Archive for the ‘Garden Notes’ Category

Looking for 2014

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Day-to-day life went on hold in our household when Nyel had his quadriceps ‘transplant’ in the fall of 2014.  Life has never totally returned to normal (whatever that was), partly because Nyel’s recovery took a complete year and partly because full recovery lasted only a few months.

Lots has happened, health-wise, in the interim – heart surgeries and procedures for Nyel, mostly,  Plus that old clock tick-tocking our youth and energy away for both of us.  During these many months, some of the routines/chores of our lives have been relegated to a position of ‘On Permanent Hold’ – like the garden and my office.  Not completely, of course.  We’ve managed to hire the mowing done at times when Nyel couldn’t even manage the rider mower and I haven’t been arrested yet for the non-payment of bills.  Otherwise, though…

Spreader at the Ready

So, somehow, this has become the Summer of Catch Up.  The dining room has been given over to the piles and piles of ‘stuff’ that have accumulated in my office – documents to file or re-file, detritus to sort through, much of it saved for scrapbooks that had never been begun.  Bit by bit, I’m clearing off desk and counter tops and discarding, consolidating, organizing.  That’s what I do in the mornings these days and am determined to continue until I’m caught up.

In the afternoons, it’s the garden.  Three hours at a stretch is my limit when it comes to weeding, clipping, trimming, baiting, and general garden bed maintenance.  Fortunately, I’ve made passes at some of it now and then over the past few summers.  I can’t even imagine what trouble we’d be in if ‘neglect’ had been the operable word all this time.  Even so, I can only think one chore, one patch, at a time.  Otherwise, it would overwhelm me completely.  I would not be able to face those plant people who are trying to overtake the human and chicken habitations on our property .

Rain and the Greening of the Lawn

This week I’ve been using the spreader to fertilize and de-moss the lawn.  Our garden comprises about an acre and pushing that little full-to-the-brim spreader back and forth, across and over, time after time sets my thighs on fire and leaves me gasping, I can tell you.  I consider the process (and all this other garden maintenance stuff) my exercise program.  I still have the croquet court area to go.  It’s a chore Nyel used to do four times a year – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving week.  Yikes!

Today, it’s raining.  Whatever time I have around the edges of a dental appointment in Long Beach and a doctor’s appointment in Vancouver I’ll spend in the dining room on the hunt for 2014 – and every year from then till now.  Plus, I’ll be watching the lawn (except for the croquet court) green right up!  And all the while, resting my poor old aching legs and all the other parts connected with my summer exercise program.  If there’s time, I may even take a nap!

A Toss Up For Sure!

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Builders on a Break

I’m not sure who’s winning around here – the plant kingdom or the world of winged creatures.  It’s one realm or the other and, for the present time I doubt that we would even be considered contenders.  Except maybe with the swallows.

Nyel has been persistent in his efforts to discourage their nest building.  We are waiting for a few days of good weather to repaint the very area that has harbored barn swallow nests for at least thirty years.  It’s a generational apartment complex out there under the eaves of the old kitchen porch – four nests that have been refurbished year after year.  But not this year – not if Nyel can help it.

Me?  Not so much, though I do agree that the painting comes first.  Explaining to chattering, dive-bombing swallows that they’ll have to find other quarters for this year has been difficult.  I’ve even told them (but not within my husband’s hearing) that they can come back for their next second go-round this year.  “Just find another spot for your first family this season,” say I.  “Then you can come back here again.”  They are having none of it and the war between Nyel vs. the swallows continues day after day.


This morning, on the other side of the house – right out our bedroom window – it was another story. An Allen hummingbird – all 3.15 grams of him – hovered around our empty feeder for a few seconds as we sipped our morning coffee.  We talked about rectifying that situation but before we could even register the full thought, he was back.

This time, he paid no attention whatsoever to the feeder.  He turned his back toward it and hovered right at the window, looking at us accusingly.  I was sorely tempted to leap up, click my heels, and salute.  And for sure I felt guilty.  The feeder will be up before tomorrow.  I promise.

