Hibiscus, Prosecco, and Friluftsliv

It’s almost 2018.

Just three sleeps away and I am just now writing my first entry of 2017.  It’s not that I didn’t have any gardening adventures.  It’s just that for various reasons I didn’t type my thoughts on visiting the Royal Gardens of Kew and St. James’s Park.  I didn’t lament on the back pain I experienced when building a retaining wall or the mistake of feeding my (would have flowered beautifully) lilac bush with food that was meant for azaleas.  I certainly didn’t strike keys to the joy of watching little birds raise their new families in my tree branches.  I just didn’t this year and I’m not exactly sure why since it was a very green year.

Maybe it was all the rain.  Endless rain it seemed.  On vacation.  At home.  Monsoons or so it seemed.  I still went outside to be amongst the greenery and even though I’d come back inside wet and muddy, I was always a bit happier.  My mind a little less chaotic.  When the sunny season arrived, I slathered on sunscreen, attempted a veggie garden, and watched the flowers (and weeds) grow.  My love affair with nature has been blooming more and more each year it seems.  I worked hard in that wild backyard of mine battling blackberry vines, giving the ivy haircuts, and powering the push mower.  I guess I just was too tired to fight my failing laptop when I came back inside.

Now that I’m armed with a new laptop, I suppose I have no more excuses other than the hibernal solstice, which is the much more appropriate name for winter solstice.  Hibernal must be a form of hibernation.  I refuse to look this up, because I want to believe that this is the reason my body has had no energy these past couple months and has been trying to hibernate.  Now that the solstice has passed, I (want to believe) that I can look forward to more energy and eventually spring when mother nature will wake the earth (and me) again.

In the dead of winter (I am prone to dramatics and apparently parentheses), the only flowers in my presence are the various shades of pink from the Christmas cactus my mother gave me as a housewarming gift and the syrupy hibiscus flower currently residing in my flute of prosecco.  Confession: my cats have nibbled on a good deal of the cactus and I am on my second hibiscus flower.  Those flowers are edible and taste like raspberries.  At least that’s what the package says.  It looks like a sea anemone and the first one I ate tasted of mostly prosecco.  Chewy prosecco.  Now I’m wondering what wild hibiscus flowers taste like.  I plan to Google this since trial and error in the plant consumption realm can be quite risky.

One risky thing worth mentioning here is that my husband and I very recently sold our house and purchased a new one with a yard almost twice as big, but without all the trees.  I will surely miss all those established trees and the hill where the wild things grew, but I’m very much looking forward to spring to see what this new green space reveals.  I’m hoping some pretty flowers will breach the surface when the weather warms, but other than the few bulbs I planted, I’m not overly optimistic.  Garden fabric is everywhere.  I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors soon I think.

At the close of this year I’ve finally found a word for that happiness I feel with the sun on my face or even the rain pelting my head.  It’s friluftsliv.  It’s a tribute to my Swedish heritage and I plan to fully embrace it.

Whatever comes in 2018, I hope there are flowers.  Lots and lots of blooms even if there are some weeds interspersed.


Knock-Knock…Who’s There?


I was working diligently in the yard yesterday afternoon when I heard a succession of taps that could be heard of the music pouring out of my iPhone. Had I been wearing ear buds instead of sharing with the neighbors, I may not have heard. It sounded like knocking and I was curious as to whom or what was interrupting my raking and ivy pulling. A quick visual search of the yard settled my eyes upon the birdhouse I risked my life hanging high in a tree several weeks ago.

Eyes fixed upon the little hole in the side of the house, I waited quietly. With bated breath. Yes, a bit dramatic, but there it is. After a few moments, a beaked head protruded through the hole and then an instant later, the rest of the body followed it out and fluttered to the nearest branch almost faster than my eye could catch. That’s not saying much since I was wearing my glasses and they were smudged with dirt. Still, the speed of the bird was impressive.

Could my little birdhouse have found a buyer? Could there be a bird family living in there soon? I think so. I had actually resigned to the fact that I would probably have to wait until next year to have bird neighbors, but I was wrong. I watched as the bird flitted between branches and flew off only to land again bouncing from a branch behind the house to one in front of the house and then quickly entering it again. I’m not quite sure how it fits its body through that hole, but it does.

