Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lay of the land

It is my way to go a bit slowly to start; we have only been in the house since the middle of Feb 2008, which as of today is 5.5 months. I'm starting to see what grows where, when things bloom, how long the blooms last, what I like, what I don't like, etc. There is a difference between marginal gardening and indigenous gardening; I tend toward both, but we are starting to add some ornamental flowers in the back of the house at random.

I also choose to say that nothing is a weed; there are things I prefer and things I don't, that grow naturally. Many of these things have more to do with placement than existence. Things grow here such that making a marginal garden is more like taking a marble slab and chiseling away the parts I don't want, than like adding things I do want.

For instance, there is a lot of area with reddish heather with small pink flowers, that blends to a greenish tone and fades into moss or fern areas. This is fantastic and unusual ground cover; I love it but I need it in some different places. The trick is, maybe it just never made it over to grow in the areas that I want it in, but maybe it didn't grow there because the light is too dark/bright or the soil is a little wrong in those areas. I don't know. I can only try. There is some of that stuff growing a bit where I do want it; I think if I start to clear a space around it and give it some water and tend to it, it will spread. I'm thinking of digging some up and moving it where I want as well.

The marginal garden needs design and large areas of texture, using things that don't need a lot of tending, to be successful at being marginal. I also have to really like it there, or it doesn't qualify as a garden. So, I am going slow and learning what I have here, and to become conversant with the lay of the land.


We have a neighbor who has about 120 sheep, which we brought over to graze some of our pasture areas. They kept escaping his electric fence (and our fence), and in a couple of areas they ate some things I now kind of wish they hadn't. Oh well. It was quite an experience herding 120 sheep down the road to our place, I really loved it. It was wonderful seeing 120 little fluff clouds flitting around the pasture BAAHING away, it was really somehow very comforting.


For all of the hubris about the pacific northwest and its rain, the summer has had quite a stretch of sun. Yesterday we got clouds and rain, and the fragrance and color of the place revived. There was the woody forest smell combined with the scent of the great abundance of wildflowers mixed. Glorious.

Friday, July 18, 2008

salmon berries

I discovered that we have tons of salmon berries along the edge of our lawn, going up to the start of the path up the mountain. I thought they were some kind of wild raspberry, but it turns out that they are salmon berries. They really don't have thorns, but they are amazingly prolific. To tell the truth, I haven't seen any blackberries, it's all salmon berries. As far as the salmon berries, there are small green ones just growing, small yellow ones, large yellow to orange ones, red ones, and dark red to almost blackish ones. I thought at first that the yellow ones weren't ripe and ready to eat yet, but it turns out that the fully formed yellow ones are delicious, especially the large ones. The picture is from wikipedia; I'll take some photos of these soon and post a real picture if I happen to get around to it. The light red or orangish ones are fantastic. If you get them too early they are too tart. I went out with Josh, my 7 year old, and we picked a bunch of them and ate them with vanilla ice cream, and THAT is living!

This all begs the question: these are just growing there without any help from me, and I like them there. What exactly is the place of thinking of something as a 'garden'? Is it only right to call it that if I happen to cultivate it and work on it myself? A lot of the stuff that is growing naturally is growing the way I like it anyway; I love the daisies and foxgloves, the elderberries, the trees, the small trees growing out of stumps, etc. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Marginal Gardening

I have just moved into a new 10 acre property in the foothills of the northern cascades in Washington state just south of British Columbia, near a small town called Sumas.

It is a place that demands poetry; I was out walking last night and was very overwhelmed with very deep kind of inexplicable joy at the splendor of this place. The hemlocks look like they are glowing from the spring growth; the Douglas firs are magnificent in silhouette against the orange dusk, and the wild explosion of huge daisies is punctuated by foxgloves which have strings of bells all the way up. Most of these are magenta, but there are a few which are pink and I have found a few which are pure white. There are hundreds of maples and birch, along with red cedars and a few spruces. My favorite is a young but growing grand fir in our lawn, probably 40 or 50 ft tall. Mountains surge across the horizon behind these trees and some still have snow dusted across the top. The birds are an amazing symphony in the early morning. There is a maple-like vine that is growing up the trunk of a towering cottonwood which has brilliant red winglike seeds sprouting from it, all over in a great web. When it is clear like today, it is beautiful, but when it is hazy and foggy there is a special and mysterious feeling; the mountains and distant trees become vague but sharp silhouettes against the white mist and the clouds cling to the closer hills. People say they long for the sunshine but I love it all, I really do. I regret that it took me so long to arrive here.

In my quest to find my right relationship with this very hallowed place, I chanced upon a book by Geoffrey Dutton called 'Some branch against the sky'. He practices what he calls marginal gardening, which means from my reading, gardening by setting environments in motion with plantings and then pretty much letting them take their course without much intervention. It isn't so much about indigenous planting as it is about minimal intervention.

Luckily for you, my reader, I know absolutely nothing. I am barely starting to learn the trees and flowers and grasses that grow here, so you can learn with me and help me out with this if you know something. So this is a blog about my experiences and the poetry that my relationship with this land births.