The Garden Report – Getting Ready

A few clear, sunny days earlier this week were an unexpected respite from the typical  Pacific Northwest shades of depressive winter weather. That meant boots on and out the door for a whirlwind garden and yard prep. Looking at my garden in progress (the construction site that it is!) I could see just how much progress I’ve made. While it is in no way gorgeous, the improvements are remarkable. And I did them all by myself, which is more thrilling than demoralizing like it was at the time. So, buzzing around the garden, I took a bit of pride that uncovering from winter was miles easier than last year.

My big goal during the few days of sun was to clean out a remaining section of unknown shrubs – possibly a type of wild blackberry? – and prep an L-shaped area for planting a few bushes. The area is actually pretty big: one leg is 6’x3′, the other 10’x3′. In the scale of my lot, this is tiny, but this is the size of some people’s entire garden area! For me, its a tiny area in a side section of the yard, which will serve as a connector between my white garden and the burst of color in the back. The fact that I can even write that sentence is incredible. Because just a short time ago this area (and the flower bed in front) was completely overgrown with – yup, blackberries. What this spring will be a burst of white, yellow and pinks, was about 10-12′ feet high mound of blackberry briars that I hacked, whacked and tamed. You can’t imagine how exciting it is to finally see the ground and be ready to PLANT gorgeous, wanted, desired plants!

My big treat – the one big splurge – is a Pom Pom bush. I have fallen in love with the white snow ball bouquets of spring and the joyous red & purple riot it brings in fall.  At our local nursery, a quite large tree is about $30 – which is a much better buy than the 5 gallon starts you could buy online for $40+. The mature bush can grow to be 12’x12′ – prefect as a privacy screen, which is much needed with my new neighbors and the lack of fence between us.

As I prepped and plotted just the right location for my big fluffy friend, I was struck with  realization from last year’s gardening season. I need to find ways to make planting easier. My lessons from last year have lead to a pretty big personal resolution. My challenge for 2018: Dig the holes before buying the plants.

You might be the uber-gardener who already has this down pat. But me? Not so much. Last year I planted 222 plants (not including seeds) and did so mostly on the fly. Building a garden from scratch was an exercise in ‘flowers as muse’, or fearless gardening as I called it. Outside of my original design, I found myself falling in love with plants or finding a ridiculous sale and then needing to find the perfect place for my new bounty. Additionally, most of those 200 plants were a windfall gift, so I had to say yes to the plants and then find a place for them to live! Flowers as muse was a blast! I loved it, tbh. But the race to make sure the plants didn’t die in the pot was a bit overwhelming. A few times I did an all-day planting in order to go on vacation! Now that I’m no longer in complete start-up mode and have a good understanding of the sales cycles at my major garden centers, I doubt I’ll ever have that many plants to place.

But, as ambitious as my dreams get, who knows? Regardless, I’m making a deal with myself:  I have all the prep work done, then the plant can come home with me.

So, in the next week this is on the agenda, rain or shine: In addition to the Pom Pom tree, I’m transplanting 7 lilac trees (out of 22 small volunteers that need new homes), two quince, two forsythia and a hydrangea. And the holes are dug, waiting for me. Wonderful! I love that for once, I’m ahead of the game in my garden.

What’s your #fearlessgardening plans for the week? If you are making a #GardenFromScratch I’d love to hear from you!

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The Garden Report Hits the Road

“The Garden Report” was conceived while dreaming of ways to get myself through the long, grey Pacific Northwest winter. Last year was arduous, by March cabin fever had replaced the tenuous romance of a cozy, Hygge winter. Longing for the joy of spring and summer, I devised a big plan — to visit and review as many nurseries as possible once prime-time planting began. They say that happiness from any project or travel comes in three phases: preparing, doing and reminiscing. To savor the preparation stage, a series of google maps was started as a way to share the tours. Most likely, photos will be posted to the map along the way as part of the Google community. While writing an article about high-tech garden tools, the app “Grow It!” came to my attention – an online gardening community which encourages social interaction around gardening. They have a section for community recommended nurseries, and posting there also seems appealing. But we’ll see how much time can be dedicated to posting rather than planting.