Birds! In our birdhouse! It was working!! If you build it, they WILL come. Or if you hang it, whatever. I hopped up and down like a 5-year-old on candy and silently clapped (not like a 5-year-old) in celebration. A minute later I wondered if any of my neighbors saw my actions and then shrugged it off. If they were still around after my bout of swearing at the ivy I was pulling then that’s their fault.


What’s it doing in there? After listening for a short while, my theory is that it was just building a nest. That would make total sense though it did sound more like its hanging pictures. Perhaps that’s where the term “nesting” comes from. I just Googled it. Yeah, that’s about right. Once I’m able to snap a few photos of said bird, I will Google again for identification. I love Google for instant answers; yet miss being able to wonder and debate things for some time. I should just wonder and debate for a time before checking Google, but who has that kind of self-control?

For now, just thinking of birds in that little house makes me smile.


Garden Vacancy

Yesterday I posted a vacancy sign in my backyard. It was in the form of a cute little bed & breakfast hut I had purchased online many months ago. I hung the birdhouse by hanging the top loop over a branch about 6 feet up. I used a bungee cord to attach the base of the birdhouse around the trunk of the tree. This was to provide stability without damaging the host.

Now I wait for our first tenants. It’s only been on the market for one full day, but there has been some interest already. Mostly just gawkers who fly by and chirp on nearby bushes. I think it’s creating buzz though. I am pretty sure they’ve been discussing the new house on the block. I bet it’s been getting good reviews too. Okay, maybe mixed reviews. It’s so cute it almost looks like a decoration, but a slip of paper inside the package did claim that it was not a toy. Pretty sure it’s for real.

No bird has scheduled a viewing yet, but I know it won’t be long…

(Fast forward one week)

No offers as of yet. Recent real estate research suggests that birds do not like houses with big holes. Unless the birds are big, but then the house should be bigger as well. Rookie mistake. I’ve since ordered a specific wren house and it arrived earlier in the week. I have identified wren looking birds in our yard so this could work.

Yesterday I spotted the perfect branch to hang the new house from. I grabbed the birdhouse and a ladder and headed down our hill into the lower yard. After locking out the ladder and situating it under the tree, I tested the ladder to be sure it was placed securely. It was and I climbed up with the house in hand. However, I couldn’t reach my target. It was the broken vertical branch about 15 feet up at the top tip. I wasn’t brave (or stupid) enough to stand on the very top step so I climbed back down to develop plan B.

Plan B involved finding a large branch to hang the birdhouse from while I climbed back up. The branch was a no go. The house slid off it and hit the ground.  At least I know it’s sturdy now because it didn’t break.  I needed something longer.

Back down the ladder and back up the hill to the garage for my trusty rusted rake. Almost top the ladder again, with the house dangling from a few of the rake’s metal teeth, I hoisted the house up as far as I could reach.  After a few tries, I hooked my target! Getting the rake free resulted in moss falling from the tree and into my hair. I found bits of moss in it later.

More importantly, my second birdhouse was hung and I was feeling a bit like a Monopoly mogul. Now I just need some birds to land on my properties.



No Garden Mullets Please

I have finally convinced my husband that we need to hire someone! I have this vision in my head of our yard 30+ years ago when our house was built. It must have had nice landscaping, a sturdy retaining wall, and timber and gravel steps down our steep hill in our backyard. That was a long time ago. Now things are overgrown and the only clues that our hill once had prior steps are the rebar poking up out of the dirt in intervals and a few remaining pieces of rotted wood. In the two summers we have lived here, we have walked, slid, and slipped down this neglected path. Now that our lower yard is shaping up into something we can use and enjoy, it’s time to make the trek down there less treacherous.

I have pondered the task of building the steps for quite awhile. After tossing around many ideas, I came to the conclusion that we lack the tools and measuring skills needed to deal with the steep grade. Plus, the back aches and marital arguments probably would not be worth the money we’d save on doing it ourselves. It might actually be more money if we had to redo it if it wasn’t done properly. So it’s time to hire a contractor to do the job we cannot do ourselves. However, I learned that even hiring an expert will not guarantee the end result.

