilized eggs become female workers and unfertilized eggs become males) and lay them into brood cells where she will feed them nectar and pollen.


In about 4 days the eggs hatch. In the early days of the nest it is estimated that the queen may have to visit as many as 6,000 flowers per day in order to get enough nectar to maintain the heat needed to brood her eggs. And during every foraging trip the brood will cool down, so the trips should be short. This is why it is vital that the nest is located close to rewarding flowers.

But wait!!  Full stop.
At this point, I’m thinking that, while I might not feel compelled to do a fall clean-up, I do have to consider spring blossoms.  Maybe as many as 6,000?  Oh my!  I’ll think about that tomorrow (said Scarlett)… After all, I have the whole weekend.