The Garden Report kick-off was the Northwest Garden & Flower show in Seattle. Now, for most of my adult life I lived just a 10-minute walk from the Garden Show. Never – not once! – had the show held appeal. This year, when invited, I jumped on the tickets and was happy to drive 1.5 hours to my old stomping grounds. But instead of a leisurely stroll around SAM (per usual) the afternoon was spent admiring displays of spring and winter plants, attending lectures on low-maintenance borders and learning about layering via a tour of a show-stopping Cambridge garden. We even left with a nice goodie: Toyota gave away free daffodils.

The theme for the year seemed to be winter plants – something I hadn’t really given much thought to, honestly. Last year, the primary focus was a race to plant as many perennials as possible, mostly spring and summer blooms. The pieris japonica in the front yard (you’ll read more about that grand dame later), the major magnolia in the back and the wonderful coral quince bush all serve as the harbingers of spring. Shortly after those blooms, another unidentified tree-sized shrub blooms and the white camellia dazzles for a few days, before the white lilacs surrounding the house blossom. These inherited big-hearted beauties serve as spring’s opening ceremonies, launching off the next seven months of nature’s Olympics.

With such elaborate – and established – plants, adding more winter color had never crossed my mind. Until spending five hours among more hellebore, witch hazel, early tulips, and daphne than you’ve ever seen. I was introduced to Edgewarthian (photo in slideshow) and fell in love with Euphorbia (which I’d admired, but didn’t know the name).

The lighting was atrocious, making for blurry off-colored images of otherwise lovely plants. However, they serve as memory aids and inspiration, most of the plants below are on the “To Acquire” list. What’s YOUR Garden Report? Any new winter foliage you’d like to share or recommend? I’m eager to hear about other’s list of 2018 plants!

The Rekindled Romance Report

If you’ve been following along at home – erm, well Instagram – you might have noticed that I have rekindled a passion. A great love, one might even call it. I’ve found a deep joy in everyday life that I didn’t know if I’d find again.

Yes, gentle readers, I’ve rekindled my romance with gardening.

Not what you expected, is it? I certainly didn’t expect it either. And actively fought against it, to be honest, like a heroine resisting the unlikely, all-wrong suitor, only to realize her one error after a novel of trials. My unlikely suitor comes in the form of a gigantic, messy, unruly plot of land that, after a series of seemingly endless, insurmountable challenges, has charmed me senseless. Now, rather than a cease-less burden, this space makes me feel engaged, alive and invincible. File under unexpected love.

Gardening does not fit in with the life I have crafted for my entire adult life. Apartment life and my type of city dwelling didn’t exactly encourage the activity. None of my friends are avid gardeners, or even have an allotment at one of the few community gardens. They are off doing the acceptable activities that make for envy-inspiring Instagram photos and a life of adventure and cool. They are enjoying the life that I once enjoyed beyond anything in the world. The life that I could never imagine leaving until it pretty much left me. In searching for a new version of a rewarding life, something unexpected has appeared.

Through my own novel of trials, I am now a gardener. Not just a custodian of an occasional tomato plant or avid tender of a succulent terrarium. But a full-fledged all-weather grower of plants and shaper of landscapes. When I didn’t find dahlia bulbs under the Christmas tree (as I’d sincerely asked) I was terribly disappointed. A discussion about soil pH, plant rotation, or the key to raised beds makes my heart race. Discovering the famous British horticulturist Monty Don on Netflix has been a highlight of 2018.

Unlike everything else I’ve ever loved – theater, journalism, even digital media – there are no gate-keepers in gardening. No-one sends you cloying emails or bullies you into a rigid pattern of “shoulds.”  The entire program is geared towards making new, happy, gardeners and centered on a shared love of plants. Attending the Northwest Home & Garden show for the first time this past February I found strangers as helpful as the vendors, offering advice on perplexing plant problems. (Try potting the Pieris Japonica in sand to help a new plant propagate, an elderly man suggested overhearing my on-going quest to root my favorite shrub.) The ethos of the gardening community is shared knowledge and support.

Does the camaraderie stem from the plants and the joy they bring? Or perhaps because there is a peace that comes with participating in a wholly “uncool” activity? Because, listen, gardening isn’t “cool”. The average home gardener is 45-year-old women with a college degree (or at least some college education) who spends about 5 hours a week tending a 100-square-foot plot, spending roughly $60 a year on her hobby.