When I was in the 4th grade, my mom took me to our local hairdresser to get my hair cut. I was super excited. I had long, somewhat curly hair that I had envisioned transforming into a sleek, between neck and shoulder length bob. If only I had used my specific adult description back then. Instead, I believe I had used the word “layered” to describe the cut I wanted. When the hairdresser asked me if I was sure more than once, I should have clued in. However, she was an adult and an expert so of course she would know what I wanted and how to do it and I was going to look great.

It did not look great. I ended up with what is now referred to as a mullet. Me. I had a mullet. By accident of course. By not properly communicating what I had wanted. If only I had an iPhone back then, like most kids seems to these days, I would have been able to produce a picture of exactly what I had wanted in seconds. There were hairstyle books and magazines of course, but they weren’t always up-to-date or for kids. So the end result was a mullet that took a good 2 years to grow out which also included a perm phase and a lesson I will not forget.

I have never had a hair mullet since, but I have had other mishaps that I may have prevented with better communication. If you don’t properly convey your wants and expectations, you can end up with a mullet in life.

Currently, I’m trying to prevent a garden mullet. I’m in the research and quote phase of my plan, which I think may be the most import part. It’s certainly not as easy as I thought it would be. In my search for a contractor, I have learned a few things so far. 1. It’s called hardscaping. This is when structures are landscaped into the yard. 2. Despite HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List and reviews, some contractors don’t call you back. 3. Many do not work on the weekends. 4. Some have very busy personal lives.

We’ve had one quote so far. I placed a call to a company highly recommended by HomeAdvisor and a man with a thick accent answered. He seemed nice enough so I gave him my address and he came out after work. I had to call again because he was late, but he apologized. There was a communication error with the address. His name is Fernando and I was ready for him with a few pictures on my iPhone of what I had envisioned. There will be no further communication errors. I am determined not to end up with a garden mullet!

Fernando had envisioned a grand staircase made of brick. He showed us pictures. It would have been beautiful had we a big fancy house with a well-manicured yard. Our house is nice, but humble in appearance and our yard has a very wild and whimsical feel despite my attempts to tame it. What our grounds need is a more natural, more rustic style of steps. So I pulled out my phone and pointed out some natural stone steps to Fernando. We went back and forth sharing photos. He was partial to brick or paving stones with tops on them. I wanted natural. There was a lot of pointing and discussion of width and materials. I wanted no miscommunication.

We showed him the path on the hill and his assistant used a tape measure on wheels to find the distance. The stones would be more than what we want to spend so I found another photo of a wood frame on three sides with gravel filling. It’s a common step system that I’ve seen in many yards. While it’s not as nice as the stone steps, it will blend better than a staircase of fancy bricks. Fernando can get that done for half the price of the stone steps.

Quote number one down. I think it’s a good one, but I have been advised to get a few since pricing and skill vary. Obtaining quotes is harder than one would imagine though. Especially when one works all day and most contractors don’t seem to work weekends. It’s hard to get home in the daylight this time of year as well. I realize that it’s a small-scale job, so it might not be appealing to some companies. I’ve had several no callbacks and one guy who said he could give me a quote but it really depended on what was going on in his personal life. He never called me back after that. The last company I called returned my call right away. I’m optimistic. He’s coming out next week for a quote.

I’ll have my photos ready. No garden mullets please.


Our backyard hillside is home to many different kinds of trees. Their root systems help with erosion control, which makes me feel more secure in our house atop the hill.  A few fir trees, a western dogwood, and a couple of others I have yet to identify tower above our home.  They grow among our outdated retaining wall that seems to have two not-so-defined levels.  It’s a little too charming in its worn appearance.  Some of the chunks of stone have rolled downhill at some point, but others have remained in place collecting moss to brighten up the shade from the trees.  I have no idea what one side of the wall looks like since ivy overtook it in the years before our arrival.   For now, the wall holds, but I can’t say the same for the trees.

