Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015 from Chickadee Gardens at Blue Jay Lane

Much has happened at Chickadee Gardens in the past two weeks. We have officially moved residence--a Herculean task neither of us wishes to go through ever. Again. Ever.
Now that we're here and (somewhat) snuggled in our beds for a deep winter's nap, let me show you some of the happenings these past two weeks. First of all, we awoke to snow this Christmas Eve morning. What a surprise as the NOAA says that Saint Helens receives only an average of one inch of snow annually. Even Portland gets more than that. No matter, we're stuck at home painting bathrooms, installing IKEA lighting and unpacking boxes so it is a welcome new view outside.

 Even the labyrinth looks smashing in shades of white.

Backing up now, a couple of weeks ago we moved a few more of the big pots. A few still remain for "staging" of the Portland house. These were beasts to move. That's why they are still parked here on the "unloading dock."

 In the same spot now covered in snow.

 David has dreams of his own shop/garage space, so he had a Tuff Shed built. Here is the pad put down recently as a base.

Here it is! It comes in a fabulous color of primer. David was hoping it would have been just natural wood so he could stain it, but darn. Now the plan is to paint it a cheerful shade of barnhouse red. This is his space to play in.

Note: David says his! His alone! Heehee.

Earlier this week we had a fierce windstorm. It reminds me to call the arborist. This big leaf maple took a hit, a huge branch came crashing down. We are SO grateful it went the other way, for the house is basically where I'm standing taking this photo.

It also toppled a Douglas fir. 

 Again, VERY grateful it went the other way. Some of our fellow Saint Helenites didn't fare as well as we did. We saw a house with basically no roof yesterday.

 On a sunnier moment this week which was fleeting. We have officially had the wettest month on record for Portland with 16-plus inches recorded as of today. The old record was 13.35 inches. We chose to move this month. Oy. It's been a challenge.

On to more cheerful matters. Snow! The future Casa Azul seems dressed up now.

 And the labyrinth begs to be walked on such a day.

The oak tree clings on to a few last leaves.

 The house also seems dressed up.

 Christmas card, anyone?

 This little tree, although healthy and full, seems a bit like a Charlie Brown tree out there by itself.

 Even the filbert trees are gorgeous.

 It's a good we are not working this day. David does not have his snowplow rigged for clearing the swooping, uphill driveway. We'll stay snuggled in doing our chores.

Some long-gone perennial planted by the former owner. 

The maple and other goodies barely touched by snow. This will likely be melted by lunch time, so for now we are enjoying every bit of it.

 There is our report from the "farm" as we affectionately call it. It's been a whirlwind and a lot of hard work but we are settling in and, for those of you in the area, come on out and see us! With or without the snow.

Thank you for reading and for your patience as we put together the home then the garden. Have a wonderful holiday season and stay tuned for more updates. Until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Making a New Garden: The Moving of the Plants

And so it begins. As the house is about a third moved to the new digs, the plants are about 2% moved. That's a frightening thought when the plan is to be pretty much moved in by Christmas. I wanted to show everyone why I will likely be in crazy mode for some time and may not be as frequent with blog posts in the short-term. I will document the whole affair, but getting to a computer might prove to be challenging in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, here's a reason to be glad you're not us right now:
 The first real load of plants are the super heavy potted ones. There are many more still to move. This photo is deceiving, for there are many crammed in there that are not obvious. The pumpkins are thrown in to give my Portland neighbors a break - I don't want to be the only one on the block without Christmas lights who also still has Halloween decor on the front porch. They are going to live out the rest of their decomposing lives somewhere in the fields of the new garden.

 Just to give me a sense that we're accomplishing something, let's revisit what the back garden looked like this summer.

 Here it is pictured in October. All of these beauties are currently safely snug in their deer-proof cage.

This is what it looks like now. Poor lonely Casa Azul. I hope whomever buys this home finds a lot of love for you. And yes, I DO need to move the contents of the shed.

It's a little heartbreaking.

Here's the same general view from this summer.

Back on the farm: I wanted to highlight our first lesson in country living. Parking the truck on the wet lawn to get closer to the unloading areas is not a good idea.

Much cursing went on. At least in my head. 

 This mud splatter is several feet away. Imagine what I looked like at the rear of the truck helping to push it out of its ditch. Oy veh.

 Moving on to more pleasant views, a few of the pots ended up at the front porch. It may not be permanent but it gives a little life to the metal building.

This is the same maple (as pictured above) earlier this fall in its former home.

This is a view of the potted ones that made the journey. I attempted to place them to be somewhat pleasing for the short-term as my plans for this deck will morph into something usable and full of life hopefully by next summer. For now this will do -- making the journey was a huge step. They look so small out here, **sigh** I have a long way to go. The joy is in the journey, right? Right. I'll keep reminding myself of that. Please feel free to chime in when I slip down the hopeless slope of the overwhelmed new home owner.

