Join Thor and me — and a rotating crew of critters, domestic and wild — as we clear invasive weeds and replant Pacific Northwest native species in our creekside ravine.
Last week (blog post 6/2/18), Thor, Bear dog, and I hiked a nearby ridge trail to scout out native ground-cover plants to inspire our refurbishing of our “wild zone” next to Squalicum Creek. Years ago, when I returned from southern Chile and bought a little 1920s bungalow back in my hometown of Bellingham, WA, the main attraction was this very long lot. Half of it was an overgrown jungle in the creek ravine. For decades, people had thrown garbage over the bank, and such treasures as an antique car axle, rusted barrels, and lots of cans and bottles were covered with a dense mat of blackberry, ivy, morning-glory, and buttercups, among other nuisances. It literally required a machete to get through it all to the creek. A lot of sweat-equity went into clearing out the brambles and starting to replant native species such as the very useful sword ferns (above) to stabilize the bank. I worked as a Stream Steward with our local Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA), and they assisted with planting more native plants. This was part of a larger community effort to restore our damaged streams (Squalicum, unfortunately, gets a lot of polluted runoff from the shopping mall parking lots) and protect the wildlife corridor.
Life, in the form of teaching creative writing at Western Washington University, while also editing for book authors and working on my own writing, intervened in my gardening plans. The ravine slowly reverted to a jungle, albeit with a healthier proportion of native plants such as the tall Indian Plum bushes that blocked much of the view from our elvish “flet”:
(As you see above, I did plant a couple of rhododendron bushes for color, which were given to me by a friend redoing her yard. Since there are native rhododendrons in our regional rain forests, I figured these were close enough.) Life got even busier with the arrival of Thor and his beloved golden retriever Worf, and now our Bear dog, as we did more hiking and traveling, and put an addition on the house. Now, with Professor Thor retiring from his 40-year university career, he has suddenly developed an interest in gardening! So we’re launched into our bramble-whacking, weed-pulling, and replanting project in the Wild Zone.
Worf has passed on after a long and happy life, but his spirit stays with us, as his grave in the ravine flourishes with oxalis:
And Bear dog and Tucker and Turtle cats take an active interest in our progress. Here, Turtle climbs the huge old halzenut tree. Sadly, it appears to be nearing the end of its life, as many of the branches are dying, presenting a further challenge in disposing of the falling limbs and trimming what we can reach. It is opening up more light for other plants, so the cycle rolls on.
Here, Bear dog advises on locations for planting. He says there’s already plenty of oxalis, which has proven to be excellent cover that keeps the buttercups at bay. Where he’s standing, we’ve cleared out various weeds and are trying for some variety by planting bunchberry and what I think is a cousin of wild ginger.
We acquired various native plants from a local gardening society sale, and a few from my “garden goddess” neighbor Jasmin. And, as I mentioned last week, I consulted with the folks at “Plantas Nativa[s]” in town, and acquired still more bushes and ground-cover starts.
It’s fun to learn more about what plants will thrive in sun or shade, dry or moist, and plan for minimal upkeep and watering, once they’re established. Much or what I’ve done so far in the garden has been trial and error, but that’s also educational. BTW, last time I mentioned the horribly invasive Herb Robert weed, and one of the guys at Plantas told me that botanists are working on a biological deterrent for it. He wasn’t sure what form that would take, and of course caution in introducing yet another variable is always wise. Stay tuned….
A couple of native plants we are NOT adding are devil’s club and nettles, as lovely as they are in the wild. Not friendly to human skin!
Thor spent hours digging up a stubborn patch of buttercups, sifting the dirt, and preparing a new bed. I’m trying several types of native flowers and ground-covers there, to see what will be happy and spread. There are wild violets, more bunchberry, kinnikinnick, lily of the valley, and wild geraniums, and a mock orange bush.
Also some starts of flowering sweet woodruff from this shade garden on our upper level:
Right after we had planted nice little bushes of red osier dogwood, mock orange, and wild currant, Thor and Bear and I were relaxing on the “flet” deck overlooking the ravine, when a doe sailed over the fence from upstream. She proceeded to munch on my new bushes. We are part of a wildlife corridor, and and enjoy visits from deer, racoons, beavers, otters, and even coyotes, as well as too many birds to count, including great blue herons, many crows and bluejays, brown creepers, hummingbirds, and on and on, all competing with their songs as the seasons roll along. We’ve especially enjoyed an active barred-owl presence this spring, with several doing call-and-response along the creek and even into our upper yard.
And our game camera caught a blurred glimpse of what had to be a silverback Sasquatch….
Anyway, this time I just couldn’t sit still and let that brazen doe eat my brand-new bushes! I headed down the steps to tell her to munch elsewhere, and Bear dog started to follow me in a rush. He obediently obeyed, “Down!” and lay still. (He is not allowed through the gate to the ravine unless he’s with us, as we have had does and fawns bedding there in the past.) Anyway, the doe took the hint and hopped gracefully back over the fence to eat elsewhere. I realized I needed to put cages over the vulnerable new plants until they are bigger. Luckily, there were still some protective cages left over from the work that NSEA volunteers had done years earlier. Next, I will get some non-poisonous repellant spray.
It’s been unusually hot and dry this spring, so I had to do some watering to give the plants a fair start, but thankfully we’ve now returned to more normal early June rains, hurrah! Most of the plantings are doing well, so we look forward to seeing how they develop. Gardening, as I’ve discovered, is always a cooperative creative act between gardeners and plants, requiring some letting go and letting be.
There’s still the overgrown boggy area right next to the creek to consider. Lots of blackberries, invasive grasses, buttercups, and morning glory to tackle.
But “siga, siga,” as the Greeks say — we’ll take our time and enjoy the process. Our work crew, contemplating the rain, is ready to take a rest day:
And, speaking of Greece, next week we’ll take another look at the ancient road to Delphi and its perils. Poor old Oedipus just couldn’t cheat the Fates….
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com