Category Archives: Landscaping

Covering ground

I am still in the clean up phase after the first round of logging. This amounts to piling up limbs in various locations where I can burn them after the ban is lifted in fall. Damaged huckleberry limbs grow brown along the edges, small trees lean at odd angles, and shrubs have been deprived of most of their branches. It looks a bit like a few explosions took place as I look up at the remaining trees and see scraped bark and dangling limbs. Some I expect will go down this fall. I really need someone with a chainsaw to help me with cleanup but have yet to figure out who that might be. I’ve also got log piles ready to cut for firewood and I’ve but a handsaw.

My other task is to plan for planting this fall. I’ve already begun putting a few plants into the ground, but I need a lot of cover this winter to keep the weeds back and begin civilizing the open spaces.

I plan to use restoration grass seed in many areas just to act as a placeholder against weeds and as a soil cover during the heavy rainfall of winter. As I obtain material, including shrubs trees and ground covers, I’ll add them in with individualized fencing against deer. The large numbers of plants that will take to make the place look like how I want it will necessitate years of work, but by using short-term species such as flowering perennials and grasses to fill in among the more expensive woody plants, I hope to accomplish my goal: an attractive woodland garden replete with benches and pathways. No more slogging through wet grass and blackberry.

Of the two logged areas, the one behind the shed is the largest.

June 2014 post-logging
June 2014 post-logging

 

This location has a heavy clay layer (left in this photo) where my father punched a road through along the property boundary line decades ago. I believe that he may have used fill as the road is raised. To the right is the road bulldozed during logging. In contrast, the topsoil here is loamy with a high percentage of decayed wood. When I attempted to initiate a burn pile a few months previous, small deposits of decaying wood in the soil around the pile began catching fire, necessitating that I relocate my operations. This, by the way, is the place where I dug out the population of coral root. Rotten logs half buried were also serving as sword fern ‘nurseries’ here as well, providing food and moisture for fern prothalli. I hope to use the nutrients inherent in the soil to grow a mid-story of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) of different varieties, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, witch hazel, and winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora).

 

 

Below is a rough schematic depicting where some of these shrubs might go with a  log bench for perspective. I also want to introduce large masses of native ground covers such as sword fern (the low growing dark green stuff in the photo), wood sorrel, and false-lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum dilatatum), which is rumored to spread rapidly. I have been attempting to cultivate other native groundcovers such as bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and winterberry (Gaultheria procumbens) but both grow so slowly that they are usually overcome by weeds before they make much progress.

Proposed design
Proposed design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer to the buildings, I may rely on showier ground covers to create a transition between grass and forest. These are few with which I’ve already had some success:

Creeping phlox (possibly Phlox sublata), which covers ground slowly but thoroughly with thin, pointed leaves and pink flowers in spring. Very drought-tolerant.

Periwinkle (Vinca sp.) – I borrowed cuttings from a large mat growing along the shoulder of the road across from the driveway. It roots quickly and seems to form a relatively impervious ground cover.

Point Reyes ceanothus (Ceanothus gloriousus) – Evergreen shrub. Once it gets going after about a season, it seems to persevere nicely even in dry soil. Purportedly a rapidly-growing ground cover. Mine are but a year old but are doubled in size. Shiny leaves and purple flowers make it sufficiently attractive to warrant edging of more formal beds. I think it may be a candidate for the edge of the cut area below the barn.

Taiwan creeper (Rubus pentalobus) – Tough plant that grows in full sun and clayey soil. Spreads rapidly and deters most weeds. Edible golden berries although mine seem so stressed they never produce.

Bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri) - Another tough plant with bright evergreen leaves and red berries suitable for more formal situations. In four years approximately 3 plants have taken over an area of about 200 sq ft .  It climbs rocks as well as other plants.

I also have autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), a popular choice in this area, which does a good job of surviving drier situations, but needs some shade and moisture through summer. Those I planted by the oil tank are frying and will need to be replanted.

