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Should it Stay or Should it Go Now?

When I was young, our family would visit our Great Grandma who lived in Kennydale, WA.  A gnarly barked plum tree lived in her backyard and produced an abundance of the sweetest plums I have ever tasted. We would come home with a paper grocery sack full of them. Since then I’ve always wanted one of my own.

In my not so vast experience, plum trees are proven to thrive here in Western Washington so why not plant one in our yard? Well a plum tree would get too big for our front yard, which seems to hog all of our sun. Our back yard is too small, and our lower yard is too shaded.  That is until our not-so-tree-hugging neighbors cut down my favorite purple leafed maple of theirs. It was their last remaining tree in their backyard. Now we get a nosy-neighbor view straight into their living room. If only I had better eye sight, I could save money on cable and watch their TV. I was quite upset over this loss of privacy, not to mention the beautiful branches that cascaded over our fence and into our yard, until I saw the light. This now allows the sun’s rays to reach our lower yard and form a triangle patch of sunlight large enough to grow a plum sized tree!

Just one problem though. Part of that real estate is currently occupied by a slow creeping English Laurel. Also called a Cherry Laurel. Not to be confused with a cherry tree though. It’s an evergreen bush with glossy leaves and blackish berries that are not for eating. I’m not sure if it started with one bush and spread or if others grew together to make one long, evergreen barrier. Regardless, that barrier is currently partially blocking my plum-filled dreams.

So. Should it Stay or Should it Go Now? Should it go or should it grow?

I spent several weeks pondering the fate of this particular Cherry Laurel(s). Selfishly, I want it gone. I want juicy plums and hopefully pretty flower petals preceding them. However, the Laurel was there first, growing, sort of minding its own business, and providing greenery even in the coldest of months. It even gives us oxygen. Is it right to kill a healthy plant? I feel guilty wanting to. Who am I to play Garden God? There are a few reasons to keep it. Lots of reasons to get rid of it. I do realize my wanting to replace it with a plum tree has skewed my view, but I tried to come up with a list of objective pros and cons.

Con. It’s not nice to kill things. However, it’s not genocide after all. We have two other English Laurels on our property. One alongside the fence that must be beat back at least once or twice a year to allow enough clearance between its spider-infested self and the side of our house for me to access the garbage and recycling cans without incident. It’s about 10 feet high and I’m not sure it’s full grown. I named it Caesar. It helps protect us from our neighbor’s not-s0-friendly dog.  Another one is located on our hill, which serves the purpose of helping to hold our hill in place. Erosion control is a particular interest of mine of late and I appreciate all the help I can get from it. I have named this one Augustus. It likes to invade our path to the lower yard so it gets a haircut ever so often as well. They can stay. They have purpose.

Pro. Maybe I can even move some of it. If it’s as resilient as I’ve been reading, then I should be able to dig up the roots and plant it elsewhere. And who doesn’t like a good challenge? I could use some tall, green foliage to help fill in the gaps below the tree line against the fence that faces the road. It really needs to prove its worth. I may just give this a try.

Pro. Another reason to be rid of it or relocate it is that it seems to be a habitat for our squirrel population. Maybe not their home, but a place they frequents as I have spotted those bushy, gray-tailed rodents galloping under and out of them. Those who know me well know that I have a justified fear of those four legged fiends ever since I was chased by one on a college campus. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge all squirrels by that one event, but I also have a very healthy fear of rabies and don’t want to test my luck. I’m sure I’ve done enough bad things in my life to warrant Karma to literally bite me in the butt. So I’d like to practice avoidance. The squirrels can go frolic in someone else’s yard.

Con. It’s been here longer than I have. As a middle child, I have always been concerned with what is fair. And as something that “got here first,” I feel that it sort of has a right to keep being here. Right where it’s at. It’s not fair that the new kid on the block is trying to push it out. I also feel somewhat responsible for the trees and bushes that inhabit our property. Like I need to nurture them and protect them. Not kill them. Not be a plant murderer.  Especially when they didn’t ask for me to move in and take things over. Then again…it’s not like it’s chipping in on the mortgage…

Also, it’s considered a noxious weed. PRO. The Internet says so. See here: . It’s a “Weed of Concern” and its “Poisonous parts include wilted leaves, stems, and seeds (may be fatal if eaten)” I’m not even making this stuff up. Hence the quotes. FATAL if eaten! The damn plant is trying to kill me!

Well there you have it. It’s really just self-defense. It must GO!

So this past weekend, I donned my cammo Uggs, cinched my hoodie around my face, pulled my gardening gloves over a pair of knit gloves for warmth, and fetched my badass loppers and pruning saw. I extended the handles of the loppers fully, slung them over my shoulder and headed down our stair-less slope to face my new arch nemesis. That poisonous beast.

