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Sea, prairie, mountains: Whirlwind 1300 km road trip, Part IV

Sunday morning came too soon and I was still tired. Not the best way to start the day, so I decided to take it easy and to just hang out at my mom’s house until it was time to leave at 1 p.m. As Jane Austen said, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” As a result, we all had time to visit in an unhurried manner. One of my brothers was mowing the lawn when I got up, so I got to see him, and my other brother called. Everyone’s tired the day after a big family wedding! So much goes into preparation, anticipation and, for some, travel. It was nice to just relax before we left. My mom is an ace gardener and I regret not living closer, in part, so I could learn from her. It was fun walking around, just seeing what she was growing. The gourd plant was going strong and it got plenty of sun alongside the house. Her pepper plants were also doing well. I don’t have much luck with peppers here in Southwest British Columbia. Others here might but I don’t get enough direct sunshine. Her back yard was a riot of color and, while she wasn’t very satisfied with it, I thought it looked great. The mountain ash tree was heavily laden with  berries. Interestingly,  all the mountain ash I saw during our road trip was drooping from the heavy weight of a bumper crop. It reminded me of the drunken birds I saw once in Missoula, Montana. They were intoxicated from eating fermented mountain ash berries. Birds were stumbling around in the snow and we thought something was seriously wrong until our neighbor told us they were simply drunk. Bird booze! Inside the house, Mark was packing us a good, healthy lunch. It was warming up and was going to be a scorcher of a day. We we decided to take the freeway back to Canada to save time and that meant we were going to be driving through quite desertous areas. Years and years ago, I used to get heat stroke about the time we reached Moses Lake. Thank God for air conditioning!

It felt peculiar staying so little time, but it was a whirlwind trip, so we said our goodbyes and headed to the freeway. Soon we were driving east on Interstate-90, the longest  highway in the United States, running from Boston, Massachusetts, to Seattle, Washington. We would only be covering a short length, cutting north to Interstate 5, which parallels the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Canada. That was many miles in the distance, though. To the west of Spokane, the air was hazy. When choosing this route, I had forgotten about the fires that had torn through the areas we would be passing through. The vegetation was so dry, it looked like tinder. That dangerous. Miles away, it was still hazy when we dropped down to the Columbia River. I love descending the plateau to the river, a steep grade with incredible vistas. Never tire of it! Just over the bridge, we stopped to stretch our legs at the rest area near Vantage. I have never  seen giant wind turbines so close. The blades were not spinning, which made them even seem more unearthly.  The linearity of the base and blades, along with the smoothness of the white metal contrasted well with the desert. It looks like a creature looming over a ridge in the photo at the right. From here, we’d gradually start rising in elevation till we reached the apex of Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Range. The mountains are the dividing line between east and west in Canada and down through the States. Terrain to the east is uniformly dry and wet. We hadn’t reached the top yet, though. Soon, we were driving right through the fire zone. We had yet to reach Cle Elum, where fire claimed 61 houses, burned 3000 acres, and required 1000 firefighters. We were driving next to another burn area near Kittitas. The fire had not jumped the freeway, but it got very close. We passed miles and miles of burned ridgeline. The area is little more than a wind tunnel! Driving by this burned area made me remember that real estate development and common sense have been moving in opposite directions for some time. In the 1980s and 1990s, building began to take place on sites that never would have been considered safe before. In a fire zone? On a barrier island in a hurricane zone? Below the 100-year flood mark on a river? Newcomers are often unfamiliar with the areas into which they’re move and don’t know about the hazards. No one tells them and they often haven’t researched it on their own. Of course, it does come down to what is allowed to be built where. Here’s a good article on the subject about these burn areas: “Fire-prone areas: to build or not to build,” by the Seattle Times. (No burn policies, too, but that’s a different story.) After Cle Elum, we started to climb. The terrain changed and soon we were in the mountains. The approach and decline from Snoqualmie Pass is so gradual, it feels like Sunday driving, but at a certain point, you’re over the top and have entered the temperate rain forest, similar to the zone in which we live. We’ve just dropped from mountains to sea level and our ears have popped. Several times. Cutting north on Interstate 5, we bypass Seattle, but not city. Soon the traffic thins out, as we enter the corridor north of Everett. We’ve come full circle because this is where we cut east when the journey began, two Fridays ago. I try to catch sight of Mount Baker, but the sun is going down and when I do see it, the light quality is poor. I just savor it with no camera lens between me and it. We reach the border. Short lineups, so only a half-hour wait, which was great. It was cloudy but not rainy and we barreled home through White Rock and over the exhilarating Alex Fraser Bridge, the second longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. We were thinking of our cat Rosie, who our friends had cared for in our absence. New Westminster shot by, then Burnaby and Coquitlam. Soon we were in Port Moody. On Jane Street. Home sweet home….

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The art of container gardening in clay pots

 

“The best plants come with a story.”  —Maria Rodale

When I open the door of our greenhouse, the strong scent of tomato leaves and basil washes over me. I just stand there, because it is such a wonderful experience. The greenhouse is a godsend, since it has only recently warmed up here in Metro Vancouver. Called a season extender, it isn’t meant for year-round use, but that’s just fine. All I want is a tomato, a vine ripened tomato! I’ll get my wish….

Our cottage is perched on a hill covered with understory in the form of bushes, thimbleberry and salmonberry. We don’t have a yard, per se, so I rely on container gardening. We have a bed on either side of the greenhouse, a rose and hydrangea ‘butterfly’ garden, and a raised bed for vegetables. I am concentrating on containers, operating on the assumption that we still have a little summer left.