Thank goodness we don’t have a starling problem.  Yet, anyway.  We learned last week that a recently deceased friend’s house – empty for six weeks now – is soon to go on the market.  It’s a gorgeous place, right on the bay and should sell in nothing flat.  But… the plan has been held up pending the eviction of a scourge of starlings who have apparently found a way in and have taken over the upper story!

Listening to the Grass Grow

Meanwhile… above the twittering and humming and wing-beating outside our walls, I think I can hear that persistent sound of grass growing.  It’s the high whispery sound, not to be confused with the more boisterous accompaniment of buttercups and dandelions and the twang of the bindweed.  It’s the growing season for sure.  Or is that the groaning season?

An Edgy Sort of Day

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

The sun peeked out around the edges of ominous looking clouds.  There was intermittent hail and puddle-making rain.  The temperature hovered at fifty which wasn’t too bad when the wind died down.  It felt like a typical spring day – but on the wrong end of the season.

Nevertheless, the garden called.  Actually, it was the five big bags of hemlock bark stacked on the front porch that beckoned.  For reasons yet to be determined (we’re working on it) Nyel can no longer do the heavy lifting stuff so I am getting to test my own strength and stamina.  I find that if I dredge up some of those old physics lessons – fulcrums and balancing points and, of course, the old “lift with your thighs not your back” wisdom – I can do more than I thought.

Since it was an edgy sort of day, weather-wise, I decided to work on the flower beds nearest the porch.  When the clouds couldn’t hold back their load anymore, I ducked under cover, but, in between, I got all of those 100+ pounds of bark distributed.  And, it’s looking good!!  Never mind that it’s a drop in the bucket as our garden goes.  With my usual ‘appearances are everything’ attitude, I am inordinately pleased that the view as visitors enter is lookin’ good!

But, one edge leads to another.  I am concerned about that tall, scraggly grass at the edge of the (now neat and tidy) flower beds that Nyel can’t get with the rider mower.  “Do you think I’m strong enough to manage the weed-eater?” I asked.  He looked skeptical and the discussion that followed segued into the trouble it is to start the cranky old thing.  It’s one of those pull-the-cord deals like lots of chain saws.  And it’s edgy, temperament-wise.

I think I’ll try it anyway.  It might require a different set of muscles and allow my current aches and pains to mellow out.  Besides, I’m out of bark right now… And the weatherman says the next really good day for working beyond the porch is not until Monday.  Meanwhile… I’m on the edge of my seat in anticipation.  (And, if you believe that, you are on an edge of your own.)

Sun! Sun! Sun!

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Blue Sky and Apple Blossoms

It didn’t make it to seventy as predicted yesterday – not on our porch, anyway.  Only to sixty-seven but I’m surely not complaining!  It was glorious!  And we accomplished more in the garden than we did in all the April days put together!

Nyel spent the afternoon replanting our hanging baskets and our pots of geraniums.  Our porch seems transformed – almost back to its cheerful summer self.  While he was doing the eye-catching stuff, I was filling the cart (twice!) with bindweed and buttercups and salmon berry brambles!  Not nearly so glamorous, but I feel very much accomplished all the same!

It was one of those days when neighbors were out for leisurely walks and more than one tourist leaned over the fence to have a chat.  One couple said that in all the years they’d been coming to Oysterville, they had never seen so much as one ‘for sale’ sign and now there are two!  Of course, they wanted to know the asking prices and, of course, I didn’t have a clue…  Later, I looked both properties up so I’ll be better informed next time.

Late Afternoon, Long Shadows

The girls called to me from their run, wanting to come help me, no doubt.  However, I was planting nasturtium seeds as I worked – clear a patch, then poke and plant – and I had visions of those chickens eating their way along behind me.  Sorry, ladies!   Free ranging is on hold for a little while, now.

In the lane, six mourning doves foraged for something interesting enough that they didn’t move until I was within a foot or so of them.  Me and my laden cart.  Our burn pile is very nearly out of control and I’m hoping Farmer Nyel feels well enough to deal with it before too long.  On the other hand, it’s one of those chores best done on a drizzly day and I’m certainly not advocating for another one of those in a hurry.  I think we’ve had our share!

