Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cancer Survivor’s Garden – The Staff

            Because I had an income from my flower business, I had enough money to hire help with my garden when I couldn’t do it all myself.  The first person I hired did a reasonable job of expanding a new bed.  When I asked him to weed the white garden, he disappeared and never came back. The white bed wasn’t that bad--yet.

            I hired a young girl who liked garden work.  She couldn’t tell the difference between a flower and a weed.  She couldn’t do the heavy chores.  She wanted to be paid the same as someone who knew what they were doing.  When she didn’t show up for work, I refused to call her again.

            A landscape company sent me a flyer.  I called them.  They came out with a team of people and did a great job.  They knew the difference between garden plants and weeds.  They were fast and thorough.  The recession hit and they went out of business. 

            I tried several more people who would show up for work, maybe, if they were in the mood, and the work wasn’t too hard.

            Finally, the local garden store started contracting out garden help.  Their people show up on time.  They do heavy chores.  The workers, they send out, know the difference between weeds and common flowers.  They’ve weeded out some of my rare plants.  On the other hand, Carlos throws the hated snakes over the fence into the woods.  I will continue to hire them and keep labels on rare plants.

            Nobody I’ve hired can weed to my satisfaction.  I like to take my garden fork and loosen the top six to eight inches of soil.  I can then lift out the weeds with some chance of getting the root. 

            Alas, the staff likes to get down on the ground with a hand held cultivator and break the weeds off an inch below the surface.  The gardens look great for about two weeks then the weeds sprout from the healthy root that is still in the ground. 

            Still, the men I hire from the garden store do a great job with cutting back brush, weed-eating and hauling compost.  I have them chop the weeds out of the driveway, which is hard work.  It does look nice for a few weeks when they are done.

            It is expensive to hire help in the garden.  I am paying twenty-five dollars an hour for someone who will show up on time.  I’m told I could save money by hiring this person or that.  It saves a great deal of money when the help doesn’t come to work, but it doesn’t get the chores done, when they need to be done.

            There is one other person I might class as staff, my husband.  Most of the time I was sick, he had all he could do to work, and take care of me.  He did try to help in the garden.  He is willing to mow with the riding mower.  He cut down a bed of daffodils before they were ready to be mowed, and I lost about five hundred daffodils.  I’ve given up asking him to use the weed-eater.  He spells sudden death for perennials, yet seems afraid to cut the grass to the ground around a raised bed.  As for weeding, my husband has one method he learned as a young boy watching his father turn over the vegetable bed.  He will turn the top layer of dirt over, hiding the perennial weeds until they reorient themselves and pop through the surface again.

            Hubby can be counted on to do some routine chores.  I can occasionally get him to clean the duck yard.  He built me a new two-foot high brick bed, and laid a brick retaining wall along the driveway.  He will haul compost with much grumbling.  As garden staff, he is acceptable if I stand right beside him, which was not realistic when I was sick. 

            Hiring someone to work in the garden is just a hit and miss proposition.  Some people get lucky with a hiring a general handyman or an individual with a yard maintenance business.  My grandmother used to hire someone who kept her gardens beautiful.  She stood over him the whole time he was there and made certain the job got done right.  I am not that type of person.  When I was sick, I couldn’t stand over the staff.  I’ve had the best luck hiring the guys from the local garden store or the landscape business with a large staff.  I hope soon to be able to do more myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cancer Survivor’s Garden – The Enchanted Forest

We have a quarter acre of woods outside the deer fence that we call The Enchanted Forest.  We have never done much with it.  It is home to Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Pacific Madrone and a Pacific Dogwood. 

This whole end of our island was logged off in the nineteen twenties.  The Douglas Fir grew back way too thick.  The property really did not have an understory.  We looked out on a quarter acre of tree trunks.  When we moved in, we thinned out some of the spindliest trees.  I never got around to planting an understory because I was busy inside the deer fence. 

We finally decided to work on The Enchanted Forest.  I was sick by this time, but thought that I would surely get better soon.  We had already contracted to have some of the sickest trees and dead trees cut when my biopsy results came back.  We ignored the forest.  The tree cutter came and took down the worst of the trees but did not clean up the mess he created.  Next, we had The Three Harsh Winters.  The ice and snow brought down more limbs and a couple small trees.  The Pacific Madrone got sick, all their leaves turned black and huge sections died and fell.

While the trees were shedding heavily, the local salal grew fantastically vigorously.  The stuff was four feet tall, thick and matted.  It was also diseased.  I couldn’t use it in floral arrangements because of the nasty black spots on the leaves. 

