Author Archives: The Rusty Rake

About The Rusty Rake

I'm a fledgling gardener armed with a few tools, lots of rain, and a medium amount of energy.

The Stowaway Sun

A fire has been lit.  A perfect little fire framed by white bricks and contained with a glass accordion door.  It took no effort to light.  I just flipped a switch and the gas lit the fake logs with just the right amount of ash coloring.  Easy.  Predictable.  Reliable.  Everything a fireplace fire should be on a resume.  Except the smell.  I am glad it doesn’t smell, but disappointed as well.  It’s a little too perfect.

I lit the fire because it’s the first time I’ve felt a chill all summer.  It’s September 2, but summer in Seattle is on life support.  It’s still here and this week will be a prime example of why the Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  But tonight I felt cold while hauling water to my plot in the community garden.  I tried to sit outside as the sun went down, but it felt different.  Perhaps it was the wind or a combination of that and the sun disappearing before 8 p.m. now.  As a lifelong resident, I know the death of summer is knocking on our doors.  

The dinner plate sized heads of my sunflowers are beginning to droop. The yellow petals that fringe their seeded faces have curled inward much like the haircuts found on sculptures of Roman emperors. Unlike the Roman statues, they are wilting. However, further down on their sturdy stalks are smaller versions of themselves. Their offspring that have not served the overhead sun for quite so long. The bees seem not to care though. They love them all.

I wasn’t supposed to have a sunflower.  I didn’t plant any.  In the several gardens I’ve called my own, I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve pulled weeds that were actually flowers.  I’ve let weeds have their way.  I’ve experimented with propagation and plant/shrub relocation too.  One thing it’s taught me is that it’s okay to just take a breath and wait and see.  Sometimes the weeds are actually Western Bleeding Hearts.  The beautiful little purple bleeding hearts that love partially shaded gardens.  

I don’t have any Western Bleeding Hearts or any bleeding hearts in my little P-Patch, but I have had my fair share of weeds and most I pulled in the early spring before planting my summer crop.  When I say crop, I really mean cherry tomatoes.  Unlike most the other gardeners (perhaps all of them) in my community garden, I grow vines and flowers, and other pretty things.  I’ve had many compliments on my little plot and though I don’t grow food for the food bank, like other selfless gardeners next to me, I do take pride and enjoyment in knowing that my little patch may have brought a smile to a passerby’s day.  

Before my cherry tomatoes started overgrowing my two little blueberry bushes as well as the marigolds I planted to protect the tomatoes against insects, I almost pulled a little weed along the edge of my raised bed.  I had my hands around its little stem ready to yank it free of my soil.  Then I paused.  What if?  What if this weed had potential?  What if this weed was something I didn’t know I wanted?  What if?

So I released my grip.  I’d give it awhile to prove itself.  With enough time, everyone and everything in life will show you their real colors.  This is the truth that I know.  Just breathe.  And wait.   And hope it doesn’t take too long.

It took a few weeks for me to have my suspicions. The stalk grew sturdier and ever upward. A flower head emerged, but was too shy to open. Taller and taller it grew until it passed my 5 feet in height and still it grew some more. In that time, another had emerged along the perpendicular edge. I left it to its own purpose other than my watering.

When it was time to open up, I knew for sure it was a sunflower.  Its face is the poster child for summer.  I used to think they were named sunflowers because their flowers resemble the sun with their perfect disk centers surrounded by ray flowers.  It’s not from what I’ve read.  It’s actually because the flowers themselves follow the sun!  That is until they are too mature and then they continue to face east.  I suppose they are not unlike people.  When they get too old, they are hard pressed to take a different direction.  Fascinating flowers for sure.

My particular sunflower began to dwarf my hand by mid summer. Of course, being 5 feet tall, my hands aren’t that big, but still. If I could reach the top of it and compare its head to my own, I’m guessing it would be about the same. At this time, several smaller faces had sprouted along its now very sturdy trunk. I say trunk because I think of stems as delicate and this thing is about an inch and a half in diameter. Perhaps less. I’ve never been good with measurements, but maybe I’ll take my tape measure out if I can remember.

I didn’t plant the sunflowers. I didn’t have any in my P-Patch when I was granted it in August of the previous year. It was barren save for a rather large thyme bush that shows off little purple flowers in the spring and spidery webs the rest of the summer. The webs (and their creators) is why I haven’t given it much attention and I am considering its removal or at least partial removal in the safe, spider free, months of winter. To be decided.

The plot had a few spiders last summer, but no sunflowers. The plot next to mine had a couple of wild looking ones though. I never saw the person who attended (or not) them.

Last fall I planted a few shrubs that my dad was babysitting for me during my transition from house to city condo rental.  I also purchased a couple little blueberry bushes to pop in there.  I remember going out to water and check on my newly planted items to find a large sunflower head in my plot.  Decapitated.  I suppose it posed too big of a burden for a bird (crow or seagull I bet) to carry off and was dropped.  Gardening in its natural form I guess. 

Nature is a great teacher if one pays attention. Life presents us with so many weeds. Do we pull them? Do we let them grow? Do we nurture them? My experiences have taught me to observe them. Let them show themselves for who or what they are. Pull them if needed. Let them grow if they prove potential. But always observe and reserve judgement for a time when enough information has been gathered. Don’t just pluck or leave to spread wild. Observe and the answers will come.

For my step-mom who just recently passed away…you were a sunflower and may that fiery red head of yours always follow the sun.  I observed you for about 26 years.  You were a flower and not a weed.  You are forever a sunflower in my memories and I will continue to water you.

