Archives for posts with tag: Gardening

My husband and I moved around a lot during the first several years of our marriage. We were married in 1990 and it was not until 2001 that we bought our first home in Seattle, which is the home in which we still live. This is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. and we don’t live an ostentatious life style. Consequently, our house is not fancy or stylish. But we love our 1950’s house and have worked to inject it with our own personal style, which is colorful and eclectic.

When we moved into the house, there were flower beds in the back. I spent the first year in the house weeding and seeing what kind of plants there were. There was a grassy front yard, bordered by two huge juniper shrubs. Juniper shrubs were commonly part of the landscaping for homes built in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I imagine that they were cute back then. They get rather prickly and enormous over time. Also, they are really ugly, so ugly that the house had what my brother, a realtor, called, “No curb appeal.”  After we’d been in the house for about three years, John removed the shrubs and built a rock wall. The shrubs were weighed at the city dump for the composting program; a half ton of shrub. 1000 pounds of juniper, people!

I planted a rock garden. A year or two later, John removed the front lawn. I covered it in layers of newspaper and cardboard followed by four inches of beautiful black compost that I had delivered to my house, which I carried around the yard by the wheelbarrow full. I didn’t plant anything in the yard for a year to make sure that all of the grass and weed seeds under the paper barrier would not get exposed to light. The following years, I started a long project of putting in flowers, summer vegetables, shrubs, garden art, soaker hoses hooked to an automatic watering timer, and slate walkways.

After the front yard was “done”, I started work on the planting strip, the piece of grass between the sidewalk and the street. This land is owned by the city but the home owner is responsible for upkeep. The city encourages people to make the strip into a garden. We had already planted two trees there, which were given to us by the city as part of their Street Trees program. I got out my garden edger and started the long process of removing sod from the strip. I did it in pieces, removing a small square and filling it with compost and new soil. I planted beans there the first summer. After a year, it was all removed and planted. Right now, it is full of blooming tulips, which I have planted in wet fall weather, my garden gloves filling with cold muddy water.

Until my cancer diagnosis, I spent a great deal of time in my yard, weeding, pruning, and planting. Then I stopped working in my yard, for the most part. I had repeated surgeries that made it hard for my to use my arms and abdomen. I started exercising regularly, which meant less time for gardening and also another way to fulfill my need to spend time outdoors. I had trouble with fatigue. I had friends that came to help. Later, I decided to get rid of the little strip of grass on the left side of the house to open up more planting area. I got about half done with that project and lost steam. It is still unfinished, a year and a half later.

But after years of working out there several times a week during the summer and frequently during the rest of the year, I found out what happens when a yard doesn’t get such regular attention. It’s not pretty. It gets weedy and full of brown stuff. Some plants get out of control and propagate wildly. The rose bushes did not get pruned. One of them got as large as a Volkswagen. It was really overwhelming. I often found myself thinking, “My yard used to be so beautiful. It was so much easier to maintain. Now it is a mess.”

Last spring, I actually hired a landscape service to weed, prune, and mulch the front yard, which is where most of the flowers are. I couldn’t afford for them to work on my back yard, too. I figured that after they did the heavy work, I would be inspired to get back into the yard because it would not be so overwhelming. The landscapers did a great job and I didn’t end up doing anything out there.

This year, I found my yard overgrown once again and myself, once again, thinking, “My yard used to be so pretty. People used to take photos of the flowers in my yard. Sometimes cars would slow down to look at my yard.” I called the landscapers out again. It was not quite as big of a job this year and it made an enormous difference. And this year, unlike last year, I did gather some momentum. I weeded my raised vegetable containers, my husband turned over the soil, and I added compost, fertilizer, and new soil. I transplanted flowers to other containers because they were getting in the way of the vegetables. I replaced broken soaker hoses for the front yard as well as for the vegetable containers. I removed three years of old bean stalks and tomato plants from my two story metal growing cages.