The tree cutter left the perimeter trail cluttered.  The First Harsh Winter left the trail impassable.  By this winter we could not get more than a few feet into The Enchanted Forest.  It came to remind me of Tolkien’s Old Forest.  It would not let us enter and was ready to attack the house.  As we investigated, it became obvious that the whole forest floor was covered with crisscrossed limbs and tree trunks.  It was a fire hazard.

Our house sits on the edge of about two hundred acres of forest.  Occasionally we do dry out enough for forest fires.  We decided that as the first buffer between the forest and our neighborhood of homes, we really needed to clean up the mess. 

We called in the people who cleared when we built the house.  The poor man looked over our little quarter acre. Being experienced with the local forests, he gave us a bid based on hauling off four huge truck-loads of debris.  Folks, he hauled ten huge loads of branches and salal out of that quarter acre.  He finally came back with his huge blade and smoothed the rough ground into a level park.  When I look out on my beautiful parkland and watch the shadows of the trees on the ground, I feel as if the restoration of my garden has begun.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cancer Survivor’s Garden – What Died

The most important part of the What-Died topic is that I survived, which means my garden will survive.  While I was sick, it just so happened that we had three unusually harsh winters in a row.  The harsh winters, combined with neglect, decimated parts of my garden.

What-Died includes the whole east border.  First of all the invaders took out some young shrubs including some viburnums, and a mock orange.  I had brunnera and hostas in a shady area that was eaten by ferns and trailing blackberry.  Even about half of the daffodils died out. 

The biggest tragedy in the east border was the eucalyptus tree.  Plant adventurer and gardener extraordinaire Dan Hinkley tells us that the harsh winters killed twenty-six eucalyptus at Windcliff.  There is a difference between his garden and mine.  His garden has two healthy men to tend to things such as dead trees.  They removed their dead eucalyptus.  My tree still stands barren and broken but not alone.

I really need to write a tragic love story about my eucalyptus and acacia.  I planted a supposedly hardy acacia beside my eucalyptus.  It was damaged in the first hard winter.  Both plants died to the ground in the second winter and they died completely the third winter. 

I am convinced that the eucalyptus and acacia had a special relationship.  The acacia was planted on the southwest side of the eucalyptus in order for it to receive full sun. That plant grew toward the shaded northeast and the eucalyptus.  The eucalyptus could be forgiven for growing southwest toward full sun, but it was thickest and healthiest where its branches mingled with the acacia.  I am certain there was something about those two that caused the acacia to grow away from the sun.  They died a tragic, frozen, icy death and stand together in my garden with their branches still touching, lovers in death as well as life.

Onward through the east border, we come to the perimeter, walking trail.  This trail followed the fence line around the perimeter of my property.  Most of the trail meandered through Douglas Fir woods.   It was a peaceful place to walk.  My border gardens shielded the path from the house.  The path was lined with ferns, salal, huckleberry, and elderberries.  The sun was never too hot.  Alas, the blackberries invaded while my back was turned.  The native plants grew into the open trail and choked out any sign of a path.  My beautiful, peaceful trail is gone.

Leaving the east border and walking trail, we enter the sunken garden.  This is the lowest place on the property.  This area is open to the south so it gets good sunlight. It warms up the earliest of any area in my garden in the spring.  It is sheltered from the wind.  I planted daffodils to come on early in the sunken garden.  I made a bed for roses, dahlias and lilies on the south-facing slope of the sunken garden.  The daffodils fell to the riding mower when hubby didn’t realize they should not be cut down yet.  The dahlias didn’t get dug in the fall so they froze in our third hard winter.  The blackberries and wisteria have tried to choke out the roses.  Through this tangled mess the lilies grow six feet tall and bloom--filling the whole sunken garden with their fragrance.

I could sing a long mournful song about the perennials that didn’t make it, monarda, penstemen, holly hock and phlox, Jacobs ladder, verbena,  astilbe, and sage, clematis, and salvia .

I lost more than my perennials and flowers.  One of the asparagus beds suffered a severe dandelion attack.  The dandelions have crowded out and choked the asparagus.  Those crowns that didn’t get choked out died when we disturbed them repeatedly trying to get the dandelion out of their bed.

This tale of death and destruction could end on a sad note for all my lost darlings.  I am at heart a gardener.  I will go out and buy new things I haven’t tried before and pop them into all the empty places in my garden.  I am scouring friends’ gardens for just a few starts here and there.  I am not quite ready to remove eucalyptus and acacia just yet. They will remain as they were for a few years yet.