2016: A Year in Review

 2016 was full of hard work here at Chickadee Gardens. At an almost break-neck pace we established the basic bones of the garden. But with winter here, a time for rest and re-charging, we are not doing much besides planning for  '17, a year that will see the addition of a large vegetable garden and small orchard. But before we get into all of that, Facilities Manager suggested we look back at a year's worth of highlights, focusing on the best photos from each month. I think a look back at projects and their progress seems more fitting as I want to remind myself of what we've accomplished as a way to help inspire me for next year's projects. I thus give you "2016: A Year in Review"

January was primarily dedicated to moving in and setting up the household at Chickadee Gardens. We enjoyed the quiet as compared to city life and took in as many wonderful moments in nature as possible. This photo was from New Year's Day as the sun rose over Mt. Hood, one of the first "wow" moments I had looking from our deck.

We had the fence installed, which was a huge item crossed off the to-do list---the first thing to be crossed off, in fact. Fencing in two acres is no small task. Statewide Fencing did a fantastic job. We are still very pleased and it has done what we hoped it would do, it has kept out the deer.

  January was also a month I ordered my first two units of compost to spread all over the garden.

 I also sheet-mulched a section of sod to see if it really would be the best soil ever to plant in. It ended up being very laborious but with good results. Plus, we recycled a ton of moving boxes.

In addition to fences, compost, gravel and sheet mulching I also planted my four Olea europaea 'Arbequina' olive trees which have given me a small harvest, more on that another day. The beginnings of the shade garden were also well under way in January.

 February saw the dismantling of the former veggie garden. An 8' fence or "pen" as I called it surrounded this square of land. This photo from November 2015 is one of the only ones I could find with the fence intact.

In early February, Facilities Manager (and his mother, Sharon Manager) took it all down and removed the raised bed boxes so I had open ground from which to begin the master plan. The plants seen here in the raised beds are ones I dug up from the old garden plus newly purchased ones all waiting to find their place at the new Chickadee Gardens. 

After digging out several hydrangeas that the former owners had planted at the base of the deck, I was working with a mostly blank slate. I laid out compost and gravel from the top down to improve drainage and soil structure. With hydrated lime, I marked the area where I wanted to make a fire pit that can be seen at the base of the deck marked in white. You may notice that the vertical slats in the deck railing are removed in this photo. One step towards a better deck. Facilities Manager's shed to the left is unpainted at this point, soon to be bright orange-red. Also note the side door up on the deck that was pink to match. That will soon change.

March was mostly about this epicenter of the property, the gravel garden. I dug out the basic shape of beds and continued to add gravel and compost to its entirety. I added a dry creek bed feature and began to dig out what I thought would be the fire pit with room for two chairs. Note the empty raised bed boxes in the upper left on what was the labyrinth.

Plants were going in left and right in this dry gravel garden area. I built the little retaining wall with rocks from the labyrinth and added river rocks to the dry creek bed from rocks dug up on the property. You may also notice the Douglas fir tree in the upper left had a haircut. We limbed it up a few branches to let in more sun and air movement.

For me, April was the "Labyrinth Garden" month. FM removed all the rocks that once formed a maze on this 50' diameter circle. We then discovered there was landscape fabric underneath about 5" of sand. Bit by bit we dug sand, pulled a few feet of fabric and continued on. Three days later the fabric was gone and I could begin adding compost and plants. I was planting with an eye towards the final look of the garden. This will be a very dry, sunny garden - drought tolerant plants were the choice. I chose many evergreen shrubs to fill in over time as well as prairie-type perennials and biennials such as Rudbeckia hirta and Echinacea purpurea. I was also thinking about how the whole garden would eventually tie together---that this "circle" of a garden would not be a garden island. I wanted it to connect to the rest of the land somehow.

In the meantime, the gravel garden began filling in. Note the color of the door off of the deck now...no more pink and purple!