Today, I went back to the yard. I planted lettuce and bok choi seeds in my vegetable containers. They are fast growing and should be finished by the time for planting summer vegetables, beans and tomatoes. I cleared the hair allium that had started out as about eight bulbs and spread into several hundred plants. Waaaaay too much allium. Clearing that out took a couple of hours, working around tree roots and plants I wanted to save. The number of little allium bulbs under the soil was unbelievable. (Hair allium is cool looking and it used to be a moderately expensive plant. My guess is that they are now being giving away at Home Depot check stands. They are worse than bluebells for “naturalizing”, a.k.a. taking over like a hostile alien race from another planet.) After I dug that out, I had to use a couple of bags of soil to replace what I’d removed. When I finished, my yard looked so nice, nicer than it has looked in years.

I came across a random photo of my front yard from my pre-cancer days. It shocked me. My yard looked terrible! Now the fact that I’d taken a photo tells me that it was probably a “before” photo taken for spring clean up. The yard always looks bad for part of the year. My surprise at the photo got me wondering how much I had exaggerated the state of my garden in comparison to the years prior to cancer. “My yard was so beautiful before cancer.”
In truth, it was better maintained in the past and that does make an aesthetic difference. But I think nostalgia and loss has nudged my memory to increase the contrast, closer to, “Before cancer everything was wonderful.”

Truly, there are a lot of losses than come with cancer, and they are losses to grieve and honor. But sometimes I think I may be too quick to interpret “before and after” in a negative way, when I am feeling discouraged, worried, or overwhelmed. I think this is natural for people to do, to think about significant aspects of life from the past with fewer shades of gray. I learned last year with my 30th high school reunion that perhaps my recollection of high school being terrible in certain respects, was not accurate. I suspect that friends who look back at high school with very strong positive feelings and memories, may be forgetting some of the bad aspects. And then of course, there is the whole lamentation of culture and young people, “Kids today…” “Society is going to Hell in a hand basket.” It can be easy to idealize the distant past. It is not clouded with immediacy of the present or the unknown of the future.

I don’t really know how much better or worse my yard is. After all, living things grow and die, regardless of whether we work the soil or not. Things change all around us.

What I do know for sure is that today I dug in the dirt and I had a marvelous time.

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My garden

My roses in 2012. They will start blooming again soon.

My roses in 2012. They will start blooming again soon.

I used to work in my garden a lot. Along with reading and cooking, it was one of my favorite hobbies. A garden is not so hard to maintain if I work on it a little bit at a time on a frequent basis. The garden was my space. I appreciated being outdoors, having my hands in the ground, and watching the birds, the bees, and the butterflies along with the changes of the seasons. And people appreciated the garden. I designed it organically. I started with a few plantings and then worked my way around them. I chose plants that were interesting and pretty. I chose plants that attract beneficial insects and birds.

 

Then I had all of those stupid surgeries. I got behind on every imaginable household task. And I got really tired. My yard got overwhelming. I’ve got tired of the jungle of weeds. I am not a super tidy person but I have more of a love of order than do my family members. Consequently, my house is typically about 50 times messier than I would like it to be. I spend a lot of time picking up after other people and I do a pretty bad job of it because there’s so much picking up, putting away, and cleaning to do. My home office is in need of a clutter coach. Who am I kidding? My whole house is in need of a clutter coach.

A few weeks ago, I made a bold move. It was also expensive. I hired landscapers to weed my front yard. They weeded, pruned, deadheaded, and mulched. And it was like I could breathe again. Weeds started to pop up again in the last week. I was able to go out and take care of them because it wasn’t an overwhelming task. I spent a couple of hours in the garden today, including time chatting with neighbors, which is also an invaluable part of the gardening experience. It was an amazingly beautiful day and I had a wonderful time. This was the first time I’ve worked like this in my yard in nearly a year. It was like a resuscitation.