Glorious, glorious sun!  We worked until the shadows grew long, knowing full well that the morrow would bring the aches and pains of accomplishment.  Never mind!  It was a day for counting our blessings!

“Hello, Beautiful! You’re the first to arrive!”

Monday, May 1st, 2017

The First Jean Marie

The Hon. Jean Marie de Montague and I were out in the garden yesterday – she in her Sunday best and me in my old gardening togs.  We had a lot of rhododendron company.  Mrs. G.M. Leak has had her full contingent with her for a while, now.  And then there are a few lovelies to whom I’ve never been introduced – the delicate white blossoms in the northwest corner, and the nodding pink blooms near the chicken coop.

But it is the Jean Maries who really announce to us each year that Spring has finally arrived in all its glory.  I count on their arrival by May 12th – my father’s birthday.  He planted them – scores and scores of them – for exactly that reason.  He loved their color and delighted in thinking they were putting on a show just for him.  Yesterday’s bright red blossom promised that, despite the persistent cold and rain, this year’s show will be right on time.

Mrs. G. W. Leak

They have twelve more days. Even though all the other Jean Marie buds in our garden are still tightly closed – no color peeking through at all – I heard the promise from that one beautiful blossom.  She was loud and clear: “Here I am!  I’m the first one!  The rest are on their way!”  And all in spite of what Nyel refers to as the ‘gardening philosophy of our advancing age’: Benign Neglect.

The Honorable Ms. Marie demanded no apologies from us, though.  Nor did any of the other determined bloomers that surrounded me as I worked.  Even the apple trees, loaded with blossoms, seemed welcoming and forgiving.  They, like all the other glorious bursts of color, were insistent that I look up at them and away from the bindweed and buttercups clotting the beds.  Between the blooms and the sunshine, it was a guilt-free gardening day.  Almost.

Annual, Perennial, Eternal

Monday, April 24th, 2017

A Hat for All Seasons

The calendar says one thing; my bones say another.  It’s long past time to get the garden started but…  it’s too cold, too wet, too damned unpleasant outside.  I’m having the usual argument with myself: am I using the weather as a reason or an excuse?

And besides that, I’m having a little bit of growing envy.  Carol and Tucker put up a small greenhouse in their backyard and already they have all sorts of ‘starts’ – tomatoes and I can’t remember what else.  To be honest, my hearing turned off without my permission when Carol was describing the growing progress; I went into some sort of hothouse reverie that had more to do with personal warmth than plant growth.

I’ve taken to asking other people that “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” question: how does your garden grow?  Nahcotta neighbor Ann Gaddy, who I consider the Queen of Nasturtiums, told me (with a bit of a shudder) that she hadn’t been outside yet.  “Too cold.  Too wet.”    We commiserated and agreed.

Satellite Image of Rain Plume – from Cliff Mass Blog

But when?  Dr. Clifford Mass, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington wrote in his blog yesterday about the “Pacific Mega Moisture Plume” approaching our coast.  “It is the JAWS of Pacific moisture plumes,” he said.  “…  a continuous band of clouds, 1000 miles wide, stretching from the western Pacific to just off our coast. Scary.”

Scary, indeed.  Even scarier is the new administration’s head-in-the-sand (make that mud) insistence that there isn’t a climate change problem.  But then, when you are a billionaire and don’t consider growing your own vegetables or even your own flowers, what the weather does is probably not a much of a problem garden-wise.  How many gardeners does it take to tend the White House rose garden, anyway, you might ask.  Right up there with how many Federal Judges to stop an immigration ban, perhaps.

Gardening in the Rain

Unfortunately, our weather can’t be adjudicated.  Just like my garden won’t get started on its own.  Time to pull on my boots and don slicker and sou’wester and get to work.  Oh. And my winter long-johns, too.

Well, now I’ve done it!

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Garden Helper

Yesterday we were back to cold, miserable, pouring down weather after two glorious days of sunshine.  I can’t say it was really warm outside on those back-to-back days – not California warm.  But it was pleasant enough for this fair-weather gardener to spend several hours getting rid of the buttercups and daylilies and the numerous other unwanteds and unknowns.  The soil was just the right consistency and, for a few minutes, I totally lost my mind.

