Category Archives: Gardening

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

IMG_6745

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.  

IMG_6551.jpg

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.  

IMG_9175.jpg

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.

Garden Review: Sturdy Claws

Sturdy Claws

My expectation: 

To never need a trowel again.  To look like a super hero.  To be able to defend myself if ever my garden area comes under attack.

My experience:

When I first spied these gloves on Amazon, I laughed.  It didn’t take me long to get over the giggles though and begin to wonder if the makers of these pointy tipped garden gloves were on to something.  The fact that they were eligible for Prime pushed me to hit the Add to Cart button and immediately check out.  

They arrived swiftly and in good condition though with a strong sterile, plastic-like smell.  I was surprised that only the right hand glove contained the claws, which are hard plastic and concave on the palm side down, and pointy, though not sharp, at the tips.  I found later that having the left hand as just a regular glove proved useful in picking up items since my right hand had an almost Edward Scissor Hands handicap.  Trying to pick items up off the counter in my garden shed proved quite comical.  It reminded me of my days long ago when I sported acrylic nails though not as long as these claws.    

The one size fits all didn’t suit my small hands even with my longish fingers.  Swimming a bit in the gloves didn’t help my clawed hand and lended to its clumsiness.  Eventually I ditched the left glove for one that fit properly and just went with mis-matched gloves.  A left handed purple and the green clawed right.  My “garden” clothes seldom match either so I wasn’t concerned.  

Wondering what the backyard creatures would think (if they noticed at all) of my newly clawed appearance, I stepped from my shed into my yard with a goal of planting.  I wanted to start small and dig a hole just big enough to plant some annuals.  Clawed up, I left my trowel behind and found some already loose soil to dig.  

I dug using the motion my cat favors to make biscuits on blankets and was able to make some progress.  I was able to remove soil, but probably could have done so just as easily with regular gloves.  However, the too-loose fit of the glove caused it to twist around my hand and mostly annoy me.  Since I’m a bit stubborn, I decided to keep working and try to plant some seeds.  Since I am also right handed, I naturally tried to open the package of a seed product (review to come) with my right handed claws and failed.  I had to take the glove off to get the package open.  I then put the glove back on and tried grab the item, but kept missing when trying to pick it up.  I opted for using my left hand to feed things to my right.  Teamwork.  

My next test involved an unopened bag of soil.  If those claws were good for something, I was sure it was opening bags.  Again, the gloves were a bit too loose, but I did manage to poke a hole in the bag.  After that, I tried some harder soil and found the product to work okay, but a shovel would have been better.

Finally I settled on weeding.  Search and destroy was my goal.  This is where I found some success.  I could scratch and dig with my right and then pull with my unclawed hand.  This worked fairly well for some weeds, but the ones with long roots still required a weeding tool. 

Findings:

I think a snug fit would have made the gloves fairly useful so I’d be interested in someone’s experience whose hands are bigger.  Size selection is a must.

It takes some getting used to when you are used to your fingers being a certain length and you forget (even though you are staring at it) that the claws make your fingers a lot longer.

They smell bad.  Hope that you are working with some good smelling things to counteract this.

They are good conversation pieces or maybe they are just good for weirding out your neighbors.  Be sure to make a crazy face while wiggling your claw tipped fingers at them in hello.

They are not sharp so other than eye pokes (be careful not to poke your own), they are not good for defending your green kingdom. 

There is a reason trowels and shovels are gardening/yard supply staples.  They just work.   These gloves?  I’ll stick with my regular ones and use tools for now.

Green Mohawks

Three.  Three lawn mows down.  Many, many more to go.  

Another blogger, Erika in the Garden, referred to this time of year as lawn mowing season.  This made me both giggle and contemplate.  Erika is quite right after all.  It IS lawn mowing season.  Here in Western Washington, this season lasts as long as baseball season and is just as boring in my experience.  It is only made better, both baseball games and lawn mowing, by cold beverages and the belief that it will one day be over.  Both the current event and the season.  Only the end of the mowing season also means the end of warm weather.  The end of leaves.  The end of blooms.  The end of the magic in the garden and the beginning of the dreadful long wait for buds and blooms again.

So mowing is a must.

