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Whidbey Island Landscapes


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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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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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Random, but good thoughts on Valentine’s Day

Last night my beloved Twilight Plant Group Met to discuss summer bulbs.  My friend T has moved into the city and is slowly divesting herself of things.  I already have a stack of Garden Design magazines.  Last night she gave me this frog that sits in the bottom of a vase to help support stems.  Even if I never use it (but I will) it is a lovely thing and reminds me of my friend and her garden.

Frog from T.

Frog from T.

T. always had several different kinds of snowdrops in her island garden.  Mine are just now coming up under the English oak I planted for daughter A. and son-in-lawn S.   The patch is still very sparse, so I bought some more “in the green” which is the best way to buy and plant since the little bulbs dry out so quickly.

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A form of Iris reticulata given to me by my father-in-law is now blooming in my garden.

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I had 10 yards of compost delivered today.  I guess it’s really time to start gardening.

Thought from yoga today:  the trees see me.

 

 

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January Sunshine

Good thing we have a tractor!

Good thing we have a tractor!

Some unexpected sunny afternoons find me outside gardening already!  I always give myself the psychological boost of tidying the entry garden first since that’s what I and my guests are most likely to see.

I pulled shot weed, cut back perennials and grasses, combed out the dead foliage from some evergreen grasses, cut back last year’s foliage from hellebores and epimediums.  I also pruned the lonicera hedge.  I hemmed and hawed over what to do about  the gold hardy fuchsia.  Considered a somewhat tender sub-shrub, the naked branches protect it, so pruning it now is a risk (especially with cold weather coming this week), but it is so much harder to prune later in the season since I have a clump of narcissus coming up right underneath it.  So I chopped it to the base and hopefully it will rise back up to its 3’ height come summer time.

I noticed the deer are getting desperate, so I sprayed the usual victims plus the hedge and euphorbias – wow they really are hungry! It is obviously not yet time to take the rebar stakes away from conifers and shrubs.   I noticed my soil is much less soggy this year, but even so I try to avoid unnecessary stepping in the beds this time of year since it can compact the soil.

The temptation is to try to do everything while the sun shines, I’m suited up and armed with all my tools, but I know better.  I left the roses for later in February and hydrangeas for March.  I remembered to vary activities, stretch and quit before I was too tired – good for me.  Because next on the list is pruning fruit trees.   And maybe I’ll have enough energy to cut some branches for forcing indoors.

Poppy -  keeping an eye out for deer.

Poppy – keeping an eye out for deer.

 

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Can’t See the Garden for the Weeds

September is often a melancholy month for me.  Obviously, the month resurrects those  feelings of having to say good-bye to unfettered outdoor adventure and return to the classroom.  But it also reminds me that the end of the active gardening season is fast approaching and what did I accomplish anyway?  This has been a particularly unproductive year, since my Mr has been out-of-town on business for much of it.   It’s not only more work, but lonely to garden by yourself.  And our garden clearly shows the result of this.

So what was I thinking when I invited guests to our garden?  Well, way back this spring when I invited them,  I was thinking I might show them around the garden, that they would ooh and aah and then they would settle down to sketch and paint and whatever else they do while I served them lemonade and cookies.  For you see – these weren’t your run of the mill guests, but ARTISTS – people who know what things SHOULD look like!  Specifically, members of the Whidbey Island Sketchers, http://www.whidbeyislandsketchers.blogspot.com/.  One of their members is my friend Pat, http://www.patbrookes.blogspot.com/ ,  who used to belong to my beloved Twilight plant group.  On group outings, you would find most of us debating the species of the plant in front of us or waxing rhapsodic about its bark.  Pat would be sketching.  Pat also sketched during meetings.  How do you sketch, keep track of the conversation and the cheese on your plate?  How do you also have a beautiful, Whidbey Island Garden Tour worthy garden, as Pat does?  I guess you have to be an artist.