Everyone likes a bargain, especially if it’s a true bargain, not just an enticement leading to an impulse buy. Well, last week, I came across an amazing deal. We were at the  hardware store and I decided to check out the garden store. Good move because I struck gold, coming home with 28 perennials for which I paid only $18 Canadian! After I got home, I immediately started keying them out in a little notebook: shade/sunny, drought resistant, slug magnets/slug resistant, height/width, color/blooming period. I have since been creating diagrams, working with combinations which will allow for blooming from spring to fall in specific beds and containers. Fun!

Because I am also working with terra-cotta pots, the unglazed ones will have to be stored in the shed over the winter to prevent breakage from freezing and thawing cycles. But, I’ve learned that if I keep the glazed ones against the north and west sides of the house, they have enough protection. We also have some large, concrete Italianate planters and I will be planting some of these new perennials in them, too. In fact, so much can be done with container gardening these days, we need little else. Combining vegetables, flowers, and herbs in the same pot is the perfect opportunity to practice companion gardening with magnificent results. Barely beyond the novice gardener stage, I still have the fervor of the neophyte. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than tending my garden. So restful and meditative. And plunging your hands into the dirt is so grounding! Nurture the plants and they nurture you…. I really like the way mainstream gardening is evolving, too. The simple window box has morphed into creations unheard of in our grandmother’s grandmother’s day. The current wave of urban agriculture and urban horticulture are gaining steam, transforming commonplace plots and yards into productive spaces, green spaces and areas of beauty. Outdoor ‘rooms’ are creating separate niches, each with a focus, a purpose and a feel. I very much like the idea of rooms and will be working to achieve such areas. It might take a year of two to get what I want worked out and established, but I’ll know when it’s complete. Another area to investigate is vertical gardening. Because of this hilly plot of land, I believe vertical is the way for me to go next and it could be the perfect backdrop, with beds or containers in the foreground. For instance, I’m going to start investigating twig trellises and panels. I would like to make a low one that will span about 10 feet. Not exactly a fence, but a visual divider about two feet high that will allow the viewer to focus on the plants in the bed: yarrow, speedwell, beebalm, red twig dogwood… Reds to attract bees and butterflies, scents that’re slug-proof. Wish me luck! Happy days are ahead of us with all of our gardening efforts.

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New life for your cracked pottery

I heard the bowl break before I realized what happened. I was lifting a tile to put it up on a shelf; it slipped out of my fingers and crashed in the sink, smashing a bowl (no damage to the tile). Deb made that bowl and it was the one I liked the best. Darn. When it happened, I thought @#&%?!! I considered gluing it back together but thought ‘What can I do with a glued bowl?” A mug can be a pencil jar, but a bowl? Serendipity intervened today in the form of a lovely idea, however. I can still enjoy Deb’s bowl in a new incarnation. My neighbor told me about Maria’s yard a few years ago and I was reminded today. Maria, who has a ceramic studio in her garage, has lovely flower gardens into which she has placed broken and chipped pottery. They aren’t placed haphazardly…she’s put thought into the placement. So, Deb’s bowl will be reborn as yard art. Since I saw Maria’s pottery yard art, I’ve seen other examples. Sometimes I’ll find a yard that has a pretty tea cup placed in the ground at an angle. In some yards it stands alone, in others, someone’s placed a little plant inside and let it spread beyond the cup as ground cover. A charming idea, if done right. I can think of pieces I wish I’d kept so I could’ve used them this way… So, broken pottery can be decorative, can be used as plant pots, or, as shown in the photo below, they can be used for borders. Such a lovely idea…reminiscent of an English country garden.

Chipped plate border. Source: MJIphotos on Flickr

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Tilted Clay Pot Garden

We had a rare bit of sun today, so I sped outside and cleared pots and beds in preparation for planting. After cleaning up some perennials and amending the soil in the raised bed, I planted some early red potatoes, Norlands. Will have to do more tomorrow while the weather’s clear. That’s the thing about living in a temperate rain forest…. We live in cottage on a hill and 90% of our land is in its natural state, understory…mainly salmonberry bushes, ferns, and trees. I have a small growing area and no lawn, so I rely on containers quite a bit. If you are also short on gardening space, consider going vertical with a tilted clay pot garden, also known as a tipsy garden. This clever way of creating a garden with a small footprint is made of angled flower pots. Today, I decided I am going to be making one and am passing on the directions in case you’d like one, too. Here’s a lovely example of a finished tipsy garden. I’ll post a photo of mine later in the season.

Before you begin,  choose where you want your tilted garden to be located. Determine the amount of sunlight you will need and plan accordingly. To make your garden here are the materials you’ll need:

  • Four terra-cotta pots (same size or graduated)
  • Potting soil
  • 65″ length of rebar
  • Mallet or hammer
  • Plants

Your piece of rebar must be long enough to drive it into the ground two feet with plenty left over to thread through the pots. So, the number of pots you need will be determined by the length of rebar. Take a good look at this photo before you begin.

  • Place your pots in order according to size, if graduated.
  • Drive rebar into the ground with hammer or mallet.
  • Thread each pot onto the rebar through the hole in the bottom of each pot.
  • Except for the bottom one, which remains upright, tilt the pots in opposite directions, to distribute weight, resting the bottom of each on the pot edge below it.
  • Fill with moistened soil, starting with the bottom pot, leaving an inch and a half space at the top of each pot.
  • Tamp down soil.
  • Plant and fertilize with your choice of flowers, strawberries, container veggies, herbs, or succulents.

Note: If you live in an area with freezing winters, you will have to dismantle and store the pots each year to prevent cracking. The alternative is to used pots that are glazed inside and out. Good luck!

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