Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


that celebrate the unique history, ecology and character of our island home.

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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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Next Year’s Garden

Today I raced outside during an all too brief sunbreak to clean up the vegetable garden.  But before I did that, I cleaned out our old dog crate.  It has been a year and a half since our Golden Retriever, Bunter left us and I was surprised at the tears that welled up while I was scrubbing with hot, soapy water.    I recalled the first night she spent in it, crying most of the night and how Mr. and I took turns opening the door, tucking her 8 lbs of sweet-smelling puppy fur into our sweatshirts for a trip outside to potty.  We used this crate in the back of our pick up to ferry her to and from the park for a walk when we lived in Kirkland.  The neighbors swore that every time we took her out of that crate, she was bigger than when she went in.    Once,  my sister-in-law opened the crate door to let her out and Bunter knocked her on her keister.  The last time we used this crate was when we moved her to Whidbey Island.   Here she is with her, “I’m so hurt” look.

Bunter’s first day on Whidbey.

I cleaned the crate because we are hoping to get a new dog.  I say hoping because we are in line to get an English Shepherd and since these dogs are bred to be working dogs, most of them go to ranches where there are cattle, sheep, or poultry to herd.  We don’t have animals yet.  We are planning chickens sometime soon.  We are also hoping to train our new dog to chase deer and rabbits out of the garden, to keep an eye on the property and the grandkids.  Most importantly, I want this dog to keep me company and remind me to get outside and enjoy nature.  Maybe we’ll even try agility . . . . .  But for the next seven weeks, all we can do is wait to see what the breeder observes in the litter.

Can I have a garden AND a dog?  In my mind, yes and I don’t want to be without either of them, thank-you very much.  My grandmother once told me that at two years of age I wanted to follow the sheep on their ranch, and that she encouraged my mother to let me do so.  Did the ranch dog supervise?  I like to think so.   The first birthday present that I can remember is my dog Tippy being carried through the front door by my father.   All through my childhood there were dogs in our neighborhood.  Some regal like the German Shepherd Teddy Moe and some Scooby-do-esque, like the slobbery mutt Spike who reliably showed up when you had an ice cream cone or were trying to hide from somebody.   In those days, we had few fences and dogs just roamed the woods with us kids.

Bunter gradually learned where in the garden she was allowed and where she was supposed to stay out of .  (She also learned to pick her own raspberries and pull her own carrots.)   My friend, D. has a garden AND a Great Dane.  I will likely be consulting her next spring when I wonder what the heck I was thinking and I’ll pass along her wisdom. Can I have a perfect garden and a dog? Obviously not.   But what is a perfect garden anyway?  Is it a garden without weeds?  If that, then a garden without the song of birds, who drop salmon berry seed all along the fence line.  Is it a garden without deer or rabbits?  If that, then a garden without fawns or bunnies.   Is it a garden where everything I plant succeeds?  If that, then I miss the powerful sound of the wind and the quiet of the snow.  It would be a place I hardly recognize as a garden.

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