I hope that I will be able to continue working in the yard on a regular basis because it has been such a great love of mine. I can see how I feel tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy my spring garden!

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I’ve been painting, refurnishing, and redecorating my office for my private practice. I’ll be back with photos and at least one story about Teddy bears.

In the meantime, check out my water lily. It’s blooming!

Photo by Elizabeth 2013

Photo by Elizabeth 2013

Poppies get a bad rap in the Wizard of Oz. I mean, come on, the Wicked Witch of the West used them for nefarious purposes, to thwart Dorothy and her friends from their quest to see The Wizard. Plus there are those horrible, nightmare inducing flying monkeys!

Poppies are in bloom in my neighborhood and they are oh so beautiful! Enjoy!

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Today is the summer solstice. Hooray! This summer is met with particular eager anticipation because last summer with the Summer of Surgeries. This summer, I will have no surgeries, knock on wood. Now fall of 2013, will likely be a different story but whatever “work” is done will be minor. No more major surgeries on the known horizon.

So, in honor of this occasion as well as it’s personal meaning to me in 2013, I would like to post a few photos that show resilience. Let’s call them my Timex photos. All of you resilient readers and bloggers out there, we take a licking but we keep on ticking.

This is a photo taken after the weeding party, during which the evil plant-engulfing wireweed was removed. See the small shrub that was uncovered? Yeah, well I can barely see it. It looks like a bouquet of brown twigs.

This is a photo taken after the weeding party, during which the evil plant-engulfing wireweed was removed. See the small shrub that was uncovered? Yeah, well I can barely see it. It looks like a bouquet of brown twigs.

Here's what the bundle of sticks looks like today. It's alive, it's alive! Like a phoenix that has arisen from the ashes!

Here’s what the bundle of sticks looks like today. It’s alive, it’s alive! Like a phoenix that has arisen from the ashes!

Speaking of a phoenix, here is the phoenix I bought John for Fathers' Day made by Cedar Moon Studio (available from Etsy.) This Phoenix rose from the ashes of an old plastic pink flamingo yard bird, that was re-purposed into this magnificent creature.

Speaking of a phoenix, here is the phoenix I bought John for Fathers’ Day made by Cedar Moon Studio (available from Etsy.) This Phoenix rose from the ashes of an old plastic pink flamingo yard bird, that was re-purposed into this magnificent creature.

 

Click here to see more transformed pink flamingos.

Before I go into today’s post, I have an announcement.

Elvis lives! My ‘Velvet Elvis’ water iris started blooming today.

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Isn’t he pretty?

Okay, back to the main topic. By “Dirty Harriet”, I refer to myself. I have become a vigilante in search of justice, justice against the weeds that encroached upon my garden during the surgery years.

What weed could be so bad that it would inspire an organic gardener and peace loving person like myself to seek vengeance?

It’s what my neighbor calls, “the worst weed of all.” It is lawn grass.

I would much rather have flowers than lawn so most of my front yard is garden rather than grass. But there is a strip of grass on the west side of the house that remained and vexed me all through last summer when I couldn’t weed, continued in the fall, when I still couldn’t weed, and just laughed at me during the early spring right after my TRAM surgery.

But, like Arnold, “I’m baaack.” (Oops, wrong movie reference.) I can lift, I can dig, and after endless furniture shopping for my new office, I had tons of cardboard boxes.

Behold my handiwork! I put down cardboard over all of the remaining grass and put down a cedar mulch path. Tomorrow, I will lay down compost and mulch to build a planting area for shrubs. I won’t plant anything back there until next year, to give the card board a chance to work on the grass underneath.

Planting bed in progress.

Planting bed in progress.

 

"Follow the Cedar Bark Road, follow the Cedar Bark Road."

“Follow the Cedar Bark Road, follow the Cedar Bark Road.”

Velvet Elvis approves of the changes and said, “Thank you verra much.”

