Blessings continue to manifest even in such a strange & curious year as this!
Many of those because we’ve all been gifted very different schedules…
In January we hired our friend Whitney to work for us, as he has… on numerous occasions, in various capacities… since he first wanted to apprentice with me in the studio at 18. Now, at 35, with his broadened range of experience & a growing collection of tools, he has become capable of helping to facilitate numerous projects of which I have long been dreaming.
We worked closely together on those projects which required communicating my designing imagination… either verbally or through some rough drawings. Other times I more simply made use of his intelligent strength & younger muscle. On several of those more complicated jobs he wanted & needed to make more finished drawings; I encouraged him to take on most of the design process, trusting him & appreciating that there needs to be close respect between the concept & the skill to accomplish it well with the tools & budget allowed. As his skills became more evident, I gave him projects to design & manage himself… to mutual advantage.
Still, as I’ve learned over the years when having such help, it becomes expedient to take on the role of “go-fer,” since I’m the one who knows where much which becomes useful in odd moments is stashed. I’ve collected a quantity of my own tools & a too-large supply of odds-n-ends of hardware like nails & screws… often saving another trip to the hardware store. Thus I get a lot of exercise, working for my helpers, traipsing up & down our sloping land, clamoring up into the “way-back,” which is what I have dubbed the rough storage crawlspace area behind the studio. Our house is too small for the storage we need!
A first job employed his chainsaw to fell two awkwardly leaning locust trees, of which we have quite a few in the north lots. That yielded logs of wood, which is dense & resistant to rot –useful for building several new raised garden beds & to rebuild some older ones. This photo shows the border I wanted to help define a contour around a White Pine near the farther end of an area I’ve long called the “permaculture” bed… a depository of larger organic waste for more than a decade. It began at a part of the land which had slumped 4-5 vertical feet before I came along.
After years of stashing smaller branches, tree trimmings & other organic material too coarse to work into the compost piles, it has developed into the beginnings of a usable garden space in an area with more exposure to the sunlight which is becoming increasingly rare in our garden. is becoming ever more shaded by the trees we’ve planted over the years at the far edges of where we expected to stop clearing… but no garden wants to be contained!
The undulating border idea was begun by another young garden helper, Tom, who worked with us for 7-8 years, also beginning at the age of !8. Our Island has gifted us with these unusually capable young men who are interested in becoming woodsmen/garden/farmer/craftsmen, who appreciated our mentorship during their difficult teen years, ofttimes needing surrogates for fathers or uncles. We eventually have become deep friends to these two. We respect & honorably love them both–one gay, one straight. We are very pleased to have become useful to them while they have gifted us during their processes & progressions.
Here is one of Tom’s early solutions to creatively border a path along the top of that permaculture site when it was still more steep, just to the left of the pine in the first photo above. I appreciated its gently undulating form & suggested Whitney take its lesson of working organically with the terrain. Both these guys prove themselves to be quite adept with chainsaws!
Another early project was a new bed to contain a Rhododendron
This garden grows & defines itself functionally as we work it. Being unrelentingly steep, its various pathways tend to continually find & develop ever-easier means to traverse & meander… a bit like water. When one has a wheelbarrow full of heavy material-on-a-mission… bound for any number of the beds & borders, on numerous levels around its territory… such work become adjunct to the process of its living design. Aesthetics must include functionality.
“Form follows function” is a maxim of the early 20th century architect Louis Sullivan.
This garden has certain built-in parameters, beginning with the road along its highest level, where the concrete parking pad predates the original house, which Stephen was planning to remodel when I came along. What now is the garden was a thorough disturbance of ‘most every bit of soil into a complex construction site involving building a fair roadway to bring in the heavy equipment to raise the required minimum remains of the original building… its floor and enough verticals to qualify the project as a remodel. This site would never qualify for new construction, being too close to the cliff’s edge. Then, to dig for pouring a proper concrete foundation. Not to mention digging to install the septic system.
