Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our Purple Flowering Tree

Since we've moved in here, we've been admiring the rapidly growing tree with giant leaves, located at the north end of the labyrinth.

A few days ago, we noticed it had delicate pale purple trumpet flowers, near the top of the tree.

A little detective work identified it as a "Princess Tree" or "Empress Tree" (Paulownia Tomentosa) which is actually native to China and South-east Asia. Although a bit of an "exotic" tree, this area would be considered part of its normal range.

Here in the US, it's actually considered to be an "invasive" species, as well as rated rather "messy" by many horticulturalists. Evidently, they are all but impossible to get rid of, once they have become established, and if you cut one down, it tends to come back with 100's of shoots from the roots. And not just "a little bit," but for years after the tree was cut down. The 2-foot long seed pods are also extremely messy.

That said, it's also quite popular for use in parks and decorative landscaping, being quite pretty as well as fast growing. I suppose we'd better keep our eyes on it, as these trees can grow to some 80 feet in height!

For the moment, though, we're just enjoying the pretty flowers.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's a "Big Dig"

The progress is slow... I spent another 3-4 hours behind the garage this evening, trying to move through the weeds that make up our future vegetable garden.

Given how thick it is out there, I find it hard to believe that the people who lived here before actually did keep this space very clean or free of weeds.

Got a little bit further along today-- still not sure whether I'll be able to get to the end of this by the time Sarah gets back.

I'm grateful for the relatively dry weather, which means I am at least not having to dig through thick gooey clay.

I ran into a few random potatoes as I was digging today; their placement seemed pretty random. In the greater scheme of things, I don't think we'll be growing potatoes here-- those will be out in the open part of the garden where we currently have lawn, and that will not happen till later this year for crops in 2015.

Looking at these photos, I can't even tell that I made any progress today... but I am closer to reaching the rhubarb against the stone wall, and I am actually a little bit past the apple tree, now.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Weeding Continues...

Sarah has gone to California to visit her mom for a few days, and I have determined that I want to surprise her with having the vegetable garden space behind the garage completely cleared by the time she comes home.

This is a rather ambitious project, as I already tried to get started on this earlier in the spring, and it took me quite a few hours to clear just a tiny corner.

I tore at it for several hours today and managed to progress a little bit. The grass and other weeds are incredibly thick, and all I can do is clear a square foot at a time.

I am glad we didn't try to just roto till it all under-- it's a thick mat of weeds and vines, and there are some blackberries in there, as well. What's more, it seems like the previous owners may have deliberately placed sod in there at one time, because in places the grass roots seem extremely "organized," and laid on a layer of plastic.

At the current rate, it will be touch-and-go whether or not I will be able to finish the weeding before Sarah returns. I have till Thursday-- her flight arrives fairly late in the day, and since James is going to pick her up at the airport, I have a full work day I can apply to this.

I am feeling fairly determined... it would be nice if I didn't "let this slide" for another year. It has already become too late to try to "convert" the lawn area on the end of the house by the chicken coop, but at least we might be able to "re-capture" this piece of the property... which was already used as a vegetable garden at one time.

In the meantime, Tori has been weeding in other parts of the yard-- she finished the bits along the driveway, today. The bits under the apricot tree are completely clean again... the weeds had grown up quite quickly, after we cleaned the space out, a month back, or so.

We have both mint (not sure what type it is) and marjoram growing there.

Tori is also doing some work at Avis' house, but she seems to have a lot of enthusiasm for gardening at the moment.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Through the Wilderness!

It's a blessing that sometimes "big" projects aren't quite as large and evil as you fear they are going to be.

Yesterday, I put on long sleeves, a hat, my wellies and went out to tackle the wilderness behind the shed and the chicken pen.

Although it was a pretty miserable job, I got everything cleared back from the fence and all the way around the chicken pen, all in about 3 1/2 hours. In spite of gloves, my hands are rather torn up from blackberry thorns and stinging nettles, but all in all it was not as horrible a task as I had expected.

Experimentally, I left a "hedge" of greenery (sans blackberries) as a sort of "privacy screen" towards the neighbors. If it immediately starts taking over again, we may have to rethink that. Ideally, I'd like to see us grow a row of raspberry bushes along that stretch, but I am just not convinced the soil is good enough, nor that there is even enough of it. Maybe it should be gooseberries-- they are still delicious, but do better with poor soil and little maintenance.

I still need to continue clearing the space to Walt's property line, but the worst part of the job has definitely been taken care of. Of course, there is quite a dump run in our future!

If you compare today's two photos to yesterday's, it gives a pretty good impression of the change of scenery.

