gardening

Befriending Blue Jays

We’ve had blue jays as visitors to our yard for years, but this year is unique. I think one of last year’s fledgling jays picked our yard for his home. Specifically, the pair of jays nested in this pine tree right next to our porch.

This has led to our cats watching out the front windows and the blue jays watching back.

So our house is filled with the sounds of jays yelling at cats while cats chitter at the jays. Even when neither is making noise they still keep an eye on each other.

It is hours of solid cat entertainment.

The jays are less concerned about humans. In fact they seem calmer if a human is in view along with the cats, as if they know that the humans will control the cats. However on the day when I was photographing flowers near the nesting tree, the jays expressed loud opinions.

They kept a close watch on me to make sure I wasn’t going to find their nest.

However it is also possible that the yelling was less about the nest and more because they wanted me to go get some peanuts for them. So I did that too.

Blue Jays are noisy, pushy, bossy birds. I like them and am happy to befriend this pair. Sometime in the next few weeks their babies will be ready to fly and then they’ll stop guarding my front porch so closely. I will be glad to have the yelling and chittering be a little less constant, but I also hope they still come and visit.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

Making a Garden Bed in Rocky Ground

Invariably finishing one project leads to the next project. Finishing my patio left me sitting and staring at two patches of dirt next to the patio which needed to be turned into something not ugly. Running drip irrigation and planting green things seemed the prettiest option, so I began digging again. Or chiseling might be a more appropriate option.

There is a reason that during more agricultural eras Orem was a place of many orchards instead of fields. The ground here is rocks and clay. The clay is hardened to almost concrete levels of hardness, particularly when dry. In order to turn rocky clay into plantable dirt, I have to sift out the rocks. I constructed a sifter using wire mesh, a frame, and a wheelbarrow. My sifter needs repair as the mesh has pulled loose from the frame, but I’m still making it work for now.

I then scrape and shovel to pile dirt and rocks onto the sifter.

You can see that some of the dirt immediately falls through the holes into the wheelbarrow. The rest I stir around with my shovel. As I stir the dirt falls through and the rocks stay on top of the mesh. Eventually all I have left to stir are rocks. Lots of rocks of all sizes.

I pick out the biggest and prettiest rocks to use for decorative purposes later. The rest get dumped into a bucket to be hauled away. This leaves nice crumbly dirt in the wheelbarrow. Note that the amount of rocks and the amount of dirt are roughly equal.

The rocks get hauled over to a corner of the yard where I put all the spare dirt from digging the patio. That pile is flanked on one side with spare un-sifted sand, and now on the other side I’m building a pile of rocks and gravel. Theoretically these things might be useful resources for a future project. If I ever get around to building raised garden beds anywhere.

For now I just have to keep sifting dirt until I’ve scraped away enough that I can reasonably plant growing things in the soft dirt I lay into the hole.

My Pandemic Patio

Near the end of June I was in dire need of a project. I needed something physical to do which didn’t require much thinking. So I decided it was time to tackle my long-intended patio project. Back in 2014 we demolished a rotting deck, leaving a dirt patch.

I decided to tackle the project in pieces. Dig out a section, lay pavers, dig the next section, etc. Doing the project this way had some benefits in spreading out the cost of supplies. It also let us see finished sections much sooner than we otherwise would have, which was important encouragement and motivation to continue. I don’t regret our process even though I can see how construction would be simplified by digging everything first then laying each layer all at once. Instead we muddled our way forward, finding tree roots, and fixing leaky sprinkler pipes as we went.

They layers are: fairly level dirt, landscape fabric, gravel, sand, pavers.

We used a level when laying the pavers so we could push around the gravel and sand to make sure each paver was set correctly. I’m certain we would have gotten a more even result by leveling each layer completely and tamping it down before adding the next layer.

In fact, toward the end I had to pull up pavers and re-level because I discovered that a whole corner of the patio had developed a slant. The end result still has un-eveness and a slight dip in the middle.

The final step was sweeping polymer sand into the cracks between the pavers. You sweep the sand on dry and then wet it down so that the polymers bond and set into a mortar.

So now our patio is set into place and ready for use. I just need to save up enough money for some patio furniture. The thing I’d really love is a fire pit table that runs on propane. It’ll probably have to wait for another year though. I’m really grateful I had this project. I’m glad to have an outdoor space where I can invite a friend for a socially distanced visit. And hopefully in the future I can gather friends in a group. The patio will outlive the pandemic, and that is reassuring.

A Tour of House Projects in Progress

After last summer’s detour into flood damage repair, this year I’m back to working on the house projects I want to get done. Because of financial and time constraints, the projects move slowly, however the life shifts around pandemic have me needing hands-busy-not-too-thinky tasks. Home improvement fills that need nicely. Progress has been made.