This year has been a hard one.  Weeds abound.  Perhaps the seeds that lay to rest this fall will bring us sunflowers come next summer.  Until then, enjoy all the flowers big and small before the fall takes them away and never forget that the weed you first see could possibly be a stowaway sun.  

If you don’t water your garden, it sure as hell won’t grow.

Summer seems to have arrived on time in the Pacific Northwest for once.  It’s been warm enough this week to kick on my air conditioning unit.  It’s the free standing kind because most homes in the Seattle area have not needed air conditioning until the last decade it seems.  What used to be a handful of too hot days at the most has turned into too many to rely only on closing blinds in the morning and opening windows at night.  The world is changing.

I read that Siberia recently hit 100* F!  It’s not only nature’s climate that is too hot though.  The political and social climate is burning the country as of late.  It’s a stressful time and full of anxiety for so many people right now.  I have felt it myself and it’s always during these times that I try to connect a bit more with nature.  So today, after being worn out from work, a run, and a CrossFit workout, I filled water jugs, grabbed my watering can and hauled the lot down to my plot in the community garden.  I needed to take care of my little plot of nature that helps takes care of me. 

I was the solo gardener tonight.  I suppose it was a bit later than usual.  My earbuds kept me company though.  A playlist from 2017.  I was living in my favorite home, other than my childhood one, when I made that music list.  I was proud of the landscaping I had done and the  various shrubs and flowers I planted.  I made (okay, with the help of an Amazon kit, but I put them together) raised garden beds and planted things I actually ate!  

It was a lot of work keeping everything alive in the summer.  Not so much the native shrubs that were already established, but any new plantings plus the vegetables and shallow rooted shrubs like the azaleas.  I thought about that today as I lugged the 5 gallon jug from my garden cart and swung it onto the bench in my plot.  What a pain!  

When I lived in the little blue house, watering was a chore, but relatively easy.  I had a hose in the front yard and the back too.  I set up a soaking system for some of the plants that worked fairly well.  For the others, I would walk around with a glass of wine spritzer (some may scoff at this, but it’s what some Parisiennnes drink), in one hand and the other hand wielded the garden hose with its attachment of various watering strategies.

Just me.  Out in the yard.  By myself except for a wave or brief conversation from a neighbor.  I knew them all.  Not well, but enough to look forward to the exchanges.  Some nights I didn’t feel like it, but I went out to water anyway.  Most nights I enjoyed the ritual.  Alone with my thoughts, the smell of flowers and the sky changing colors overhead.  Stress seldom followed me around when I was out there.  

These memories flooded me tonight.  I don’t often think of how much I missed that little house with the whimsical yard.  I still miss it a little, but as my wise cousin once told me….It’s just walls.  And it was.  Just walls.  Walls enclosed the home inside.  Nature surrounded the house walls outside.  I suppose even the fences were walls including the one I painted once.  Walls.  Just walls.  Not my walls anymore.  They no longer contain me and I no longer maintain them.   

As I was slowing the progress of the water weighted garden cart on my decent to my garden, wine tumbler in hand, I thought of my days watering the yard.  The grass and shrubs and flowers and veggies.  And here I was again.  Alone.  Watering.  Absolutely no walls.  I sipped my cold beverage from my tumbler.  It was actually a cider.  And yes, I realize that’s not exactly legal.  A friend of mine pointed this out.  I dare anyone to ask me if I care.  I’m the kind of person who doesn’t jay walk and uses (pre-covid) the bright orange flag in cross walks.  I am not a menace to society.

When I was done watering, I abandoned my cart for about a half hour to sit in the aqua colored, plastic Adirondack chair.  It’s one of 5.  None of them match in color and I think that’s what endears them to me.  Perhaps it was a set of multi-colored chairs.  I suppose I’ll ask the fearless leaders of the garden next time I see them.  Maybe not.  I like to think they were all purchased separately,  The faded, cherry popsicle colored chair.  The lime chair.  The cobalt blue.  And, quite honestly, I forget the color of the fifth one.  Maybe yellow.  Tonight I am making 5th a color.  After all, usually 5th avenue is one of the prettiest streets of a city. 

Chair colors aside, I took this time to compare my life now with my life then.  I am still ritualistically watering my plants.  I am still taking time to myself to be in nature.  Though I didn’t encounter any tonight, I still have neighbors to wave at and chat with.  I still relax and let my stressors stay where they belong.  Within the walls.  They all seem like they have walls.  

Life is what we make of it.  I could lament the loss of my walls or I can embrace the happiness I find in the everyday.  The journey of taking the water from my borrowed walls to my borrowed garden.  We are all borrowed.  Things come and go.  It’s important to take the time to appreciate what we all have and to make the best of what our lives have to offer right now.

After all…if you don’t water your garden, it sure as hell won’t grow.   

2020 Peas be Better!!

It’s mid June and just brushing 70 degrees tonight.  I sit outside on my veranda in a sun dress and flip flops taking in the sights and smells.  To say Seattle is beautiful this time of year is a gross understatement.  All of nature is robed in green with splashes here and there of all the colors of the rainbow.  At least all the ones our eyes can see.  It’s too bad Professor McGonagall isn’t here to transfigure me into a hummingbird so I could see the world as a much more colorful and brighter place!

It’s been fairly gloomy here in the Pacific Northwest and not just from the months of gray and cold we’ve recently shed.  The world is not what it used to be.  2020 has been a record year for unemployment, people forced into working essential and risky jobs, and the rest of us working from home and refusing to wear pants.  Masks are slowly starting to become fashion statements and travel further than one’s own neighborhood is frowned upon.

