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Get Over It

By nature and gender, I am a compromiser, willing to get things done, willing to give anyone a second chance.  I am generally an optimist.  My family is almost totally conservative and I respect their right to an educated opinion.   But do not insult MY intelligence by asking me to just get over this election.  As if it’s a football game and my “team” lost.  As if this is any other election and the president elect is just like any other politician.  I am almost sixty years old.  I lived under the Bushes, Reagan and Nixon and Ford.  This man, the PE is nothing akin to any of them.   Unlike any who have gone before him, the PE has no public service, no government experience and no military record.  Unprecedented – many of the leaders of his own party have disavowed him.

 

I applaud President Obama and Secretary Clinton for their eloquence yesterday.  Given their love of our country and its people, you can bet that there are more words in their hearts than their positions allow.  Like the true statesmen they are, they measure their words carefully to assure the smooth transition of power and protect our country, a concept the PE was willing to upend like a board game if he didn’t get his way.

 

No – I am not okay.  I am in mourning.  There is a weight on my chest and fear in my belly.

 

I have a family that I love with all my heart.  It includes a son-in-law whose parents are immigrants.  It includes two daughters and two granddaughters.  It includes two grandchildren of color.  The PE has repeatedly insulted, demeaned and threatened all of them and bragged about it. Do not insult me by asking me to not be angry and watchful on their behalf.   Do not ask me to be relaxed about having my daughter’s and granddaughter’s most private health concerns in the hands of a man who has shown such contempt for women and their bodies.

 

I have dear friends who are of the LBGT community, who are the kindest people I know.  I have a son-in-law who has been working so hard to give disabled young people a chance to go to college, non-Christian friends whose lives and teachings have inspired me and grown my spirituality more than any church ever did.  Do not placate me – the highest office in the land has modeled and legitimized bullying – and I am afraid for their safety.

 

As I look out my window I can see the majestic Olympic mountains whose snowcaps retreat ever further each year.  What else will go missing in my grandchildren’s lifetime?  My grandson saw a fox on a science show and I mentioned that we once had them on our island.  We spent an hour reading about them as my heart sank knowing we would probably never see one here.  What’s next – the song of frogs in our pond?   There are days my darling, full of life granddaughter cannot play outside because the air is too toxic to breathe. Read that sentence again and tell me to my face not to worry.   The PE is contemptuous of science, calls climate change a hoax and has indicated that he will reject policies to help our planet remain habitable for generations.  The leader of the free world is refusing to protect OUR ONLY HOME.

 

The laundry list of unfit to govern could go on and on.  Doesn’t read, doesn’t prepare .  . . The ultimate act of bravery will come in these next few months as President Obama gives the nuclear codes to a man who can at best be described as a hothead and trigger happy. As I woke up this morning, I realized that for four long years my morning prayers and meditation must include lifting this terrifying weight from my chest in order to function. It would be the ultimate act of Pollyannism to pretend otherwise.

 

While I am certainly not unfriending anyone, if you voted for the PE or anyone else besides Secretary Clinton, you will find that I have lost patience with being nice and my words may bite. While I am still in the ashes, I sense that when I shake off the dust of disbelief,  I will be ever more bold and liberal.  If this is unpalatable to you, then unfriend me.  But make no mistake – your candidate may have won the election by an antiquated system designed when votes were carried by horseback, but the majority of PEOPLE did not vote for him and we will rise.

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You are my Sunshine

 

Dad and I, Smallwater Farm, 2004

Dad and I, Smallwater Farm, 2004

I’m still pondering a memorial tree for my Dad, who died on September 2.  Usually I can easily pick from my list of wanted trees.

How best to honor his love of the countryside, birds, his (we think) Cherokee heritage, fishing, laughter, family, deer?  Oklahoma state tree?  A tree to attract birds?  A climbing or swinging tree? Something with Cherokee in the name?   Dad would have loved everything about our home on Whidbey Island and I wish we had been able to spend more time here together.

