Archive for the ‘Garden Notes’ Category

Wow! Lookin’ at where they ain’t!

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

Larry Freshley once told me that his first job out on the oyster beds when he was thirteen or fourteen was cluster-busting.  The task involves giving a large clump of oysters a smart rap with a crowbar or other heavy implement to separate the oysters (which tend to cleave together) from one another.  To young Larry’s question, “Then what?” his boss said, “Throw them where they ain’t.”

I’ve always thought that was one of the best instructions I’ve ever heard.  So, when I arrived home yesterday and walked around the perimeter of our house to see what my friend Pat Fagerland had accomplished over the past few weeks…  I first had to get over being totally gobsmacked and then found myself “looking where they ain’t.”  Weeds. that is!  Gone!  Not a weed in sightf!  How she managed all that I cannot even imagine.  It would have taken me all summer long to get all of that done and, even so, I’d be going back to the beginning time and time again, never getting to the end at all.

“Don’t you have a hoa?” she laughed when I called her.  “A what?” I think I had her repeat it a couple of times but I still don’t have a clue what she was talking about or even if I heard right.  “I’ll show you when I see you,” she said.  Of course, she made it sound like whatever that tool is made all the difference.  But, I know for a fact that, no matter what, she worked like a trojan to get things in this kind of shape.  “I’m not quite through yet,” she told me.  “I want to get it so you can easily maintain it…”

OMG!  What a wonderful gift of friendship!  I am truly blessed.  And spoiled to the max!!!  And teary every time I look at where they ain’t!



Season’s Greetings from Capt. Scarborough!

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Hawthorn in Nahcotta

For the second time this week, I nipped home to take care of a few items of business.  Nyel seemed in the best fettle yet when I left him and several telephone calls since then reveal that he is having a good day!  Yay!

The Peninsula greeted me in all its glory — ablaze with blossoms and colors and, best of all, stately Hawthorne trees all in full bloom.  From Chinook to Oysterville those lovely giants smiled at me and wished me well.  I felt that Captain James A. Scarborough, himself, was saluting me all along my way!

Scarborough was an Englishman – born in 1805 in Ilford, County Essex.  When he was twenty-four, he joined the Hudson Bay Company and first crossed the Columbia River bar aboard the Isabella in May 1830.  He worked for Hudson Bay Company for the next twenty years and, despite reports that his men did not respect him and that he was overly fond of demon rum, he received frequent promotions.

Captain James A. Scarborough

When he was thirty-eight he married Ann Elizabeth, a Chinook woman, and together they established a farm on Chinook Point where Chief Comcomly and his six wives had once lived.  The area became known as Scarboro Hill.   When Congress enacted the Donation Land Law in 1850, James and Ann filed for the land they had been living and working on.  They ended up with 643 acres extending about a mile along the north bank of the river and including all of Chinook Point and most of Scarboro Hill.

Having put in his twenty years for HBC, he retired (or was dismissed, according to some reports), moved permanently to his land claim and, until his  untimely death, devoted himself to farming, commercial salmon fishing, and piloting mail steamers over the Columbia River Bar.  Scarborough’s farm prospered.  He was fond of plants and set out many fruit trees as well as other ornamental and useful trees and shrubs.

Hawthorne “Grandchild” – NE Corner of Our Garden

Scarborough died in 1855 (two years after his wife’s demise) under somewhat  mysterious circumstances — there were rumors of poison.  There was also talk of a stash of gold ingots, supposedly buried on Scarboro Hill.  The treasure has never been found but, unbeknownst to most, the captain left behind enduring riches of another sort.

Hawthorne “Grandchild” – SE Corner of Our Garden

About 1848, even before he was living there full time, Scarborough planted a Hawthorn tree on the slopes of his hill.  According to all accounts, it was an absolutely magnificent specimen and, for almost half a century, it was used as a local landmark and navigation guide. When in 1897, in preparation for the establishment of Fort Columbia the following year, the Army cut down the tree, there was a public outcry that could be heard throughout Pacific County and even across the river.

Locals flocked to Scarboro Hill, took slips from the tree, and many resultant Hawthorns still thrive throughout the area, including two ‘grandchildren’ at our house. Nyel planted them  ten years or so ago, started from from one of those original “slips” that had become a giant in our front yard, only to blow down in the storm of 2007.  I am happy to report that the “grandchildren” of Captain Scarborough’s tree are thriving!



Chickens and Lilacs and Rhodies, Oh My!

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019


I nipped home yesterday afternoon to get the mail, pay some bills, deliver some book orders and get a change or two of clothes — all those itemss that go on hold when things get dicey.   But Nyel was in a good place — pain under control, appetite returning, and most of those pesky numbers looking better.  So, off I went!

So fragrant!

