The following essay was written by my grandmother, Rose Ridnor. I found it humorous because I’m often precariously balanced on a ladder, in the middle of summer, trimming the dead flowers off our two lilacs in Mount Vernon, WA. And while I have the clippers, the nearby apple trees also gets a trimming.
The lilac tree was long overdue for pruning. This particular morning, after spending almost two hours pulling weeds, cutting, and cleaning up the front and side of the house, I was finally ready to begin trimming the lilac. When I as more than half done, I found I was getting terribly tired.
The burning sun had followed me all morning, making my face flush and sticky with sweat. My legs ached from leaning against the runs of the ladder, my hands were stiff from wielding the clippers. I just had to finish. Stop now and who knows when I could get back to it. So I pushed harder with the clipping and snipping to finish faster.
I was concentrating hard on lopping off a heavy branch, my mind as blank as it could get, when out of the blue, a line of words popped into my head. It was odd. I eased off a second to repeat it to myself, “I can always plant another tree, but I can never grow another me.”
Quickly, I fathomed its meaning, and for a moment was tempted to heed its message. But no, I couldn’t stop now. I had to finish.
But it kept bugging me. Why am I pushing myself? What am I out to prove? I have just so much energy, exhaust it, and I’m finished. The tree doesn’t give a darn whether I cut off its dead flowers or crowded limbs. It will just go on doing what it has to do: Grow and produce more flowers that will die, and I’ll have to cut off.
I set the clippers down, stepped off the ladder, went into the den, and plopped into a chair. I could feel the tiredness ease out of my body.
Ten minutes later, quite refreshed, I went out, put away the ladder and tools, left the sweeping to Morris [husband], and that was that! I didn’t hear one word of protest from the lilac tree.
Life is a constant weighing of the importance of one’s own self in relation to everyone, and everything else.
When Rich and I met, I was living in cute three-bedroom house in Sherwood, Oregon with a yard full of flowering bushes, spring bulbs, ornamental grasses, creeping pyracantha, and a giant rose bush, Cecile Brunner, locate in the far corner of my front yard. Once it took root, Cecile Brunner grew profusely, needing to be aggressively trimmed every year to prevent it from cascading over the sidewalk.
Year later, when we moved to Kirkland, Washington, I purchased another Cecile Brunner to commemorate our anniversary. This plant, however, wasn’t particularly healthy. I kept it in a pot, which probably contributed to its lack of vigor. Nevertheless, it finally took off, growing two or three branches, which were four to five feet in length.
In the fall, not wanting thorny rose branches stretched across the deck, Rich wielded a pair of clippers. I was devastated, believing Cecile Brunner represented our relationship, and by cutting off the branches Rich was dampening our lives together. Adding to my belief, the bush barely grew the next year.
Disappointed, I brought it to our Mount Vernon house, sticking it in the ground, and placing little faith in its survival.
I placed the same faith in the roses we transplanted from my mother’s house. She always had dozens of rose bushes. When we lived in Tarzana, California (San Fernando Valley), she’d purchase experimental roses from Jackson & Perkins. They were identified by a number on a metal tag. Occasionally, she’d learn that one of the roses was given a formal name and released to the public. One of these was French Lace, which was bred from R. Dr. A. J. Verhage and Bridal Pink™.
When she moved to Sherwood, Oregon, she dedicated the front of her house to roses and bulbs. She prided herself on keeping them trimmed, but as the years passed, they were neglected, and incorrectly pruned by numerous gardeners who haphazardly hacked off the branches. In addition, because the gardeners “raked” out the weeds, the front year turned into a mish-mash of straggly rose bushes, rampant sedum ground cover, bloomed-out bulbs, swatches of miscellaneous, unkempt plants, and bare soil.
After she moved out of her house, we tidied the yard, laid bark dust, and hoped the tenant had an interest in gardening. She didn’t, and two years later, implored us to remove the rose bushes and plant grass.
DNA to Thrive
In December, we showed up with boots, shovels, clippers, and tarps. We crudely trimmed and dug out the roses. Some we had to leave because their roots were intertwined with those of a large maple tree, which the tenant wanted cut down because of the amount of leaves it dropped in the fall.
Sliding in the mud, with rain pouring down, we dug out over a dozen full-sized roses, and around two dozen miniature roses. The latter, my mother had probably purchased from grocery stores, and plunked in the ground after they bloomed.
We had to wait a week to plant the roses, which were in horrific shape with large, gnarled bud unions (at the bottom of the main stem), hacked off branches, and ripped up roots. Like Cecile Brunner after Rich had chopped off the branches, they were essentially death row roses with little probability of surviving.