There are many reasons I resisted the label of gardener, which I’ll discuss further in future posts. For a long time, I didn’t want to be lumped in with the middle age idea of the lady gardener. I’m so much younger! I have two masters degrees! I’m down! I’m cool! Yet, now I can happily spend five hours a day turning soil. And I have a meticulous plan for every inch of the massive 13,000+ square feet canvas at my disposal. My days are structured around weather patterns, leaving my MacBook on standby in order to plant, prune or weed between spring showers.

Last year, as I began to make beds in earnest, I was loath to admit it my burgeoning interest. Photos on social media were sparse, posted as if flowers and seeds were a passing part of a month, rather than a daily preoccupation. Surprising internal prejudices were showing, and a reluctance to slide towards anything remotely “middle aged” or, worse, “rural.” This was a step too-far from my curated urban existence; feeling as if an inextricable link would be severed as I embraced this very gendered and uncultured activity.  But after really examining the growing contradiction – deep passion vs. withering embarrassment – the demographic stats made my new hobby even more ‘cool’ to me. Women and their passion – of all flavors – are overlooked, diminished and shamed. Hiding my joy was the cruelest insult to myself and all the other plant ladies. How dare I diminish it with my own snobbery? What type of boorish jack-ass diminishes the activities that gives solace to millions? My grandmother’s sanctuary? My own sliver of joy?

So, I have embraced the glee. I practically skip to the nursery area at the front of any store; my calendar is full of sow-dates and plant workshops; my recording studio has made way for an indoor greenhouse. My view on gardening has changed, as has my view of myself and who I’m becoming in the next phase of my life. I don’t have to choose between galleries and gardens. I’m not less in anyway because my tools are shovels and trowels, not just Skype and Twitter.

Over the past twenty years, my generation has changed the perception of knitting, needlework, even motherhood – we’ve brought back canning and revived the popularity of the dahlia. We are changing what our 40s and beyond will look like as well. The women in middle age – and older – are fucking amazing. Middle age can be – and SHOULD be – the prime of life. And getting dirty, tending the soil, creating something out of nothings makes me feel like I am in the prime of my own life. Making this garden happen feels like one of the most bad-ass things I’ve ever done. And I’m a little bit more in love with everything, thanks to it.

Who would say no to that?

 

#TheGardenReport

 

 

Netflix for Families

Moving closer to my parents has meant finding new activities that we can all enjoy. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived in major cities, so a parental visit meant short bursts of playing tourist. I have always loved creating the perfect itinerary so my family would enjoy the very best of cultural events, parks and dining, each chosen to suit their particular tastes. I’m a planner and I always want to have an answer to “what are we going to do next?”

Now, living out here in rural America my motto is “Make Your Own Fun.”  As the weather changes, fun more frequently includes a movie on Netflix and I have become the programming director at my parents’ house. When I visit, my dad now asks “So, what’s on for tonight’s entertainment?” as part of our regular post-dinner banter. I despise not having a well-planned answer. We’ve exhausted so many great options: Lillihammer, Happy Valley, Bletchley Circle, among others. However, you can only view so many Poirot episodes in a row.  With my first round of options exhausted (I should blog that list!) I’ve been challenged to find some new movies that engage the dramatically different tastes of my Jane Austen-loving mother, my war- & history-buff dad and pop-culture obsessed self. My father has more criteria for a “good movie” than all of the New York Times film critics combined. While not a complete catalog, the collective generally requires movies that are: very smart, but not too edgy or overtly political; funny, not insipid or bro-humor; intriguing, but with a linear plot; modern, yet with minimal violence or sex; not flashy or standard block-busters nor uber-indie. Green lit choices also cannot star Woody Allen, Ethel Merman or Bette Davis (among a myriad of other actors on the blacklist, so-to-speak). Finding something we can all enjoy is a small miracle. Sorry, Netflix: no mere algorithm can offer up just the right choices.

So, in addition to my annual Netflix Film Festival in January, I recently began curating a roster for the cold months ahead – maybe I should call it The Daylight Savings Film Series. Here – in no particular order – are the initial selections I’ll be queuing up for my oh-so particular audience.