All this has resulted in we Americans having a lot of extra time on our hands.  People have embraced exercise and developed what seems to be a new found enthusiasm for anything outdoors.  No one wants to stay home.  Maybe a few introverts, but I would say the majority of us want to be out and about.  Many have even found a new passion for gardening! 

It certainly feels like we’ve been grounded and I’m definitely guilty of sneaking out.  I’m not the only one either.  The nurseries and garden centers have been packed!  The masked vs unmasked population varies and seems to favor one or the other depending on the proximity to  a big city.  In my experience, the majority of the unmasked are people in the more at-risk older age group who don’t seem to give AF.  To each their own.  

I am a religious mask wearer in any business establishment.  I’ve also been wearing my glasses more because I tend to rub my eyes a lot when wearing my contacts.  This is a problem because my breath inside my masks fogs my glasses.  I take my glasses off to wipe them clean of condensation, but they catch on my mask, pull it half off and then a chunk of my hair never fails to get tangled in both the glasses and mask.  It’s just not dignified.  

I wear it anyway though unless I’m out in open air.  When I run outside, I pull my mask up when I pass by people.  When the coast is clear, I lower it so I don’t pass out.  It’s actually good training for my lungs I think.  I guess time will tell.

I don’t include nurseries as open air because of all the people loitering over the foilage (myself included).  I only have a few new plants from my nursery trips.  My nursery trips have been well beyond my neighborhood too.  I fancy myself as a rule bender, but not breaker.  I also have plants that I acquired through other channels.  More creative channels I think.

When things first shut down, I became a hermit.  I used a cleaning wipe to open all doors around my condo building.  That was short lived due to the short supply of cleaning wipes even after using scissors to cut the damn things into quarters.  I replaced that with paper towels and then washed, washed, washed.  I had groceries delivered through Instacart and after a debacle of whether or not I paid for the flowers that were left with my groceries (I did not) and after feeling bad that I was putting someone else at risk for picking up my groceries (and if I’m really honest with myself…it was expensive too), I decided to mask and glove up and start going to the store myself.  Like a big girl.  But that was it.  Essentials only!  

And then my friend Jennifer offered to pick me up some cherry tomato plants at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  She was going anyway and this was before I ventured out to go to a nursery myself.  Yes!  Please.  And thank you!!  So she dropped off a red and yellow cherry tomato plant, which I bartered with a few packages of top ramen, some chips, a few items I can no longer remember, and a single fruit by the foot.  

I never thought I’d see the barter system come to life in my lifetime, but there it was.  And it was beautiful.  I also received some plant charity from my friends Kyle and Clancy.  Kyle had started some sugar snap peas from some seeds he obtained from the previous year gardening.  That’s some level up shit right there.  He nurtured those little plant babies and then they delivered them straight to my community garden for a no contact drop off/pick up.  I planted them immediately.

The time in between planting those tomatoes and snap peas and today has been only a couple months, but the rate of change and growth in them has been substantial.  And the world has seemed to keep up with that pace.  

Every day something new.  The tomato stalks grow taller.  Only old people are dying of COVID.  The peas snake around anything they can touch.  Anyone of any age can die of it.  New leaves emerge.  You could be asymptomatic.  A flower bud.  Don’t touch any surfaces.  The flower opens.  Surfaces are not as contagious as previously thought.  The days grow longer and solstice nears.  The light shines on social injustices.  Flowers emerge.  Cities burn as protests are infiltrated and turn violent.  The bees return to the garden and the “murder hornets” are forgotten.  Curfews.  WTF?  Curfews?  The peas reach ever towards the sky.  CHANGE.  It’s everywhere.  

I visited the snap peas and cherry tomatoes in my garden patch just a few short hours ago.  I love this community garden.  Many plots.  All are different.  Different sizes and different shapes and distanced enough not to require a mask.  The plants that grow in the garden vary from plot to plot.  It is a sanctuary.  The Gardners say hello.  There are very few rules (no planting mint or trees and do your own weeding), and everyone seems to get along.  One man built a whole plot to grow produce for the food bank.  I am not as selfless.  Just blueberries to snack on and peas and tomatoes, though I did agree to let a man, who gave me gardening advice, pick a few of my cherry tomatoes if he was passing by.  

I’m still here on my veranda.  The sun sinks lower, but my solar lights stuck in my planters still have time before their show.  The honeysuckle is starting to emit its fragrance to tempt the nighttime fliers.  It’s my favorite time of night.  If I lived on the other side of the building that could see the Puget Sound, my view would be the waters that glow turquoise at dusk.  It’s the perfect time to pause and take things in.

There is so much going on in the world right now.  So much shit.  My one hope is that, like in our garden, the compost will turn into something beautiful and nurturing.  Something for everyone to enjoy and take part in.

Winter in Spring

It’s spring.  The parts of nature that have slumbered through the winter are in various states of opening their sleepy eyes.  The winter has been harsh though.  Perhaps not so much for nature itself, but definitely for human kind.  It is spring for nature, but winter for us it seems. 

Blanketed by Covid-19, we humans are all but snowed in.  Only there are no joyous sled rides or snow ball fights with friends.  Just creative ways to entertain ourselves especially if we live alone like I do.  

My meager wine collection has suffered a bit from this pandemic as well.  Though many bottles were consumed during virtual happy hours with friends, my wine wall is still standing.  And with most of the bottles still in residence.  I thank a break in the Seattle rain for this.  I am trying to get outside more. 