Somehow, I decided that it must be time to plant nasturtiums.  Wrong!  But I did it, not giving thought to first soaking the seeds in warm water for twenty-four hours or, even worse, not waiting for the soil temperature to reach the recommended 70°.  The contents of four seed packets were probably totally wasted.  What an idiot.  I must have thought that the garden was experiencing some sort of greenhouse effect from this two-day surge of sunshine.

Last Year’s ‘Mastershalums’

It wasn’t until the middle of the night that I woke up with a start think about Winnie the Pooh and mastershalums and what I had done.  The Pooh Bear might not have gotten the nasturtium name quite right, but he probably was more patient about planting them.  And when he did, he was totally confident about what would result:  “…I planted it, and I’m going to have mastershalums all over the front door.”  I wish I could say the same.

              A few minutes after I had determined that I was an idiot and had wondered how I could get a handle on the soil temperature in our south garden, I did what any computer-savvy gardening simpleton would do.  I Googled soil temperatures in Washington State and found that I had probably tucked those poor little seeds into a 40° garden bed.  I am so sorry.  I have all sorts of fanciful solutions – heat strips, hot water baths, a line of sunlamps – none of which is going to happen.

Soil Map

The good news is I now know where to find out how the soil temperature is coming along.  And I also know that Kathleen Sayce will tell me an even better way — maybe I can simply stick a thermometer right into the dirt.  Mostly though, I probably need to just wait patiently.  Or maybe plant something that isn’t so fussy.  Primroses are always good.  Until the deer notice

Trees: Heirloom and Otherwise

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Our Pear Tree

Bright and early this morning, Kathleen Davies and Nancy Allen are coming to have their picture taken with our pear tree.  Cate Gable will be photographing them for her next week’s column on their Heirloom Fruit Tree project.  Hunting down and documenting the heirloom fruit trees in Pacific County is an ongoing Community Historian enterprise for Kathleen and Nancy.  They’ve been working on it for more than a year.

That our pear tree qualifies, I have no doubt.  My mother, who was born in 1911, remembered it being here “always.”  It was part of an orchard along the south part of the Espy property and could well have been planted by Tom and Anne Crellin who built the house in 1869 and lived here for a decade or so.  The tree still bears fruit – Bosc pears as hard as rocks.  “Only suitable for stewing,” said my mom.  “Or for the birds.”

House with Orchard c. 1900

Truth to tell, the birds aren’t crazy about those pears either.  They take a peck or two and that’s that.  I have a vision of slightly bent beaks among our feathered population.  Our four-legged visitors, though, gobble them right up if we don’t think to clean up after the first big winds of September and October.  Kathleen tells me that next fall she will be collecting pears to try out my grandmother’s Pickled Pear recipe and to save and preserve some of the seeds.  A worthy project, indeed!

Speaking of projects, later today, I’ll be working on a heritage tree of another sort – my family tree on the site.  Though my genealogy has long been clear on both my mother’s and father’s sides, in many cases back to the seventeenth century – thanks to the diligence and passion of my mother’s brother Willard and my paternal grandmother Molly – the records are in narrative form.  They are hard to follow and difficult to read since many of the earliest accounts are in longhand.  Plus, in many cases they start with the now and go backwards.  And not always in a continuous line.

Pears for Breakfast

I decided that I would try to fill in the traditional family tree template offered by  Presumably, it will give a clearer picture of my forebears and may be useful in finding “long lost” branches of the family.  However, just on the basis of the information I originally supplied, I have 5 ‘close’ matches (all of whom I know) and 364 matches in the 4th to 6th cousin category, most of whom I don’t know and certainly more than enough to keep me busy should I want to make contact.

The Espy/Little branch of our tree, ends with my son Charlie – at least as far as I know to date.  But… that’s probably what our pear tree thought, too.

Spontanaeity — Not My Middle Name!

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Garden Helper

For a wonder, I actually worked out in the garden yesterday and accomplished more than I had anticipated.  I credit Mike’s weather forecast.  I had counted on a partly sunny day with temperatures in the 50s and that’s what we got.  Yay!  As the chickens and I scratched and dug in the flower beds, I considered the whole ‘planning aspect’ of things.