I was greeted in fine style!  The Jean Maries are out in all their glory — as well as the Mrs. G.W. Leaks.  Our lilacs are lucious and even the fuschias are blooming!  I know they are showing off in hopes that Nyel will come home before their glory days have passed.

Our Front Porch!

But, most amazing of all, was the welcome from all five girls.  No sooner was I in the house, than I heard them on our front porch.  Right up to the front door came the little red hen!  I’m sure they were a bit disappointed to find that it was only me — no Farmer Nyel in sight.  Nevertheless, they stuck around for some scratch and listened attentively to my report of things in the big hospital coop in Portland.

Glorious, Glorious May!

In the evening, after a super dinner at the Wachsmuths’, Carol walked across the street with me to “tuck in the girls.”  They left five beautiful eggs in the nest boxes and rustled around on their perches as we said goodnight.  In true farmer fashion, Carol made a a pouch of her sweater and nestled the eggs in it for her walk home.  How lucky we (and the chickens!) are to have such willing neighbors!!



Fake News? From Our Garden?

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

hyacinth and primrose – March 2012

I went walkabout in the garden yesterday, taking stock of what needs to be done (Yikes!) and getting a glimpse at how  the perennials are coming along.  To say it was a confusing half hour is putting it more mildly than our spring weather!  Or maybe it’s just my memory.

Mrs. G.W. Leak  — 2014

The hyacinths that once bordered the garden beds around the house have burst their boundaries and are filling in every available “empty” spot.  Not a problem but… aren’t they a month or so late?  It seems to me that they are usually intertwining with the first show of primroses early in March.  But, this year the primroses have been brightening the beds for some time — all by themselves.  Hyacinth’s supporting cheer came late.

Budding Lilacs

On the other hand, Mrs. G.W. Leak – that saucy rhododendron with the lovely pink petals and mysterious dark center – is bursting forth down near the east fence.  I think she’s at least a month early.  Don’t we usually pick armloads of that showy flower to take to the cemetery on May 30th?  This year, though… highly doubtful.

Our Pear Tree in Blossom – 2019

And how about my “birthday camellias?”  Finally, they are blooming!  Six weeks later than usual!  The lilacs and honeysuckle, however, look to be right on schedule – both  whispering promises of being here before summer — and the old (100+ years) pear tree is blooming to beat its record.  As for the lupine and day lilies and fern and buttercup – trying to take over, as always.  Some things don’t change…  But just what month do they think it is, anyway?  Those plant people are pretty confused, if you ask me.

All-in-all, I think the garden is on a bit of a bewilderment rampage.  Perhaps it can be compared to the fake news phenomenon coming from the other Washington.  It’s hard to know what to count on or how to plan.  The only obvious recourse is to get out there and try to sort the chaos and conflict from the normal and hoped for.  And, of course, to enjoy whatever pleasant surprises I might find amongst the familiar.

Saucy Hummers — Back with a Vengeance!

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Alone at the Feeder!

I was happy to see Dr. Madeline Kalbach’s “Birdwatching” column devoted to hummingbirds this week.  (And totally awed by the pictures accompanying the article.  Both Dr. Kalbach and her friend Susa Stauffer are fabulous photographers and they put my puny efforts to shame!)

We, too, have been enjoying the return of the rufous hummingbirds at our feeder.  They must have come back while we were in Portland at the hospital because, by the time we got home two weeks ago, they had re-established themselves among the resident Annas and it is (mostly) calm at the feeder.

In the early morning, as the sun is just peeping over the Willapa Hills, they are already distributing themselves around the six feeder stations.  Other little hummers vie to be next in line.  Where do they all go at night, anyway? We probably should get another feeder, but we don’t have a handy hanging spot – not one that we can readily see, that is.  Probably the height of selfishness, eh?

Later in the day, I see the little birds at the barberry by the south gate, checking out the camellias near the east porch, and sitting on the branches of the ready-to-burst-into-bloom- lilacs dotting the property.  I’ve often thought that their nests must be somewhere in the lilac bushes.  There are so many convenient little crotches made by the branches that seem just the right size for a tiny cup-shaped nest.  So far, though, I’ve not seen one.  Not here in Oysterville.

Resting in the Lilac Bush

Years ago, in California, we had an atrium that included, among the plantings, a lovely dwarf Japanese maple.  The same hummingbird family came there every year – at least I think it was the same family – and refurbished their tiny lichen-covered nest.  The female laid two white eggs, smaller than jellybeans, and raised those buggy-looking babies with the love and devotion that only a mother could give such unprepossessing-appearing offspring.  But… they fledged into beautiful Annas and I was always sure that their parents would have been attentive no matter what.

Once, before it became a known health hazard, I was sunbathing on my deck and watched as a humming bird settled herself on my outstretched arm.  Had I not been watching, I’d have never known she was there.  She seemed weightless and I felt blessed to be chosen as her resting place for those few precious seconds.