Being both outside and living in a crowded city makes social distancing a bit harder and a whole lot more awkward.  Two people, or me and what seems like a couple or family each time , play this game of chicken to decide who will exit the sidewalk into the road to keep the proper distance.  Most of the time I do, but I’m stubborn at times.  Kids?  Old people?  Most people?  I’ll take the street.  Happy couple holding hands and flaunting their togetherness that all but screams John Cusack holding a boom box over his head?  The crosswalk is mine bitches, move!  I still need to see that movie.  I suppose I have plenty of time now.  

I also have plenty of time to miss my old yard and garden.  I know I would be a lot happier being able to tinker in the yard.  I’d be calmer for sure.  I’d love to be sweaty from planting, mowing, weeding, and building things with the sun over my head (I’d take rain even) and fresh air in my lungs.

I don’t have the sun over my head.  Not on my shaded veranda anyway, but I do have fresh air and several potted plants and flowers that I am watching come back to life.  The sun I do get is either from visiting my P-patch nearby or from going on a walk or a run.

The Seattle neighborhood I live in has beautiful old houses with mature gardens of all varieties.  Perfectly manicured, whimsical, wild, neglected (though this is rare), creative, duck inhabited (seen the sign, but not the duck), sunny, shaded, steep, and out of place (hello palm trees), but all bring me great joy as I venture outside.  

Walking is my favorite.  Partly because this neighborhood has hills from hell, but mostly because it allows me the time to meander more and really take in the scenery.  One thing I have noticed whether walking or running are the signs posted in these pretty yards.  I’m not sure if they are always there or if they are new because of the world’s current happenings.  I know I haven’t noticed them before.

They are simple little signs that have the same basic design has campaign signs.  Only the campaign is not political at all.  Just plain white signs with black letters arranged into uplifting messages.  

“ONE DAY AT A TIME”  

“DON’T GIVE UP”

“YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE”

I have seen more of these signs.  If I had a yard here, I would definitely put one in mine!  What a great way to tell people that we are not alone.  Not really.  Inspirational signs in beautiful yards and teddy bears in windows.  We will be okay.

It is Spring for nature and it will be Spring for all of us again.  The sun will shine on our faces and we will grow together again.

The Lilac Propagation

I grew up in a house with very large yard that I would run, skip, monkey bar, build forts, cartwheel, and even ride horses through.  I had so many imaginary adventures in that yard.  I wasn’t one for stopping to smell the roses when I was young, but I’d always pause as I passed by the tall lilac bush.  I’d pull a pliant branch down until the grape bunch-shaped flowers tickled my nose.  I can close my eyes in winter, even now, and still smell the sweet, purple, spring blooms of my childhood home in my memories.  It was a wonderful smell.

Maybe that is why I love lilacs so much.  They smell of home.  The home of my youth.  A simple place I lived with my parents, sisters, cats, dogs, legos, barbies, and horses.  So much has changed since then, but that smell still takes me back someplace safe where my imagination ran free.  

I cried when I found out my dad was selling the house.  I was living in the city at the time and the thought of never being able to go back to visit those memories hurt my heart.  On one of my last visits before the house sold, my dad suggested that I take a clipping of the lilac.  It was a somewhat brutal and messy process of just tugging the shoot until it broke away from the parent species.  I dug below the surface first so I’d be sure to get enough roots with the shoot.  I then wrapped a wet paper towel around the exposed roots and took my lilac babies back to Seattle.  

That was the first time I propagated a lilac.  The bush I took it from was actually propagated from my great-grandmother’s lilac, which I remember visiting in her yard when I was young.  I have no idea where my grandmother got her lilac from.  Maybe it was native to her yard.  

A quick Google search of native lilacs indicate that they come from Eastern Europe and temperate Asia.  My great-Grandmother was Scandinavian so I suppose where hers came from will remain a mystery to me.  However, I did discover (via distracted Googling) that there is some mythology associated with lilacs.  

Syringa, the scientific name for lilac, is derived from the Greek word for Syrinx.  Syrinx was a beautiful nymph who was at her local watering hole just minding her own business.  One day a pushy, god of the forest and fields, named Pan showed up, took one look at Syrinx and tried to make a move.  She turned him down, but he didn’t want to take no for an answer so she changed into a lilac or a reed (depends on the story) to avoid him.  She basically gave Pan the mythological wrong phone number.  He then pouted and started making music with a flute made of reeds.  Typical.  

As John Oliver would say, “moving on.”

I was living in a little studio apartment with a disproportionately large deck dotted with a few potted plants.  I stuck my lilac starts into the soil of a newly acquired pot with much skepticism.  Then I forgot about them for a bit.  I can’t remember what season it was, but I’m guessing not summer because the little guys survived living off the water of the sky.  

My lilacs leafed out and grew quickly.  They even produced new shoots the following spring.  Flowers eluded me though.  And the spring after that?  Still no purple floral blooms.  The lilac may have been the first plant I ever researched.  Three to seven years to bloom, I read.  Unfortunately, they tend to outgrow their pots and my deck by then.  

I put my lilac up for adoption after taking a new start.  I had to start over.  This process occurred once more before I had a yard my lilac could call home.  I believe it was the second year of permanent residence that my second generation (from my start) lilac decided to gift me with fragrant blooms.  Turns out to be about 5 years to bloom for my species.  I was ridiculously happy.  So many years after that first start and I finally had blooms of my own.  I was home again.  

I didn’t stop propagating though.  I used my newly planted old lilac to propagate new lilacs starts for family and friends too.  I like knowing that that lilacs in loved ones’ planters and yards are connected to mine.  It’s like when someone gives you that baggy goo of friendship bread only it’s not gross and I make sure the offer is accepted first.  It’s a lilac, not a damn chain letter.  Real friends give you fully baked bread or fully functioning (besides the flowers) plants anyway.  