I'm glad this all went relatively fast and with less hassle than I expected... which means we are still on track to be able to use some of the space this season. We do have a rather "late" growing season here... it takes a long time before it warms up in spring, but it tends to stay fairly sunny and dry into October.

Now I need to get back over on the "other side" of the garage and see if I can't get the rest of the side yard fully cleaned up before the end of the month. It may be too late to grow quite a few things, but at least the space will be ready... and maybe we can get some herbs started, at the very least.

I really do enjoy gardening, but it can be hard to find enough time when you also have to worry about the daily task of making a living. Not that I am complaining, mind you!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cleaning out the Chicken Pen, Part Deux

The chicken pen has been completely weeded and cleaned out!

Tori spent the better part of a day-and-a-half tearing everything out of there, and has turned it back into a usable space.

Keep in mind that this was virtually impenetrable "thicket," just two days ago. That was a LOT of work.

She is very enthusiastic about "growing things" and really wanted to "take back" this space and make it useful. And the fact that it is completely fenced in will keep any kind of critters (deer, raccoons, etc.) from getting in and nibbling on whatever is growing there.

Personally, Sarah and I are both thrilled about the progress we're seeing outside, as we both have pretty busy schedules that have kept us from doing anywhere near as much yardwork as we are really wanting to. And with Tori tearing into it, we're also feeling more inspired to join in-- it's a "win-win," all around.

Of course, there is a "looming thicket" still overhanging the space and preventing much sunlight from reaching the growing space.

It starts as a 6-7 foot tall barrier of stinging nettles by the compost bin, runs behind the shed, and runs as a 6-foot wide strip of "thorny wilderness" from there to Walt's property line.

It's basically a "wasted space" held in place by a retaining wall, where the soil us super poor and rocky (I think it was filled in with "fill" from excavating for the house foundation), but that has not stopped a number of blackberries from taking over and mixing with the nettles and well as what I think may be wild salmonberries.

At one point, I had this cleared out enough to build the fencing for the chicken pen, but it took only a year for it to completely grow over again. In order for Tori's project to move forward, there's no doubt this mess has to be cleaned up again-- especially if we want to get sun into the former chicken pen area.

I have no idea how much work it is going to be, and I don't look forward to tackling all those nettles and thorny things, but it just has to be done.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cleaning out the Chicken Run

Tori has taken it upon herself to start cleaning out the weeds and overgrowth in the former chicken pen.

It's still a bit of a thorn in our side that we purchased a house with a built-in chicken coop and signs that chickens were recently kept there... only to discover that we were not allowed to keep chickens, at all. I put a lot of effort into renovating the space and "eagle proofing" it so the chickens could run around outside and not get eaten... and it was all for nothing.

I think Sarah and I both lost some of our enthusiasm and just let the space go to seed, after the chickens left to go live with Lesta. We talked briefly about using the wire "roof" as an arbor of sorts, to perhaps grow grapes but nothing really came of it.

Meanwhile, there was lots of seed from the chicken feed, and it combined with the richness of chicken poop and what was already good soil to create a total thicket where there once were chickens. To make things worse, a bunch of very invasive and prickly blackberry vines are starting to take over, from the border between the pen and the property line. Whereas it's nice to have some greenery as a buffer between us and the neighbors, it has mostly been "junk" that has done well there.

The good news is that I got the lawn mowed. Grass always looks so nice and "tidy" when it is freshly mowed.

Of course, one of the benefits of dry weather is that it is so much easier to mow... instead of a several hour odyssey of pain, it took me about 90 minutes (including breaks) to the everything back into shape. There are still a lot of weeds in the lawn... they seem to move around a lot. One year it's clover here, next year the clover is gone, but can be found in a different area.

Of course, we didn't do the whole "weed and feed" thing this year... still, not sure how much good it did, last year. I will say, though, that it got rid of quite a bit of the moss in the side yard.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Photographic Garden Walk

We have had some spectacular, warm and sunny days here in Western Washington-- unseasonably nice for the first half of May. As a result, things have all of a sudden "jumped into bloom" very quickly.

Sarah and I went for a slow meander around the garden, each carrying our cameras... here are a few of the things spotted along the way:

The peonies are now in full bloom, and they are quite spectacular. It's hard to get a true sense of scale from a photograph, but these blooms are probably a full ten inches across!

Since we just have the single plant, we also just got a total of six flowers, and they will be gone soon, for another year.

Really looking forward to adding more peonies to our "collection," though.

Keeping the weeds out-- or "under control"-- seems to be a never-ending saga around here. Things are so lush here in the Pacific Northwest, and plants... of all sorts... grow super fast. I was always battling weeds back when I lived in Texas, but they seemed a lot smaller and slower growing, albeit generally "spiky" or poisonous. Don't miss the latter so much!