 

 

 

Post-logging Planning: Designing the Woodland Garden

The last of about 50 logs were picked up by truck last week, and I am left with about ten burn piles (I’ve already leveled 4) and a lot of understory to replant. In addition, there is the collateral damage to address: ragged, broken branches to trim, torn up soil to drag and smooth, a retention pond to re-dig (it ended up under a log pile), and a restoration seeding to slow the advance of weeds.


Other than the coralroot orchids, I don’t believe that I lost much in the way of locally rare native species. This grove was heavily disturbed years ago when my father built a series of roads and fields through what was then a 40 acre parcel. It doesn’t take much, I’ve found, to effectively eliminate small populations of native plants that don’t fair well in disturbed areas. However, there are places on the property that will remain off-limits. Between the house and the property boundary where my father limited his incursions, I’ve found Indian peace pipe, foam flower, and gooseberry, vanilla leaf, phacelia, and trillium. My experience as a professional ecologist and my observations as a land owner have led me to believe that even the more common (i.e. not listed as rare) native forbs are threatened by any type of ground disturbance that destroys and separates localized populations. Huckleberry, sword fern, and salal can endure a wide range of conditions and are nearly indomitable, but it is the specialists, the delicate species that are soil-dependent, or that require moist habitats free of invasive species that are lost. It is a major reason why the natural habitats of the Northwest are becoming increasingly homogenous. On my own property, I have only one natural population of foam flower, one of trillium, and several of vanilla leaf. In natural areas that have been protected, these plants are much more populous.

 

protected areas

 

I will restore natives to the extent possible with seed and transplants, but cost and difficulty of acquisition makes restoration an expensive proposition, and success is limited by the amount of soil disturbance and compaction.  This puts a premium on preservation.

My primary objective in both logged areas (about 2 acres total) will be to create an understory of colorful, flowering shrubs and trees with areas of ground cover where benches, rocks, and other points of interest will make an interesting place to stroll.

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Japanese maples, dogwood, and other mid-level trees and shrubs from my own collection will replace dense huckleberry and salal undergrowth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own personal jungle:  five years later, dogwood, tall Oregon grape, and bear's breeches (Acanthus mollis) form an impenetrable mass of foilage by the barn where there was once a ragged hole. I hope that my forest garden plantings can be as successful.
My own personal jungle: five years later, dogwood, tall Oregon grape, and bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) form an impenetrable mass of foilage by the barn where there was once a ragged hole. I hope that my forest garden plantings can be as successful.

 

 

 

Responsible thinning of a well-managed forest

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The harvest

I have to admit that I am a lot ‘greener’ than I would like to admit, and it is a fact that I’ve had to hide for a long time as I’ve worked in jobs with employers that would not have tolerated any expression of my true self. In fact, I don’t work now in part to recover my principles after a job that asked me to work for projects that my conscious would never approve. In a sense, this time is for healing my wounds as I seek new directions for myself more in tune with my real feelings and interests. Of course, you can’t always eat your morality at the end of the day, but for now I’ve other means to stay afloat.

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My sun chart for May 1

Having put that out there, I’ve opted to log my property to: 1. create more light in a forest that has grown up considerably in the 41 years that my family has held the property; and 2. provide some income. It’s tough for me though. The patches I selected to log include the area around the barn and shed, which are located in the sunniest place on the property and would stand to benefit the most. Removing trees in this area would also reduce shade on the garden and extend the sunlight hours to about 6 per day according to my calcs. Using a sun chart, I figured out where the sun fell at certain times of the day during the beginning of the growing season, and which trees where creating the most shade at a given time.

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Logging between barn and vegetable garden.