It’s a wonderful warm day just north of Seattle and I’m currently critiquing last weekend’s grass cutting.  Today is maybe the third day in a row it hasn’t rained and that is following the rainiest Saturday on record according to the local news.  This dry spell, at least I think I can call it that, has done wonders for the general attitude of the surrounding population including people, birds, and plants.   As I gaze out at the greenery, it seems as if every blade is standing upright at full attention and greedily soaking up the rays.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t so last Sunday when I mowed down a very soggy lawn.  

A break in the weather Sunday morning afforded me a chance to tackle a two-week grass growth.  My goal was to cut the grass a bit shorter than I had the time before so that I could go two weeks in between clipping without it looking too shaggy.  Did I mention that mowing isn’t my favorite?

I set my push reel mower down a level and got to work.  Yes.  A plain old push reel mower that my old neighbors used to scoff at.  As a guilty commuter, even with a small fuel efficient car, I like the idea of not using gasoline when I can.  So I have always prided myself on my “me fueled, no emissions (other than occasional swearing)” appliance.  Despite ridicule.  I’m saving the planet one blade of grass at a time after all.   

About an hour and a half later, I was quite sweaty, and overall pleased with all the neat, carpet-like lines in my lawn.  The over abundance of clippings left behind was too great for grass cycling so I made use of my newly acquired plastic rake (thanks Dad!).  I made several neat piles that eventually made their way into my yard recycling bin.  It was during this cleanup process that I began noticing a few tufts of green here and there that had apparently sprung back up after being flatted by my manual mower.  

Little green Mohawks in my otherwise newly manicured lawn.  

What did I learn?  My lawn is a bad-ass green belt that can’t be tamed.  At least not with a reel mower.  What else did I learn?  Despite my greenhouse gas-less goals, I secretly (cat’s outta the bag now) long for a lawn tractor.  A lawn tractor with a cup holder.  A bad-ass lawn tractor with a cup holder that will not tolerate any Mohawks in my yard!  Get off my lawn!!    

My Birdseed Brings All the Birds to the Yard!

One of the first purchases I made after we moved into our new house was two bird feeders.    One is a white, lantern-looking hopper feeder and the other is a plain wood and wire covered suet feeder.  Poles were already in place in the yard so I loaded up both feeders with food and hung them immediately.  It was late fall and most had already flown south, but there were still some hungry birds to appreciate my efforts.

Through the winter, I would focus my pair of binoculars on the feeders and the various birds that frequented them.  It was hard to miss the big birds.  I had no problem identifying the inky black feathers and intelligent stares of the American Crows or the bright blue bodies with dark mohawk heads of the Steller’s Jays.  I could easily pick out the red breasted American Robin and the dotted Northern Flicker with the orangish underwing.  The other little birds required some homework though.

At first, the little birds all looked alike.  Brownish, grayish little things that would swoop in fast, peck away at the feeders, and then swoop out again.  They were fast little buggers and I had to have the binoculars and my patience ready.  Only weekends seemed to afford me the time of sipping coffee in the morning or wine in the evening while gazing out the window.  While most the little birds were around the same size, I did start to notice some differences and began consulting Google.

My first discovery was the Dark-eyed Junco with its grayish brown body feathers and solid black head.  Then I began noticing other birds with mostly the same body coloration, but different markings on the head or wings.  I also became curious about their behaviors.  They seemed to queue up on nearby branches awaiting their turn at the feeders.  Most would also hop along the ground collecting any dropped seeds.  With the arrival of spring and thus more birds, I needed a book.

I came across a simplistic starter book entitled Beginner’s Guide to Birds by Donald & Lillian Stokes.  Containing lots of pictures with facts about identification, song, habitat, and nesting habits, it has helped me determine the species of several other birds that visit my yard and possibly call it home.

The book is divided into colored sections so I’ve been able to note a feather feature’s color and then narrow it down by characteristics within that color.  Since it is the Western Region edition (I assume there are more, but I have yet to look on Amazon), it only has birds that would naturally migrate or live year round in my area. So I kept filling the feeders and added a special hummingbird feeder as well.

I’ve spied the Spotted Towhee with its slightly robin appearance and its eerie, beady red eyes you can’t miss.  A Golden-crowned Sparrow has showed off its yellow racing striped head.  The head of a White-crowned Sparrow’s makes me think of skunk stripes.  The Red-winged Blackbird is exactly that with it’s inky feathers and starkly contracting splash of red on the wings.  I can’t decide if I have Chestnut-backed Chickadees or Bewick’s Wrens or both with their white striped faces.  Wide stripe or eyeliner?  I think I’ve seen both.  I’ve even seen a hummingbird, but they are wicked fast and I can only guess they’ve been Roufus Hummingbirds.  I hope I see more of them as the weather warms and the plants bloom.