The largest and most ongoing project is our Long Slow Remodel of our kitchen. The current goal is to get rid of that wall in the middle before November launches the holiday season.

The next step is to waiting on flooring to arrive. I have to tear out flooring in front of this wall, lay new flooring, and then we can install a pantry wall with a secondary sink. (The plumbing for the sink was installed spring of 2019.) We’ll live with a patch of mis-matched flooring while we take a bunch of other steps like new counter tops, wall removal, re-wiring the location of the fridge, etc.

I already have the cabinets which will go on the pantry wall. They’re waiting out in my garage.

We had paused the kitchen remodel because purchasing flooring is a big spend and I was worried about finances. But we think that re-configuring our kitchen to match the way that our brains work will help Howard in his quest to improve his health. So we’re moving forward. During the pause I was in need of projects, and my son was also in need of things to do, so we decided to put a patio in the dirt patch that used to be under our deck that we had to demolish because it had rotted. (Deck demolishing Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Here is what the patch looked like in 2014 after we removed the deck:

This is how the dirt patch spent most of the intervening years: Covered in leaf piles and various other detritus.

This is the current state of the dirt patch, which is well on its way to becoming a patio. We used the wheelbarrow to haul excavated dirt to a large (and growing larger) pile of dirt in the corner of the yard. I’m thinking we’ll use some of it to fill raised garden beds. Hopefully we’ll do that faster than the six years it took us to move from dirt patch to patio. The pile of sand on the tarp was salvaged from an old sandbox which we disassembled in early spring of 2019. We’re using it in the laying of pavers, but the size of the pile suggests that we’ll have some left over for other projects later. Process is dig, remove tree roots, level dirt, lay landscape cloth, layer gravel, layer sand, place each paver carefully using a level. At the end I’ll use polymeric sand to seal everything into place.

While hauling dirt to our big pile, I noticed that one of our pine trees had been so overtaken by wisteria vines that it was in danger of dying. I cut the vines to give the tree a chance. Unfortunately that created this situation:

Instead of having a wall of green, there is a wall of dead. Dried, crispy dead just waiting for a spark to turn the whole mess into a massive torch. Particularly since the underside of all that dead wisteria looks like this:

So in between digging and laying pavers, I’m taking time to cut back and remove all of the dead from this tree. I’m also raking up a decade of dead pine needles and wisteria leaves from the ground. I’ll probably need a young, nimble person to get on a ladder or climb the tree to help me get some of the dead vines removed. Bit by bit it is getting less hazardous.

Not a hazard, but definitely an eyesore is this weedy patch which flanks the other side of my small deck. It used to be raised garden beds framed by railroad ties. Then we realized that all the terrible chemicals from the railroad ties would leach into the soil, and be taken into the food plants. We pulled the railroad ties, which left a couple of mounds. Then life got busy and the mounds went to weeds. Since there were mounds, we couldn’t just mow them. So in order to get this spot under control we need to clear the weeds and level the ground, or reinstall garden beds. I’m considering making this spot into a patio too or we could return it to being lawn, which is what it was before very-young me decided to make it raised garden beds. This project is on the list, but I doubt we’ll get to it this year.

Last, but not least urgent, are the front flower beds which have reached their usual state of July disarray. Weeds need to be pulled, plants need to be cut back. I need to fertilize to give all of it a chance of being pretty again in the fall and next spring.

Owning a house is a lot of work if you want to keep the house in good condition. I’ve lived in this house and tended to it for over twenty years now. Some of my current projects are me correcting my own past errors (railroad garden beds,) some are me fighting the natural entropy of living things trying to take over (tree rescue, weeds,) and some are me correcting long-standing problems (removing that wall in the kitchen.) It is a good thing I like having projects.

Blooming

My garden of spring bulbs is exceptionally beautiful this year.

I keep wandering outside to just walk along the bed and admire them. The thing is, I haven’t planted any bulbs for years. Common gardening practice is to plant bulbs in the fall, tear them out in the spring, plant annuals for the summer, then tear them out in the fall to plant bulbs for next spring. The reasoning behind this is that tulip bulbs don’t thrive year to year. If you leave them in the ground you get a giant tulip the first year, a smaller one the following year, and by the third year you may not get a tulip at all, just leaves.

Yet here in my garden, my tulips are multiplying. In this spot I planted three bulbs several years ago.

