September, 2009 Archives


Chloe - registered Oberhasli doe
 Chloe – registered Oberhasli doe

Here is where I come to realize that reading and comprehending are often further apart than one might think. Believing the stories that goats make excellent ‘brush hogs’, I acquired two on September 7 with the idea that I could use them to graze back the Himalayan blackberry thickets that pervade the back 20. Prior to getting them, I read selected websites written by experienced handlers who spoke of the differences between sexes, what vaccinations are necessary, and what they should and should not eat. A price was paid for the goats, and the associated accoutrements, including durable rubber tubs, goat feed, loose salt, leads, collars, and a galvanized bucket for milking the doe that had recently weaned a kid. Money and time was also put into a shed my father built, and a fence that we worked to put up as a small holding pen. 


The first day, one crawled under the fence. The second day, they learned to jiggle the latch and open the gate. By the end of the first week, I had learned why people told me that staking out was not such a great idea for goats. Tied to tires, tree trunks, or fence posts, together or separately, it mattered not. Within the hour, slender legs were hopelessly entwined with rope or cable, or the ropes were wrapped a dozen times around tree trunks, pallets, or clumps of fern. Every few hours I was out disentangling them.


Daisy - Oberhasli/Boer doe

Daisy - Oberhasli/Boer doe







Trying my hand at goat psychology, I let them run loose. Given 19 acres of woods and blackberries, they chose my garden spread by the house every time. They nipped off the dahlia heads, peed on the sidewalk, and tumbled pellets in the driveway. Perplexed, I went back to staking them out for partial days after I’d finished my morning work. One morning as I walked out to feed them, I was greeted by the site of a goat eating my newly planted blueberries by the garden. Eagerly they bolted towards me, and as I opened the gate to the shed saw the hole that they had hammered out of the side. One goat gave me a quick tour of her escape route by nimbly re-enacting her escape. They seemed altogether pleased with themselves.

So, I paid for a fence, about 1,000 feet worth of three-strand ½ inch polytape electric fence. Yesterday when we hooked up the charger, I was elated. The charger ticked. The goats stood looking at the strands from a safe distance, then proceeded to graze their new area without further investigation.  At last, I could again focus upon my landscaping without spending half of the day chasing or untangling goats.  No sooner did I pronounced the design a success then Daisy took a run at the three – strand hotwire gate and ran beneath it brushing the wire with her back without incident. Giving her a sample shock on the fence yielded only temporary results. They respected the fence until feeding time when they again filtered through the fence to return the pen.

This might all be worth it if they were indeed the non-discerning little brush eaters that they have been made out to be, but they’re not. They eat a bit like a bored teenage boy; a bit of this, a bit of that, move on leaving the rest unfinished. They like blackberry leaves but not the stems, ignore thistles and huckleberries, adore Douglas fir branches, and eat grass only sporadically. Much of the afternoon is spent lying about cud chewing.


My father, gazing out over an area of tall grass and briars suggested leveling it out with the excavator. Avoiding the tendency to roll my eyes and slap my forehead, I patiently explained that the reason for buying the goats was to avoid undue soil disturbance by letting them graze through those areas. Not that I’m convinced anymore by the argument. I have visited the isle of Crete and saw the vegetation leveled by goats. But that took legions of the hoofed animals and hundreds if not thousands of years of human occupation to accomplish. With these two attention-deficient animals, I may not even get a single paddock cleared.

Goats for landscape management

The site of the future (now completed) detention pond above the house. At present it is a bit ragged, but will be completed with a mixture of obligate and facultative wetland vegetatio

The site of the future (now completed) detention pond above the house. At present it is a bit ragged, but will be completed with a mixture of obligate and facultative wetland vegetation.

When I first arrived in late May, progress was easy because there was everything to do and anything that I did looked good relative to the way that it was. The front yard was re-established with an attractive perennial garden on one side, and a burgeoning woodland garden on the other. I rebuilt the retaining wall by hand using a two-tiered approach to add planting space for ferns. A nasty weedy area by the garage has become a perennial garden fronted by large red dahlias I got for free from a local garden giveaway. I built pond and waterfall, and oversaw the construction of a detention basin (below) for controlling runoff such as what flooded the basement last year.

Now, as it turns September here and the fall rains begin, I look upon what I have done and realize that it is no longer so easy to prioritize. I’ve gotten to the easy stuff and left the trickier elements for last. For instance, the crumbling walls of stone along a weed-filled planter with rock-hard clay soil which greets the visitor long before the gorgeous new perennial garden. Then there are the other elements of the larger plan, the back 20, including the 2,500 square foot vegetable garden that required tilling and mulching, and I realize that 1. I need a plan that will best use my resources to complete the creation of my 10-acre garden, and 2. I need a business plan to earn some money at this rather than watching my recession-tattered savings drain.

There are some rays of hope. I am applying for a Master Gardner class that will provide me with opportunities for volunteer work and networking. I will start two community college classes this month, one in business and another in executing landscape design drawings. I also plan to get a business license and begin advertising.

Ultimately, I see myself being a landscape designer and writer, but also the conservator of an amazing 20-acre preserve that includes gardens and natural areas accessible by modest trails flanked with a diversity of native plants from throughout the region. The task before me seems so overwhelming at times, though, I almost don’t know where to begin. Each day, I step outside my door and think of the thousands of things that I could be doing and wonder which is the most important. And even this question has two parts:
which is most important for bringing me to the point of being fiscally sustainable, and which is the best for my heart. For in the end, it is not the money, but the creation of a dream, a garden of my own, that draws my heart. For that I would work endlessly without pay, at least in an ideal world.

The First 100 Days

The rainy season has come early it seems. Usually, the Northwest rainy season is heralded by a sudden tranisition from Indian summer to a week of steady downpour, just to get you accustomed to what’s to come. This year, it began with a series of rainy, cloudy days in August backed up by harder rains in early September.

I had a friend here once who had been raised in LA and moved to Olympia. When he returned to LA a decade later, he spoke of having to put away the pills and sharp objects to make it through the winters here. I was born here, but forays to other places have reinforced the fact that much of my depression over the years was probably enhanced by the grey winters here. This time, living in the midst of 20 acres of lots to do, I hope that it won’t hit me so yard. Anyway, the rain brings an enforced respite from my grueling landscaping schedule. Now I have time to draw, to write, and to generate the landscape designs that I hope to use in my future business. Classes start again in late September, and there is antique refinishing and crafts that I want to do. 

No matter how I face it, though, I miss the sun, the heat, and the long days spent doing nothing but work. After so many years behind a desk, it is all that I want to do. Intellectually, I read fanatically and enjoy writing, but there is a freedom in wielding the hoe, hauling the wood, replanting one thousand day lilies, taking on a blackberry thicket with pruners. It is a relaxing rhythm for me. The grey days ahead will be a challenge.

Season of rain

  • September 6th, 2009
  • Posted in Landscaping
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