The logging began the last week of May and actually took the form of selective thinning. The result has been stunning: trees removed from the south side of the barn has sent light flooding into a perennial shady area where I can now plant maples to create a multi-story woodland garden not shadowed by huge Douglas fir. Removal of most of the large (150′) Douglas fir south of the shed has brought more light to the green house and the vegetable garden as well. I’d several more trees marked for removal below the garden, but decided to leave them in favor of a nesting flicker and the fact that the cherry trees block most of the evening sun anyway.

grove before
the grove behind the shed – before
The grove - after
The grove – after

Four alders below the house were removed, bringing more light into my nacent rhododendron garden and planned water garden. Two of the trees were of quite an advanced age (about 36″ diameter at breast height if not more) and one was rotten through the trunk. I know the pileated woodpeckers will miss the latter, which was how I noticed the tree was about to topple into the garage, but I’ve taken care to leave snags wherever I can.

alders
The rhododendron garden on the far side right of the photo will now extend into what was once a heavily shaded area beneath four large alders

Once I get the mess cleaned up, I hope to add even more maples and sun-loving azaleas to the mix. The house still remains in a shadowed bowl, hemmed in by some very aged Douglas fir that have grown so close to the house that I’m too nervous to have them removed. With the tradeoff of sun elsewhere on the property, I’ll continue to nurture shade gardens in the damp forests around the front and back yards, removing tall huckleberry as necessary to create open spaces. While I welcome the light, I admit to flinching everytime a tree crashed to the ground. Some where 60 to 80 inches dbh. It became almost physically painful to watch, but the hardest part was finding a large patch of coralroot (orchids) in an area of the fir grove behind the shed where I’d never before seen any. Despite having done many, many property surveys for sensitive plants and animals prior to disturbance as part of my career, I’d not done the same for my own property. Thus, while my logging contractor (an old friend of my father’s and very familiar with the property having cleared it 40 years ago) went to get his equipment set up the first day, I found myself frantically digging an replanting coral root (Corallorhiza maculata).

These plants lack chlorophyll and do not have the ability to photosynthesize. They are instead parasitic on soil fungi (mycorrhizae) which they depend on for food. After a quick bit of research on the mycorrhizal fungi requirements of coral root,I chose an area where the plants did occur and another where they did not to replant. I therefore hoped to avoid banking on the success or failure of a single site. Both sites were similar in regards to vegetation (open conifer forest) and the presence of decayed wood in the soil, although neither were as rich as the soil in the original site, which had an abundance of rotting material that also nurtured small fern. My review of published articles online suggested that my species (C. maculata) was somewhat more closely associated with the occurrence of particular ectomycorrhizal fungi than another congener (C. mertensiana) that occurs in the same type of habitat. It therefore seemed important to take as much of the original soil as possible to transfer the soil fungi with the plants. I discovered as I dug that these orchids have nothing resembling a root, just a straight white stem with a series of nodules. Working as quickly as I could, I transferred about 25 plants, roughly dividing them between the two sites. The plants at the occupied site were already post-bloom, while the transferred plants were still in full bloom. About a week later, they were still in bloom. I watered one site but not the other, yet the plants at both sites appeared alive. Time will tell the success of this venture. I cringed when the trees fell. I often got up from my writing to get away from the sound, or drove around to avoid returning home.  I learned after the first sites were harvested that the logs will be exported overseas. I am opposed to this for various economic reasons, but also for more emotional ones:  I grew up with these trees and I don’t want to see them leave the country. I just bury the feelings, as I always have, so I can move forward with reason as my motive. Still, it hurts in some strange, almost physical way to lose them. Maybe that is a part of me I should still hold onto.

The measure of my days

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.

Plant selections that work for tough areas

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Landscaping for a Cool Climate Greenhouse

It has been nearly a year since the 30-year-0ld greenhouse was relocated to its current, sunnier location, and it has taken me that long to get even halfway finished with the landscaping. Last year, employment took time away from my favorite hobby, but this year the limiting factor is my back, which is beginning to resent the grind of casting 42 sq ft of concrete path. I work about two squares at a time, working to wrap the walkway around the far side of the greenhouse past the oil tank.

The April 2014 photos show the addition of a sand/gravel path with water-worn bluestone. At .47 a lb and about 40 lbs each, the cost adds up fast, but it adds so much to the look. The clusters of rock on either side hold soil for the thyme and other creeping perennials that I’ve planted there. My goal is to have it look something like this:


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My intent is to create a hardscape around the greenhouse that will absorb heat and reflect light. I purchased several large basalt rocks with unique shapes to stand at the end by the driveway; these have provided nice sitting places for the cats.