It is largely due to Dad’s  love of fishing that we live here.  He had a fishing buddy with a cabin on the beach at Lagoon Point, which is just behind and below us  in this picture.  I have happy memories of the beach and sitting snug in the cabin while another buddy of his serenaded us with a guitar and”You are my Sunshine”.  As a child I promised myself that I would either grow up to live on my grandparents ranch or move to Whidbey Island.  As we searched for property  11 years ago, I kept an eye out for the landmarks that matched the nameless location in my head – the road that hugged the bluff on it’s way to the beach and the view towards Marrowstone Island and the Olympics beyond.  When we happened upon this property for sale, something in me said, “This is home.”  It wasn’t until after we contacted the real estate agent that we rediscovered  the bluff and beach of Lagoon Point  right below what was to be our new home.

I’m sure I will come upon the perfect tree soon.  In the meantime, there is no better way for kids to honor their parents than by living well and being happy.

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Cutting back the grasses

cutting back the grasses

cutting back the grasses

My garden assistant Jen and I cut back all the grasses today – Miscanthus, Panicum, Pennisetum, Nasella, Stipa, Calamagrostis, Anemanthele – using a long-armed gas-powered hedge trimmer.  It only took about 45 minutes.   Jen said, “Wow, that saved us a whole day’s work.”  Indeed.   I said, “How about you weed and I’ll deal with the dead bodies.”

I rake and roll the debris onto a small tarp, then drag the tarp to the tractor.  It takes several trips with the tractor to dispose of it all.  As I was driving, I thought, “Wow, I am almost sixty and I’m still gardening!”  Nagging at the back of my mind is, “for how long?”  Many of my friends don’t garden anymore and have moved to smaller places.   I miss their gardens and I’m guessing they do too.   I would like to stay in our home and garden as long as I can.  And I’d love to see children or grandchildren keep our home as a get-away place.  So I’m always thinking of how I can make this garden easier to take care of.  Here are some of those ideas.

Stay fit and flexible.  Yoga and swimming have been my best allies.  Warm up before going outside.  Vary tasks.  Quit before you are tired.   My friend Michele does a victory lap around her garden, wine glass in hand when she is done for the day.

Hire some garden help – even if for now you don’t need much.  Develop a relationship with someone  who comes to understand how you like to do things and gets to know your plants.   Someone you could eventually trust your garden to in case you are ill and can’t get outside.   Hire a knowledgeable professional and expect to pay him or her well.  Or hire someone less experienced and plan to spend several years training this person.  And then if you plan to keep this person, pay him or her well.  Make sure there is work to do even during the winter.

Cover the ground with plants.  Weeding and mulching is time-consuming, expensive and hard on the back and hands.   I am relying more on shrubs and using perennials as accents.

Select plants that need less pruning, deadheading or dividing to look good.  Place shrubs that get twiggy or perennials that spread in a section of the garden you could your “wild” area.

Choose plants that match the cultural needs of your garden and you won’t need to coddle them.  Dragging around hoses is hard work, so use drought resistant plants whenever it is appropriate.  Consider installing an irrigation system to get the plants off to a good start,  but in the long run even this needs monitoring and repair.

Be judicious in your use of low “ground-covers.”  In a small garden or an in-town garden they are fine.   In my garden, open to forest and field they become a huge chore as weed seeds land and sprout between the runners of the groundcover .  I use shrubs at least 1’ tall as groundcover – something I can lift the skirt, reach under and pull the weeds.

Contrary to the sound bites I hear nowadays, I think lawns are much easier to take care of than planting beds especially if you don’t expect your lawn to stay green over the summer or be weed free.  Think about how much easier it is to run a lawn mower over an area than it is to weed the same amount of space.  I mulch our lawn clippings so I don’t fertilize either.  And hiring someone to mow is also easier and much cheaper than hiring someone to weed, prune, deadhead, etc. . . .