It’s the middle of winter. Rain beat down on me. I couldn’t wait too long to start though. Nope. In about a month or two, all the spiders will wake up. I must do my landscaping business now while the threat is low.   Plus, I’ll need to plant the plum tree I have yet to purchase before spring is in full swing.


(My Pruning saw.  “Blade”)

So I stuck my loppers into that monster and began clipping. Some branches were so thick I worked up a sweat repeatedly pushing and pulling my pruning saw over them.  After three trips up the hill, hauling departed branches in my leaf collector tarp thing (pretty sure that’s close enough to its real name), I had filled my whole yard waste container. Only about one sixth of the job was completed. CON. Yeah. There is a lot more to do. I haven’t even begun digging out the roots either. Might have bitten off more than I can chew. I’ll be busy for a while.





Spring is Coming

game of gnomes cropped



It’s now mid-January in the PNW.  Frost in the morning, and then rain, rain, a hint of sun, and more rain again until the “sun” sets.  Though it’s possible that a hard freeze or snow could still happen, signs of spring are appearing everywhere in the yard.

My umbrella protected my iPhone as I roamed around in my winter gardening outfit of sweats and Uggs to snap pictures of the trees and shrubs just beginning to wake.  Buds on branches giving color to a dreary backdrop.  Click.  A few new stems breaching the bark from bulbs I had planted in the fall.  Click.

crocus sprouts

It was cold, but warm enough to take a few minutes to envision what the buds and sprouts would morph into in the coming months.  Leaves on Japanese Maples.  Flowers on the Contorted Quince.  Fruit on the blueberry and raspberry bushes.  The sprouts that look like thick single blades of grass will eventually grow into Giant Purple Alliums and Saffron Crocus.

I was surprised that I found no sign of the Glory of the Snow bulbs I planted a few months ago.  They are supposed to arrive and bloom early.  Sometimes even when there is still snow on the ground or so I read on the package I bought at the grocery store.  Being grocery store bulbs,  I don’t have a lot of faith that they will grow and emerge. My goal this year is to track the progress of our trees, shrubs, and flowers throughout the year.  Record what they do and when.  I am literally watching the grass grow.  I never thought my life would be this exciting, but there it is.  And I like it.

I can’t say that I am any good at this gardening stuff.  I’m learning as I go.  The Saffron Crocuses I planted this fall that have broken through the soil reminds me of the Purple and White Crocuses that are located in the small flower bed on the other side of our driveway.  I didn’t plant those.  They came with the house.  They show no signs of waking.  Could be that the grassy weeds I pulled at the end of the summer were the Crocuses themselves.  I guess I’ll find out.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell weed from flower stem.  Sometimes I make a snap decision in the garden that I later regret.  It happens.  Don’t judge me.

As I stepped lightly on the soggy soil, I envisioned what colorful surprises the outdoors will have for me.  Several other flowers like tulips and hyacinths should show themselves in the coming months.  Hopefully my lilac bush will actually bloom this year.  Different flowers bloom at different times so there is always something to look forward to.  Spring is coming.  And I am ready.

Except for pulling weeds and allergies.  I am not ready for that.








Blackberry Vines: The Zombie Ninja Assholes of the Plant Kingdom

It’s true.  On many different levels.  I think they’re dead.  They are not.  I turn around and there one is!  Where did it come from?  Why won’t it just go away?

So I find yet another vine with its thorny self defense mechanism winding its way up the hill and around non-offensive plants.  Again?  Seriously?  I know what to do.  Into the garage to fetch the red handled expandable loppers.  For those who don’t know what these are, they look a bit like heavy duty scissors and are used for cutting branches of up to about 1.5″ thickness.  I use them for so many other things as well.

I sling my pair over one shoulder and feel like a real gardening bad-ass.  Like a logger with an axe or a hunter with a shot gun.  I hunt branches that block the pathway down the hill to the wild bottom backyard.  Many times I have swung the loppers off my shoulder to slash through a spider web or to cut and smash down the debris in the yard waste container.  I admit, I’ve also carried it with confidence while giving a stranger in the cul-de-sac the evil eye.  What business do they have here anyway?  One can never be too careful in the burbs.  Mail thieves abide.

Today, I used the loppers in my quest to rid my backyard of those thorny blackberry vines (BBV).  I was really just going outside to see if I could find any signs of spring.  It’s only been winter for a couple weeks, but I am over it and ready for warmer weather.  Since I live in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), that means average temperatures above 50 degrees F.  While I found a few promising signs of life in the front yard, the backyard declared war.  Or I did on it.  I discovered the blackberry bush that I had beat back last summer was already creeping back up the hill.  Like an asshole.