Speaking of "weeds out," the labyrinth is starting to look increasingly "established," especially since Sarah and Tori completely cleaned up the lavender border. Last year we had to replace a few dead plants that just didn't make it through the winter-- this year they all look like they are going to make it.

The plants are all quite big and healthy, and are showing lots of fresh new growth. In a few weeks they should start to set blooms, and I expect they will have turned into something close to a small "hedge" by the end of the season.

Considering that we have about 90+ plants around the Labyrinth, this actually represents quite a "crop" of lavender. And once it's well-established? Well, it's something to look forward to every year.

So on the "menu" for later this year will be the task of learning more about "things to do with lavender." I'm sure Sarah already knows a lot about it.

On a more personal level, I am hoping that having what almost amounts to a "field" of lavender here will help attract butterflies. One of my favorite things about sitting on the back terrace at "Tofte" was always watching the myriad butterflies that would come to the ancient lavender bushes there. Of course, there are just not as many butterflies this close to salt water and the salt fogs of summer... but one can but hope! Photographing butterflies in their natural habitat is another of my favorite (pre)occupations.

The bed by my office window always seems to be a bit of a jumble. We have planted various things there, and some seem to have perished, a few have made it OK.

"Fred, the Upside-Down Goldfish" found his final resting place here, and maybe the spirit of Fred will help... although... he was pretty confused.

At the moment, the bed is dominated by an ocean of purplish pink flowers. I'm not even sure whether they are a "weed" or something deliberate. Either way, they seem very invasive and aggressive, and I think we'll have to somewhat "control" them if we hope to ever have anything else grow there.

Their foliage has a very distinct smell, strong enough that Daisy has trouble finding her ball if it strays into them. All in all, they are quite pretty. They are also extremely popular with the bees around here... whenever you go close to the bed, there's an ongoing buzzing of bees, most of them bumble bees, laden down with pollen.

Anyway, the "butterfly bush" (which actually doesn't seem to attract that many butterflies) is starting to grow from below. There are a couple of salvias we planted last year that seem to be coming back, and a couple of calla lilies are close to blooming on the spot where Sarah put Upside-down Fred.

The irises-- which were pretty spectacular the first summer we were here-- seem to be struggling a bit. Maybe they need to be given more room and less competition. There's always something to learn about.

Seems to me it is somewhat limited what you can actually grow in these very "raised" beds. Even with a layer of mulch, they have no real way to hold water/moisture... which means they end up bone dry in the middle of the summer (unless we water a lot), and a lot of plants don't like that.

The previous owners planted a lot of "exotic" conifers around the place, and this bed is home to yet another which seems to be all but dead. I'll probably be pulling it out of there, come fall. I guess the lesson learned there is to stick with "native" plants, as they tend to be a lot hardier.

Out towards the street, the various rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. One of the things we still need to learn more about is "the care and feeding" of rhodys. Seems a lot of effort was put into having a wide variety, but I have not the slightest idea whether they require any kind of seasonal special attention. I know Sarah had ambitions of entering flowers at the Rhody Festival competitions... but I guess there's a fair bit to understand before that becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, this creature suddenly came bouncing out of nowhere and disappeared under the bushes across the street. Not sure we have to be too worried about them eating anything, until we get some veggies going. At that time? Who knows.

With all the rain we've had-- and now the warmth and sun-- the grass is growing like crazy... it already needs to be mowed again.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Vegetable Garden Weeding

I have started the process of digging out the vegetable garden area behind the garage.

It was always our intention to have a vegetable garden, but somehow the whole thing got rather overgrown, in the course of the past (almost) three years.

Seems like the previous owners of the house were "on their way" to having a vegetable garden, but during their final year it more or less went to seed, or was neglected. We didn't really do anything with it, with the result that we have ended up as the proud owners of a considerable weedy thicket.

There are some rhubarb plants against the stone wall towards the fence, as well as a couple of decent (but "half strangled") apple trees, and a couple of lilac bushes. I'm sure I will uncover other stuff as I did through this mess.

Because the layer of weeds (and SEEDS) is so thick and matted down, it just didn't seem viable (at least to me) to get a roto-tiller and just try to till it all under. So I am undertaking the rather slow and laborious process of scraping the top layer of weeds and roots completely off, so we can get down to the good soil below, without (hopefully) having too many weeds re-emerge and immediately take over the place again.

So far, I have dug out what seems to be another blueberry plant, and a nice clump of marjoram, both right there by the concrete foundation, at right. As an "addendum" to this project, I am going to add a fence along the property line to Walt's driveway... hopefully tall enough to discourage the deer. Maybe an extra wire along the top will make it that much more difficult to jump. Potentially, putting short lengths of re-bar or spikes into the top of the fence posts and adding a wire at the top of that could "heighten" the fence by a full foot.