Most of the time I really like to share our garden and this time, I was secretly hoping I could convince some of those artists to sell me some of their work for my office walls, or cards or stationary.  But as the day approached, I became more and more relieved that we were going to be out-of-town during their weekly sketch in our garden.  I hoped the sketchers wouldn’t be too disappointed.  When we returned from our trip, Pat was parked at the end of our driveway, eating a post-sketch snack.  She assured me that the day had gone well and asked if we wanted to see her sketches?  Of course I did, and exclaimed, “THOSE make the garden look so beautiful!”  Pat said, “No, that’s how your garden looks.”

I am going to do some weeding this month.  But I am also going to lift my eyes from what needs to be done and savor the beauty of September – the lower light that makes everything smokey, the neon orange and pink sunsets, the refreshing coolness of the morning,  the fog that softens all the edges.

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Plant Memories

We’ve had a lot of life events in our family this past year – wedding, death and a new baby on the way.   I like to mark occasions with the planting of a tree.  Much of the beauty of a garden is short-lived, but most trees live a long life given proper planting and care and it’s nice  to think that someday (quite a few years from now) when we’re gone, my children and grandchildren could walk down our road and say, “Look, there’s the tree that was planted for me.”

Two years ago, we planted a Liriodendron tulipifera / Tulip Tree to honor the marriage of our daughter A. and son-in-law, T.  A loves all kinds of magnolias and their relatives and they had a huge Liriodendron in their backyard in Brooklyn,  NY.  They lived on the third floor of a brownstone so they could see into the blooms at the top of the tree that most often go unnoticed from down below.

Liriodendron tulipifera

Another daughter, another A. married son-in-law S. this July.  This past weekend we planted Quercus robur / English oak in their honor.  Unbeknownst to each other, they both spent time in England as young adults, at the same time!  Both were English majors and have interests in British history and poetry.  S. requested that the tree be big enough to hold a swing for children or grandchildren.  I don’t know that I can deliver on that one – I planted the biggest specimen I thought would survive and flourish in our landscape.  For a now, we’ll just have to build a swing next to the tree.

Quercus robur

We said good-bye to our beloved golden retriever, Bunter this summer.  In remembrance of her, we planted Cornus ‘Starlight’ / dogwood in the corner of our property where she liked to chase rabbits.    ‘Starlight’ is a cross between our native dogwood, Cornus nutallii and Cornus kousa, noted for high resistance to the diseases powdery mildew and anthracnose.  Next year there will be white summer flowers, showy fruit and fall color.

Cornus 'Starlight'

We’re looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild, a boy at the end of the year.  I’ll think about what to plant for him while I’m out watering the trees. . . .

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Asters, Fall Fireworks

The simple form and  association with meadows make asters a must have in our garden.  I also appreciate the late season boost of color.

Asters are sun-loving and require good drainage – but don’t make the mistake of letting them dry out or they are prone to mildew.  I pinch asters back in early summer but still stake them as they inevitably flop and don’t live up to their potential.   I’ve been able to keep the rabbits at bay by spraying.  So far the deer don’t seem interested. Slugs can be a problem early in the spring.   I’ll be looking to add more asters, particularly A. laevis ‘Calliope’ with purple tinted stems, purple blooms with yellow centers ‘ and A. lateriflorus ‘Prince’ with purple-black stems and small white blooms with a pink center.

Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ started blooming earlier than most other asters and is almost finished here.  It is shorter (2-3′), self-supporting, hasn’t been even nibbled by the rabbits and deer here and since it is blue, is my favorite aster.

Aster x frikartii 'Monch'

Aster nova-angliae  ‘Alma Potschke’  is a later bloomer (still blooming here), 3-4′ tall with a striking color in bud and bloom.

Aster novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke'

Aster nova-angliae ‘Treasure’ is also a later bloomer (still blooming here). It grows to 3-4′ tall. Look carefully and you can see the grow-through plant supports that work particularly well with asters.

Aster nova-angliae 'Treasure'

 

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