Stephen had hired a capable young earth-mother named Megan to plan & execute the bones of the garden which exists today. Those ribs remain viable & visible as backbone supporting 22 years of innumerable parts & partners in its ongoing evolution. Ah, the names & the stories it tells!
Now I’ve meandered rather far afield of the original notion of this post! I will return my attention to the work of this past year…
One of our older potager beds had long become rather inadequately bordered… sloping near enough to our cliff’s edge that we needed to draw it back for safety & security. Whitney employed the same technique of gentle curves to tidy its now sadly smaller format than its original dreaming which had given us many years of capable productivity. There is a part of its story which has to do with an exciting fire while Tom & I explored the concept of bio-char as a soil conditioning process. Bio-char involves making a large quantity of charcoal as the hot coals are damped with soil. That created quite a stir for some folks down on the beach, who could only see what seemed like flames, perhaps a bit out of control over the edge of our cliff. Ultimately it became a sweet story for us as we lay down in the cool of that evening to enjoy its lingering heat on our backs. This garden & its aging has profited from numerous such teach/learning experiments, while also indulging some youthful wilding energetics.
The bell hanging from the trellis in the foreground is from Arcosanti in Arizona… a gift from my parents. It hangs over one of the four original raised beds of an area I dubbed “root hole”
The red shows the color of the fresh cedar sawdust of which we bought a second huge load to use to cover the muddy soil we’d disturbed during winter’s wet. I’ve been using this inexpensive material delivered from a local lumber mill to help bulk-up & “sculpt” my recent experiments in building the hugelkultur beds with which I’ve been building for the last several years.
Here is the view from that bed toward the edge of our cliff overlooking the water of the Puget Sound. We daily celebrate the constant entertainment of gardening in the atmospheric weather of our gorgeously rare & fragile geologic aspect.
The locust logs were also used to rebuild a set of deteriorating steps traversing the grade down from that bed into Megan’s original quartet of square raised beds.
Another of my dreams had been a sturdier compost bin with two sections in order to facilitate quicker ripening by fork-turning the material from one to the other. Whitney accomplished that desire with the cedar we’d salvaged when the upper “This-Is-It” deck was replaced last year. While some of it had been damaged & weakened over the years to not be strong enough to safely support foot traffic, much more remained viable for other purposee. He culled & ripped a useful quantity into smaller strips with which to build this sweet construction. Of course, in this later season both bins have been filled, but as they settle there will be room to let it function as intended. I am gifted another blessing!
He then made a wood rick with a combination of on-hand materials… even as his first proclivity is often to want to buy new. We have discussions about the truth of my “Scotch-ness”
Most of this infrastructure had ancillary functional work involved… this being an example which had him moving the last ready stash of firewood into the storage under the cottage, from where we collect it for stoking the wood stove which heats the house.
We really challenged Whitney with a project which stretched him to demonstrate his capabilities in carpentry… rebuilding a wood drainage grate in front of the studio’s sliding door where rainwater from the roof drips, draining below the surface of the terrace which our contractor built when I was developing my bell studio in the raw space of the foundation. This construct invites & greets visitors as well as functioning to provide an exterior work space with a bench for larger garden projects. The terrace is paved with volcanic Indonesian stones I found on the Island being sold as old ship’s ballast. I bought the entire large collection of them, with their wonderfully rough but useful handsomeness.
We’ve been frequently puzzled by the discovery of a peculiar feature–the mysterious characters “OTE” rather crudely carved into some 8 or 10 of them. At finding the first one or two I hypothesized it as being part of some communication on the street pavement indicating “hotel”, but there are none to complete that word. Of course now I must admit to being too English-centric…I’ve come to rather appreciate & enjoy the mystery!
But I’ve sidetracked us from that wooden grate, which had begun to deteriorate after many years in our wet climate. This first photo shows it when it was first installed…
He replicated it beautifully!Which allowed the old piece to become important in a next project… being “laid to rest”, as he observed, when it came to function as a level walkway behind the writing cottage. He also made a wonderful gate off the parking dominated by a huge Great Leaf Maple stump, ancient & hollow, the original trunk of which long ago rotted away while several ancillary trunks grew to surround the vacant space which invites us to think of making a faerie garden in that secret space hidden just a few feet away from the road.
