Thursday, November 19, 2015

Making a New Garden: Finding Land

Big changes are afoot. As my husband and I enter a new phase of life together we determined that our priorities are to live life to its fullest potential. That means no regrets for our decisions nor longing for what we should have done. What we both want above all else is peace - peace of mind, peace and quiet at home and abroad. We want to enjoy each other and our lives together in a meaningful and connected way. We want to breathe fresh air. Therefore, this is the first chapter in our story where we move on from Chickadee Gardens in the heart of Portland, Oregon, to a new adventure. We love our Portland home and garden but growth often requires sacrifice.

For over a year we have been actively searching for a few acres to either build a tiny house or remodel a small, existing farmhouse. After a long search, we were mentally exhausted and ready to take a break from looking. Then in September we found this:

Two acres in Saint Helens, Oregon, about a 40-minute drive from Portland. Cool house, too. We closed on it last week. I've been waiting for it to be official before bringing photos of our new home to the world. So as we have keys in hand I now gladly share these images. Some were taken in September, the rest this past weekend when we took possession and began the arduous task of moving our belongings 33 miles west by north.

The house is an amazing bonus. Sure, it's not a tiny house nor a small farmhouse, but we couldn't ask for anything better. It is fairly new and, as you can see, full of character. It's smaller than our old home which is fine by me (less housework), built by an artist some 14 years ago, it has since been lovingly taken care of by a woman who is now ready to move on to another phase of her own life so she passed it on to us. Well, she sold it to us. At any rate, it really requires no upgrading so we can move right in, and I can focus on the garden.

There is a bit of existing garden here, but mostly it is open grassy fields on the western half and large trees and hedgerows on the eastern half. We have grand plans for our new property -- we foresee a large vegetable garden and a even larger ornamental garden that is visually connected to the surrounding landscape. We also want to leave some areas wild.

We foresee chickens, bees, and hopefully lots of wildlife. As with the current Chickadee Gardens, this new garden will also be for the critters -- the insects, the birds, chickadees (and certainly squirrels and rabbits), and for us and our friends and family.

The adventures ahead of us are plenty. This is our forever home where we plan to live out our lives. I want to take special care to garden sustain-ably and to consider every move before simply digging in. I want to plan thoughtfully to make decisions now so that it gets easier as time goes on rather than making mistakes at the outset costing us time and money.

The driveway up to the property, appropriately littered with autumn leaves.

The eastern half of the property, which was completely covered in tall grass the last few times we saw it. Now mowed by the former owner, we can see what we've bought. It's an area with several trees surrounding its borders and grassy open areas. This is where the greenhouse will eventually live as well as the vegetable garden. The colorful building is my new garden shed. I think it might end up painted like Casa Azul at our Portland home.

We are so lucky that there are at least two large oak trees on the property. I do love them so. We will have an arborist visit to examine all of our trees to determine which ones need to go, as there are a few that are obviously dead or dying and are a hazard to the house if they should fall. Let us hope the oaks are okay.

A labyrinth made by the last owner. It's 50 feet across. I love it, yes, it was certainly a spiritual exercise for the last owner, something I deeply respect. But I will reuse the rocks in other places in the garden and think of her and this special place every time I see them. I do want to honor the richness of the meaning here, perhaps I can do something in my own way somewhere else on the property. It will all develop organically over time.

The previous owner built this vegetable garden right off of the back deck. It has a deer fence around it so this is where my new plants will live until we have our grand deer fence built around the perimeter of the property and I can start getting them into the ground.

David and our new best friend Ron, the fence guy, doing a walkabout around the property this weekend. We like him a lot for he is willing to clear some brush and build us a fence on the whole property. Hooray!

Some of the beauty in this place is in the many trees, I look forward to learning what they are, for I am not so fluent in tree talk.

Looking west to our gate and driveway. The white fence is the neighbor's fence.

The northern border looking east. There are several rows of Douglas firs, some of which are dead and have to be removed. We also need to clear space for the new fence.

Even though this berm is on the north side of the property, it gets a good amount of sun. I look forward to designing and planting here, so close to the house. I have many ideas already, but surely they will flow in and out of me until the right one takes hold.

Some of the leaf litter. I am so excited to see this. I plan to leave it in place to compost on-site. I am considering sheet-mulching the entire western half in time, for the more I learn about permaculture the more it makes sense.

Looking south from the eastern wild lands. The building in the distance is the southern neighbor's.

I met a few of the neighbors this weekend. This happy lot came right over to say hello. I look forward to getting to know them (and hopefully giving them the occasional hand-full of treats).

I put this in because I consider it an auspicious sign. Our cat Hobbes' nickname is Bigbee for a big bumble bee kitty or also a big brother. I also have a wooden kitty a friend gave me nicknamed Bigbee. This piece of equipment is in our new neighbor's yard and I just couldn't resist a photo.

A look back at our new home, photo from September.

Same view taken this week.

We are so grateful to be able to take this immense step in our lives together and to have such an amazing place in this world to call home. I plan to document every stage of development with the new garden here on the Chickadee Gardens blog, so I invite you to come along with us on our adventures and learn and grow with us.We look forward to bringing our slow changes to you as often as we can in this series. We are both very excited.

David's note: The inside is just as interesting as the grounds. Perhaps we will feature it one week soon. I am very pleased not to go through a remodeling project. A couple of new gutters here and some nail-hole patching on the inside walls is about as much "fixing up" as we shall have to do. David is very happy. Meantime, we plod on moving into our new home and new life. Haha, as to the Bengals, well, we have some ideas how they can enjoy the property, too, but, like the home interior, those ideas and outcomes will be shared here at a later date.