What’s my deal with blackberries one might wonder?  They provide delicious berries, right?  Not the ones in our backyard.  Not enough sun to ripen them I think.  All they do is creep and wind and snag and stab.  The berries belong in the grocery store or in my belly.  Not unripened on the thorny vines in my backyard.  The BBVs must go!

I’ve been told that one must dig out the BBVs.  Get the whole root out.  This is a challenge when the birth place of several of our BBVs resides on our wild hillside, which doesn’t seem too stable in places.  I just hope our old retaining wall holds true.  About three feet down the hill I could see some thick vines protruding from the soil sending out long tentacles in various directions.  Not trusting the soil on the hillside to hold my weight, I decided not to fetch my shovel and dig out the roots, but to take my multipurpose loppers to cut the vines at the base.

Extending the loppers to their greatest length and using my core strength (Yes, gardening is a workout.  It’s called YardFit.) to keep my body weight back while stretching my arms and the loppers downhill, I managed to snip-stretch more -snip -take another uncertain step downhill-snip again.  So now what?  BBVs like to “root” and basically just make new BBVs where they touch.  I snip them, they should be dead, but BAM! They are back.  Like Zombies.

I needed to properly dispose of them but the BBV corpses were a bit out of my reach.  I could grab the skinny ends, but OUCH.  Yep, I remembered the hard way that I need not only my rubber fingered gardening gloves, but leather gloves over them to bypass the plant’s natural defense system.  I tried again after donning gardening armor, but the ends of the vine would just break.

I needed to grab the fatty bases of the cut vines, but they were out of reach.  At least they were if I didn’t want to fall down the hill and into them.  Again, I grabbed the loppers and used them as one would a pair of tweezers though careful not to apply too much pressure and cut all the way through.  Once I had a tweezed or lopped them up and into my hand to grab, I would turn and pull away from the hill.  Sometimes running (again YardFit).  I felt bad for the bramble that was being torn as I tugged, but I needed to get the vine, which was wound in and through it, out and off the hill.  Sometimes there are casualties in gardening.  This is important to accept and remember.  Sometimes it’s the plant.  Sometimes it’s part of you.

Once I had pulled the vine free of the bramble, the ends whipped around and slashed my legs.  Like a ninja!  Even in death that vine was out to get me.  Like a zombie ninja asshole.

Today’s gardening lesson:

Loppers – Good for many things.  Get a pair.  Even if you don’t garden.

BBVs – Know what you are getting yourself into.  And wear leather gloves.  They come back and they fight back.  Have some band-aids ready.

Gardening Casualties – It happens.  Accept it and move on.



A long time ago in a yard far, far away…

I was just a young girl who hated doing yard work.  And we had a huge yard.  My earliest memories are of pulling some weeds and raking leaves on mostly non-rainy days.  An occasional worm or spider would take me by surprise and leave me apprehensive to complete my assigned task.  I hated the creepy crawly things, but I loved the wheel barrow rides my dad offered after the leaves were disposed of.  I also helped my mom in the garden they had planted.  I didn’t like that either, but I did enjoy picking and sneakily eating any raspberries and blueberries I could find.

As I got older, I learned how to use power tools like the weed eater and lawn mower.  I’m still a little emotionally scarred from from whacking off the tail of a snake with the weed eater.  An accident, of course. I still feel a bit guilty.

The lawn was daunting.  It took a solid 3 hours of straight pushing to mow.  The mower would spit an occasional rock at my leg and sometimes I had to stop and run away, arms flailing, from an angry bee.  I am still grateful that grass in the PNW doesn’t grow year-round.  When I moved out, my dad bought a ride-on lawn mower.  I swore I’d have a rock garden in the future.

Fast forward …let’s say a few years…and I am now a married lady with a house of my own and a yard to accompany it.  After living in apartments all my adult life, I was excited to give some of my potted plants a permanent home.  I also missed the fresh outdoor scent and the sun or clouds or even a bit of rain above.

We have a front yard, a back yard, and a lower, wild, forest-like yard.  All together it’s about 1/4th the size of the yard I had growing up, but it feels about 5 times the work.  Work I actually enjoy now.  With garden gloves so I don’t have to touch anything creepy crawly.  I still run from bees though and I’ve developed the habit of swearing like a sailor and freaking out when I notice a spider in my path, or on my glove, or anywhere near me.  The struggle is real, but I’m up for the challenge now.

When we first moved in, we inherited a hose from the former owner and a rake from my dad that I used a long time ago in a yard far, far away.  It’s a bit rusty, but it bolsters my confidence and reminds me that I used to do yard work and what I didn’t know how to do before, I can certainly learn now.

With my rusty rake in hand and Lowe’s just a few miles away, let the garden adventures begin!