We encouraged Whit to design this gate to replace a too-long-temporary patch of the fish netting making our deer fence, which did not allow any such easy passage. I made this drawing on my iPad as an original concept to harmonize with our other gates, but left him with the satisfaction of designing & constructing the final resolution.
An ongoing, marvelously challenging, practice for me is to know & understand that Teach/Learning is a single verb!
The result is lovely… tucking function with visual finesse & precision into a tight confine.
Before I bring that lesson deeper into the excessive length & complexity of this post, I want to share two last projects in this series. First, let’s step around that delightfully problematic huge still-living tree stump, which has been repeatedly pollarded since long before Stephen bought the house, making it weak enough that we are awaiting our tree guy to cut it even more severely since it poses safety issues to the roof which it overhangs plus any car parked beneath it. Around & along to the “north gate”… the first one we built to allow access through the fence into the garden. This stretch was also loosely enclosed by the netting in a temporary manner.
Peter, the contractor who built our remodel, went on, during the boom years afterward to complete multi-million dollar projects, becoming unavailable & unaffordable for our simpler lives. He has, however, become a neighbor & a friend… remaining generously available to us as consultant while we have… like when the writing cottage was built… worked with other contractors. We have occasionally caught him in quieter moments to intrigue him to tackle small projects like the wood trellis to the right of this image because he simply loves working with wood; originally he apprenticed with a boat builder in Martha’s Vineyard.
In mid summer I discovered an unmarked potted plant which I finally sussed to be a gift of a trumpet vine from an acquaintance last year. I’ve long admired & desired that vine, so Whitney built this trellis to support it as a new defining corner in the ongoing evolution of our eclectic fencing.
How long has this dream been incubating? Much of my process in dancing as shepherd for this garden is the “dreaming” I’ve mentioned several times here. I’m appropriating… perhaps inappropriately… a concept I’ve lifted from Australian Aboriginal creation mythology to make my own notion of being attentive, often in quiet nighttime hours enjoying a special communion with the garden.
Listening & looking beyond what is seen in daylight where weeds, chores & other deficiencies occupy much of my attention. This night-vision offers a mental canvas inviting creative exploration & cooperation. I dream improbabilities & seeming impossibilities looking for collaboration from whatever spirit might be attuned with that… with me. Dreams sometimes come true, often in quite unexpected ways. A round raised bed to define the space under the tall Red Cedar tree which Stephen planted as a baby to symbolically stitch closed a significant crack in the terrain shortly after the house was finished, when I was living in downtown Seattle. It was indeed a disconcerting event in a long history of such geologic disturbances along what has been explained as a”cirque” — a mile-long arc of such slumping.
This circular dream bed might be my version of his effort, but I see it more directly as my own geometric construction… a circle to harmonize with the hexagonal bed I dreamed several years ago to join in concert with the four square raised beds which were the basis of Megan’s concept for the original garden plan.
This circularity at the edge of the more formal parts completes that aspect of the garden & invites the change from hard milled lumber geometry into the softer organic forms of the log bordered beds which buffer transition from garden to the wildness of the woods beyond.
Whitney accomplished the work by dropping a huge rotting beam necessary to clear the weight of a now collapsed building before we could take salvage on timbers which had been supporting an old house which had been moved in but never touched for years. We’d often joked about it being the “fixer-upper” next door to our lots zoned as “recreational” for tax purposes, which we bought as buffer for our privacy. Those timbers are very nice straight-grained cedar… the kind not generally available these days… in good shape having been protected for most of the intervening years by the building they had supported as cross-timbered piers.
He carefully calculated the length & angles of pieces to make a ring of a size to fit the space & laid them out on the parking pad… being the flattest surface on the property.
I find much celebration & deep satisfaction in this
catalogue of accomplishments during this season!