 

  1. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
  2. A Witness to Murder
  3. The Producers (1968)
  4. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  5. Patton (Also part of my AFI Top 100 challenge)
  6. The Conversation
  7. Flight
  8. High Noon
  9. Double Indemnity
  10. The American
  11. Double Take
  12. Strictly Ballroom
  13. The Usual Suspects
  14. M*A*S*H
  15. The Triplets of Belleville
  16. This Property is Condemned
  17. Generation War (Mini-series)
  18. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
  19. The Paper Chase
  20. The Assets (Series)

 

I need to round out the series with a few more comedies, which will be added in a coming post. But tell me: What’s on your viewing schedule? Any suggestions to add?

Happy winter viewing!

 

j.

 

 

 

Shop My Closet: Trixie & Duke Trunk Show

Wow, my closets runneth over. I’m a huge fan of vintage clothes, the craftsmanship, the unique details, and the wonderful style make me ridiculously happy. Sadly, I’m currently living in a place that doesn’t really value fashion or irony, and I find most of this simply stays in the closet.  Some pieces I’ve just loved and outgrown, other pieces I purchased based on beauty and a hope it would fit “someday”.  But Gorgeous clothes need to be released to the world. You should benefit from my love of well-curated vintage and take a look at the current roster in the Trixie & Duke trunk show, just waiting for a good home with a fashion lover, vintage fiend &/or fashionista.

Head to http://www.ebay.com/usr/trixieandduke and check out the goods.

A little glimpse:

Nita’s Koffee Shop

Shelton’s hidden secret is Nita’s Koffee Shop on Railroad Avenue. Get there, relax, have a piece of homemade pie, or a burger that tastes like childhood. Strike up a conversation with the fantastic wait staff and learn something new about the world. Savor.

 

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Love Your Garden

While I’m working on my own major garden/backyard renovation, inspiration and ideas are key to keep me going on the overhaul. Well, today I stumbled upon this British show, Love Your Garden which left a lump in my throat within a few minutes. My next pruning session will be a moving meditation on good fortune, rather than an ornery task that must be completed.

 

 

A Nuclear Plant in the Backyard

Just 10 minutes from my house is the oddest of icons: a nuclear plant. Construction on the towers began in the 1980s but before completion, funding ran out and are now — Thankfully — dormant. The towers remain looming in the background of our lives and can be seen from a good portion the neighboring area. Today, I’m headed to take a tour of the former nuclear site, which has since been turned in to a business park.  Excited, very curious and hopeful to tour the inside of the cooling towers which have become a holy grail for northwest Instagrammers.

I don’t think I’ll pitch my friends’ awesome idea to make the place into a Simpson’s Theme Park. (Although it would be fantastic.)

 

Below: A silhouette of the ladders that zig-zag up the side of a tower.

Satsop Nuclear Plant (inactive)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impromptu Exploring: Wynoochee Dam

“How fast does a coyote run?”

Sunday, I set out to take the dog for a walk and ended up on a four-hour road trip exploring an area I’d never been before and it blew my mind. Who knew that the area around the Wynoochee Dam on the edge of the Olympic National Forest is a mind-blowingly gorgeous? (Driving Directions)

Luckily for me, this is just a 30 mile drive from my house. Of course, the speed limit on the long and winding road (which was only recently paved) is only 45 mph, so our arrival took more like an hour. The drive was spectacular, even on a cloudy day: Surprising vistas of the valley, around one corner, waterfalls around another and wildlife was in full force. A coyote even popped out of the bushes on the side of the road (pics below).  Hustling out of the car with hopes of snapping that great one-time picture, I never expected he would put on a runway show for me, barely losing eye contact with me the entire five minute photo shoot. (He was so unfazed by my presence, I zoomed in to a picture to make sure it wasn’t actually an abandoned dog.) While his demeanor made for great shots, I also wondered just how fast this creature could run and if I could get back in the car fast enough. Finally driving away he started following the car at a casual trot. How much do you want to bet loggers have been feeding him?

I’m excited to show you a snippet of photos from the trip. I’m sure there will be more trips as the season changes.