With jaded optimism, we planted the roses against the back fence of our Mount Vernon house, heavily fertilized them, trimmed out unnecessary and dead branches, and waited. As the weather warmed, little petioles started to appear on the bare branches. By spring, most of the roses – including the miniatures – were showing positive growth. In May, to my surprise, they started to bloom.
Like Cecile Brunner, once placed in the ground, and given nutrients, they thrived. Today, Cecile Brunner has grown up our two-story deck, and annually rewarding us with sprays of petite pink roses. I suspect the other death row roses will continue to flourish.
Reawakening Like a Rose
When faced with challenges and setbacks it’s easy to throw your hands in the air, and give-up. It’s human nature. We want to continue to move forward in our job, relationships, quality of life, and reaching our goals. When we’re deterred, it hard not to feel defeated.
However, like a struggling rose, we have the potential to once again bloom, given time, persistence, and nourishment. Sometimes, we need to temporarily lean on others to help pick us up, draw our attention to other opportunities or point us in a different direction.
Often, it take longer than expected to bounce back. But, if we recognize the power of revitalization, then we can start to realize the possibilities, growing, blossoming, and reaching new heights.
… yes, the photos are of Cecile Brunner, and the blooms are from several of the rose bushes from my mother’s house.
Last December, Julie received a $100 gift card for several prominent Seattle restaurants. It took until September, our 12 year wedding anniversary, to use the card. While the food was trendy and elegantly presented, it wasn’t memorable. In a sense, 2014 was similar with high expectations, and some disappointments.
We started the year with Rich diving into being a realtor for Coldwell Banker Bain. He spent months creating an engaging website – http://www.RichLaryRealtor.com – eye-catching mailers, and other promotions. For three months, he sent the mailers, and waited, and waited for a client to make contact. After some investigation, he learned the mailers were never sent because the post office’s automated mail sorting system couldn’t distinguish Rich’s contact information from the recipients’ addresses, both on the back of the card. The post office simply discarded 800 post cards without notice! Government efficiency at its best!
In addition, the few clients he engaged weren’t able to find suitable houses, struggled to sell their houses or changed their minds. While he held many open houses, nearly everyone who walked through the doors already had realtors. The handful of transactions he oversaw resulted in commission that came nowhere close to covering his costs.
By mid-year, Rich realized he needed to do something different. Fortunately, everything lined up perfectly, and after several interviews, in June, he secured a year-long contract role at Microsoft, testing Windows 8 applications. He works independently, testing applications on the breadth of devices from Windows phones to Windows PCs, and tablets. In addition, he works in a small lab with a bank of windows, overlooking a forested area.
Julie started the year as a contractor for Microsoft Information Security and Risk Management, creating amusing internal awareness programs. She’d started working for the group last October. While she received kudos for her work, and was making in-roads with fostering awareness of security scams, her contract wasn’t renewed, leaving her searching for jobs in mid-June.
Like Rich, her resume landed in the right hands at the right time. Two weeks after her Microsoft contract ended, she started working at Fluke in Everett. Her year-long contract was to develop and market the service programs for Fluke’s industrial tools, something she did at Tektronix and Dell. The week before Thanksgiving, however, she was told there’s no funding for 2015 so she’s back to looking for a job.
With our jobs in flux, we opted for a couple of mini, two-day vacations. In March, we went to Orcas Island in the Puget Sound, driving from one end to the other, and hiking. We took Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, in May, spending two wonderful days walking, taking the elevated trains from one end of the city to the other, and enjoying the panoramic view from our hotel room at the historic Empire Landmark.
When it warmed up, we took several lengthy bike rides, and paddled around Lake Washington in our kayak. In late October, we had an unexpectedly magical day visiting Mount Baker, which made us realize, we really need to get out more, and tour the spectacular Pacific Northwest.
We also enjoyed gardening at our Mount Vernon house, producing bumper crops of tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, berries, and apples.
In early spring, Rich’s daughter, Stacey (above), moved back to Bremerton, Washington to work for the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. Her move gave us excuses to visit and several times ride ferries from Seattle, Edmonds, and Port Townsend.
We also made several trips to Portland, Oregon, to visit Rich’s son Chris (below) his wife Shawnie, and their two-year old, Coen. On November 18, the threesome became four with Caitlyn being born, weighing 7 pounds 13 ounces. Exciting!
While in Portland, we also met up with Julie’s cousin, Bobby (above), along with her best friend, Wendy.
As the year progressed, Doris (Julie’s mother) mobility started to decline. She was moved into a retirement home in Mount Vernon in early June, along with her cat Mei-Mei. After an initial adjustment period, she spent more time out of her room. By September, however, her strength declined along with her attitude and appetite. On the evening of October 12th, she was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia. Her health declined dramatically, and by the next afternoon, surrounded by family, she passed away.