I don’t know about these Washington hummers, though.  More than once they have flown from window to window and room to room, hunting us down and buzzing at us through the pane to tell us the feeder needs refilling.  Saucy little bits of blurs and beaks!  I never tire of watching them.

Where there’s a will…

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Wheelchair Gardener

The sunshine began calling early yesterday morning.  By noon, Nyel had positioned himself (in his wheelchair) in the kitchen so that the sun was beaming through the window right onto his face.  There he sat, smiling and reveling in the warmth and the light.

“Let’s get you outside,” I said at lunch.  “I think we can do it – between your walker and the wheelchair, I think we can manage the step from house to porch and from porch to lawn.  Don’t you?”  He did and so off we went.  It all worked like a charm!

“And, while you’re here…” I suggested.  And before you could say fuchsias and geraniums, Nyel was equipped with a tarp in his lap and a pair of garden snippers in his hand.  I carried each of the hanging baskets and each of the geranium pots, one by one, and Farmer Nyel worked his pruning magic.  While he pruned, I worked in the west garden bed, weeding and planting nasturtium seeds (even though I think it’s too early for them.)

The Tendr Touch

We were outside for about two hours.  Maybe more.  There was a steady stream of visitors who, seeing the “Temporarily Closed” sign on the church, read the bronze plaque in the churchyard instead, and tried to figure out how to pronounce the “Tsako-te-hahsh-eetl” sign over our gate.  Neighbors Mark and Sandra came by on their walk and hung over the fence to visit a bit. A duck or two flew overhead.  The roosters crowed every now and then and the hummingbirds came by to say “thank you” for refilling their feeder.  It was all absolutely perfect.

Maybe we’ll do it again today – at least the getting outside part.  I’m trying to dream up another garden chore that can be done from a wheelchair…  But reading a good book and Clapping and Cheering for me occasionally will work, too!  I need all that C&C I can get! (It’s right up there with R&R!)

Weather, Climate Change, or Deer People?

Monday, March 25th, 2019

This year’s first camellias, March 25, 2019

For sure the Deer People (as Nyel calls our hoofed ruminant friends) have been super active in our yard this year.  We know that because they have left their calling cards EVERYwhere and have eaten every bit of deer candy within reach – roses bushes, apple twigs and branches, primroses, camellias, tulip (we only have one – a volunteer who didn’t know better) and probably a lot of other stuff we’ve not yet discovered.  The only thing that I really dislike sharing are the camellias… they have a special place in my heart.

We have two very old camellia bushes – probably dating from my grandmother’s time.  Ever since I can remember, each year’s very first bouquets from those bushes were presents given to me on my birthday, February 28th, by my mother.  Some years, that was the only gift.  Some years it was in addition to something else.  No matter what, it was my favorite gift of all.  “Here they are, Sydney!” she would announce.  “The first of the season!”

This year I gathered the first bouquet today – March 25th!  Almost a month late!  On the other hand, in 2015, the first blooms came in December!  Go figure!  I’m not sure what any of that portends.  I only know that from 1947 when I celebrated my 11th birthday here in Oysterville rather than at home in California, until 1997, the last year mom was able to live in this house, the first camellias came on my special day!  For fifty years!  And, as my mom would say, “That’s quite a many!”

I know that weather cycles come and go.  I know that we are in the midst of serious global climate change.  And, I know that the deer people are more prolific now than they were in my childhood here.  Undoubtedly, one of those factors has to do with the blossoming time for our camellias…  I don’t really care about a definitive answer… yet.  As long as they keep blooming, I can celebrate my camellia birthday after or before or during my natal day.  Whenever it is, I’ll think of my mom!

Consider it a test…

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

November 2016

Ten hanging baskets of fuchsias and ten fat clay pots of geraniums adorn our south porch.  They have been there every year from spring until mid-fall since 1972.  That’s when my folks retired here to mom’s family home and dad began working his magic with the garden – which extended, of course to the pots and baskets on the porches and the climbing Dorothy Perkins roses on the fences.

Fuchsia – March 2019

Since 1998 when we moved in, Nyel, in his turn, has been the garden steward.  My job is to clap and cheer.  And to weed.  But I don’t touch those porch plants except for occasional watering.  (If reminded.)   Usually, in October, Nyel cuts back the fuchsias and gives them a good soaking and hangs them in the garage for the winter.  This year, though, he broke his leg, and was ordered off his feet for three months so… the baskets remain as they have been for over a year.  Ditto the pots of geraniums, though we usually don’t take them inside.  Sometimes the plants winter over; sometimes not.