April was a month when one mature (rotten) big leafed maple was cut down. It was also a brush-clearing month for FM as he cleared out many scraggly hazelnut thickets, blackberries and dead branches from all over the property. He began the arduous task of cutting them up and either making mega-piles for chipping or burning, or stacking good wood to cure for the future.

May was more planning of the labyrinth garden. These sunflowers popped up on their own, probably planted by the birds. I left them for fun and am glad I did. They were quite structural, exuding that country garden kind of charm that later turned to food for wildlife in the form of seeds.

While this rock wall garden area was completed in February, it was starting to show signs of filling in. In May, however, Facilities Manager added the steps on the left and a ramp area with gravel for the John Deere mower to go down. This is the far west end of what I call the berm garden, a long 60-foot stretch of retaining wall with poor soil with struggling plants behind it. I began the task of moving and grouping plants around to appropriate locations and adding compost and gravel.

 Here is a before photo from January after I had added compost to most of the 60' berm. The tree in the barrel is a dogwood that FM has had for years, it has since been planted. The magnolia on the left had blended in with some English laurel hedge. FM cut back the laurel for airflow and aesthetics. It was then that I discovered this was a magnolia, not part of the laurel hedge. It turns out it was a good-sized tree at one point but had been cut down. It clearly wanted to grow, so we cleaned it up and are letting it do its scraggly thing and will see what happens.

June saw the delivery of more compost which I added here in about a 5" layer. Knowing this area is very poor soil deprived of organic matter for who knows how long with that landscape fabric in place, I will continue to add compost annually. Note the faint outline of a circle in the bottom left which is approximately where the fire pit will be located.

June was sod removal month. The islands of weedy sod were preventing the individual garden beds from flowing into one another. We remedied that problem by removing sod in between and then adding pathways and plants, thus combining the gravel and labyrinth gardens.

I also added many ornamental grasses and Amsonia hubrechtii along what will be the edge of this part of the garden, thus extending the whole thing another 40 or so feet from the original gravel garden under the deck.

Seen from the deck, the major areas are beginning to connect now that the sod is gone and compost and paths and plants are being added. Still we have a pile of rocks and compost to work with. Note the "fire pit" in the center of the photo has turned into a stump table, sourced from the old mature big leaf maple cut down in April. 

I abandoned my efforts for a fire pit in this locale as it was clear to me, after much convincing by others, FM included, that there was clearly not enough room for a proper fire AND room for people to actually enjoy it. I suppose my postage-stamp sized lot at the former Chickadee Gardens in the city were still influencing my gardening habits at this point.

By the end of June, FM had nearly finished the chicken cube. Note the stacked firewood under the trees on the left. That is now a huge solid stack, a second has been started several yards away. FM says he did not realize he was building a luxury condo for the chickens.
No matter; warm hens are happy hens.

July saw the expansion of the gravel garden to include a new site for a large, proper fire pit. Plants were starting to fill in and paths were being laid out. Here I am standing in the labyrinth garden looking northwest. The fire pit is in the center of the photo, more on that in a moment.

The edge of what was the former veggie garden is just at the left edge of this photo. I have extended the low rock wall in an area that was once sod and weeds.

FINALLY it was time to paint the pink. My favorite improvement so far.

The low rock wall continues on around the mound of soil surrounding the new fire pit that FM dug out for me. Gravel was added a little at a time to keep dust and mud at a minimum. Note the deck, painted in a dark charcoal gray. Yay!

The extended gravel garden bed with the beginnings of a fire pit. Compost and grasses were added to this garden bed, the whole thing outlined in a low rock retaining wall, rocks all sourced from the former labyrinth.

The path-making and garden bed-extending continues. I rounded out this side of the formerly square gravel garden and FM helped dig out pathways and added gravel. I should note that we waited to add paths to see where they naturally occurred. If I had added them where aesthetically I wanted to at the outset, they might not have been as functional as they are now. There is a flow to these new garden areas only revealed after much back and forth with us, our wheelbarrows and tools. We wanted paths that felt natural and provided access where we need it most. I can always add plants to soften the edges of a path, but to re-do a path is wasted energy.