Monday, May 5, 2014


The peonies over by the shed are close to blooming.

These are probably Sarah's favorite thing in the garden, and certainly among my own favorites. At this time, we just have the single plant, but we are planning to add more, as the garden starts to take shape.

They weren't quite "ready" for our Labyrinth Gathering; they look like they will be in full bloom in a few more days.

Peonies are marvelously "showy" flowers, even if their blooms last only for a few days. I remember being a kid in Denmark, and my Aunt Grete had beds of peonies in many colors from almost white with just a hint of pink, to deep purples and reds. They were quite spectacular, and the different varietals seemed to have different times for setting blooms.

When you have enough of them, they can actually serve as pretty spectacular cut flowers... it will be nice to have a cutting garden here! Sarah is going to let the flowers bloom this year, and hopefully we'll be able to retrieve some seeds then they mature. Not even sure if that's how you grow peonies? Maybe we need to be looking for roots, or rhizomes, or something else...

Saturday, May 3, 2014

World Labyrinth Day

We have been working quite hard to get ye olde homestead to look presentable for our World Labyrinth Day gathering, later today.

The labyrinth has gotten a fresh "haircut" and the bricks have been cleared, which required a pretty thorough weed whacking. Tori has spent the past couple of weeks busting her butt at the seemingly endless job of weeding the lavender border. And it got done, and the labyrinth looks great!

We have invited friends from Port Townsend and around the state-- as well as everyone who lives here on the Colman Drive "loop" in Cape George. Since it is more or less an "open house" format, we really have no idea how many people might show up, nor when they might be here. I guess time will tell. We're about as "ready" for the event as we are likely to be. Now we just need to put the energy out there for it to stay dry, so people can actually be outside and walk the labyrinth.

Elsewhere, we have been starting to "tidy up" things, after what seems like a really long period of not paying attention to the garden... beyond just the most rudimentary stuff.

Tori seems to have developed an interest in yard work... and perhaps she's sensing (even if only inadvertently or subconsciously) the anti-depressant aspects of "playing in the dirt" and doing something physical.

The beds along the driveway have been completely weeded (we started that a few weeks back), and even the cracks in the concrete no longer have grassy bits growing in them.

I cut down the "eternally dying" madrona tree which used to be behind the red rhododendron at right. I never seemed to do very well, and every time we thought "the last branch had died" another branch would start wilting and soon turn brown. It seems there is some kind of "wilt" going around with madronas in the region, so it wasn't really specific to our tree. Anyway, the front looks a lot better with it gone, and now it will no longer hit against vehicles or people's heads.

Back when we started digging through the thick blanket of weeds along the driveway, Sarah discovered that we actually had six blueberry bushes, hiding below all the junk.

They have obviously been there at least since we bought the house in mid-2011, but they never really had much of a chance.

Now they have been "dug out" and Sarah built a small fenced pen to discourage the neighborhood "retarded deer" from wandering in there, too easily. Although this is hardly much of a "deer proof fence," it will at least make it a little more difficult for them... and since there is so much "deer food" in the area, hopefully they will move on to something that's a little easier to eat. We are still a little mystified by why our tulips seem to be such a delicacy for deer... yet other people in the neighborhood (without deer fences) seem to have beautiful tulips.

Maybe I should be researching to see if there are "complimentary plants" deer don't like, which you can mix in with the tulips to deter them.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Ever Changing Garden

The lovely thing about gardening-- especially in a locale with distinct seasons-- is that it offers a visible reminder of the passage of time.

Of course, there are many people who would prefer to ignore the fact that time passes-- but I am not one of them. Although I have the sort of personality that tends towards wanting things to stay constant and reliable, I also love watching the changing seasons, weather and plants come and go outside.

Gardening has long offered me a sense of peace, and I find it relaxing, even when it is a lot of work. Sadly, I have seldom felt like I had "enough time" to do much gardening.

Although I had this strong need to start a gardening blog, I am not entirely sure (as of yet) what I really want to accomplish with these pages. I think, for the most part, this will be a quiet photographic meditation... a place for me to pause and reflect in a world that otherwise seems pretty hectic.

There will definitely be some photos to show the ongoing projects and progression of our garden, but I expect some of this space will also be given to various philosophical musings. After all, there are few things quite as effective as weeding or mowing the lawn, to allow a person to drift off in contemplation of the deeper meanings of life and the world around us.

I expect I will also use this space to experiment with my interest in macro (nature) photography. Some of the musings will be mine, but I am also hoping Sarah will be my co-contributor.