On the pet front, we continue to have five cats, five birds, numerous ravenous squirrels (who entertain the cats), and several visiting raccoons (one mother with four adorable babies). We take way too many pictures of Lila, our all-white cat, wearing various hats or engaged in cute behavior, which we post on social media site.
We hope you had a memorable 2014, and are welcoming 2015 in good health and spirits.
Rich and Julie Lary
It’s my nature. I look for the negative, minimizing the positive. This year, the positives significantly outweighed the negatives in our Mount Vernon garden. Nevertheless, hoping to harvest several bags of peas, like we’d done in previous years, I whined all summer, lamenting the spindly plants that emerged, most barely tall enough to reach the netting.
A handful grew, producing a smattering of delicate white flowers, which turned into bumpy, misshapen pods that struggled to produce edible peas.
The only explanation for this disappointment was planted the peas in second raised bed, which didn’t have the nutrients to support healthy pea growth. Rich felt they didn’t get enough sun, but they were relocated less than 20 feet away from where they were planted last year.
Meanwhile, our neighbor from across the street, who grows and sells berries and pumpkins, told me to thin out my strawberry plants, removing the runners, and keeping only the strong plants. I had my doubts, but was amazed by our copious crop of strawberries, which lasted for several weeks. Last week, I picked another burst of strawberries, courtesy of the warm weather.
When I lived in Sherwood, Oregon, I had a prolific raspberry bush. I’d brought cuttings to Texas, but they writhed in the heat. Fortunately, before I moved, I planted several canes at my mother’s house, which I later planted on our Anacortes lots (did horrible), Kirkland house (struggled), and finally in the front yard of our Mount Vernon houses.
For two years, these cuttings gingerly took off, spreading, but producing few berries. This year, they flourished, producing bowls of plump, raspberry gems we enjoyed with vanilla ice cream.
Now that the bush is healthy, and large, I’ll cut it back, removing some of the old canes.
When we had our Anacortes lot (happily sold last year), we made friends with a master gardener, who give us cutting from a thorn-less blackberry bush. Like my raspberries, it limped along but took hold this year, initially sprouting inch-long ruby red berries, which were tart. Disappointed, I left them on the bush, and nearly three weeks later, they turned dark purple and were delightful to eat.
This same master gardener dropped off several tomatoes, bell peppers, and sage bushes. How a vegetable plant, like child, is a determinate of its future success. In this case, we were given Ivy League tomato plants. They were tall (nearly 3-feet in height) and strong (the stems were as thick as white board markers) with root balls you’d expect on a large bush. Once planted, they got bigger, producing within weeks heirloom, Italian, and early girl tomatoes.
Plus, Rich purchased 6 different types of tomato from Fred Meyer’s, and we had tomatoes spouting up everywhere from last year’s fallen fruit. Every tomato that falls on the ground, and is left there has the potential to turn into an uninvited plant the following summer. We even had tomatoes sprouting in the grass!
We produced so many tomatoes that I dehydrate four batches, and made two large pots of sauce to freeze.
While peas were a disappointment, our pole bean production exceeded expectation. After weeks of gnawing on beans, nearly every night, I blanched and froze what was left. Bye-bye beans.
Planted by the pole beans were green bush string beans. I think they were intimidated by the pole beans because while the plants were healthy, and full of beans, we didn’t have a particularly large crop. Meanwhile, the purple string beans, planted in the raised beds in the backyard, were troopers, producing piles of beans at the beginning of the season, and then again last week! I’ve never had a double-crop before from these determined, consistent producers.
While radishes were a bust last year, we had radishes within weeks of planting. They were gorgeous. We immediately replanted, but subsequent radishes had lots of leaves and ill-formed radishes. Strange.
Carrots fit in the same category as radishes… great initial crop, and then nothing afterwards. Plus, I’m so enchanted by our carrots that I don’t want to eat them. After a few days in the refrigerator, they get soft, and then I have to toss them in the recycling bin. What a waste!
The pepper plants we got from the master gardener produced for months, and must have collaborated with the pepper plants we purchased from Fred Meyer’s because we picked numerous bell and chili peppers. This was the first year we had too many peppers, and I ended up dicing, and freezing them.
We were equally pleased with our cucumbers, especially the delicate lemon cucumbers. Unlike years past — when we ended up with behemoth squash — this year, we were very analytical and logical when planting zucchini, crock neck, patty pan, and piccolo. The analysis paid off (or maybe we did a better job of picking them when they were small) because we ended up with the “right amount” of squash and only had to give away a few.