More gravel added at about a 6" depth. It has settled in over time and I have added rocks here and there to help define the edges of beds, as well as plants.

August was pretty hot and the plants responded. Here at the base of the deck a black-eyed Susan and Nicotiana 'Hot Chocolate' mingle with other shrubs and perennials. These two flowers are fillers until the evergreen shrubs such as Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' and Leptospermum lanigerum 'Silver Form' (seen on the right edge of this photo) fill in. That and the ceanothus are from Xera Plants.

I haven't even mentioned the shade garden yet! It began in January and February with the planting of ferns, shrubs, perennials and grasses as well as a heavy layer of compost over weedy sod. I hand-dug hundreds of weeds which have mostly stayed away. FM then added this gravel path in August. These plants are all transplants from the former garden. Front and center is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver' from Xera Plants.

The berm garden area has been worked over many times with compost and gravel, plants have been re-arranged, deleted and added to in an attempt to have a unified flow. It is just beginning to fill in and look healthy. This will take a few years to really shine.

Speaking of filling in, this is quite a change from February, formerly the site of raised beds, an 8' chicken fence and a pink deck.

Facilities Manager bought kiln bricks to finish the fire pit. It's close to complete!

  Here you can see four Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' ornamental grasses. This is the area that was sheet mulched in January. The miscanthus were planted in February or March, but the other little grasses which are Carex comans 'Frosty Curls' were planted in August. The whole area is now covered in carex thanks to two garden friends who generously dug up little starts from their own gardens.

This fall Facilities Manager worked on clearing land nearly every day. Blackberries, hawthorns, hazelnuts and a variety of dead things are being cleared to make room for the vegetable garden and small orchard. Plus, he enjoyed burning the debris. Oh, fire as hobby!

FM also added a roof over the porch area of my garden shed (painted blue in April) to give me a dry area to work with in the rainy months. Thank you, FM!

The fire pit, completed with flagstones (someday we'll get nice chairs; one thing at a time). A real do-it-yourself kind of job. No perfect circle here, it's a fire elliptical.

Let the brush-clearing continue! FM feverishly making more piles and cutting down trees and nearly his arm. That's a long story we shan't discuss here. No pictures. Nothing to see. Keep moving.

I just liked this photo of the labyrinth for some reason. Gravel has been added to the paths and plants are filling in. You can just see the chicken cube on the upper right side of the photo, painted (gasp!) bright green. There are many vines planted around it to "soften" (smother) the color. The color was, of course, Facility Manager's choice. Speaking of his color choices, you can also see his bright red "man shed" peeking out on the left side of the photo.

More cutting down of diseased maple trees. Too bad, this was once a good-looking maple. Some disease has hit the West Coast, you can read more about that here.

Leaves turning...slowing down the pace...feel colder...muddy boots...much rain...

Which is why this was an urgent project to complete in my mind. I wanted these original pavers out of here so I could add flagstones and make it pretty.

As this path was mostly mud, I thought a gravel path would cut down on cleanup this winter. Here we defined and leveled the path, dug out soil and added flagstones to the base of the steps. We then graveled the whole thing to about 5" deep.

A nice dry crunchy gravel area on which to move about the country.

Facilities Manager put two of the old raised beds to work as temporary lettuce beds for the winter months, putting into practice those skills that will be sharpened by the addition of a nearly quarter-acre food producing section of the property this spring. That's why he's clearing the land. We won't be able to do much to the soil until it warms up, but at least I can pull a radish from this little garden box for now.

Most importantly in November, we got chickens! Four hens that are not laying eggs right now. Well, in time. They are more pets at this point, for good or for bad. When the days are longer perhaps their egg-laying instincts will kick in. For now, we thoroughly enjoy their antics and soft sounds.