The following year I made the mistake of feeding my lilac plant food made for azaleas.  It was a rookie mistake that I was really too good for at that point.  Too much nitrogen and so no blooms for me.  Sad!  I’d just have to wait until the next spring, but that was not meant to be.

I moved to a new house the next year so my bloom clock started over once again.  I brought a lilac I had started from the one I planted at the previous house.  It was already a couple years old and about 3 feet high.  Out of habit, I propagated that one straight away and stuck it in a pot.  That little one I took with me after I moved out a little less than a year later after my marriage was over.

My hardy new little lilac has survived my shaded veranda through a freeze and snow storm and is now showing buds for the upcoming spring.  Not flower buds.  That’s still a few years away.  Leaf buds.    

Lilacs are hardy and thrive here in my experience.  They look ugly and dead in the late fall and early winter.  They’re not dead though.  Perhaps a bit unsightly, but not unlike a cocoon waiting to unleash a butterfly.  It will be a few years until I see a lilac butterfly again, but when I do, I won’t feed it nitrogen!  Perhaps by then it will trade its planter for a garden.    

Until then, I’ll watch my little lilac grow and use my imagination to smell the blooms of my past.

Life in Pots

I think what I love best about the garden is its life force.  It grows and creates and inspires.  It invites the world in.  Or out.  It definitely invites me outside and into the elements.  Flowers that give me an instant migraine indoors will delight me with only a hint of fragrance on the breeze out in the open.  The sun sporting its various cloud outfits lend different light to everything around.  Sparkle and fade.  The birds that share the garden lend their music to the air and seem to follow the conducting tree branches.  I love the outdoor garden and all its elements.  Rain or wind or shine, it’s love.

(Recent pot work below)

Indoor gardens are different.  I’ve never been very good with houseplants.  I once killed a bamboo plant at work.  Orchids commit suicide in my presence (though I have been redeeming myself as of late).  Plants that survive me do not survive my cat, Odin.   Christmas cactus?  Bye-bye flowers.  Hello teeth marks!  Flowers seem to offend my kitty.  I have one air plant alive in my home.  A sole survivor.  It lives in an enclosed mini green house.  Safe from my cat’s sharp clutches.

So indoor plants and I have generally not got on well.  They did saved my life once though.

I was renting a small apartment in Everett, Washington about 20 years ago.  It was the first place I lived in all on my own.  I was working at the Everett Boeing plant at the time and the location was convenient.  I was also a new 21 year old and working swing shift in the factory.  I distributed chemicals to the mechanics building the planes.  It is still one of the most interesting jobs I have ever had.  I met a lot of people there.  It takes a lot of chemicals to build a plane and a lot of mechanics to do the building after all.

One I almost married and one I almost met death with.  The former I can still call friend and I am grateful for that.  The latter had beautiful blue eyes that haunt me still.  

It was a time in my life where I had taken a pause in my college journey.  I was burned out from working full-time and attending full-time classes.  I wanted a little piece of youth for myself I guess and I had a job that payed the bills and left me with a bit left over that I should have saved, but instead went out with my buddies for drinks.  Often.  When you’re young and get off work an hour before midnight, it’s just way too tempting to wind down with friends.  Happy hour becomes 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m some nights.  When it became more nights than not, I decided I needed a break.

So when Paul, with his beautiful blue eyes, stopped by to invite me out, I had a hard time telling him no.  I can picture him now.  Clearly.  Leaning over my counter.  He was nice and it was a nice group of friends going out.  I was a baby at Boeing.  So was he.  Our young group wasn’t very big and I did want to go and hang out with everyone.  But I had gone out the previous 5 nights.  I needed a break.  I just did and I got stubborn about it.  I didn’t advocate for myself much in those days and it was sure tempting to join, but I just couldn’t.  I can’t say why, but I was determined to repot those damn plants.  It was my mission that night.  

(Summer pot below)

Those blue eyes could sure cut you when you disappointed them though.  I went directly home that night.  Well…I might have stopped at Fred Meyer for potting soil first.  I was at least going to do the thing that was my excuse for not going out.

My friends were out having fun and I was home alone in my kitchen spreading earth on my hand-me-down kitchen table.  I had plants that needed repotting.  One might have been a dracaena plant, but I’m not positive.  All I know is that it was a couple of plants.  Maybe one my mother had given me when I first moved out and lived in the U-district?  I probably had already killed that one.  It was so long ago, I can’t be sure.  I just know I potted plants and more than one.  And I made a mess and had a tiny bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) knowing that my friends were out having fun without me.  But I also felt tired and content with earth under my fingernails.

I remember that night very well.  I do not remember the exact plants, but I can picture my soil strewn table and the small balcony across from it.  And I remember the next day, but only in a hazy sort of way.

I went into work at 2:30 p.m.  as was my normal swing shift start time.  I can’t remember what time I woke that day but my guess would be around 10 a.m.  I was a night owl in those days.  I drove to work and played the car stalking game people play in mall parking lots during the holidays.  Only that was every day at Everett Boeing.  I have no idea how I ever remembered where I parked in those days.  I can’t count how many times I had lost my car in the Lowe’s parking lot when I had a house that called for those frequent trips.  My memory was good back in my Boeing days.  Or perhaps it was just that I had far less life experience to file away in my head that long ago.

Memory.  How strange is it that I can forget what I had for lunch just today, but I can remember a young man’s face as if it were minutes ago?  Even after 20 years have passed.  I remember badging in at work and starting my day.  The day after I repotted my plants.  The day after my friends thought I was lame for going home instead of joining them.  It was also the day I realized people would have been sad had I gone out and never come back again.  