Speaking of out-of-control squashes, an acquaintance mentioned on Facebook that she was given a large squash and was super excited about preparing it. Her friends offered recipes. A week later, she was flummoxed as to how she could possible use up the rest of the squash. A friend responded, “There are town where if you leave your car unlocked, you’ll find a zucchini left on the seat.”
Finally, with an early spring, we popped lettuce, kale, spinach, and arugula seeds in the ground. They grew like weeds, providing us with salad-fixing for most of the summer. We’ll keep the kale in the garden, since it can be harvested for the next few months, provided it doesn’t snow or there’s a hard freeze.
This morning, while chugging on an elliptical machine, I read an insightful article in TIME magazine about the nationwide collapse of honeybee colonies due to viruses, invasive lice, and most likely pesticides. It’s estimated one-third of our food – vegetables, fruits, and nuts – depends on the help of bees for pollination.
As I read the article, I couldn’t help think about two phenomenon I observed this year. First, a miniature blueberry bush on our deck in Kirkland, which has always produced berries, produced nothing this year. Not one berry.
Second, we have a green apple tree in the backyard of our Mount Vernon house. Since we’ve owned the house, the tree has produced 2-6 apples per year. Last year, the house in back of ours went into foreclosure. The new owner dove into updating the house, including significantly pruned the yard, and cutting a huge mostly dead pine tree that was shading our apple tree.
This year, the apple tree had spectacular blooms, and has 100-150 apples on it. For two week in row, I’ve been making apple pies using the apples that fell on the ground. I haven’t bother to pick any because so many have fallen.
We don’t see a lot of bees in Kirkland, which could account for why our blueberry bush produced zippo. Our backyard, which is shaded by large cedar, evergreen, and maple trees is shady and cool with few flowers. It’s not an attractive place for bees.
In Mount Vernon, however, I planted dozens of lavenders, salvia, dianthus, and other flowering bushes, which are usually swarming with bees. Plus, the house is ringed with 30-year old rhododendron and azalea bushes.
The blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry bushes in the front of our Mount Vernon house have been very productive this year, as has the pole beans, peas, tomatoes (many are still green), cucumbers, and carrots. And an apple tree that barely produces fruit, is now densely packed. I suspect cutting down the aged pine tree made our apple tree a more attractive destination for bees. And may “bee,” we’re now enjoying the fruits of their labors.
Between the raindrops on Saturday, Rich and I put in the plants that we’d bought at the Washington Technical College several weeks ago along with bitty seed starts that we’d been coddling indoors for the past few months. The latter has proven very frustrating. The only seeds that have grown with any success has been pea pods, peas, cilantro, and lettuce. Although, the latter die as soon as we put them outdoors.
Our raised beds — in Mount Vernon — now feature five types of tomatoes, three types of broccoli, two artichokes, celery, two types of peppers, peas, pea pods, several types of lettuces (from the technical college), spinach basil, thyme, cilantro, and mystery seed starts… and may be beans if they ever do us the honor of popping out the ground.
We still need to plant squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, and Japanese or Thai eggplant. Oh, and radishes. And tomatillos would be great.
Even though Zephyra isn’t a vegetable or herb, she felt her picture should be posted for everyone to admire. Zephyra thinks the world is a beautiful place with squirrels to chase, fences to climb, plants to hide among, catnip to sniff, and raccoon water to drink.
The picture to the right was taken in Kirkland. As soon as Rich stains the deck, we’ll put the pots (background) on the deck. The pots contain blueberries, raspberries, orange rhododendron, mock orange, apple tree, and baby trees and lilacs. We’ll also be creating pots of lettuce, basil, tomatoes, and pea pods for weekly consumption while in Kirkland.
For the past few weekends, Rich has been planning and building two 5×8 foot raised planter boxes for our Mount Vernon house. This weekend, he dug holes in the ground and sunk them. In the middle is heavy plastic mesh to keep critters from burrowing up into the garden with a layer of landscape fabric on top. Around the edges and in the post holes is gravel to prevent the wood from rotting.
Next weekend, we’ll get top soil, which we’ll supplement with bags of steer manure, bone meal, and other soil amendments, which are currently in the back of Rich truck.
For the past month, I’ve been starting herb, lettuce, pea, and string bean seeds in the house. The lettuce sprouted very quickly so I had to move them into a larger pot where they’ll hopefully get stronger so they can be planted outside.
It’s still very early to start planting, but we wanted to get the boxes completely so we could pop in seeds or starts when the weather gets warmer.
While Rich was building planter boxes, I was busy tearing out sections of ivy to plant a xeriscape garden with lavenders, salvia, thyme, and other drought tolerant plants. We planted similar plants into Texas (in place of grass). Once they took hold, after watering them for two years, they required very little maintenance or water.