Speaking of making the journey, that brings up the rest of the plants that are in the ground at the Portland house. I have yet to dig up one plant as it's been either a torrential downpour (flooding, anyone?) or the ground is too cold. I am patiently awaiting the golden hour when it's safe to dig and I have the day off -- then I will go into overdrive. So many of my gardening friends have been wonderfully generous with their offers of helping me to move the garden but I do not intend to burden anyone else with this muddy, cold, confusing task. You guys are off the hook.

I did manage to plant about 100 small species tulip bulbs at the new garden this weekend, something I had been waiting on as the place I wanted to put them was frozen. I braved the mud and dug the earth at the new garden for the first time. It felt great, finally actually planting something, even if it was just a handful of little bulbs.

Here's the plant prison. All of these guys are new, purchased at the nursery. They may end up waiting a long time....or I may find a temporary bed to plant them in until I find suitable homes.

That's what we've been up to, besides moving boxes and unpacking and making an ungodly amount of lists. Why did we want to move? Can anyone tell me? I can't believe how much work it is this time around. I am more accustomed to "apartment moving" so this house-moving business is for the birds. Well, chickadees that is.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens at Blue Jay Lane (yes, Blue Jay Lane is the name of our street.....what are the odds of that?) - you'll be hearing from us again as soon as I have more garden adventures to share. Thank you for reading, as always and until next time, stay dry and happy gardening!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Making A New Garden: Planning

If you have ever dreamed of a larger space in which to garden, ask yourself this: What would you do if your wish came true? What would your imagination dream up if you could have two acres to do as you wish?

I am so blessed to say I'm in this predicament. A fantastic one, to be sure. I get to put into practice a lifetime of gardening, designing, nature-attracting and food-growing skills. Some skills are stronger than others, and I hope I will continue to learn and grow as a gardener. I will also be incorporating new-to-me (but intuitive) concepts - those from the principles of permaculture - so in time the work will be less. As mentioned in my last post, this will be our "forever" home so I want to be able to enjoy it as I grow old and it matures with me.

Although much planning and forethought is necessary at the outset of any successful project of this scale, it is true that in my style of gardening much of the garden will develop spontaneously as resources and ideas present themselves. Before I get too spontaneous, however, there are a few decisions that must be made now even before one plant is planted, no matter how sure I am that I have chosen the right spot for any given plant. This is also true before I actually put into place some of the plans I've made over the past nine weeks of obsessive thinking and drawing plans -- gardening in my head, so to speak.

The driveway. To sweep or not to sweep? I will sweep eventually. It gets frosty up along the Columbia River so leaving the debris might add traction to the asphalt. The leaves in the grass will remain, however. I will do no raking here; it's going to decompose where it falls. The soil is really pleasantly spongy to walk on. I imagine in part due to all of the leaves decomposing over the years.

I include this photo to mention that I plan to sheet mulch most of the garden. If you're not familiar, it's a process whereby you "till in place," add layers of material (compost, cardboard, manure, etc.) on top of the soil to eventually break down and improve soil quality without disturbing soil structure. You basically let the worms, microbes and whatever critters are in there come to the surface and break down all that material for you. This means the grass or weeds or whatever will rot in place also adding nutrients to the soil. It will take a long time as it will have to be done in sections but it's less work in the end and only really has to be done once. I have done a version of this in the old garden without calling it sheet mulching. That is, I allow leaves and debris to fall where it will on the soil and let it decompose.

Another item at the top of my gardening To-Do list is to engage an arborist to determine which trees need to go. This big leaf maple is in bad shape. It was obviously dying or perhaps completely dead when we first visited the property. No leaves on it even in September. Since it's close to the house it will likely have to go, although if it were in an out-of-the-way area I would leave it as a snag for wildlife.

This second big leaf maple, also on the drive up to the house is partially dead. A large section also had no leaves in September and the branches appear to be unhealthy.

At the very northern border of the property is this fence with some rather unhealthy looking cedars on the neighbor's side. We will ask them if they would like us to limb these up as we're having a new fence installed and it would make it easier on everyone.

A wider look at the same area (left). While the Douglas firs on the right are on our property. They are too closely spaced and many will have to go as only a few seem healthy.

Some trees look fine up top, but the lower branches are so congested there is no sun to speak of below. The lower branches are dying.

Another tree in question.

Another big ticket item on the "Now" list is a storage shed; the new house has no storage. That is to say there are no closets, no cupboards, etc. There are two large IKEA shelving units that have been added for clothing storage, but besides that, nothing. It's an adjustment as our current 1930 home has many nooks and crannies. I guess the solution is to purge. Having said that, we still need a place for the larger items as the garage will become the gym. We've mapped this site for the new shed, which will be built in the coming weeks.

On the western edge near the gate there are bunches of filbert tree that are likely all volunteers. I plan to thin these out, add some native crabapples and other wildlife-friendly plants such as snowberry for a hedgerow corridor. Native ferns are also on my mind for this area. Of course nothing is planted until the fence goes in early January to avoid getting trampled on and eaten by the deer.

Here's the northern side of the house. It gets little to no sun, so many shade perennials will be planted here. David calls this the bocce ball lawn. This morning the frost was clinging to the grass.