 

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Christmas Wreath, 2015

We gathered greens for wreaths the weekend before Thanksgiving.  It was especially important to do it early this year as our daughter Amie and family were due to go out of town the week before Christmas and I like to send a bit of home to her in Utah.  We loaded the tractor bucket with pruners, hand saw and loppers and came back with grand fir, spruce,  salal,  evergreen huckleberry and red huckleberry – all from our own five acres.  We also cut some branches of our ailing corkscrew willow.  I keep saying I’m going to take it out since it’s so unsightly most of the year, but at wreath-making time I relent since the yellow twisting branches are fabulous for accent.   I also love the red huckleberry because the new buds remind me of tiny red Christmas bulbs and the chartreuse stems are a nice contrast to the dark conifer greens.  Thanks to a fierce storm earlier that week we were able to pick up fallen limbs of Douglas fir that I use as the base material and the lichen covered alder branches I covet for accent all along our little dirt road.   The deer also did me a favor and thrashed the bottom of the neighbor’s giant sequoia into just the right sized branchlets.

Amie's wreath.

Amie’s wreath.

Amie got her wreath in enough time to enjoy it and Alison, our younger daughter who lives closer made two wreaths.  But my own wreath just sat on a list of to-dos the whole month of December, and the wreath-making machine glared at me every time I went out the laundry room door.  I finally set aside some time Christmas Eve day.  I was a bit dismayed to find that the greens I had efficiently cut into smaller branchlets and stored in the garage a month ago had dried out.  So had the promising garrya with the silvery tassels.  But I still had some very large branches left and the cuttings from those were nice and fresh.  Good to know.

 

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As I worked, part of me wondered if I should put my feet up for a long winter’s nap instead.  The scent of those greens however took me back to a favorite memory.  Every year – together –  my too-busy, bickering  parents decorated the outside windows and doors of our house with C-9 lights and greens. To gather material, they tromped into the forest that surrounded our house and left me at home in charge of my younger sister and brother.  The “woods” where we and our neighborhood friends built forts, damned creeks and picked berries seemed a kids-only kind of place so their going there was temporarily confusing to me – as if they wouldn’t be able to find the magic door.  An hour or so later they would come back, red-cheeked and laughing.  Mom would make a thermos of coffee and they would spend the next few hours – together – somehow attaching those greens to a brick house.  Not without a few choice words from my father.  Santa always brought an embarrassment of riches to my brother and sister and I.  But one of the sweetest gifts is this memory reopened every year by the scent of Christmas greens.

 

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

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A horse of a different color

I had ten yards of arborist chips delivered last week for mulching the garden beds.  The delivery man said, “Wow, you’ve got the thickest stand of horsetail I’ve ever seen on this island.”  Now I like commiserating as much as the next gardener, but shouldn’t he have offered a compliment first?  Or maybe he was . . .The horsetail is rather lush looking.  I have a very healthy 12′ x 100′  swath of it down one entire side of my garden.

The good news is that shrubs and the horsetail seem to co-exist quite happily.

Potentilla with horsetail

Potentilla with horsetail

The bad news is that you can’t even see the choice perennials that I sometimes succumb to. Maybe there’s a lesson there too.  Can I get rid of the horsetail?  I don’t think so.  Here’s what hasn’t worked: lime; gravel; covering a patch with black plastic to burn it out; pulling; mulching with compost, bark or wood chips.  We did some drainage work last spring to dry things out a bit, are now just snapping the horsetail stems at ground level and are adding high nitrogen via blood meal.  We’ll see whether those things plus doing more dense planting of shrubs will help convince the horsetail to eventually go the way of its pals, the dinosaurs.   But the horsetail has those thousands of years of survival skills on its side.  I’d better starting learning to live with it.

I’ve had to do some serious rethinking about beauty and what makes a good garden since moving to Whidbey’s more rural environment as in: a gravel drive needs some softening grass in it; windswept trees and shrubs are picturesque; the deer are always with us;  caterpillars drop nutrient rich poop.  I’m not so in charge here as I was in my suburban garden and most of the time that’s the way I like it.

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Aquilegia sp?

I love it when I find a plant that has seeded itself into my garden – like this columbine with stunning red stems and purple-flushed leaves or when I spy a cultivated plant like ajuga that has snuck its way into the grass at the side of the road.

Ajuga in the grass.

Ajuga in the grass.

I do promise to not share plants that may have shared the ground with horsetail as any little bit of root can regrow and populate quicky.  Obviously.  Because one gardener’s groundcover is another’s scourge.

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Who has the last word?