After suffering the first real drought in recent memory, western Washington’s weather pendulum has swung in the complete opposite direction. Rising rivers have threatened floods and landslides are a real probability with the rain soaked, over-saturated earth.  High winds have also toppled trees.  Yes, those same trees holding up our hill.

After one particularly windy storm, we found one of our thin fir trees broken in half. The broken half was connected by a small amount of trunk and dangling down the hillside.  I had made a note to scale the hill and cut off the broken part.  I had to wait until the weekend since the winter daylight hours were scarce.  My plan of attack was to climb the hill from the lower lawn and saw off the broken part. I marched my pruning saw down our stair less path to tackle it and discovered a bigger issue.   Much bigger.

Tree over fence

One of our unidentified deciduous trees had uprooted from the lower part of our hill and fell across our lower yard, smooshing an overgrown rhododendron in its path, and resting its top about 5 feet over our fence.  I’m still surprised our old fence held. With almost a foot in diameter, I knew the clean up was going to be a chore. We have a chainsaw, but I swear it was made for giants. Plus, it’s very hard to start and once that’s done, the stress of keeping all my limbs in tact is just too much for me. I know my limits. My husband was out golfing that morning so I was on my own.

Sure. I could have waited, but it wasn’t raining, which is pretty much the perfect time to get things done in the yard as long as daylight cooperates. So I collected a variety of tools and set them along side the tree.  My loppers, a hacksaw, and my pruning saw. After some experimentation, the pruning saw came out the winner.



I worked up a sweat sawing back and forth. It took a while, but I was able to relieve rhododendron of the trunk that was smashing it. The top of the tree dipped down on the roadside with its newly cut end sticking up over the fence. I cut the tree a second time, close to the fence, and watched the very tip of the tree fall over the fence to the roadside below. The fence was safe. The rhododendron was safe. And I still had all my limbs attached. Success was mine.

I was able to climb half way up the hill and remove the broken top of the smaller tree. I then found two more tree victims. One slender tree had fallen over and I was able to fairly easily drag it from the hill and then saw it into smaller pieces. I found another small tree close to our fence that was leaning on a bigger tree. My pruning saw made quick work of that one, but I did end up slipping and falling on my ass when I tugged it away. Good times.

It would be a few months later until my husband started up that chainsaw and zipped up the remaining trunk that divided our lower yard in two. I was worried for his limbs as well since he doesn’t seem to have the same sense of self-preservation that I do. Other than me wringing my hands, it was fairly uneventful. Now there is just a small, uprooted stump partially stuck at the bottom of our hillside. It will wait for a small team of men to be gathered for its removal.

I think I’ll keep my day job. Logging is not for me.

Gardening Ad Hoc

I spent the better part of my afternoon today doing yard maintenance. I realize that yard maintenance sounds rather ordinary and boring, but I assure you, it was anything but. Looking back, I really think my outfit set the tone for the whole day. Black and yellow man-sized knee pads strapped onto black pants that were tucked into calf length rubber gardening boots, a t-shirt, and wisps of hair escaping a cinched up black hoodie with bright green gardening gloves capping the sleeves doesn’t scream sexy. Maybe some people are into that, but I was just into staying dry for the rain that never showed up.



I had only planned on spreading some compost courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo over the patch of earth I reclaimed from the stubborn ivy the day before. And then my adult ADD kicked in. It’s not the first time it’s happened outside and it frequently happens to me when I’m cleaning house. Picking up the living room, I return a glass to the kitchen, forget about the living room and start doing dishes until I take a dirty dishtowel to the washer and then start washing clothes. One intended task in a very specific location today turned into all over yard maintenance. It happens.

I began by grabbing my construction orange Home Depot bucket I shoved the doo into last fall and headed down the hill setting the heavy thing down every few feet. I brought my rusty rake with me but realized I need a shovel to get the compost out. So I climbed back up the hill passing our giant, scraggly rhododendrons and made a mental note that they could use a hair cut. I brought back down a shovel, my loppers, and my fancy hand pruners in case I needed to do some delicate work. Thinking ahead.

I scooped out the doo, raked it into the existing soil and then stabbed the shovel into a mound of compost left by a previous owner. I probed around and tried to scoop it, but it seems a bit clumpy. I’ll check it out again later. I returned the shovel to the bucket and rake and then turned my attention to the rhododendrons.