Frida is our favorite. She's the most curious and friendly, plus her feathers are always all messed up. She kind of gets pecked by the others a little bit, but it's mostly a peaceable kingdom around here.

This about sums up December. The Bing (Bengal kitty) pile!

Because it did this outside. A lot. 

Not much moving about the country in December.

A time to watch nature from inside, a time to reflect and recharge.

Over the past 12 months I have spread 6 units of compost (1 unit = 7.4 cubic yards) and 27 cubic yards of gravel on a lot that stretches 260 x 360 square feet. That is roughly 19 times larger that the size of my old garden. We have rented chippers twice, a tractor once, sod removers twice and borrowed the neighbor's cultivator (we have since purchased our own). We have added four feathered ladies to the gang. I have hundreds, possibly a couple thousand empty black pots that once contained plants. They are all in the ground. FM has cut down three large trees and dozens more smaller ones. We spent more time in the local hardware store than at the grocery store. All that, and we wouldn't change a thing. Well, less scars from the chainsaw, but . . .!

It has been a whirlwind of a year, a most wonderful year. I cherish every moment spent on this property, and so enjoy watching our vision slowly take shape. I say slowly because the long-term plans for this place have it looking much different from what it is even now. That is to say it will take time for plants to grow, fill in, change, be added, taken away, moved around or replaced. I will of course re-think many of my early choices and perhaps change my mind. I will think of new ideas and implement them as time and money allow.

I am in such a hurry to get some bones down for a couple of reasons. One is that I know it takes a while for some of these things to fill in. Another is that time is ticking. I'm not so young any more and I am resentful that I didn't have a lifetime on this land to build it up to what our dream of a piece of property could be. We started late, in other words, and somehow I am so aware of every moment in time and that life is a precious gift not to be squandered. So I pour my soul into this land, as does David, my Facilities Manager. We are thrilled to share our goals and adventures with you all, and with that hopefully bring a little bit of sunshine into the world.

That's a wrap for this year at Chickadee Gardens! Thank you dear readers for hanging in there with us. Stay tuned for more garden adventures in 2017.

From all of us at Chickadee Gardens: Tamara, David (Facilities Manager or FM), Lucy, Hobbes, Frida, Effie, Blanche and Betty, we wish you all a Very Happy New Year!


  1. Anonymous9:46 AM PST

    This has been so fascinating to watch as your vision emerges. Love this post in particular. I'm curious about your house - when it was built, the thinking behind the spare but lovely style, and if you plan to do much with the interior. However, just hearing about the land is plenty!

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading and commenting! The house was built in 2002 by an artist who designed it herself. It's a pretty crazy floor plan and we love it. Someday I'll do a post of the interior. We hope to make a few adjustments for our lifestyle, but basically it's staying the same - but I really want to add a bathtub for all these sore muscles to soak in -- that's a priority!!

  2. I know that feeling of not being so young any more and wanting to get as much done as possible before you completely fall apart. I felt that way 8 years ago when we first moved here to Washington from Massachusetts. We still occasionally commiserate that we should have made that move many, many years ago. You were very smart to get so much done this year. You found a beautiful piece of land and you have made it even more beautiful.

    1. Thank you Alison, I'm glad you can relate. It's an odd feeling -- running out of time in a garden -- for the opposite impact of slowing down is what gardens are for. You sure have come a long way in 8 short years...what with your super cool greenhouse and fabulous garden!

  3. You have accomplished SO MUCH! I've been impressed with each post but this one puts the cherry on top. I understand the sense of urgency - I've felt that too in relation to our much smaller space. I'm still going for another year before I bench myself for a knee replacement. Best wishes for a happy new year!

