Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

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!

Previews and Insider Information

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Yesterday morning I spent being whisked from one delightful setting to another that I’d love to tell you about – and will! – but not yet.  Six beauty spots right here on the Peninsula.  Each to be featured on the upcoming Music in the Gardens tour on July 21st.

But it’s not quite time for the Big Reveal.  Maybe in a week or two.  Right now, gardeners are doing a lot of fluffing up and last-minute grooming, musicians and visual artists are learning where they will be ‘stationed’ for the day, and refreshments are being planned.  I felt like I was on a backstage tour as preparations for the opening night gala were being fine-tuned.

Delight in the Dunes

I was chauffeured, escorted, and introduced to the gardens by Nancy Allen and Darlene Houser, the two extraordinary organizers of this annual event – a fundraiser for the Water Music Festival.  Proceeds each year are earmarked for the Ocean Beach School District’s music program.  My teeny-tiny part in all of this is to do a bit of writing for what the Music in the Gardens website describes as a keepsake brochure.

I don’t think I’m telling too much to say that each of the six gardens could be the subject of an entire book, not just a short description in a brochure.  And each could be classified within its own separate genre – an art garden, an instructional garden, a children’s garden, even a garden that I would classify as a mercantile garden.  But, lest I reveal too much too soon, I’ll not extend this little ramble.

Work in Progress

Speaking of which, the gardens varied in size from what Nancy described as a “grandma garden” (which would be just about a manageable size for some of us less sprightly gardeners) to an acreage among the dunes with trails to walk and vistas to behold. Every garden…  different!  Every one magical!  Every one with secrets to reveal.

And here we are back to secrets!  Stay tuned (as they say in the music world.)  Meanwhile, you can pre-order your tickets online through the Water Music Festival website at

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.

The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Jean Maries Near the Coop

My father really knew what he was doing when he chose to plant Jean Maries (as we call them for short) in our garden.  I’m sure he chose them because of their brilliant scarlet color.  And maybe for their name – he was always impressed by a title… even an honorary one.

I think it was just a serendipity that the Jean Maries are usually at the height of their glory on his birthday, May 12th.  Dad would have been 109 on Saturday.  It’s hard to believe that he’s been gone for 27 years.  Especially since our entire garden celebrates his birthday every year!

This year, thanks to a crew of volunteers organized by our friend Jay (when Nyel was in the hospital last year) plus a lot of tender loving care by Beach Time Landscaping, our garden is in better shape than at any time since Dad left us.  The garden was his passion and when he wasn’t working on behalf of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation or acting as the “Mayor of Oysterville” (a title bestowed upon him by neighbor Eddie Freshly), he was outside working with his dahlias and roses and rhododendrons.

Jean Maries in the South Garden

He usually had help with the heaviest chores.  In the 1970s, in the days of push mowers, I think Chris Freshley did the mowing for Dad.  When Nyel came into our lives in the early eighties, he took over the mowing and a lot of the weeding.  Then Hank Batten came along and he and Dad worked side-by-side trimming and fluffing and keeping things looking fabulous.

My father inherited that love-of-gardening gene from his mother, right down to his interest is dahlias and roses.  I don’t think Nana’s garden in Boston included rhododendrons, though.  Those were a love affair Dad began even before he and mom retired here — when he became acquainted with Dr. J. Harold Clarke and his amazing nursery on Sandridge Road.

I love the garden and I love the flowers and I love the memories of my dad “puttering” (as he called it) among the blossoms.  Unhappily, I didn’t get that gene of gardening passion. But if I had, I surely would have developed a gorgeous rose or rhododendron or dahlia and named it The Honorable William Woodworth Little.  And everyone would call it “Bill” for short.  Except me.  I’d call it “The Honorable Dad.”

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…

Perhaps introductions are in order?

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you.

Isn’t that the loveliest thought?  Roland A. Browne, author of The Common Sense Guide to Flower Gardening said it.  I’ve added it to my ‘list’ of things I wish I’d thought of first.  It’s a long, long list!

Right now, roses are taking center stage in our garden (such as it is).  I think the first week of June is supposed to be best for rose viewing in the Northwest.  Or, at least, that’s when the Rose Festival occurs in Portland.  But our roses out on the coast seem to be at their height a bit later.  Like now!