The truth is, I don’t have the patience to rip everything out twice per year. I need my plants to thrive with only sporadic attention from me. I also know that I’m far more likely to give that attention in the spring when I’m craving flowers and green things after the winter, rather than in fall when I’ve spent all summer feeling guilty about the gardening I meant to do, but didn’t. So in the spring, I buy granulated bulb food. I scatter it across the garden beds when the bulbs first begin coming up, which encourages them to grow large. Then I scatter it again as the blooms are fading so that the bulbs have extra nutrition as they’re stocking away energy for the next year. The only other thing I do with regularity is make sure the bulbs get water in the spring even before the sprinkler system is turned on.

I’ve been following this process for about three years now, and all my spring bulbs are thriving. But it took a while for that to happen. This is the thing about bulbs, you hide them in the ground months before you see anything that looks like growth. Then they bloom and are gone. But if I feed them, they hide away for an entire year to re-emerge again.

This spring my children are also blooming. It has been a long series of seasons full of dormancy, hiding, and darkness. Yet this year, all of the quiet tending and feeding has given them the resources they need to roll out green leaves and even a few tentative blooms. I know that the future may hold more struggles, but the growth they are doing now gives them strength to grow even more.

To be a gardener is to feed, weed, and tend with no guarantee that the plant will thrive. I can work to create optimal conditions for my plants, but it is their own internal process that drive the growth. Parenting teens and young adults is much the same. I’ve done a lot of throwing nutrients around and then waiting. Waiting can be hard and discouraging, but in spring I am reminded that many things grow again after looking dead for a season or two.

Replacing a Windowsill

My 16 year old has developed an interest in plants. She is truly enjoying watering green things and watching them grow. The one problem she has is that there is only so much space on her windowsill and desk.

There might also be a desk clutter problem, but the widow sill is only four inches wide and thus can only accommodate a few plants. And if you take a closer look at the sill, it is plastic.

I’m fairly confident that the original builder of this house was going for inexpensive rather than durable or beautiful. The plastic has yellowed, stained, warped, and cracked. I decided to replace it with hard wood. So I spent a week sanding and staining a board. total cost for the board and stain $15. I picked a glossy stain so the finished board would easily stand up to water spillage from plants. Once my board was ready, I removed the plastic widow sill. And I discovered Styrofoam glued to the window framing.
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I was able to easily pry up the Styrofoam, except for spots where the glue was so bonded to the wood beneath it might as well have been cement.

But the glue spots were fairly flat, so I could just install the new sill on top of them. And I did.

There are now ten inches of space on which she can arrange plants and other decorative items. We’ve moved the desk back into place (much cleaner now.) The plants will get to move into their new home as soon as the caulk dries. And now a small corner of our house is prettier than it was before.

Garden Walk

My neighbor invited me to run away from responsibility for a few hours and join her for a wander through lovely gardens. I know better than to say no to that.
Archway

So we wandered paths and found hidden nooks where we could sit and visit.
The Bench

The garden is having a tulip festival, so there were many other people at the gardens with us, but that didn’t change the beauty of the flowers. And I managed to keep them out of most of my photographs, thus giving the illusion of a solo walk through beauty.
Stream side

Following the stream led us to the Monet pond. The waterlilies aren’t blooming yet, but the koi were abundant and beautiful.
Koi

Many of the flowers were familiar to me, even if I didn’t know the particular variety. There were tulips everywhere, of course.
Tulips skyward

Other flowers I’d never seen before, like this plant which was as large as my head, and seems to be related to a cabbage.
Cabbage flower

I think that the tulips I loved best were these ones, which were like sunlight in flower form, particularly when planted en masse.
Tulips bright cropped

As we were wending our way to the exit we were delighted to discover a flight of umbrellas hanging from the trees.
Umbrellas 1

If you’d told me before I saw them that a grouping of umbrellas could make me think thoughts of taking joyful flight, I would have had a hard time picturing it.
Umbrellas 2

I came home with a heart filled with happiness, a camera filled with pictures, and my head filled with hours of visiting with my friend. Sometimes running away is a beautiful thing.
Tulip 1

Flowers and Change

Tulip pink and yellow I’ve had tulips for as long as I’ve owned this house (18 years and counting). There was an abundance of them in the front flowerbed the first spring after I moved in. The thing with tulips is that most varieties of them will only come back for a few years before dying out. There are a few exceptions, mostly in bright yellow and solid red. Over the years I’ve dug up beds, redistributed tulip bulbs, bought new bulbs, and generally been a disturber of the earth. Some years I tend my flowers. Other years only the fittest will survive the incursion of weeds and neglect. Yet I’ve always had yellow tulips because they persistently grow and spread. One patch will die out, but another will thrive. In my backyard, yellow tulips are the only ones I have because I’ve not taken time to re-plant other colors. Except this spring I looked out my back window and saw a surprise. Pink tulips in my backyard flower beds. There are three of them in three different places and I don’t know how they got there. I’ve never seen pink in the back garden before. I know I didn’t do any planting last fall.