The theme of this year’s Hardy Plant Study Weekend was “Married To Your Garden: How to Save the Relationship”, this year hosted by the Northwest Perennial Alliance in Bellevue.  Four days jam-packed with plant and book sales, area garden tours, meeting up with old friends and colleagues and an incredible horticultural display.  Morning and evening speakers took primarily humorous positions on the topic – gardening as a couple; “flings” with newer cool plants,  garden burnout.   We got to hear Frank Ronan twice and  sounded much like the column he writes for Gardens Illustrated, self-depracating sprinkled with a few well-earned jabs to this primarily northwest gardening community – such as the ghastly use of plant labels in the garden.  He also took issue with our overuse of mulch because then you don’t get self-sowers – those plants that sprinkle themselves around, often into the perfect places.  Several of his quotes resonated with me, such as “A garden is at its best when nature asserts itself and makes it better.”

Of course, every garden on the tour faced with 450 visitors was primped to be at it’s best.  But nature still had her own way a bit.

Grotto in a Bellevue garden.

Grotto in a Bellevue garden.

Georgetown garden.

Georgetown garden.

Georgetown garden.

Georgetown garden.

Spilling into the alley, Georgetown garden.

Spilling into the alley, Georgetown garden.

Spilling into the alley, Georgetown garden.

Spilling into the alley, Georgetown garden.

North Seattle entry posts.

North Seattle entry posts.

Ruin in Bellevue.

Ruin in Bellevue.

Normandy Park garden.

Normandy Park garden.

 

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Mother Earth

Gardening with GrasshopperThe Mr. and I spent Mother’s Day in Seattle helping building a deck with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson, who I call the grasshoppper.  It’s usually my job to entertain the grasshopper away from the power tools,  which is hard to do since he really loves all things construction.   That day we were weeding the new raised beds in anticipation of vegetable planting.  He was gleefully pitching weeds and clumps of sod towards the fence, since baseball is his other passion.  I said, “What are you going to plant?  Maybe you could plant some carrots or tomatoes or peas.” “Uh-huh,” he said, then paused and you could see the wheels turning, then he shouted, “I’m going to plant pasta seeds and pizza seeds!”  I said, “That’s a great idea!”  Because it is – the idea that food doesn’t come from the fridge, the store, or even the farmer’s market.  It comes from the garden.

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Finished – almost

The garden now has street-side charm.  In another month, the perennials in front of the fence will start blooming.  Still to plant - Heliopsis 'Summer Sun.'

The garden now has street-side charm. In another month, the perennials in front of the fence will start blooming. Still to plant – Heliopsis ‘Summer Sun.’

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Plants in the box (from Bayview Farm and Garden Nursery) need some time and warmth to start filling in.

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The crew from Art of Soil took special care to plant all the boxwood roots at the proper depth. We will wait to trim foliage to the same height once they’ve had time to settle in and start growing new roots.

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Arborvitae hedge needs some staking just like other trees until the anchor roots get established. And the patio furniture can emerge when it stops raining!

There’s a temptation to keep tweaking to make it perfect.  But what’s really needed is the magic and time that only Mother Nature can provide.  And our patience.

 

 

 

 

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Ride the wave of spring

That’s what the naturopath said this morning.  Deep breath and here I go.  Ready to dive into the surge of spring garden projects and clients headed my way.

The contractor is making great progress on a Langley project, started this winter.

arbor around outdoor fireplace

arbor around outdoor fireplace

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picket fence and front arbor

 

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Yes! Try this at home.

Tomorrow I am speaking to the Oak Harbor Garden Club.  The topic is, “Techniques, Tips and Tricks of a Garden Designer,” and will describe the process I use to design a new garden or renovate an older garden.  The intent is to give gardeners some of my tools – some of which they might like to use themselves, some they might want to hire out.

In the process of sprucing up my slide show, I got some recent photos of a garden I worked on several years ago.  It’s so exciting and satisfying to see that the owners took the plans, installed the garden themselves and are making the garden their own.  What a great job they’ve done!  And the best part – actually outdoors spending time with friends and family in the garden.  That’s what it’s all about.

before, path of destruction

before, path of destruction

after, the party route

after, the party route

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