Not that we purposely cultivate roses.  Whichever ones bravely appear each year were planted long ago, either by my grandmother or by my father.  They were the chief gardeners on this property – my grandmother, from the time she arrived in 1902 until blindness overtook her in the 1950s; my father, from the time he retired here in 1972 until his death in 1991.

I don’t actually associate roses with either of them, though.  I tend to think of violets and silver dollar plants and sweet peas when visualizing my grandmother and flowers.  For dad, certainly for the years he lived here, dahlias and rhododendrons claimed his attention.

I do remember that we had a ‘rose garden’ when I was a kid in Alameda.  It was actually a garden bed carved out of the lawn in the back yard and I remember the rose plants standing stiffly and prickly row on row.  And speaking of prickly, in another area of that garden, up against the house, we had a ‘cactus garden’ which I never did feel friendly about – especially not after my neighbor Robert Reading fell into it from our sunroom window!

Now, with our seemingly endless policy of benign neglect, it’s a wonder that anything at all flourishes in our garden.  We do tend to have a lot of people coming and going, though.  Perhaps our roses enjoy seeing them as Mr. Browne seemed to suggest. I must remember to introduce them purposely now and then.  It seems the polite (and prudent) thing to do.

Lily, Dorothy, and that darling Daisy

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

They’re regulars at this time of year.  Lily, Dorothy Perkins and that fresh-faced Daisy and her many, many look-alike sisters. This year they all arrived on the very same day – the first of July.  It was late for Lily and Daisy and just about on time for Dorothy.  I’ve seldom seen them get into town on the same day, although once here they hang out and visit with one another for a good part of the summer.

Usually Lily arrives first – all bright colors and eye-catching stamens.  So tempting to invite her inside for a visit, but oh so disastrous if you don’t take precautions!  She’ll spot and stain your linens and laces without even nodding her beautiful head.  Best to pluck the stamens before the pollen appears.  The removal won’t hurt Lily – in fact, it may increase her lifespan. And you’ll find her a much better-behaved guest with just that minimal preparation before escorting her inside.

Dorothy, so pink and delicate looking, tends toward the thorny side and needs to be handled with care.  From a distance, she peeks out of her surrounding greenery, almost hidden until her friends come to join her in the next few weeks.  She’s shy and not eager to leave the safety of the picket fence.  When I urge her  inside, even bribing her by offering my grandmother’s silver bowl, she begins to wither within a day or two. I’ve learned to enjoy her on her own terms – outside where she prefers to be.

And then there’s Daisy.  She might be my favorite.  Certainly, she’s the easiest to get along with.  Outside or inside, she’s the epitome of purity and straightforwardness.  “What you see is what you get,” she says.  She not a bit prickly and doesn’t mess anything up.  She stays for most of the summer, along with her sun-loving sisters.  I love it that they hang out right near our porch where I see them every time I go in or out.

So… thanks, my lovely garden girls!  Thanks for the pleasure you bring every year, asking not a thing in return except maybe a little water now and then.  How lucky we are!  How very, very lucky!

“It’s getting on for July…”

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

As usual, I am amazed that time is flying by and I can’t keep up. Only two more days and June will be history.  I can just hear my grandmother’s soft voice saying with the same sense of disbelief,  “It’s getting on for July already.  How time flies.”

I almost expect the garden to be glowering at me.  I’ve had so many plans to bring it up to speed.  The sacks of beauty bark sit stacked on the porch where they have been for several weeks now.  The lawn is struggling toward green, despite me dragging my heels on fertilizing – never mind that thatching and aerating part.  And, though I’ve attacked those weeds periodically, here they come, sticking out tongues of green at me.  I can hear their “Nyah Nyah Nyah” loud and clear.

But when I look outside, forgiving green leaves and spots of bright color are actually what I see first.  The rhododendrons that circle the yard, though long finished blooming, soften and mute the many signs of neglect.  The roses and honeysuckle, the poppies and hydrangeas are blooming hysterically and in spite of all.  How lucky I am that they endure, even thrive, with my minimal attention!

It’s probably that I clap and cheer and talk to them each time I go out.  (When I mentioned that to Nyel, he just looked at me.  Not even an eye roll.)  I try to tell them how they brighten my days and make me feel blessed.  How they connect me to the past – my father’s favorite York roses, the honeysuckle that clambers up my grandmother’s pear tree; and the Dorothy Perkins roses that Willard loved.  And here come the daisies and dahlias!  And nasturtiums!

