Creating Beautiful
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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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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Sibling rivalry

“I don’t like to cook, ” I confessed to my cook-extraordinaire friend Gwen at a  monthly meeting of my beloved Twilight plant group.  She looked stunned and said, “I didn’t think that was possible.  To love gardening and not like to cook.”   Oh, it’s possible and I come from a long line of women who I inherited the trait from.  I do like to grow vegetables.  I spend hours reading the seed catalogs in winter.  I love the look of spring seedlings in their tidy rows.  I like eating straight out of the garden – a berry, a cherry tomato, a pea pod, a carrot cleaned on the side of my jeans.  The plants themselves are often gorgeous, like the striking mottled leaf of this zucchini, Sungreen from Territorial Seeds.

Doing anything with the vegetables  besides eating them raw strongly implies coming in to the kitchen.  And if I come in to cook, I also have to stay in to clean it all up, all the while looking out the window and wishing I were back outside, like a kid in summer.  But it does make me mad (at myself) at the end of autumn when I am tossing mushy, rotting vegetables into the compost  that could have gone into the freezer or the pantry.  Every year I resolve to be better about eating what I grow or at least giving it away.

There’s a lot of peer pressure to cook these days, especially when you live so close to locally grown food.   We have great farmers and  markets that sell wine, cheese, bread, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, herbs – you name it.   Mr. likes to cook, especially if he has a son-in-law here.  They’ve made pasta, ground their own meat for burgers, fried doughnuts, even attempted cheese and homemade mayonnaise.  Our Utah daughter converted to cooking after three weeks  in France and is today making salsa as a result of  tomatilla glut.  Our Seattle daughter makes her own baby food for our grandson, who I call Grasshopper.  Grasshopper especially likes zucchini and peaches.

It was my sister that finally pushed me over the edge.  This is the “few little things I have for you” when we met for my mom’s birthday.  Even though Janice told me to put the pickles in the fridge for a few days, I immediately opened and ate one of the best homemade dill pickles I’ve ever had.   I had the pears alongside a lonely  peanut butter sandwich dinner  whilst Mr. was away eating something fantastic down in Charleston on a business trip.  It reminded me of childhood – my mother did can all of our fruits and vegetables.

I resurrected Wimpy’s Delight, a hamburger relish from the book Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty and Pierre Le-Tan.  I used to make it every year and give it away for holiday gifts when our girls were small and money was tight.  Our little neighbor friend Stacy used to walk through the kitchen holding her nose and gagging while it was in process.  Mr said he loves the smell.  Maybe what makes people cook is –  love.

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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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