    1. Aw, thank you Kris! Knee replacement...ouch..I am so sorry. I think they have come a long way improving knee replacements from the time my mother had both done about 15 years ago. I'm sure you'll be back at it gardening again in no time but I don't blame you for putting it off as long as possible. Best wishes to you for a fabulous 2017!

  4. Oh, my dears...you are spring chickens and will be amazed at how much you and Mom Nature can accomplish in five years, then 10...and so on. Especially with this flying start! I feel so privileged to be seeing it in these early stages.

    1. Spring chickens? Hahahah...you're the sweetest, Rickii! Yes, a lot of this whole gardening thing depends on Mom Nature - I must remember that!

  5. I just want to say how much I've enjoyed following your blog...and now seeing your 'year in review'. It's brought back so many wonderful memories. We did the same thing in 1999...bought a 'little house on the prairie' in Southern Ontario...nothing but a house just plunked into a 2 acre field. By 2014 it was a beautiful mature garden, hard to believe it hadn't always been there. Sometimes there were so many potted plants in the driveway awaiting planting that neighbours thought we were going to open a nursery!! But we did leave it all behind (in loving, capable hands) in order to retire back home on Vancouver Island (inheriting a lovely mature garden). I'm enjoying reliving our garden vicariously through you! Continue to enjoy!!
    Old garden blog: http://westerobertsgarden.tumblr.com/

    1. Thank you Dizzy! I love it when people comment, I appreciate your sentiment and story. I will definitely take a look at your blog and see what you've been up to. I know that potted plant in the driveway feeling...I laugh at all the pots I have had throughout the year, bringing things home from the nursery I work at EVERY DAY it seemed. I have to ask who ended up being the recipient of your garden? Do you have a much smaller garden? Sometimes I think going back to the small garden idea is not a bad one but we're in this for the long haul now! So glad you can follow along and we hope to continue to bring garden stories to the world! Cheers, Happy New Year! Tamara

  6. I only recently found your blog and I'm really enjoying reading about everything you've done - so much hard work! The basic structure looks great, I look forward to seeing how it all fills in.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Evenstar! We appreciate the comments. We are also looking forward to the filling in process, that's the exciting part! Cheers and happy new year!

  7. Looking back at your early photos I started to feel overwhelmed, even though it's not my garden AND I already know how much you've finished and moved beyond that point. The vision you guys had and started working towards is remarkable. I don't think I could have done it. Congrats on a job well done thus far and here's looking to what you accomplish in 2017!

    1. Yes, overwhelmed...I know the feeling. As our friend Ricki recommends, I take one section at a time, or one project at a time. Otherwise I'd go nutty. Or nuttier. Thanks for your kind sentiment, that means a lot coming from you! Happy New Year, Loree!!

  8. Wow have you made amazing progress! It would take me a decade to do half as much. Congratulations on excellent work.

    You have 1 heck of a Facilities Manager--he's a keeper. Happy New Year, and I look forward to seeing your garden developments in '17.

    1. Woo hoo! Thank you for your kind sentiments, Hoover Boo! I DO have one heckofa FM - David is the BEST. We are both super lucky. Happy New Year to you too, I look forward to following more adventures on your blog, too! Cheers

  9. The work you have accomplished in one year is just amazing Tamara. I feel like a slacker after reading this!

    1. Oh, please no! Not a slacker! I must remind people that FM is retired, that's the only way we have accomplished so much. Happy New Year to you both, Phillip!

  10. Utterly amazing. I have no words for the massive transformation this property has undergone in 12, short, months. Bravo T & FM!! My favorite part is the grasses. So many delightful grasses. I do, selfishly, hope that you'll invite us out again soon to see the continued progress. Happy New Year!

    1. Merci, Miss Jennifer! The grasses...oh, yes....I love them also. I think they are quite appropriate for such a large garden as this (will be). I do hope selfishly that you and others can come out again, perhaps this spring? Come out and visit any time, though - we can hit this sweet little British tea house here in St. Helens after. Happy New Year to you too!


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