I’ve softened the look with a spreading privet honeysuckle that is durable and easy to grow, and marked the path entrance with a mugo pine. DSC_0450

A bell on a post will mark the other side.  On the barn end, a small green lawn will separate the concrete patio from the gate, which fits into a trellis structure I’ll show later when it looks more presentable. A fence will connect the trellis with the deck and inhibit deer movement.

 

The deck will snuggle up against a huge Douglas fir to provide a shady place to sit and overlook the adjacent field.

DSC_0426The ugly oil tank is here to stay, but I’ve left a gravel pad for easy access and removal should that ever come to pass. I hope to get my Virginia creeper to hang from a wire trellis over the thing to hide at least some of the color. Otherwise, I may try to paint it.

 

 

 

A gate will lead down through our new terrace garden, still in the planning stages but soon to be built if the RAIN EVER STOPS.

My goal is to complete both the greenhouse landscape and terracing by August if not sooner.

The guiding plan for the greenhouse portion:

Greenhouse plan, now about 75% complete

Plant selections for wetlands

My life here December through March is one of slogging through mud of varying viscosity, and as I work upon the few ongoing projects that I can when the ground is saturated, I realize how restrictive my environment can be.

My island paradise is built upon a mound of glacial till, dumped here during the Pleistocene glaciation that carved out Puget Sound. A rubble pile is essentially what it is that includes alternating layers of hard clay ‘hardpan’ and unconsolidated gravels. Years ago my mother found a few choice remnants of life from Northern Canada, from which the island partially originated: these included a chunk of sandy rock full of fossil shells and an agate the size of an adult fist.

Alas, the gardening opportunities here are much more limited. My father bought this property cheap – $800 an acre in 1971 – for a reason. Its biggest feature is a central wetland that drains a substantial area of land around it. A series of seeps, intermittent streams, and small wetlands surrounds the larger basin and in winter, everything flows. The partial schematic shows the major drainages in blue, dark green areas are forests, and light green areas are open and  generally represent civilized territories. Excised at the bottom is another wetland complex that flows towards the lake (large blue area) from neighboring properties.

In summer, I can convince myself that lots of things will grow here, but winter inundation quickly changes my mind. Heavy rainfall (18 inches since December 21 with a 5.1 inch ‘surplus’) has turned even what I’d perceived as solid ground into slick mud. It has also allowed me to delineate all of the partially inundated areas where I cannot plant anything not tolerant of flooded, anaerobic conditions.

What then, do I plant?

Willows, rushes, reeds, and iris top the list of course. While my goal is native wetland restoration in the hinterlands, I would like to see a wider variety of plants with color and interest closer to the house and driveway.

Soil will play a large role in this determination. In most of the wet areas on the property, the soils are comprised of heavy clay. In other areas, the soil composition is more of a sandy loam. Often I can dig below a layer of compacted clay to encounter many feet of sandy gravel and reddish mineral soil. These areas drain rapidly, unlike the others that may continue to remain moist all year.

The heavy clay rules out many plant choices, such as the quaking aspen that I recently purchased from my local conservation districts. Wet and well-drained are terms that apply to many plant species, so I have to probe the soil around the wettest areas to find the edges of the more well-drained soils. Sun is another condition that many wetland species prefer, yet I must deal with shade in many areas.

The sketch shows a proposed planting plan for the wetland area beyond the vegetable garden in the photo.

Expanding the local native plant diversity on the property, expanding regional native plant diversity, and introducing wetland-tolerant ornamentals are the goals that I used to generate the following list:

Quaking aspen – I got these for color, but found out after the fact that they need full sun, and moist, well-drained soils and generally prefer higher altitudes. I chose to put them in a woodland opening in a sandy, loamy forest soil at the edge of a wetland where facultative upland species such as alder and willow suggested a higher water table. I think they may end up needing a lot of supplemental water.

