May, 2014 Archives

Tomorrow (May 17), I will have been here for 5 years. For 2 of those years, I was employed as an environmental consultant until I left last year. The rest of the time has been spent gardening, volunteering, taking care of my father and managing his assets, writing, and drawing.

Now, finally, it seems that things have settled with my father in assisted living and his health stabilized, but I am here still, despite the temptations to return to California and work again as a field biologist. If I go, I make good money and enjoy the beauty of California, but I spend my life renting. If I stay, I must endure the emotional hardships of self employment and the miserable winter weather, but I get to live on property that I own and spend my days with what were once only hobbies.

Five years have aged me, and left me sometimes with the feeling that I’ve not accomplished much. I once measured my worth in terms of my career, and in the number of years of experience that I had. Now, I’m losing ground. When I look at job postings, I wonder if I could ever return to my field.

I have no children, no close relatives, and no marriage by which to measure time, only my partner who now lives with me, and my aging father who can no longer remember anything but the distant past.

The measure of my days has become my garden. It is more than years on paper.
It is an achievement that I see everyday. When I look at my flower beds painted in color, I remember the barren landscape this once was. I took a mound of mud and turned it into a garden. I’ve eradicated several acres of blackberries and transformed a weedy hillside into a rhododendron garden. I’ve planted trees and shrubs the size of which show me how time has passed.

I smile at the size of the viburnum that graces the front of the barn, and the Japanese maple in a rockery I built by the front lawn of the house. The front lawn looked like a bomb crater when I got here (my father had dug it up with his excavator to find the source of the basement flooding, pulling his main electric line up with it. Peninsula Light crews still laugh about it). Now it bears flowers and elegant ground covers that create the floor of my ever-changing woodland garden. I’ve solved the drainage problem that probably caused the flooding with a simple rock channel. A detention pond now holds back some of the runoff from the upper field.

Every part of this property now bears my touch. I have a long, long way to go though and with my father gone, it is now just me and whomever I might hire to assist.

Now, as the sole supporter of my father, I am making my estate plans and have asked others in the community to join me. I hope to someday pass this property on to become a park that others can enjoy. So far, there are no takers. Perhaps a conservation easement will as least ensure it is never developed, but my hope for creating a community space may lie with my ability to build a place that can be identified as a garden of sufficient value that others will want to keep it as such. I can only dream. I do need help, and by trading access to parts of the lake for volunteer work restoration work, I may yet succeed. Either that or I’ll have to buy bigger tools. As I age, I realize that I can’t work like this for too many more years.

However it turns out, I will enjoy sharing the journey. It can get lonely out here, and seeing this place through the eyes of others will be a pleasure.

The measure of my days

  • May 16th, 2014
  • Posted in Landscaping
  • Comments Off on The measure of my days

I live on a pile of glacial till that was scraped from northern Canada and ingloriously deposited here during the Pleistocene glaciation that shaped Puget Sound. Some areas are gravelly/sand topped with rich forest loam, but much of the property is heavy clay loam or even pure clay. I’ve no lush Puyallup Valley riverine loess here, just clay and clay and more clay.
But the pity party is over: In the developed areas around the buildings, I’ve been diligently working to renew the soil through mulching with mushroom compost and decomposed horse manure where I can afford it. I buy soil and create piles where the soil is too compacted to manage, and I just mow the rest.

I’ve killed a lot of plants, many of which I bought on the cheap as is my custom. Here are a few that have stuck with me for the duration and the places where they’ve survived:

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) – grows in full sun on a mound of heavy clay soil with little amendment

Weigela

Weigela, before its show of tubular pink flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’) – grows in full sun on sandy loam mixed with some decent topsoil. Slow growing but appears healthy.

Hamamelis x intermedia glows a deep orange.

Hamamelis x intermedia glows a deep orange.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-file Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’) – grows in full sun on a mound of heavy clay soil with little amendment. Gorgeous plant that has grown to over 6 ft from a one gallon pot in four years.

Dble file Viburnum

Double-file viburnum, so-named for its two rows of brilliant white flowers

 

 

 

 

 
Penstemon sp.  – I’ve lost track of which species I now posess, although Penstemon  ‘Blue Midnight’ is among them. They have all done very well in full sun/clay soil with one achieving a height of three feet.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Butterflies and hummingbirds love penstemon

 

 

 

 

 
Blue holly (Ilex meserveae) – full sun and heavy clay soil right next to the Weigela. Slow growing and still wider than tall but a survivor with about zero maintenance. And the deer won’t touch it.

Blue holly

Blue holly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day lilies (Hemerocallis sp.) – a rather common looking sister with yellow flowers that I inherited from my mother. Give it sun and it will grow anywhere. Without sun, it will survive in a grass – like state but not bloom. Get large fast and easily transplanted.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus)  – needs damp, organic soils and absolutely loves nurse logs/stumps.
The viburnum in front of the barn has done spectacularly with full sun and a cedar stump for a base. In shade or hard, rocky soils that dry out in summer, it survives but grows so slowly as to be nearly unnoticeable. I’ve some that have remained the same height for three years.

DSC_0379

High bush cranberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) – grows anywhere with a bit of sun. Invasive in my garden, it freely reseeds. I am actually trying to find places where it won’t grow.
Situationally dependent –
Thyme
Rosemary
Lavender

These things appear to detest rich soils even if the sunlight is good. The thymes thrive for one year, then die the next, while the rosemary and lavender languish with half of their branches bare. My amendments may have to include more rock and sand than organics.

 

What not to put in a damp, shady area with clay soils:
Iris
Brunnera
Monkey flower (Mimulus sp.)
Rogersia

These have all been complete and utter failures in the ditch that was hoping to transform into a water garden. It was dug down to the clay level, and the banks are sodden in winter. None of these plants lasted a season. Even the red osier dogwood has declined to grow more than an inch or so in the three years after placement on a damp bank.
I’m considering a load of gravel topped with an organic soil.

 

 

Plant selections that work for tough areas