All day, people came to my “crib,” as they were called.  Same as any other day.  They needed chemicals to do their jobs and I was their dealer (helper).  They saw me and said things like, “Thank God you’re alive,” and “Oh My God, we thought you were dead.” 

I was confused at first.  Of course I was alive.  I was in my chem crib scanning badges and issuing various chemicals with my poster of Neuschwanstein Castle on the wall behind me.  That castle is still on my bucket list too.  It was just like any other day.  Until it wasn’t.  I was alive and my friend with the beautiful blue eyes was dead.  My other friend was in Harborview.  Anyone from the Seattle area knows that Harborview means dire circumstances.  It means it’s the best place for you if you are courting death.  He lived, but it was a hard road for him.  I wonder where he is now.

Two others were dead.  But not me.  I was potting plants.

People thought the girl in the front seat of the 4Runner was me.  Seatbelts are good until they almost cut you in half I was told.  I prefer other people to drive.  This was long before the days of Uber and while I was still in my stupid, invincibility stage of life.  I would have gladly accepted a ride.  My reality crashed all around me that day.  I would have taken a ride with those beautiful blue eyes the night before.  I know I would have.  I would have never known people would have missed me.  I would have just been gone. 

I went to the funeral and saw his lifeless face.  He looked like marble.  He was still beautiful.  Like a Twilight vampire if I had to compare him now.  Guns N Roses version of Knockin’ on Heavens Door played.  To this day, I think of him whenever I hear it and I think of that day.    And that day makes me think of that one night.  And I don’t remember the lifeless face that much now.  I remember clearly that tall, thin frame leaning over my counter with those beautiful blue eyes boring into me.  Trying to twist my arm to join him and his friends.  His disappointed gaze and me shrugging it off and conveying my duty (or excuse) to my house plants.

Me with my hands dirty with earth.  

Earth that saved my life but ended up covering his.

Even when I had a house and my own garden, I still had pots.  Outside, but still pots.

I potted plants.  And I think I always will.

Patched

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I moved out of my family home in November 2018.  It’s called a family home because it was  the house I purchased with my (then) husband.  A house about 25 miles north of Seattle or (as we talk about distance in Western Washington) an hour and forty minutes (or more) in rush hour traffic from Seattle.  I didn’t miss the commute, but I sure missed my garden.  My garden was my sanctuary.  I also missed my marriage (then) too.  I was just this heart broken woman in the beginning stages of a divorce with only a few familiar plants I brought with me.  Those were the few plants small enough to stick in containers that could survive and brighten my shaded veranda.  

One of the first things I noticed when I moved in was the community P-Patch almost directly in front of my building.  How convenient would that be??  So I googled P-Patches for Seattle and my heart sank.  The community gardening plots had a wait list.  A two year wait list!  I entered my name and contact information anyway.  I had no idea how long my divorce would take and in the current real estate market, in and around Seattle, I didn’t know if I would be able to purchase any land in the future.  So I resigned to adding more containers to my veranda while I waited for a small piece of land to tend to become available. 

Very quickly my veranda became my new sanctuary.  I didn’t need to do hours of yard work to reap the calming benefits.  I missed getting dirty and sweaty and all the calories a large yard demanded, but here I was able to sit and think and journal and just be.  Winter came and I still went outside to sit.  I’m glad I did because I realized I needed to fill my hummingbird feeder more often.  Hungry little hovercrafts in the winter!    

When I had a large yard, lots of birds lived in and around it.  I could hear their different songs, but I would hardly ever see them until I slowed down and was still for a while.  I had no problem being still in my new sanctuary.  And birds came.  Not as big of a variety, but very cheerful feathered creatures.  A few weeks before spring arrived, I noticed a little hummingbird nest in a bush I could view from the veranda!  

I watched the mama bird tend the nest alone.  Apparently male hummingbirds hit and run.  I wish I hadn’t researched them as I was on egg watch.  Two babies emerged before long.  I witnessed the mother feeding the babies.  I did my part by keeping my feeder full of nectar.  Months after, a hummingbird would visit my feeder, but first fly within a few feet of my face as if to say hi and thanks.  It’s possible it could have just been defending it’s food (why do I have to Google??), but I prefer to think it just liked me.  I needed that to be my reality. That hummingbird family was a gift from the universe.  

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As the Earth warmed once again with spring, so did I.  I still had times when I needed to sit in the fresh air outside to make sense of things, but I was falling in love with my container garden and the little bistro table I presided over.  I watched the blackberry vines creep down the white washed retaining wall across from my veranda.  They were resilient and I knew I was too.  And if that tiny little hummingbird could make a good life alone, so could I.  So I made a promise to myself that I would go out more whether or not I had friends to join me or not.  It’s okay to do things alone. 

One summer night I came in through the main lobby door after taking out the recycling.  I noticed a flier for a Hawaiian themed Neighborhood Night Out (NNO).  I immediately calendared it because it would be in the garden nearby and a great way to meet my neighbors.  Anyone living in Seattle knows about the Seattle Freeze.  It’s a real thing and it seems like the only thing to melt it is an event.  The first one I experienced since living in my new place was the snow storm.  I tried out my snow shoes in my neighborhood and everyone out sledding or scraping driveways waved or said hello.  NNO would be a new reason for people to step outside their comfort zone and actually talk to one another.  