So, bring on July!  I’ll try to do better…

Attention? Attention??

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Despite (and party because of) a hefty wind and periodic drenching rain, there was lots going on in the Oysterville Churchyard yesterday.  Specifically on and around the flagpole.

It was one of those mornings that the wind whistled and rattled around the house.  As I walked into the dining room and glanced out the west windows, I was momentarily flummoxed.  The flags was streaming straight to the north.  Yes, flags was.  One American flag with two streaming parts.  A flag divided.  You would be an idiot not to read symbolism into that occurrence!  I grabbed my camera and took a picture.

Retiring The Flag

Later, Nyel took down the flag.  We retire it (as well as our Washington state flag) every year or so and, obviously, it was overdue for replacement.  The state flag was looking pretty tattered a while back and we took it down but we hoped the stars and stripes would last through the winter.  Who knew that the end to Oysterville’s current Old Glory would be so dramatic?  Being torn asunder horizontally was a first as far as we remember.

Churchyard Workers, Chris and Larry

An hour or so later, Brothers Chris and Larry Freshley drove a truck into the churchyard and began their magic refurbishing of the flagpole area.  Chris, a landscape architect, had designed and planted the churchyard three or more decades ago and, for years, Larry (a retired teacher and one-time tree-farm owner) volunteered to maintain it all.  They grew up in Oysterville.  They had a vested interest in the village.  And it showed.  The grounds with their lovely rhododendron borders were the perfect setting for the Historic Oysterville Church, the centerpiece of the village.

Renewed and Refreshed with Boxwood and Roses

In time, maintenance chores came under the auspices of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation and, gradually, the design focus became blurry, the gravel walkway became weedy, and time took its toll.  That’s often the way of it with volunteer institutions.  Luckily… Chris and Larry to the rescue!  It they had ridden up yesterday on white horses rather than in a white truck, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  It was just that kind of day in Oysterville.

For a minute there…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
Crocus in Our Garden

Crocus in Our Garden

My Master Gardener friends will no doubt shake their heads at me yet again, but yesterday I honestly thought that we had skipped fall and gone straight to winter.  It wasn’t the weather (which was mild but still fall-ish feeling.)  It was the lovely lilac crocus blooming fit for a garden show!

Years ago, when I saw crocuses in December, I was also sore amazed and found that those lovely little flowers are not only harbingers of spring but also of winter.  Little did I know that they can also signal the onset of fall.  So… here they are right on time!

Saffron Crocus - The Real Deal (Internet Photo)

Saffron Crocus – The Real Deal (Internet Photo)

Apparently there are more than 50 colors of crocus  ranging from white or pale pink and lavender to more intense shades of showy blue-violet, purple, orange, pink or ruby.  From the descriptions of the most common fall crocuses, I think ours might be the saffron crocus, said to be: a fall bloomer that produces lilac blooms with bright orange-red, saffron-rich stigma.  The information went on to say that as an added bonus, you can remove the stigma as soon as the blooms open, then dry them for a few days and use the saffron from seasoning paella and other dishes.

Probably wishful thinking on my part as I adore paella.  We live in exactly the right place to readily get all the ingredients except for the saffron which costs the earth.  Wouldn’t it be super if this really was the right kind of crocus!  We have a fabulously beautiful paella pan crying to be used!

But then my eye caught an article which said:  All parts of autumn crocus plants are toxic with resulting symptoms from ingestion similar to those of arsenic poisoning.  Come to think of it, those stigma aren’t nearly reddish-orange enough.  I think I’ll not pursue the harvest with this particular plant.  Better to order some saffron bulbs (C. sativus) and know for sure – bearing in mind that saffron is not called “red gold” for nothing.  It is the world’s most expensive spice.



Even so, they say it’s the time-consuming harvesting process that drives the price up.  It requires about 150 plants to yield 1 gram of saffron.  Most recipes call for “a large pinch” or “several threads” of saffron.  That’s no doubt less than a gram but… even so.  At about $8.50 per plant, and three stigma per flower, even with my own harvest labor thrown in, I’m waffling.

Obviously, the thing I need is a consultation with the household’s chief chef and gardener.  He’ll know just how to proceed.  He always does.