My mind spins on the puzzle as I stand at the window. I ruminate on spontaneous hybridization (happening identically in three locations) or an accidental scattering of seeds. I assume that tulips can grow from seeds though bulbs work much better. Then I stop myself. This is not a problem that needs a solution. I don’t need to know how they got there, I can just enjoy the fact that they are. tulip apricot and sky This is one of the things I love about seeing my garden year after year. It always changes. There is always some surprise or a new manifestation. This trio of apricot-colored tulips used to be giant and in classic tulip shape. Yet this year they are small and airy. It probably means that in another year or so they’ll vanish as tulip varieties so often do. Then I’ll plant some other tulip in that spot, or perhaps the lilies will take over. Each spring my flowerbeds change. They are different than the year before.

In fact the beds change not just year to year, but day to day. I’ve been noticing this as I spend five or ten minutes wandering outside with my camera in hand. I’m looking for things to photograph for my April photo a day that I’m posting on twitter. Some of the flowers I photographed only a week ago have lost their petals and are done for the year. Others have shown up where I didn’t expect a flower at all. And then there is the slow watching of plants and flowers developing. This peony won’t bloom until late May or June, but the buds are beginning to grow now. They’ve grow in just the past week.
Peony comparison 1 web

I’m always a little sad when I see the flowers begin to lose their petals. The tulips drop theirs fairly dramatically. One day flower, next day just a stem. For today the palm-sized petals are still lovely even on the ground. I know the tulips will be back again next year and they need to make way for the summer flowers which are just beginning to shoot up. Fallen petal 1 I wish that the serendipity of unexpected beauty were as easy to see as in my garden. I wish that emotional growth and development in my children were as simple to spot and photograph as the buds of my flowers. I wish that life made it easier to see that sad things sometimes have to happen because without them future happiness can’t be. I wish these things, but for now I’ll walk my flower beds and feel that the sorts of things I see there are happening in other parts of my life as well. Life is full of beautiful growth, but I won’t see it unless I stop and pay attention.

The Beginning of April

TulipIn April the fact of spring becomes obvious. This makes my heart happy. Yet I have a habit of being tangled up inside my own head and failing to notice the world around me. This is particularly true since I don’t have to leave my house to go to work. There was one year where I looked up at the beginning of May and realized that I had completely missed daffodil and tulip season. This year I plan to pay attention. The world is full of small beautiful things that exist whether or not I take time to see them, but my life is enriched when I take time to notice. And some of them do get more beautiful for my attention. The flowers in my gardens grow stronger, bigger, more beautiful when I take time to pull weeds and scatter fertilizer.

02 Forget-me-not
I took some time to do that yesterday. I also planted some summer bulbs that are a gift to myself in June when they bloom. I also uncovered small gifts that I planted for myself some months prior, like this little forget-me-not. I love forget-me-nots. They remind me of playing with a childhood friend. We weren’t allowed to touch his mother’s roses, but we could pick as many of the tiny blue flowers as we wanted. Each plant only lives for about two years. Once the plant expends all its energy into flowers, the plant itself dies, but from among the hundreds of seeds, new plants will sprout, spreading tiny blue loveliness for next year.

03 Apricot blossom
The arrival of April reminds me that I was supposed to prune trees and grape vines in early March. Hopefully I’ll get out there during this next week while my kids are on Spring Break. I may even declare a yard work day and get the kids to help me. The abundance of blossoms on my apricot tree are a testament to the value of pruning. Two years ago the tree was weak and straggly. It had over-produced fruit for two years in a row. I pruned it back vigorously last spring, cutting off all the branches which might have borne fruit. This forced the tree to focus on leaves, which feed the tree, rather than on fruit, which takes energy from the tree and gives it to the possibility of future trees rather than feeding the tree it came from. The tree grew strong again, and this spring it is covered in blossoms, which are beautiful to see. As soon as the blooms fade, I’ll trim the tree again. I’ll not trim off all the fruit, but I’ll thin it out so that the tree can supply some fruit, but still have energy for more leaves. There is probably a lesson for me in self management as I consider managing this tree.

This April, in an effort to nourish myself and to share beauty, I plan to be posting a photo a day over on my twitter feed. They may all be plants and flowers from my garden. Or they may be something else that catches my eye. The only rules I’m attempting to abide by, are post at least one per day, and only post pictures that bring me happiness. You’re welcome to follow along.