‘Plan your work and work your plan’ was always my motto as a classroom teacher.  It’s pretty much how I operate in all aspects of my life.   Being spontaneous is not easy for me.  Doing anything ‘all of a sudden’ disrupts my intentions and, quite frankly, throws me for a loop.

I blame my California upbringing for that particular personality trait – especially with regard to weather.  In California, at least in the Bay Area where I lived during most of my formative years, you can pretty much count on the weather year-round.  Cooler, of course, during the winter months and with the occasional rainy day.  But San Francisco rain does not compare to what we have here at the beach.  It’s very unusual for a bit of ‘weather’ to interfere with plans in the environs of the City by the Golden Gate.  Grab an umbrella and off you go.

The Northwest… not so much.  When the sun comes out unexpectedly, spontaneity rules.  Shorts appear – never mind the temperature – a pick-up picnic might occur and, most assuredly, a bike ride or a hike is an immediate option.  On the other hand, plans seldom change because of a stormy day.  Northwesteners are spontaneous about good weather but not wussy about the bad.

The Peck-and-Scratch Method

I blame my unkempt garden on my lack of spontaneity (and maybe on the chickens).  First, it goes without saying that I am a fair-weather gardener.  I don’t muck around in the dirt (ahem! soil) when it’s raining and certainly not when its windy.  Second, even under perfect conditions, gardening isn’t high on my priority list.  Nothing outside is.  I’d rather be writing or reading or researching or doing almost anything that isn’t outside.  So… in order to accomplish anything at all in the garden requires careful planning and setting aside specific time slots.

Well… you see the problem. Obviously, yesterday was a sort of minor miracle.  And the girls and I actually accomplished quite a bit.  Mike’s weather says that today will be “Mostly sunny, with a high near 54. North wind around 3 mph.”  Wow!  Perfect.  I’ll probably be out there again.  But no shorts!

…of cleaning, fevers, roosters, and rats!

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Hyacinth and Primrose on their way!

We have more than a month to go before it’s officially spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  Maybe even longer than that before it feels like spring in Oysterville.  Nevertheless, our four chickens each produced an egg yesterday and I actually spent an hour in the garden getting rid of some of the winter’s ravages.  Plus, I’ve had a glimmering thought about searching for the dust rag.

My grandmother and her daughters always did a thorough spring cleaning and it wasn’t until I lived in this very same house that I understood (I think) what that was all about.  During the dark days of winter, the light levels inside are especially dim.  When I’m in my electricity-saving mode – which this winter has been extreme – it is nearly impossible to notice the build-up of dust and cobwebs.  Thank goodness!

Let the dusting begin!

But, as the days become longer and brighter, even my failing eyesight can detect the need for “deep cleaning” as I’ve heard it called these days.  And, reluctantly, I get the urge.  It’s right up there with that desire to get out and have at the flower beds.  The unfortunate part is that I seem to have the energy for one or the other, but not both.  And god forbid I should have something else important to do on a spring cleaning day or a gardening day.  The need to have at it, inside or outside, can disappear as quickly as it arrived.  In fact, entire seasons can go by before the desire stirs within me again.

I’d like to chalk that inattention up to another characteristic of waning winter: spring fever.  But, unless being easily distracted from chores is the octogenarian version of going all funny about romance and the opposite sex, I’m not sure that my diagnosis is exactly correct.  More like Old People’s ADD.


Besides, it’s early yet.  I don’t even think the days have lengthened quite enough for those girls in the coop to be back to serious work.  Maybe their increased production level has something to do with this being the year of the rooster.  I don’t know exactly how the Chinese zodiac effects the hens of Oysterville, but one can’t discount that thought.

As for me… I was born in the year of the rat.  The general outlook in terms of luck are so-so.  Apparently, my luck prediction for 2017 shows that major concerns of this year should be peer relationship and work pressure. If not dealing with them properly, they may further influence the health condition of Rat people. But the upside is that their love life will go smoothly in general. Their luck in September and December would be flourishing while they may suffer a hard time in June and November.

Nor a word about spring cleaning or gardening.  Whew!  Off the hook once again.