Blue elderberry – Sambucus cerulea; This is a regional native plant choice as they seem to occur more often in the drier areas of the state. I know them well from drainage ditches in Central California. Here we have mostly red elderberry, but I wanted to make jam from the blue fruits. These can take a drier soil than the red species, which I have found growing at the edge of the lake. I will likely put them along the drier edges of a wetland adjacent to the garden where the soil stays moist most of the year.

Bald cypress – Taxodium distichum ; This deciduous conifer can take continuous moisture and periodic flooding, plus it provides beautiful fall color in shades of gold.  I will put three along the boggy edge of the wetland where the gold will contrast with the Douglas fir forest backdrop.

Douglas spirea -  Spirea douglasi; These take inundation well, and I am scavenging them from other areas of the property. They have lovely, pink foamy flower clusters that smell wonderful and spread vegetatively.

Red Chokeberry – Aronia arbutifolia; tolerates moist soils but not wet; may be on the property already, but I’m still trying to identify it. Has beautiful orange-red fall foliage and red berries.

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis; a Southeastern US native used here as an ornamental; purportedly can tolerate heavy clay soils which would make it a good candidate. Very attractive.

Summersweet - Clethra alnifolia; a Southeastern US nativethat purportedly prefers organic, acidic soils such as found in bogs; may only do well on the loamy soil surrounding the wetlands. Also very attractive. I’d plant this and buttonbush closer to landscaped areas for effect.

Highbush cranberry – Viburnum opulus; I’ve planted lots of these around the garden and found that they prefer moist, organic soil. Otherwise, they take forever to grow and the deer just mow them down to nubs. I plan to move some of those languishing in drier areas to moister places along the edge.

I want to keep most of the wetland open, and will fill in with soft-stemmed bulrush and maybe skunk cabbage already present in abundance elsewhere on the property. I’m also introducing various sedges to replace the ragged field grasses currently present. Ultimately, I want an area with no blackberry, a pleasing succession of color scheme from spring through fall, and a consistent texture throughout the lowest, wettest areas.

 

Sedges (Carex spp.) grow naturally in large clumps on either side of the lake

 

 

 

 

Solving driveway runoff

 

Once again, it is saturation time in Western Washington, when the ground has absorbed all that it can and every rainfall runs off into some other place. Despite my best intentions, the work that I did on the front yard wasn’t quite enough to counter the massive amount of water that collects on the driveway and runs off beside the house.

                                           Runoff from driveway, 2010.

I am increasingly convinced that the addition of two additional driveway extensions has contributed to the basement flooding that never existing when I was growing up there.

This stretch of driveway was wooded during the 70′s and 80′s.  Native vegetation, including salal, huckleberry, and sword fern, was sufficient to capture runoff coming down the steeper slope from to the right. Now, this is the lowest point of the driveway by the house and collects rainfall as well as runoff that converges at a point by the cedar tree and pours over a rock wall and down to the lower portion of the house foundation. Water in the basement flows in a direction consistent with this theory.

At first, I considered simply decommissioning this section of driveway by bringing in topsoil, logs and rock to recreate a forest. There were issues however of temporary and longterm erosion, and how to landscape the area so that it would fit into the rest of the garden.

Research into drain systems showed another solution:  a trench drain. Except my version would follow the edge of the driveway rather than crossing it. Therefore, a plastic gutter would be sufficient to carry the runoff. I plan to implement this as soon as I can get my other projects a bit further along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the topic of experiments with drainage is a reroute of driveway drainage into the lake.

This ditch once carried water from the driveway ditchline and a neighbor’s wetland out to the county road ditchline. A few hours of slinging mud and I was able to dig out a trench to reroute the flow – at times in excess of 5 cfs – into the lake. My ultimate goal is to correct drainage issues such as this to keep the lake as full as possible throughout the year.

The above photo was taken at the lower end of this 5 acre open water wetland. The dam that maintains it is in the foreground. Most of the water that flows over the property reaches this basin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women on the homestead

Close one. A windstorm brought down a Douglas fir within 20 feet of this truck.

