Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today we honor those who have fallen while giving service to their country, in order that we may be free.

My thoughts go to those family members who fought in my grandmother's homeland. While visiting Lithuania last fall, my husband and I visited this memorial which stands in remembrance of those who gave their lives during their struggle during the resistance against the Soviets. My grandparents fled to the United States in search of freedom and a better way of life.

We are so blessed in this country, and I hope we never take our freedom for granted. Not just on this day, we owe our soldiers a debt of gratitude, those who have served and continue to do so, those who risk their lives so that we may be free, we honor them for their ultimate sacrifice.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Just a Window?

When we purchased our current home over 14 year ago, we did some face lifting: new carpeting, paint, updated lighting and tile in the kitchen, and we added another range top in the center island opposite one which still remains. Our question was always, "Why would we want to face the cold hard tiled outside wall while cooking... why would the Jenn-aire not be positioned in such a way as to enjoy our guests who always belly up to that island or to be able to view that beautiful westerly coastal range?"

For years we have bantered about putting another window in the kitchen in order to take advantage of the city and the easterly view. So, we finally did.

We had guests the other evening, and since they did not mention the new window they faced, we asked how they liked it. There was an unusual response of silence, until finally, "Wow, I can't imagine it not being there." And neither can we.

There is however one problem: I think we now must move the sink to be under the new kitchen window and put the older range top down where the sink is now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Visitor Takes Up Residence

We would like to introduce you to a visitor who appears to have taken up permanent residence at our home. Actually he has been loafing around for the past several years as we would see him on occasion, but only now is he particularly predominant.

Until recently our pond held anywhere from 30-50 goldfish and 13 beautiful Koi. We loved our evening summer ritual of feeding the fish and enjoying one another’s company while sitting and watching their movement in the water and looking at the the color of the water lilies. How amazing it is to do the same thing night after night and never tire of it.

However the pond also contributed to some frustration: the water clarity never seemed to be up to par despite every attempt to do the right thing. Perhaps the greatest annoyance was the Great Blue Heron, a beautiful bird that we love to observe, but not particularly when it does its shopping at our front door when a lake is only a few miles away. In order to keep him from eating the fish we would have to place a net over the entire structure for many months. Now how attractive is that? Having read that they are territorial, we even placed a statue of a heron near the water in order to keep him away. Forget it! The final straw occurred several months ago. Momma, our prize large Koi, about 2 feet long, was gone, missing, no trace of her anywhere. So after 14 years we finally gave up. It broke my heart.

On the bright side, the Koi and Goldfish now have a wonderful home, a huge reservoir with other “brothers and sisters” where they will be safe from predators. We gave them to friends who are relatively close by, and from time to time we can visit and see them.

It appears we may have an Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretisoa) who has claimed ownership of our clear water pond. I say appears for there are two different frogs which resemble one another so closely it is difficult to differentiate.

Nonetheless, the pond has several bridges of large stacked rocks which we originally placed in order to offer shelter for the fish, and as those remain, ole Spotty or Big Eyes just hangs out close to the edge of the flat rock basking in the sun and warmth of the day, that is until I approach, whereby he simply slips down into the water and hides beneath. Do you have any idea how long a frog can hold his breathe?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Gardens and Stocks

We all have our passions, those things we love to do and which occupy much of our day, and in my case it happens to be our garden and the stock market, entities which on the surface seem disparate yet are similar in many instances. In any process there is a progression of events, a transformation which leads us to a place, one that is comprised of learning as we trudge through the ups and downs, the physical and mental challenges, those feelings of frustration, only to be followed with joy and satisfaction and that sense of achievement. The following describes my approach to gardening, but with a little imagination and creativity, I think you can see how it also can - and should - apply to growing a garden of healthy stocks in your portfolio.

While on my hands and knees weeding and feeling the calm I have while “working” in the garden, I sometimes think of how this place evolved and those first visits by family or friends. The most common reaction as we begin our stroll along the paths is an exclamatory, “Wow!” Our reply is usually the same: “There was nothing here. Everything you see, each shrub and tree, every plant, was placed in the ground one at a time”. That generally elicits a very casual response such as ‘hmm’ or ’really’.

When we go back into the house, one of our favorite photos is the "before" shot of the house and property we purchased, and as we present it for viewing there is the sound of silence. Finally, the response is an amazed “There was nothing here!” And that always elicits a chuckle by us all. As you look at the beauty of the plants and the maturity which now encompasses the property, my guess is that it is hard to imagine the land without these plantings.

Following the purchase of the property, we began to deal with the 6 acres of blackberry and poison oak infested land. Our perspective was to take our time and tackle one area. When that was completed we would move onto the next. We had no master plan. Our vision consisted of eliminating any potential fire hazard and diseased trees, and doing a planting at least around the perimeter of the house.

