Archive for the ‘Garden Notes’ Category

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

Winding Down the Season

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

End of September

After a week of spectacular weather, the cloudy (sometimes drippy) weather of yesterday seemed like a final punctuation mark to summer.  Both Nyel and I succumbed to unusual urges – to clean and tidy up the garden and to finish up a few almost-completed outdoor projects.  The weatherman tells us to expect more of the same all week so I hope time and energy continue to cooperate.

As I hunkered in the flower beds, clipping and pulling, I could hear a wedding party gather across the road.  For about an hour they talked and laughed and enjoyed one another as they posed for photographs before going into the church.  It was such a peaceful, happy gathering!  Another lovely ending to the season, perhaps – although, there may yet be other weddings before the year is out.  I can’t imagine, though, that they could be any more joyous than this one sounded.

Looking Like Autumn

Also, as I worked, I heard gunshots to the south.  It’s early for duck season plus it didn’t sound like shotgun shots. It’s early for deer. as well.  Nor do I think there’s deer hunting so close to Oysterville, as far as I know.  Maybe someone doing some target practice?  Hard to tell.  But it served to remind me that duck season isn’t far off and that familiar pop-pop-pop of the hunters’ guns will soon let us know that autumn is underway.

I’m already making mental lists of Fall Projects that we should see to.  I’m promising myself that this year I’ll dig up and sort the dahlias – we have a plethora of pink ones that need to be thinned and some gorgeous purple ones that, I hope, can be divided and moved to more advantageous spots.  And there are a few things that didn’t get our attention this summer – a lean-to for our firewood, for instance, and perhaps a start on repairing the gazebo.  Both of those are in Nyel’s bailiwick and I stand ready to clap and cheer if he makes moves in those directions.

There’s always more to do than time or energy or money warrants.  I’m never sure if that’s a bad thing or a good thing.  In general, though, I guess looking forward to continued accomplishment is positive – even if it is only one tiny step at a time.

Already? How did we get here so fast?

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Last Sunrise of Summer

Here we are – the last day of summer in the year of our lord 2018.  It’s been lots of fun and lots of work for me, more-or-less in equal measures.  Even the “work” part – finishing up a book, beginning a new series for the Observer – has been fun.  ‘Field trips’ with Carol and Tucker have been fun.  All the summer visitors have been fun.  My only complaint about this summer: there were many too many things I wanted to do than the days – even the longest ones – gave time for!

Especially neglected was our poor beleaguered garden.  Even though the aftermath of our new septic system is on the north side of the house – a side we have to go to fairly purposely to contemplate – it has somehow skewed my attitude toward the garden in general.  All that dirt where the lawn used to be.  And now all those struggling shoots of new grass.  My heart just hasn’t been in the out-of-doors.  On the other hand, I think I find some excuse or other every year about this time.  It’s apparently hard for me to come to grips with the “I don’t like gardening” concept.

Late Summer from Our Porch

However, I have been out there these past few days trying to prune back our Dorothy Perkins roses.  I’ve managed to get about halfway along our west fence and probably just need a couple more three-hour blocks of time (that’s all my old bones can manage in one go-round) to finish it up.

Part of the ‘trouble’ with forward progress are the other things that call my attention along the way.  The spent tiger lilies in the bed where I’m standing and the blankety-blank morning glory twining around the dahlias block my path and cause mega-diversions.  Actually, sometimes I’m glad for those distractions.  There is only so much snagging and scratching and ouching a body can withstand when it comes to rose-wrestling.

The Trimming Begins

But, so far, the weather has been glorious.  The passing parade of tourists has been interesting.  And my timing usually coordinates with Cappy’s desire for a walk so Carol and I can have a little visit over the fence as neighbors are said to do in little villages like ours.  All very Agatha Christie, but not in a murder mystery sort of way.

Bottom line – I’m not really ready for Fall.  Not that anyone asked.

We picked our plum tree bare…

Monday, September 10th, 2018

…singing every stretch of the way!  (Well, I was; Nyel doesn’t sing.) If you are a “Double J and the Boys” fan, you know Judy Eron’s wonderful song of revenge, “I Picked His Plum Tree Bare.”  It can easily work its way into your head and become a serious earworm without any provocation at all.  But, when you are actually picking plums, singing that song becomes an unequivocal imperative.

This was a first-ever experience for us, even though that plum tree is more than a decade old.  We got it – a dwarf Italian Prune Plum – along with our two apple trees and planted them all on the south lawn.  I guess we were thinking “orchard” but soon realized, as did the trees, that it wasn’t a fruitful (ahem!) idea.  All three of the trees developed problems.

The plum tree seemed the healthiest and was definitely the most pleasing to the eye.  But, as the years went by and it was producing no fruit at all, Nyel got disgusted and moved it out into the back forty.  It has been one of those out-of-sight-out-of-mind things and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Nyel noticed a young plum.  No!  Wait!  Lotsa plums!

Yesterday, we decided it was time to harvest.  Both of us are beyond our ladder-climbing years, but it is a dwarf tree, after all…  So, between the two of us (and following the no-climbing-beyond-the-third-rung rule) we emulated our friend Judy.  We picked that plum tree bare!  Nine and a half pounds of gorgeous plums hidden among the foliage.  Hard to see.  Tricky to get to.  But apparently undisturbed by deer or birds or tourists. And, they are plum delicious!!

A Continuing Saga

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Let The Work Begin

The final step (I hope to goodness) in the Great Septic Upgrade Saga began yesterday.  First, came Eugene, one of the Beach Time landscaping guys.  Next came three truckloads of dirt – yards and yards of it.  I don’t know how many.  It’s easier just to think of it as it appears – three big piles in the middle of our drain field.

Next, Eugene brought the skip loader that he had at-the-ready in the lane.  The plan, he said, is to feather out the dirt so that there it will blend gradually with the rest of the lawn.  He made a few passes at the east end and then, apparently, his workday was over and he disappeared, leaving his equipment neatly parked and at the ready for today.

Poised for Work

Eventually (I think) there will be a layer of topsoil and then the new lawn will be seeded and the watering will begin.  I hope the sprinklers will be set up to operate on some sort of a timer.  However it all works, I look forward to a healthy lawn before too many more months go by.  I should say a healthy lawn in that particular area of the yard.  The rest of our lawn will no doubt suffer mightily from the green grass envy syndrome.

In Pre-Saga Days

Not only is our existing lawn brown in many spots due to summer drought conditions (plus a healthy dose of benign neglect by the homeowners) but even the green parts are largely green-not-grass.  I’ve gradually come to terms with that green-not-grass.  With my ever-dimming eyesight, it looks pretty good from afar – very acceptable when one considers the alternative.

And then there are the totally bare spots.  Moles, the removal of a tree, and who knows what else have taken their toll.  I’ve been watering like crazy and Nyel has scattered a little grass seed in spots, but it is slow going (make that growing.)  I’ve trained myself not to look down when it comes to the local vista.

Hopefully, all will blend together seamlessly and (mostly) effortlessly on our part.  Probably wishful thinking but hope still springs eternal when it comes to such matters.  Also… we aren’t mentioning any of this to the girls.  They’ll no doubt wonder about being cooped up (so to speak) for the next few months but Farmer Nyel says there are priorities. Even when it comes to chickens.

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?)