This quickly turned into pulling downed branches of fir trees out of rhodies and the surrounding Japanese maples. The tall ones, not my potted dwarf varieties. Stick clean up turned into a discovery of a holly bush growing behind and into one of the rhodies. I took the loppers to the part of the holly growing into the bush and then stood there for several minutes contemplating the fate of the rest of it. I left it alone and moved on to removing dead rhodie branches with my loppers.

It turns out that branches that look dead are often interwoven with other branches and it’s very easy to make a cut and pull out a branch with leaves and a flower bud at the end. Not dead after all. Gardening casualties will hopefully become more avoidable in the future. Note to self, trace the “dead” branch to the end and check for signs of life before snipping.

Since I had the small pruners, I might as well trim up the dwarf Japanese maples on the upper level patio, right? Back up the hill I went and luckily didn’t snip off any living branches. Those little maples are not as hardy as I’d like and one small mistake could mean a permanent change. My success with them prompted me to tackle the thorn-less raspberry bush in the front yard that looked dead.

My pruners and I rounded the house to the front yard. The bountiful weeds all but smacked me in the face as I headed to the raspberry bush. Oh I’d get those little bastards. Back to the garage for the weeding tool that Santa stuck in my stocking this past Christmas. Shoot. Need a bucket for the weeds. Down to the lower yard to retrieve the orange bucket. Bucket in hand, weeder in the other and pruners shoved in my pocket, I returned to the front yard. Raspberry first. Wait, those lavender bushes have been looking scraggly forever! Snip-snip. Oh look a weed! Stab, twist, pull, and toss in bucket. Snip-snip. Weeds. Bucket.

“You are the sunshine of my life,” sang Stevie Wonder in my ear buds. I began to sing along. My iPhone was stuffed into my other pocket and sealed in a zip lock bag. One never knows when it might downpour in the PNW. It’s best just to count on it. The music shuffled and Madonna’s True Blue filled my ears. “But I never knew love before, ‘till you walked through my door,” I sang quietly (I think) to the plants. No neighbors about and if I can’t see them, then they can’t hear me, right? My head started bobbing, shoulders shimmying, and my knees and hips joined the party…Knees! Kneepads. Soon I was dancing on my knees as I hunted weeds and plucked them. I think I will always use kneepads for weeding in the future. Who has time to constantly pick up, move, and set a pad down anyways?

I finally made my way to the raspberry bush and snipped until I found green. It was alive, but barely and no signs of leaves. A new shoot was just breaking the soil surface so at least there was some promise. I bought it in the fall and have yet to taste its fruit-Oh look! More weeds! And…why is there a hole under our fence between the front yard and back yard? We don’t have a dog. Our cats are indoor only. I’ve seen gigantic squirrels, but they run along the top of the fence. Possible R.O.U.S.es? Hmm…maybe I’ll ask the husband to investigate this one. I retrieved my iPhone from my pocket and snapped a photo to show him later. It’s a garden mystery for sure. I kept eyeing that hole while weeding on my hands and knees around it. I half expected a rodent to run out towards my face! The guilty party thankfully didn’t show itself though.


I made my way around the yard, humming and bopping, kneeling, reaching, and dragging that bucket along with me all the while. And then I noticed tulip tips breaching the beauty bark. So I had to stop and examine them, count them, and say a prayer that frost wouldn’t come and kill them. Seemed like a good time to walk around the yard and see what else was waking up. Buds almost ready to bloom on our flowering quince, crocus and allium sprouts, buds on tree branches. But there were still more weeds. So I continued on and only threw up the proverbial white flag once the bucket was full.

I dumped the weeds on top of the discarded ivy in the yard waste bin. I spent the next few minutes collecting tools from all areas of our yard and returning them to their proper places in the garage. And now I’m going to go check the garage to make sure I didn’t forget the rusty rake. Still there. Phew!

Now I sit back, sipping a glass of wine wondering just what the hell happened. I’ve accepted the fact that I happened today. I happened. Cheers!






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: http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/animalsAndPlants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/english-laurel.aspx . 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!