As we made progress and obstacles were removed, we could now envision planting some basic structure, deciduous trees and evergreens which would undulate around the perimeter of the property. Not realizing this house had been built on solid rock, the first hole we dug required a spud bar to break away the stone. Immediately we realized the ‘simply digging a whole and planting a tree technique’ would not yield many more trees being planted, so dirt was trucked in. We quickly learned to work with the land, not against it.

Five trees were placed on the south side, giving stability for that part of the garden. We followed by defining the paths as they naturally conformed to the lay of the land, and within those areas we then carefully selected the various species that would best fit and support what we call the “walking garden”. Our process had begun.

These are some things we learned over the years:

Casting wildflower and grass seed with the expectation of having a finished product brings a flush of color, until it rains.

Plants given to us by “friends” should have been more carefully analyzed.
Our inexperience and lack of knowledge as to its habit, was cause for much anxiety.

Soil Preparation is primary in planting a garden.
Someone once told me that “if you have one dollar to spend, .95 cents should be used for the soil and preparation of it and with the nickel you buy the plant”. You start with the basics by understanding the nature of the soil and making amendments as necessary. We quickly realized that developing strong and healthy plants didn’t just happen, but resulted from preparation, study and plain hard work.

One needs to be discriminating in the selection of tools and plants
. Proper tools may be more expensive, but in the long run they last longer and pay for themselves in efficiency. Premium and rare cultivars or specimens require higher prices, and there will always be new species on the market, but a constant assessment needs to be made as to where we are in the garden.

A balanced value proposition in plant selection is important.
You can begin with a seed, a cutting, or a seedling. With any of these, germination and establishing strong root structure take time and patience, and when cultivated properly will yield very strong plant life. Well established perennials and ornamental grasses need to be divided, just as many shrubs will offer new seedlings, a bonus to be planted elsewhere.

Careful consideration is required in selecting the endless variety of plants. Annuals, although short-lived, can offer an abundance of color performance. Fast growing plants fill areas until such time you find a better match. Deciduous shrubs yield seasonal interest. Extremely fast growing trees may look good in the short term, but are highly susceptible to breakage, especially during periods of bad weather. Evergreens and specimen trees may be slow growing but offer the comfort of longevity and longstanding beauty and stability in the garden.

Entrusting our garden to a few “experts” without close supervision, proved to be an emotional and extremely costly ordeal, and in one instance, not recoverable.
A young man who helped me clear brush for a short time would sit down each time I went inside the house. Specimen plants and ornamental grasses were pulled and discarded by a graduate landscape student. A forester’s assistance felled many of the 40-60 foot trees in what was developing into our “shade” garden. (We will not discuss the pain involved in that one.) And despite all those losses, these folks still required and received compensation for their services, however short.

The garden is dynamic and continually evolves. We constantly assess where we are, whether it is trimming that which has become too large or identifying sameness in foliage within an area, thus requiring a better blend of trees and shrubbery.

There are some that do not want to be here or may not be suitable for the garden,
and the reason may be unknown. You may fall in love with a plant, but it struggles, may become diseased, and despite lots of effort and nurturing, I learned some time ago, if something doesn’t want to be there you have to let it go. Life goes on and other wonderful replacement plants await.

Even stellar specimens sometimes disappoint.
When blossoms become smaller on award winning Japanese iris, it is clear they require attention and assessment.

Occasionally I am reminded of a visit from one of our sons who came on a day we were working on one of the areas, and reluctantly, he decided to help. There was an occasional sigh, a somewhat vocal message that the pleasure of clearing this part of the hillside was probably ours alone. Within a very short period of time he raised his body from a bent position, and with hands thrown limply at each side, scanned 180 degrees of the brush and debris covered land above him, sighed once again and exclaimed, “You’ll never get this done.” I still remember how astonished I was to hear those words for that thought had never crossed my mind.

We never thought about the boulders we would move, the number of holes we would dig nor how many wheelbarrows of mulch and dirt that would be pushed up the hill, but rather we focused on one idea, one area at a time. We envisioned neither the scale of the landscaping project we would eventually develop nor the years of labor required achieving it. It was a process, one which would continue to evolve, and it required research, time, patience and an understanding.

Today we are still planting, but as we grow in years we have learned to be more discriminate in our plant selection, reducing the number of plants and the maintenance required. One specimen tree replaces 3-5 perennials, and divisions of our favorite ornamental grasses and many groundcovers now occupy larger areas. Some of our favorite perennials have been given to family and friends who are beginning their gardens. A constant assessment of weeding, pruning and occasional adjusting is still necessary, but the dividend is a garden that is less demanding. Frustration is taken in stride with a “shrug” of the shoulders, for tomorrow is a new day.