I donned a Hawaiian dress and took a bottle of wine to share to the neighborhood event by myself.  The universe rewarded my bravery.  As it turned out, the P-Patch was not part of the 2-year wait list.  I was awarded my own plot, in full sun, that night!  I also met some very nice people.  I love the idea of a community garden.  All these little plots of land patched in to something bigger.  I have been digging in the dirt, planting, planning, and even socializing in my new garden.  The great part is everyone there is actually interested in what I’m planting and tips, wine, and conversation is shared.

I still sit on my veranda and have my quiet time, but I now have a social garden too.  I’ve grown a lot this past year and not just the green stuff on my veranda or in my P-Patch.  

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Be like the Blackberry

Be Like the Blackberry

I haven’t had a yard or an in-ground garden to take care of for a few seasons now.  In that time, I’ve spent many of my free moments at home thinking.   Many of those same moments I’ve spent sitting at my the little wooden bistro table outside on my condo rental’s veranda.  I’ve journaled more often than not during that time.  Many pages of little notebooks have been filled with whatever thoughts have entered my head. 

The veranda is private and peaceful.  It faces a retaining wall, which might seem claustrophobic, but, in truth, has been my sanctuary.  There is a hill below the veranda that rises to the wall.  Large Japanese maples rise from the hill below and tower above my outdoor ceiling and reach well beyond the top of the approximately 12 foot retaining wall.  A few holly looking bushes with blue clusters of berries also dot the hill.  I’m unsure what they are, but a hummingbird deemed one good enough to build a nest in it during March.  

Now that it’s Summer, sounds from adjacent verandas and balconies and decks from the large houses retained by the wall compete for my ears.  On rainy days, it’s still quiet though. Since the veranda is fully covered, I stay dry.  I love the sound of the rain.  A covered deck is a challenge for growing plants that like sun, but for fresh air without getting wet, it’s perfect.  Winter was more of a challenge as I had to bundle up to spend time outside and there was far less green after the maples had given up their leaves.  

There is always green in the Pacific Northwest year-round though.  They don’t call Seattle the Emerald City for nothing.  One particular green that I’ve had a change of heart about is the blackberry bramble.  One of my first blogs I wrote was about my struggle with eradicating the weed from my hillside.  I fought that battle for a couple years.  Someone else fights it here.  No one I have seen though.  Perhaps this Condo association has some Harry Potter House Elves to prune the draping vines.  Whoever does it, it’s not me. 

Instead, I’ve been thankful for the extra green it’s lent my peripheral landscape.  I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the canes that drape over the retaining wall.  They’ve had a “haircut” several times since I’ve lived here.  Very similar to what I did with the ivy at my first house.  Every so many months, a little snip and pull was in order.  

These canes I’ve watched sway with the breeze.  I’ve seen their white flowers bud and bloom with several left still and the round green balls of unripened fruit emerge.  I’ve started to see beauty where I used to see war.  It’s whole new perspective for me.

I used to climb the hillside of my house.  I would try to avoid the thorns as I would dig down a couple inches below a cane.  Once I found a short of knuckle that acted like a handle, I pulled with all my might, and sometimes got whipped by the spiky vines that let loose.  After spewing some profanities and covering my new cuts with bandages, I would celebrate my hard work.  A week or two later I’d see a new cane emerge from a flowering bush or fern.  I refused to believe that I had only won a small battle again.  In reality, I was really losing the war.

I didn’t see the lesson they were teaching me then.  I just could not see it.  I went to battle again and again.  I hacked, pulled, pleaded, and prayed, but they just kept coming back.  I couldn’t knock them down.  Nope.  Like the Romans throwing an endless supply of soldiers reaped from conquered lands into battle.  Like nude photos that show up during election years.  Like new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Survivor (both of which I’m thankful for) every spring and fall.  Like glitter in the carpet.  Like the ocean crashing against the shore.  They don’t go away.  They. Just. Keep. Coming.  If the plant world had an Octagon, I’d pit the blackberry against the bamboo in a Super Fight and bite my nails as soon as Bruce Buffer yelled, “It’s Time!”       

It’s not time though.  Maybe partially.  Time is wily thing after all.  It’s actually RESILIENCE.  I had been thinking about it for quite awhile.  Sitting and breathing and staring at the greenery that was offered.  Especially in the dead of winter.  I craved green so much that I began seeing the beauty in the thorny and arching canes of my former enemy.  Stockholm syndrome?  Perhaps.  Don’t judge.  I’m doing the best with garden that I’ve been given.  And this part of my garden can kick your garden’s ass.  Or at least do some damage in its removal and rise again from the ashes.  The Phoenix of the plant world. 

Perhaps that’s why I love plants so much.  Many are finicky, but a good deal are hardy.  Especially the native varieties.  I read an article just the other day about how plants have returned to the most polluted nuclear site in the world.  Plants that are able to adapt because they can’t just move.  It’s impressive how strong plants are.   Strong enough to even inhabit Chernobyl.  http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190701-why-plants-survived-chernobyls-deadly-radiation  Crazy plants!

So now I see beauty in the evergreen canes and the little whitish-pink flowers.  I confess that I’ve always loved to eat the fruit as well.  (Pies and cobbler, right?). I even see the beauty in the thorns.  And now, when I’ve had a bad day or when life isn’t going the way I thought it would, I don’t always “Be like Water,” as Bruce Lee would have me do. Sometimes I listen to nature instead and just, “Be like the Blackberry.”

 

The Girl out of the Garden

I gardened today.  Outside with the sun overhead.  Dirt on my clothes.  Sweat despite the near freezing temperature.  It was a first.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve gardened.  I did all the gardening and yard work in the two houses I owned with my soon-to-be ex-husband.  It wasn’t the first time I container gardened this year either.  I’ve been doing that since I moved out of my house last November. 