Geranium – August 2015

We thought about having me bring one basket at a time inside, having Nyel trim and water, and then me carting them to the garage and hanging them on the ceiling rack made for the purpose.  Great idea but… I’m just too wimpy.  I can carry one basket at a time… barely.  But lifting that same basket dripping with water… forget it!  So, the fuchsias join the geraniums in the wait-and-see mode.

Geranium – March 2019

Even if some of them make it, I’m afraid they will not be things of beauty.  Nyel is a great trimmer; Mother Nature, not so much.  Not with porch plants, anyway.  We have decided to consider it all a test.  If things turn out well, no telling how slothful we may become.  But, if the results are bad, we may have to rethink the porch plant thing – especially if Nyel continues breaking all the parts of that pesky leg!

With apologies to Dad, of course, and to Hank Batten who was his right-hand garden helper.

Of January, Farmer Nyel, and…

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Nyel, January 27, 2019

January is a good month for pruning fruit trees but, even so, I was thrown a little off-center yesterday when Nyel said he was going out to work on our apple tree.  I might have raised my voice – just a little.

“WHAT?  How can you possibly manage that from your wheelchair?”

“I’m using my walker,” he said.  And he did!

What a guy!  Fortunately for all concerned, I was busy with a big project of my own and so I didn’t have time to hover.  In fact, I didn’t give much thought to Nyel or his endeavor until he was almost finished, just in time to get a picture or two.  I gave the universe a fleeting “thank you” for the fact that it is a dwarf tree and Nyel can reach even the highest branches.  And I praised El Niño for providing us with a warm, mild winter.  All conditions were perfect and the task was accomplished without incident in almost nothing flat!

Jauary Rhodies

While I was cheering and clapping, I took a few minutes to consider the rest of our garden.  For the middle of winter, it’s looking good.  The lilacs are leafing out, the hyacinths are pushing up, and our winter-blooming rhodies are in full blossom.  I do wish I knew their name. They are not my favorites, blossom-wise, but they cheer me up every year when our garden is dominated by winter greens and grays.

Speaking of cheering, our weather has been spectacular.  The warm dry winter of El Nino translates into sun and blue skies and mild temperatures (in the 50s today) here in Oysterville.  My heart goes out to our friends in the northeastern and southern states who are dealing with “Winter Storm Jayden” and other dreadful “weather events.”  I try not to linger on that too much… overwhelming outrage at the climate-change-deniers and our current administration’s suicidal policies make me crazy.

Lilac in January

On the other hand, I’m clapping and cheering with the news that Germany plans to close all 84 of its coal-fired power plants and will rely primarily on renewable energy by the year 2038.  I doubt if I’ll be around to see it, but if enough other countries follow suit, there may be someone, even here in Oysterville, who will reap the benefits.  Heady thoughts, eh?  You can’t ever tell where a simple pruning effort will lead, at least in the Thinking Department!  Go, Farmer Nyel!

Fact, Fiction, Fake, Fantasy!

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Chuck Messing, 2013

Nyel says I have an active fantasy life.  It is not said as a compliment – more as a scoff about something I’ve dreamed up to solve the world’s problems.  Or, more likely, a problem of our own.  This morning, for instance, I woke up thinking about our garden.  The grass has grown to baling length and, because Nyel is wheelchair-bound for a few months, Chuck is coming over today to mow.  Bless him!

But, Chuck is still recovering from a broken foot (what is it with these old guys, anyway!) and says he won’t be bagging/dumping the grass.  Totally understandable.  On the other hand, there will be a plethora of brown-turning mowing debris and, IMHO (in my humble opinion) that just about negates the entire mowing operation.  I’m going to do what I can, but I know from past experience that it’s a job beyond my vintage-1936 capabilities.  So… here comes the fantasy part.

Sydney, 2012

I was thinking about my oft-mentioned claim that any work I do in the garden is my “exercise program.”  I know many people a decade or so younger than I who pay good money every month to go to the gym for their own physical regimes.  I could give them a very good monthly deal – less than the gym – to come here and work in the yard.  Their choice of activities and at whatever time is convenient.  We’ll supply the tools – rakes, wheelbarrows, hoes, digging forks… whatever.  Stretching, bending, lifting, pushing – whatever exercise is needed can be accommodated.  Build your own program!

Guest Mower Owen Bays, 2015

“You have a rich fantasy life, Sydney,” resonates at this point in my reverie.  But, I know that’s not true.  If it were, I’d be writing best-selling fiction (which, as we all know, make pots more money than do books concerning the history of southwest Washington state.)  Then I’d be rich and I could hire someone to take care of those pesky grass clippings.  Although… truth to tell, I like the idea of providing an exercise service for the elderly.  And at a minimal charge, too.  Say… twenty-five dollars a month?  Contact me if you want to subscribe!

Disclaimer for the literal among us: this is a fake offer.  lol