The garden is like a painting or any other major piece of work, a stock portfolio. It is neither easy nor instantaneous, but rather requires years of study and preparation with an evolving plan that brings it together. An integral part of that canvas or portfolio contains focal points of interest, a balance and harmony in color and texture, and it is a reflection of ones own personal techniques and individual style.

We trust you have found this helpful, and hope to see you in the garden.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Letter to Mother

Dear Mother,

How I wish we could be together on this very special day, one of celebration and honor for you. Many of these things which I write have been said to you throughout the years, but some perhaps may have been left unsaid, so I want to make sure you hear them again.

As I think about you today I can clearly see a gentle smile, that glimmer in your eye when something makes you happy, the way you love to laugh, the joy you show when I travel home to visit, those tears we shed when I must leave…these things are etched in my soul.

Much of your life was filled with struggle and hardship. Having to quit school when you were in the seventh grade in order to work and help the family during the depression was a sacrifice most people will never know.

There were times when I was younger that I didn’t understand the misery you had to endure, the loneliness and pain of having to go it alone for so many years while trying to raise three children. You worked for everything you got, did whatever it took to try and make ends meet. You did the best you could do and the best you knew how. I still marvel at your strength.

Although you did not have a formal education you taught us what was important. We didn’t have much when we were growing up, but you insisted upon cleanliness, taking care of what little there was, you taught us to share, and we learned how to give. You taught us to be grateful for what we did have. You demonstrated a work ethic without complaint, and although we had to buy groceries on credit and you didn’t earn enough to pay the balance, you made certain a timely payment was always made. You taught us honesty and responsibility.

At times there were those who tried to either take advantage of you or push you down, but you always had the courage to rise above it and not allow others to have control over your life and determine the outcome of who you were. You taught us to be independent, proud of our accomplishments and listen to our inner voice.

Sometimes you were not around, but I came to understand there were things you had to do. You taught me forgiveness. We cried and shared our pain, but you showed me laughter and joy as we sang and played and danced together. What a wonderful dance partner!

Although you were divorced when I was young, when you spoke of my father you always affectionately referred to him as daddy. There is no doubt of your love for him, and I am confident that you did what you thought was best.

You didn’t always approve of everything I did, and despite voicing some objections along the way, at the end of the day you allowed me to make my own decisions and be who I wanted to be. If I faltered you never said "I told you so", but rather lent support and showed me that your love was always unconditional.

When I think of you I think of an incredibly strong woman, kind and gentle, unselfish in every way, a special lady who had little but gave us something of greater worth and that was your love, one we felt every day, a love that never wavered and was never compromised regardless of the circumstance. You taught us self respect.

I want you to know how much I love you and to thank you for helping me become who I am. God knows I am so blessed and thankful that it was you who were chosen as my Mother.

And although you have been gone from this earth for nearly six years, my eyes yet well with tears as I so clearly see your beautiful face and feel that warmth of your embrace even now. Happy Mother’s Day. How I miss you.

Your daughter,


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rosa 'Summer Wine'

Wow! One of my favorite climbing roses, 'Summer Wine' is already in bloom. So remarkable is the flower which opens as a darker coral and gradually changes in color to a softer pink. The foliage also moves from a lighter green to a semi-glossy darker green.

Now how appropriately is this named as we take our evening stroll in the garden with our favorite glass of wine in hand?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Having Bloomed

Having bloomed over the past several weeks here in the northwest is Rhododendron ‘Ramapo’, a charming smaller specimen with violet-blue blossoms, tiny blue-green leaves and an aromatic scent.

A most unusual blossom is found on this
Davidia involucrata
, aka the Dovetree or handkerchief tree.

And so exciting are the the small buds of the Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud). They appear to be pearlescent in nature and open to beautiful magenta blossoms. Our favorite redbud is 'Forest Pansy' with its reddish-purple foliage.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Evening Cloud Formation

Evening cloud formations are spectacular in the northwest especially following a day of rain. That which is so amazing is to see the sun appear in the late afternoon and the clarity of the sky following a crazy May day of cold and rain and hail.

Tonight and tomorrow's forecast is for 35 degrees F, while Monday we should experience a 75 degree day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chinese Tree Peony

Exquisite! is the word that comes to mind as the Chinese Tree Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are now in full bloom. These exotic plants have a special place in the garden, a focal point, so one can fully view the spectacular 6-9” blossoms. These are showstoppers.

The 4-5 foot upright woody shrubs do very well in our garden: deep, well prepared soil and good drainage, in full sun or part shade. In the early spring they appreciate a little bone meal (high in phosphorus) worked around into the soil, and on occasion I may add a slow release fertilizer.

The blossoms are so heavy they may require staking. Thus in pruning, I do so following their amazing display, and back to stronger growing wood. They offer years of enjoyment and with little care.