It was the first time I’ve gardened in the ground this year though and the very first time I’ve done yard work at my Dad’s since I left home too many years ago to count.  It was also the first time I did more yard work than my Dad who will be turning 70 in a couple weeks. 

When I was a young girl, I would often hear the doorbell ring in the Spring/Summer/Fall months when grass and gardens go crazy around here.  The person at the door was always Dad.  The doorbell was his way of calling his daughters outside to help with something.  

I remember trying to ignore the doorbell and then finally, begrudgingly, getting on my shoes and jacket and heading outside to find out what task I was to be set to.  I hated yard work.  It was messy and there were bugs, slugs, worms, and my arch nemesis …the spider(s).  I half heartedly helped and would jump at the chance to go inside and refill Dad’s coffee.  I would take my time to warm up or get a snack before returning.  Pretty sure Dad was on to me though.  

I would pull weeds, see spiders, and get really stressed.  It was too cold or too hot or a bee or spider was after me.  Often, the Smurfs or Gummy Bears were on T.V. and I was annoyed that I was missing them.  I decided then that I’d have a rock garden when I was all grown up.  

The young me had no idea that the adult me would sorely miss that property with all its trees, shrubbery, and flowers.  And yes, even the Sp…nope.  Still no, but I can deal with spiders now.  A little.  So far, I’ve had two gardens of my own to play in as an adult.

The first house had a real fixer-upper of a back yard.  It was magical though and went from scary to charming under my gardening gloves.  I was sad to leave it, but the sense of accomplishment I have from transforming it into a little sanctuary will never leave me.  I was happy there.

The second house had a huge lawn that I push mowed for an eternity.  It had room for plenty of shrubs and flowers that I planted and that made up for the required lawn maintenance.  Though it wasn’t a magical garden like the first house had, it still provided me with a calm that seems to only come from breathing in fresh air with the sky overhead.  I miss it.

Today I let Dad refill his own coffee and take breaks.  It wasn’t the yard I grew up with, but there was something comforting about being outside and working in the yard for Dad again. I’ve always been able to be with Dad and talk but be perfectly comfortable without talking too.  Mostly Dad let me work though he still did a little.  It was definitely a switch.  I bet there was something on T.V. that he wanted to watch, but in my family, when one is working, they all seem to be.  Or at least keeping good company.  I suppose one never feels alone that way.  

So today, I was happy to help.  No doorbell needed.  I guess you can take the girl out of the garden, but not the garden out of the girl.

Sprinkler Ninja

It’s the height of Summer (or it feels like it lately) in the PNW.  Gone are the days of partly cloudy to partly sunny, which always seemed the same to me.  I guess when it’s gray most of the year, one must play on the glass half full/empty logic.  Also gone are the most of the months of the year where nature does all the watering for you.

It’s been all sun and pretty much all hot as of late.  Is this a drought?  Feels that way.  With no rain forecasted in the near future, my plants and especially my lawn are feeling the burn.  Literally, my lawn was starting to burn in places before I intervened.

A few weeks ago, I noticed the grass crunching loudly under my flip flops.  Okay, maybe not loud enough to hear over the audiobook in my earbuds.  I did have to take them them out to investigate the odd feeling under my feet.  Still, it was loud.  Like crumpling a paper bag.

Guilt set in.  How could I let this happen to my once lush and spongy grass?  The defiant, mohawk making green blades that thwarted my efforts to tame them had lost their fight. Now, they just looked…sad.  Lost was the bright green, energetic, and good smelling (despite allergies) organic carpet.  In its place were yellowish brown spots begging for hydration.

This would not do!  I sprang into action and had two hoses fitted with sprinkler heads in no time flat!  I concentrated my efforts on the driest patches and turned the hoses on full blast.  After a good soaking, I analyzed places that would be in crises mode next if left neglected.  Since it was hot out, I didn’t mind getting soaked trying to find the best water trajectories.  I even ran through the sprinklers like I used to as a kid and laughed and spun around in circles.  I think I’ve mentioned that my neighbors probably think I’m bonkers.  That’s okay.  Their lawns aren’t looking the best either.

After the immediate crises was addressed, I have remained diligent in watering enough, but not so much that I would be deemed to waste water.  There are only suggested watering restrictions right now, but best to comply for the greater good.  This does require more lawn monitoring though and obvious strategy of sprinkler placement and ranking of need.

Now, in the evenings, one can find me darting around the yard, snagging the sprinkler, waving it over flower beds, and then repositioning it elsewhere to do green good.  We currently have two sprinkler heads.  One does a crazy circular pattern with multiple nozzles that cross streams (good thing I’m not a Ghost Buster), but doesn’t have as far of a reach.  I set this one up, then go turn on the water.  It’s best to stay away from crazy.  You only get soaked.  Truth.

The other sprinkler is your old fashioned, make a big arc in one direction and then switch and go back the other way kind.  There must be a proper name for this, but I’m too tired at the moment to Google it and lately it’s been more fun to ponder than to Google.  Anyway, it’s this one that I have the most fun with.  I wait for the liquid to arc away from me and then I run in and snatch it, holding it away from my body like one would an agitated snake.  It makes watering the lawn much more exciting.  I then relocate the mad (angry, not crazy) sprinkler to another area in need and try to escape the falling water once I set it down in the correct position.  I have about a 50/50 escape success rate so far.  The odds are not, “ever in my favor,” but I still take them again and again.

I think I can add Sprinkler Ninja to my resume now.  Yep.  I’m a Sprinkler Ninja.