It was also clinging to the little leaves.

Just for fun: The former owner pointed out these paperwhites coming up in the garden. This brings up the garden the former owner planted.  There is a selection of deer proof plants on the berm where these paperwhites are sited. I will incorporate probably all of them into the garden in other places, but for now they remain until the time is right to move everything around.

The red bark of some Acer species. There are many here, most look like Japanese cultivars and many have verticillium wilt and will unfortunately have to go. Another task that will need to be done soon. This one, to my delight, seems healthy. So far.

In the middle of the property is this shed I will use for gardening. There are a few trees surrounding it, but some will be taken out to make room for a future chicken coop. I think this filbert will be gone as it's pretty much right where we want the chickens to live. Go chickens!

On the right of the shed is a beautiful oak tree that is definitely staying.

 Beautiful bark and mosses on aforementioned oak.

 Looking up.

David couldn't wait to get out there with the tree trimmer and remove a few low-hanging branches. It feels good to be outside doing these small tasks as we've mostly been indoors unpacking the thousands of items we've somehow accumulated.

One of David's self-imposed chores was to sweep off the roof of the shed. Can you see our new tractor inside? The former owner left it for us. We are thrilled. We will also paint this garden shed to match Casa Azul from the old garden.

There are many leftover rocks when the former owner built this.

What may look like an eye sore to others makes me very excited. I can surely use these all over the garden for small retaining walls and maybe a dry stream bed foundation.

My mother saw this and thought it might be a camperdown elm but I don't think so after looking at the leaves. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you. This is a reminder to myself that I need to identify the many trees on the property before anything is done - moving, removing, or nurturing.

This is the southern area of the property where the fence divides our property in half. Looking east beyond the gate is the area where the super large veggie garden will go after we clear many of the brambles on part of the area. We are also planning on a small "orchard" of fruit trees -- a few apples, a cherry, fig, persimmon, maybe a plum or two. We'll also have several blueberry bushes. Along the very southern border I would like to plant raspberries.

Another look at the site of the new veggie bed. Where the bramble pile is on the left is about where the fruit trees will start.

Meanwhile at the house, the deck is completely empty. This is southern exposure so gets quite warm. I see many agaves and other potted treasures here. This shall be a little getaway cove when we're done with it.

I want to paint the pink railing, too. I appreciate the color but it's not my taste. I'm thinking a charcoal gray and maybe painting the whole deck, too. I may change my mind on that.

From the southern border my imagination turns to this vision: The existing vegetable bed at the base of the deck will be dismantled completely and in its place a fire pit will warm us on chilly nights. I would love it to be surrounded on the north side by stone benches and that would serve as the epicenter for the rest of the garden. I see large sweeps of Amsonia, grasses, small shrubs and maybe the dry creek bed emanating from this central point. I see organic lines and large areas of the same plant intermingled with some foundation plants such as Arbutus unedo, for example. I see the outer edges of the property as a little more wild and, as it gets closer to the house, the plants that require more care will make an appearance.

This will all be gone. Perhaps I will re-purpose the wood and chicken wire for another project. Can you imagine a fire pit with seating, grasses, rocks, dry river bed, paths, plants, etc. coming from this area?

For now, however, it serves an all-important service -- saving my yet-to-be-planted plants from grazing deer. Oh yes, we've seen them -- in fact, they quite like this property. Rumor has it that they sleep under the deck.

The front door. It may not look like it in this photo but it's extra wide. Yay for that! I see many potted beauties out here along with a seating area. It faces north but the wall to the left captures heat and reflects it so plants that take a little sun and warmth will do well here. No real plans to change anything here, just more of a "before" photo while the slate is clean. The former owner also left about ten hanging baskets. Hmmm....what do do with those. I think my mother needs a few, don't you agree?

The window from the garage faces out to the front porch area seen in the previous photo. This is the makeshift greenhouse for now. I'm grateful there is such a shelf in place.

Moving in:
We have been bringing truckloads out every weekend for an while now, slowly moving all the unessential items at first, now on to some of the furniture. David has been off for a few days and has been especially busy building IKEA shelves and unpacking the truck. While he was out there on his own recently, I thought he might put up the tree (which he did), but I did not expect this:

He totally surprised me with an early Christmas present: He had some friends in Nepal make all these felt cats for me for Christmas. I laughed so hard I peed my pants a little. Only David. That's why I married him.

Smile! They are finger puppets, too. Now that took some planning to pull off.

A parting shot of the dining area/kitchen/living room. Of course, it's in a state of flux and most of this is temporary until we get our real furniture out here. That will have to wait until the old house sells, so we're in a bit of a holding pattern. No matter, there's plenty to do until then.

Back to my original question. If you had two acres with which to garden, what would you do? It's fun to imagine, a dream to put into practice. If any of you has ideas you would care to share, I'd love to hear them.

Well, that's it from Chickadee Gardens where David works too hard and has no intention of ever making a dry creek bed with those silly heavy rocks no matter how much chili is offered on a cold, windy Sunday afternoon. OK, that's a David note. I say, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and bring on the chili!