Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden - The Flowers

I have been writing about the disasters and weeds in a cancer survivor's garden.  In among the weeds, my flowers still survive.  To the right  are some of the flowers I arranged for Mom's memorial service in August 2011.

The photo on the left is of flowers in buckets before we arranged them for a wedding.  These are also from August 2011.  This photo was taken about three weeks after Mom's service.  I adore lilies.

During most of my illness, I still sold flowers.  Working with color and beauty was part of my healing process.

The arrangement on the right was for a church.  The dark roses are Hot Cocoa, which has been unbelievably prolific.  The arrangement also includes several English roses.  I love my bright blue hydrangea seen toward the bottom of the arrangement.  I have a Cancer Survivor's Garden story about the poor hydrangea.

Despite neglect, my flowers continue to delight  my customers and lift my spirit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Cancer Survivor’s Garden – The Three Harsh Winters

No contemporary discussion of a Pacific Northwest garden would be complete without a discussion of The Three Harsh Winters. (Read The Three Harsh Winters in a deep voice with maximum reverb.)  The Three Harsh Winters were what we call an act of God.

I will admit, when it comes to winter weather, people in the Pacific Northwest are spoiled rotten.  Most of western Washington and Oregon are protected from ocean storms by the Olympic Mountains, and Coastal Range.  I sit in an even more protected area, an island in the middle of the Puget Sound.  The Pacific Ocean is warm enough to keep the coast warm.  The Puget Sound is about fifty-four degrees year round.  The water seems cold in the summer, but on frosty winter mornings, the steam rising off of the warm water into the chill air is absolutely mystical. 

So, my garden sits about eight hundred feet from the Puget Sound.  I hate to confess this to other northern gardeners, but a killing frost is unusual for me.  I garden year round.  In December, I spend the few hours of daylight we have getting bulbs into the ground.  I still harvest greens and winter blooming honeysuckle for bouquets out of the garden.  My December bouquets are really some of my most beautiful all year.  The winter garden still produces kale, carrots, beets and cabbage.  My everbearing raspberries will still give me enough berries for garnish or a smoothie as late as mid-December.

January is my month for topping up beds with new soil.  I work on the garden structure in January.  This is the time to add new gravel to paths or repair a raised bed.  The garden beds can be edged.  This is a good time for some of the heavy chores that would be uncomfortable in warm weather.  Of course none of this can be done when the garden is covered with snow.

February is time to weed.  It saves so much time later in the year if I can get the overwintering and newly sprouted weeds hoed up in February.  This is the month I add duck-yard litter to the vegetable beds and prepare them for the peas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.  It is impossible to do this when absolutely everything is covered in a quarter inch of ice. 

Another hazard of The Three Harsh Winters was the down trees and tree limbs.  It is just hard to garden with large branches and half of a madrone tree on top of the beds.  I needed to get someone with a chain saw to go out between storms and cut the trees and branches out of my beds.  Of course the man with the chain saw couldn’t work in the snow or the ice.  He objected to going out in a gale.  He refused to work with an electric chain saw when the rain was blowing sideways through the garden. 

For three years in a row, I left my usual winter garden chores undone until April.  I like to have most of the garden planted and the rest ready to plant by April fifteenth.  The Three Harsh Winters meant that planting was delayed at least until mid-May.  I then needed to do three months of garden work in two weeks.  At the same time I needed to do the summer chore of mowing and running the weed eater.  My body was not going to do that much work all at once.  The man with the chain saw had limited time to work in the garden.  I had to choose between having him cut up the limbs and trees or run the weed eater.  It was a tough call.  The weeds had grown up to hide the limbs and down trees.

Thankfully The Three Harsh Winters are just a nightmare in our past.  This past winter was quite reasonable. We hired help to finish cleaning up the down trees and limbs.  I will go out in a few minutes and harvest the snapdragons that over wintered.  My peas, cabbage and broccoli are doing their thing.  I think I will harvest the overwintered artichoke tonight.  Ah, it is good to have had a normal mild Pacific Northwest winter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Cancer Survivor's Garden - The Ponds

A water feature in the garden is touted as being “a must” for every garden.  There are many reasons for that.  When I got to the point of filling our first pond, a dragon fly showed up and buzzed over the small puddle of water and then buzzed past me as if to say, “Hurry up, will you.  You’ve been at this all day.”  The birds were into the new pond before it was full. To say a pond attracts wildlife is an understatement.

I got sick before I finished building the second and third ponds.  The plastic liners are sunk into the ground but are not edged.  The birds and frogs haven’t noticed.  They moved in and are content with the way things are.