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a young girl, I loved the book, Harriet the Spy. The book is about a smart and very unique girl, Harriet and her past time of carrying a notebook and spying on people. I remember that she followed her nanny around and that she visited a conservatory and another place that had velvet wallpaper. The conservatory and wallpaper memories may be false but the nanny stalking was confirmed through Internet searching. In any event, just let me have my conservatory and velvet wallpaper. Harriet, spying her way through New York City was an experience far removed from my almost semi-rural upbringing with my five brothers, parents, dog, many cats, and homing pigeons.

I too, love to observe people. I’m pretty good at it, which is not bragging because as a psychologist if I did not have this skill, I would be incompetent. On my neighborhood walks, I sometimes find myself using my observations of peoples’ homes and gardens as clues about what the inhabitants might be like. It is kind of a mental puzzle that I do without really thinking about it.

There’s a house I’ve walked by probably thousands of times in the 13 years I’ve lived here. Several years ago, I noticed that the rose garden had gotten overgrown. I could tell that it had really well taken care of at some point due to the number of different varieties. The house also looked a bit in disrepair. A couple of years later, I noticed that the yard had gotten cleaned  and new plants had been added. The house got painted and updated. I figured that the house had been sold by an elderly person who had loved gardening but was no longer able to do it and then purchased by a young couple. I used to pass their lovely yard and think, “The older lady [in my mind she was female] would be so thrilled to know that someone cherished her garden and nurtured it back to it’s full beauty.”

This is the scenario I’d developed in my head and it stayed there for a few years until two days ago. Two days ago, I actually saw someone who lives in the house! And she was working in the yard! And she was an energetic woman who looked to be in her early to mid-70’s.

Okay, my new story is that she had gotten seriously ill several years ago and then she got better. Now she is enjoying her home and her garden more than ever!

The rose garden is not yet in bloom. It can be seen in the right foreground of the photo. Also, the other side of the house has prettier plants but that was where the woman was working. I took this photo from across the street. I may be a spy, but I am not a stalker.

The rose garden is not yet in bloom. It can be seen in the right foreground of the photo. Also, the other side of the house has prettier plants but that was where the woman was working. I took this photo from across the street. I may be a spy, but I am not a stalker.

 

I took this photo a few weeks ago from the same yard. I still haven't been able to identify the flowers next to the primrose. Just as well as I have no room to plant anything new in my yard.

I took this photo a few weeks ago from the same yard. I still haven’t been able to identify the flowers next to the primrose. Just as well as I have no room to plant anything new in my yard.

 

 

My neighborhood is so sweet smelling these days. Has it been buying potpourri?

Aha! I get it now.

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Lilacs, lilacs, every where!

Lilacs, lilacs, every where!

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The roses are starting up, too.

The roses are starting up, too.

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It snowed last night!  (Looks like a variety of spirea. By the way, Jennie, if you are reading this. I think spirea is the plant from the neighbor's back yard that pokes over our fence. I think I misidentified it.)

It snowed last night! (Looks like a variety of spirea. By the way, Jennie, if you are reading this. I think spirea is the plant from the neighbor’s back yard that pokes over our fence. I think I misidentified it.)

Enjoy a fragrant weekend!

This post is from 7/14/12. It’s not so much of a “best of blog” for the writing but for what gardening means to me. I was so happy to be able to get out and weed. My garden used to be a sanctuary and I’ve really missed being able to work out there on a regular basis. I know that it’s only a matter of time until my schedule and body cooperate so that I can get out there again and do some real work. Unlike my daily walking, the gardening involves physical movement that is not as controlled and emphasizes my right upper body, you know the part that keeps getting surgery. Currently, I am physically up to it but my schedule is crazy until the surgery. My wonderful hubby did some clean up for my last weekend and it made a world of difference. I try not to look at the amount of grass that is invading the flowers and ground covers.

I got to get out in the yard and weed this morning. Yay! Here are some pictures of my Jungle of Delights!

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