That's about it for this week's Chickadee Gardens blog. More to come. We promise. Until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

Timber Press is a wonderful book publisher whose focus is on the natural world; I have purchased many gardening and natural-history books produced by this firm over the years. Last week I was given a copy of their newly released The Natural World of Winnie-the Pooh by Kathryn Aalto as a gift from my boss William McClenethan and from Timber Press. As the host of a popular television garden show Garden Time, William visited Timber Press offices here in Portland to film an upcoming segment. He was given the book to pass along to me. I am under no obligation to write a review, but I love the subject matter so much that I offered wholeheartedly. 

 The author Kathryn Aalto is a landscape designer from California living in Exeter, England, with her family. She has a master's degree in garden history and creative non-fiction. These unique qualifications make her the perfect candidate to embark on the journey to unlock the secrets to the enchanted world so many of us grew up with - the world of Winnie-the-Pooh and his forest friends of the Hundred Acre Wood.

The point of the book is to bring to life the real places that inspired the author, A. A. Milne, to write these stories for his son, Christopher Robin, and to celebrate the natural world.

 The world of the Hundred Acre Wood haunts my very personal vision of nature and what that vision can (and should) be from a child's point of view. I grew up with fantastic notions of this place so beautifully described by A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), desperately wishing I were Christopher Robin's companion on adventures with our best animal friends. It was thus comforting to learn through Aalto's research, writing and photographs that so many of these places are real, as are the people and animal friends of the stories.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is The Creation of a Classic in which Aalto brings to life the world of Winnie-the-Pooh's author A. A. Milne and his collaborator and illustrator E. H. Shepard and the story behind how they came to create this beloved tale.

Here is E. H. Shepard, the artist who brought to life the sweet, sensitive drawings for the books. He visited Milne and his family at Ashdown Forest to draw from life the scenes that so beautifully capture this very special region of England.

Scots pines and snags in Wren's Warren Valley.
The second section is Exploring the Hundred Acre Wood, or rather Ashdown Forest, the real place where A. A. Milne, his wife Daphne, and their real-life son Christopher Robin lived. Aalto visits very real sites that do exist, such as Pooh Sticks Bridge, the sandy pit, and Eeyore's Gloomy Place. The rich history of this place comes to life through Aalto's research and words.

The third section of the book is A Visitor's Guide: The Flora and Fauna of Ashdown Forest. In this section we are introduced to the many species that make up this ecosystem and thus bring the whole thing around to gardening and the natural world.

Ariel view of the idyllic Ashdown Forest region.
Aalto's research and writing style mesh seamlessly with the subject matter. As an adult reading this book I reconnected with the stories on a much deeper level than I realized. The author's (and others') photographs of the area are extensive and appreciated -- they confirm that these places really look like how I imagined they would.

Galleon's Lap, based on the real Gills Lap, in the Hundred Acre Wood.
It is fascinating to learn about the author behind the stories. Milne was a gentle soul very connected to nature. He was allowed to roam free as a child, a privilege many children today are denied. He wanted to give his own son the same experience and thus moved the family from London some 40 miles south to Cotchford Farm, an idyllic Medieval-farm house on the edge of the village of Hartfield. Ashdown Forest is about 6,500 acres or 10 square miles, and encompasses the very real 500 Acre Wood, the inspiration for Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood.

The characters in the books were real stuffed animals, friends to the only child Christopher Robin. Christopher's mother Daphne helped to bring these creatures to life for him and inspired her husband to write these stories. 

The real Enchanted Place, a tree clump of Scots' Pines, near Kanga's sandy pit.
Throughout Aalto's account of this very special natural world, she reminds us how the magic in it all still remains. If you were to visit today, there is very little in the way of advertising to point out the many landmarks connecting this landscape with Milne's imagination. That is to say it is left for the visitor to discover on their own terms and pace; it is unspoiled and we all hope it will remain as such.  I must admit, after reading this book, I would love nothing more than to book a flight to England and spend a month with a backpack and walking shoes getting lost in its magic. Someday.

The Enchanted Place as drawn by E. H. Shepard.

One of the few markers to let you know you are in Pooh country.

Pooh Sticks Bridge as it stands today.

An Eeyore House that sprang up in Ashdown Forest. Apparently this happens frequently.

A Scot's pine tree, an important (planted) tree species in this forest. Although much of the "forest" is heathland, these tree clumps are central to the landscape as a whole as well as providing shelter for Milne's Enchanted Place and perhaps where Pooh discovered some hunny.

Cotchford Farm as it stands today.

A snowy scene in Ashdown Forest.

An ancient path through the wood, surrounded by bluebells.

In this illustration you see a red damselfly, part of the ecosystem that is quite rare these days.

Upper right is a photograph of said dragonfly as well as other winged creatures.

The real Christopher Robin with the real Winnie-the-Pooh somewhere in Ashdown Forest.

What Aalto does so beautifully in this book is to make it all come alive, to make it so very relevant to me, an adult in love with the natural world. It is a thoroughly researched and sensitively written account of a very real place and I encourage anyone with a slight curiosity about the Hundred Acre Wood to delve into it. I especially appreciate the opportunity to rediscover that magic door of my own imagination of childhood, thought to be lost but not forgotten. Aalto gave me the gift of reopening it.

It is not, in the strict sense of the word, a gardening book. It does, however, remind me where my initial love of nature and thus gardening originated -- in stories like this by adults who knew instinctively that children have the ability to connect on deep levels with nature. It also illustrates a variety of flora and fauna that are both common to England and also rare and endangered. In doing so the author is hopefully perpetuating the preservation of this Area of Outstanding Beauty.

That is all from Chickadee Gardens this week. Thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and reading!

All images are from the book The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, photographs I took of my copy of the book. All are Copyright 2015 by Kathryn Aalto.