In order to keep mosquitoes from infesting the ponds, I installed goldfish.  I avoided Koi because I read that blue herons eat Koi, but not your standard goldfish.  Apparently, Harry, the great blue heron didn’t read the same book I read.  Goldfish are just fine with him/her. 

I built the ponds close to the house so I can see them from the sofa. The antics of all the birds around the ponds have entertained me for hours.  My hubby keeps insisting that I should chase the blue heron away instead of photographing it.  I don’t think the heron is going to be permanently intimidated if I run out and wave my arms and yell at it, so I might as well take some wonderful pictures. 

I can’t accuse the heron of eating all the goldfish by himself.  A kingfisher visits our pond too.  I got some nice photos of the kingfisher.  He is a little more shy about being photographed than Harry. He’s very efficient at fishing.  At one point after the goldfish had bred we had a couple hundred fish in the big pond.  The birds got them all. 

Each year, I end up stocking the ponds with several dozen goldfish.  This year, I have a breeding pair of goldfish who have escaped the birds, snakes and raccoons.  I hope to have more baby fish.  I will still have to restock the smaller ponds. 

My own ducks love the ponds.  They have their own kiddy pool near their pen, but the deeper ponds in the front are their favorite hang-out.  We also have a pair of wild ducks that visit our ponds in the spring.  I enjoy watching them come in for a landing and always hope they will dine on the slugs in the garden. 

Yesterday while we were eating dinner, our domestic ducks were in the pond.  The wild ducks arrived to find the pond occupied.  Mr. Wild Duck immediately left in a huff.  Mrs. Wild Duck looked over my three attractive male ducks and settled in for a visit while wiggling her tail suggestively.  She stayed for about fifteen minutes before leaving to join her mate. 

 The ponds are relatively low maintenance.  They grow a slimy plant in the hot summer.  If I pull the slimy plant out, it makes a nice mulch and plant food for the roses.  If the slimy plant doesn’t get pulled out, it disintegrates during the winter.  It may help the goldfish to hide from predators.  As far as I can see, the ponds are healthy with almost no maintenance.  They look a little ugly in August, but we can’t all be at our best all the time.  If I had the energy, I might hook up my small pump to water my roses with the nutrient-rich pond water in August, while filling the ponds with a garden hose.  On the other hand, the ponds work with no maintenance other that occasionally installing new plants and restocking with fish.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lies - Being a Nice Girl

Having written a novel with a theme of lies at it’s core, I keep coming back to the question of how much of what we believe might really be a lie.  People who have read my book like to bring me comments about the lies they have uncovered in their lives.

Lies are hard to detect when they are about our basic belief system concerning the nature of the world.  I grew up during the civil rights movement. When I asked questions about the movement, my parents tried to explain, but found it challenging to teach a child why some people believed a lie.  While my parents were busy teaching me that some people believe lies, they were also busy teaching me a lie.    

The lie I grew up with was if you are nice to others, they will be nice to you.  This is a major tenet of the whole set of nice girl rules.  Of course, one problem is the reverse of the rule: If people are cruel to you, it is because you are not nice.  It is the reverse rule that is devastating, induces the most guilt and allows us to blame victims.

When I first contemplated writing about lies, I thought that writing about the nice girl rules and calling them lies would sound cynical.  Yesterday a friend, Mary, called to tell me about an incident with another friend of ours being bullied at work.  I commented, “It is so frustrating to see something like this happen to Helen.  She is such a nice person.”  I still believed the lie despite ample evidence over the years that being nice to others does not guarantee us immunity from cruelty.

Mary told me about reading Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person At Work.  She explained that Aron described the victim of bullying as being a nice person.  Ah, nice people get bullied?  It actually makes sense.  Nice people are seen as less likely to strike back or defend themselves.  Bluntly put, if you are nice to others, some people will see you as weak and attempt to bully you.  I can deal with that.

Now, we get to the truth and can rewrite the rules.  Being a nice person and treating others with respect and kindness is a worthy value in and of itself.  However, if you choose to adopt this value, others may view you as weak or unwilling to defend yourself.  Occasionally the nice person will encounter people who are willing to be cruel because they believe they won’t be called on their behavior.

Looking at the truth sets us free to be more deliberate in our own behavior.  Yes, I choose to treat others as I want to be treated.  Some will not reciprocate.  When someone else chooses to be cruel, it does not mean I am not a nice person or that I am responsible for creating their behavior.  Their cruelty means that they have a problem that has nothing to do with me.  I can still be a nice person and walk away or defend myself as I choose.