Now that my father is in assisted living, and the small-engine mechanic tenant has left, I’ve no one left to run a chainsaw, man-handle the 200 pound brush mower, start the gas-powered trimmer, or fix the riding mower that always seems to have intractable problems. I’m on my own now.

Thus, when a large tree fell across the driveway the other day, I felt frustratingly helpless. I have a small Stihl chainsaw that belonged to my father, and I’ve had lessons in filing the chain, starting it, and even running it. But I cannot start it alone (it requires more strength and weight than I have), and, frankly, I’m scared of the thing. I’ve a poor track record with knifes and saw blades, so imagine what I could do to myself with a chainsaw (my father told me I’d probably cut my head off).

I’m therefore left to solicit help from others in exchange for firewood. Such is the arrangement that I have made with a neighbor to cut up the fallen fir.  However, I wanted to do something while waiting for him besides feeling the helpless maiden, so yesterday I limbed and topped the entire tree with my pruning saw and piled the branches into a towering heap. I know a guy with a chainsaw could have done it in minutes, but it was good exercise and made me feel that I was at least putting forth the effort.

It is truly amazing what I can do with my pruning saw.

In fact, I accomplish all of my brush cutting with a pruning saw and a machete. It’s just the big trees that I can’t manage. And the thick grass where I can’t get the regular lawnmowers. For those areas, I use a scythe.

Since my father modified the dam, what is a lake in winter requires mowing in summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I explain to people that I almost exclusively use hand tools, they seem to presume that I am intentionally pursuing a ‘green’ lifestyle, but it is really more out of necessity. Still, I appreciate the quiet of a handsaw over the roar of a chainsaw, and the machete is much less destructive than a gas-powered brush blade by allowing me to selectively remove some plants and leave others rather than leveling everything.  Slow can be good.

 

Things I learned in 2013

I’ve been here four years now, going on five, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place since I left here as a teen to go to college.  The result is that I’m finally witnessing the long-term results of my landscaping efforts. Many of my installations are at least three years along, and I’ve had plenty of time to see what works and what doesn’t.

1. Use landscape fabric for walkways, and any other place that shouldn’t become a weedy mess.

Above  - looks nice at first (left), but later becomes a weed-infested mess (right). I am now taking up all of the stone (about 1 yard), all of the gravel (2 yds) and replacing with landscape fabric, bark, and pole timber.

2. Deer fencing should keep out the bucks that jump as well as the fawns that crawl beneath. Therefore, it must be a solid barrier at least 6 ft high. And a frightened deer can run through plastic mesh like it wasn’t there so a few rounds of wire are necessary too.

 Cute, but they can get through anything.

3. Absolutely every stick of native plant that I buy from Pierce Conservation District must be protected from deer with fencing or mesh. To do otherwise means that all of my red-osier dogwood, red-flowering currant, cedar, and other plants will be browsed down to maintain a permanent stature of about 2 feet.

Protected willow cutting I propagated over the summer.

4. For many shrubs, fast results require soil enrichment. American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus  var. americanum), for instance, will remain three feet tall unless planted in an enriched soil environment. The difference is about four feet in two years.

Above left – Viburnum growing in a cedar stump that acts like a nurse log; Above right - plants of the same age in more compacted soil along the driveway.

5. My favorite shrubs are the ones that have fall and winter color – they carry me through the grey northwest winters.

Cherry trees from North Carolina – planted from seed 38 years ago. They now freely reseed themselves.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) - everyone should have this plant.

6. When in doubt, plant fern. Here, they are freely available (I speak of the native sword fern), grow about anywhere that is not too wet, and give year ’round green cover.

 Native sword fern fills in where I have removed blackberry vines.

 

Accessorize with colored ferns like Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern) which take on a yellow-orange color in winter.

Not  my yard, but wish it was.

7. Improved soil = improved growth = fewer weeds. I now buy mulch for trees and shrubs.  Also starting with larger stock helps save a few years. My gardening resolution for the year is to purchase more large trees and shrubs of the sort that I acquired in December (15 ft plus). However, I will expand my propagation efforts too.