As for the females, I’ve determined that they are the secret agents of the bird world.  I’m too much of an amateur to tell them apart, but I did see one poking its head out of one of my many bird houses.  I hope it’s building a nest, but time will tell.

Maybe it’s just that it’s spring or maybe the chirp has gotten out about the food, but my backyard is now a hot spot. I keep planting more shrubs for the birds to perch on and hide in.  Hopefully the flowers from some will attract more hummingbirds.  But for now…

My birdseed brings all the birds to the yard!

There’s something in the attic and we don’t know what it is.

There’s something in the attic and we don’t know what it is.

Yep.  I hear it before I fall asleep.  So do my cats.  They look to the ceiling and rant about the noise.  It wakes me in the morning with its footsteps and scrapes.  Sometimes scurrying and sometimes clunking or clicking.  My husband initially slept through it, but since I’ve added elbowing to the noise, he can no longer ignore it.  I think the little beastie(s) leaves in the morning and then comes back “home” in the evening.    We’ve been trying to identify this wild squatter, but our guesses are so far inconclusive.

Our house has little circular vents from our attic (I think) to the outside.  They are covered in a wire mesh, but inspection by binoculars (two story house) confirmed that the mesh has been torn and pushed aside in a few of the holes.  As I type this, that 80s song by Men At Work, “Who Can It Be Now,” creeps into my head…like that creature creeping into my house.  And I can’t get it out.  Either one so far.  So, who can it be now?

At first I thought it was a mouse, but it really sounds too big for that.  Much more substantial unless the mouse has been to the garage to lift weights and bulk up.  No evidence of that so far.  So something bigger I think…or at least not quite mouse-like.  While Mickey Mouse isn’t ruled out for certain, it’s low on the list of suspects.

A quick internet search suggested a raccoon since they are nocturnal.  Those holes are small though.  Maybe two and a half to three inches in diameter is all.  Raccoons are bigger than an average cat I think and our cats are definitely too big to squeeze their house-cat sized bodies through those little holes.  It does sound big enough to be a raccoon though or maybe it’s just the attic’s acoustics?

I can’t remember hearing it in the winter so maybe it wasn’t here yet or just hibernating?  If hibernating and most likely nocturnal, that may suggest bats.  And bats have been known to reside in attics.  Fun fact: hibernacula is the word for places where bats hibernate.  It sounds a bit like Dracula.  Anyway, little brown bats hibernate and are located in our neck of the woods.  Now that spring has (mostly) arrived, and bugs have returned (I may have just scratched a mosquito bite), they might have just woken up.  Since we bought our house in November when they were most likely sleeping, this could make sense.  They would also be able to squeeze into very small spaces.  Good thing I like bats. They kind of scare me, but I like them.

My husband seems to think that birds have moved into our attic.  That is a possibility too.  Birds could definitely fit through those holes and I did think I heard little chirps the other day, but it was morning and there are lots of birds in the yard that can be heard anyway.  So many birds.

So have we gone into the attic to see what it could be?  Nope.  No way.  I’m not going up there.  So…who do we call?  Not Ghost Busters.  Maybe an exterminator, but I really don’t want any bats or birds getting hurt.  I’ve heard for bats, if you wait for them to leave and then close the holes, they just can’t get back in.  However, you need to be sure no babies have been left behind.  That’s just cruel.

A rat maybe?  Bigger than a mouse, it could be a rat.  I saw one in the yard today,  running toward the bird seed spilled from the feeder and scaring the birds.  I’m about 50/50 on whether I’d like an exterminator to take care of that.  Such cute faces.  Such gross tails.  I really hope it’s bats or birds.  I’m still not going into the attic though.  Someone else needs to seal up those air vent holes.  Not me.

One last thought.  ROUSes.  You just never know.  Perhaps one of those.  Still…small hole to fit though, but hey, a fairytale is a fairytale.  I’m hoping I’ll get an, “As you wish,” when I ask my husband to go up into the attic.  On the other hand, if the attic is opened, the ROUS could get into the main house and then where would we be?  Infiltrated with house cats as our only defense.  Best to leave it to the professionals.

So, what’s up there?  The mystery remains…