Saturday, January 18, 2014

New plans for the wet meadow

Last summer, I told the story of our seasonal wet meadow and how I am in the process of turning it into a pollinator garden, full of nectar flowers and small habitats for wildlife. With winter flooding, the soil was partially submerged for several months each year.

Our ducks ripped up the grass, leaving it in very ragged shape for a lawn, but inspiring the idea of creating a seasonal meadow of flowers and grasses that could survive in wet soil.





Then things started to change, and threw my plans into disarray.


We no longer have ducks. 

Our chickens seem to be predator-proof, but the raccoons were much better at getting ducks. At the same time we were realizing we couldn't protect our ducks, we also realized we couldn't clean up after them. We found a more secure and better adapted home for the remaining part of our flock.

The west coast is experiencing a very dry winter. 

So far the seasonal pond has not happened. The ground is not only above water, but the soil is dry enough to work in. And since this winter has been mild as well (sorry, Polar Vortex suffering friends), I have been out working every weekend that I can.

The grass. 

It grew back with a vengeance! A lot of the mulch I used was partially composted hay. Well - hay is grass or alfalfa, and it has seeds. The grass seeds, and a lot of most unwelcome thistle, germinated and grew into huge, coarse leafed clumps.

Instead of this
I had this


So I've been going out a little every weekend and pulling grass, thistles and weeds.

 They make a nice, satisfying heap.

The green compost bin in the back - a sort given out by the city of Seattle, is full of grass and roots.

Once I filled it I started piling off to the side, just to get it out of the way.

Ultimately I lashed together some pallets with baling twine and made a nice, big compost bin. It makes me very happy to fill it. 






I can't wait for all the compost I will have this year.




With the moist but not saturated soil and the pleasant weather, gardening has been great. And the very early dusks keep me from working so late I end up aching the next day. I could weed until I keeled over if something didn't stop me. But I can't make valid garden decisions without light.


I try to spot the crowns of all the perennial meadow plants from last summer.

Some of them are surprisingly green and lively in the bare soil.

This is coming up where the brown eyed Susans were growing; I assume that's what it is. There were four or five times as many crowns as I put in plants.

So either I'm wrong, or it's growing like gangbusters.




But other times a plant's crown just nudges up through the soil, hard mounds just above the soil line, with a cluster of dead stems at the top.




Other times a shiny green or pink Vee sticks up between the dead litter, indicating dormant growth below. 




Sometimes I  find plants as I start to dig a root and realize it's not a grass or a buttercup but something more intentional. Once it was a long, red, hairy underground stolon. Stinging nettle. Ooops.


This year, the Seahawks happened. But sometimes while I worked, I'd listen to the neighbors television blaring out a  game and I'd be so caught up in planning this summer's garden, I wouldn't go inside and watch. Anyway, I can get the gist from hearing it. Just pretend it's a radio. 

Other times, the high school students in the house behind would be practicing for a band they play in. I can't hear most of the instruments, just the endless drum machines and sometimes a Mariachi style accordian . Easy to tune in and out of.

I let my brain start planning next year's garden. It's in the shade of a big, sprawling pussy willow next door. I like shade, especially damp shade. I dream of big, dark leafed plants - maybe some giant Solomons seal. Meadow rue. Some trillium. Lots of dainty things to contrast with the vibrant music, the sound of football. 

And then this:






A huge windstorm blew down the willow. It must have happened last Sunday but I was too busy with my own stuff to notice till today. They had already chopped it up.


 It had fallen over the fence onto our bushes too. Luckily I can't say I was very attached to any of them. I did like the shade though.

The soft soil was trampled with huge, deep footprints. It was damp enough to compact, though not wet enough for water to cup in the deep places.


 There was sawdust, broken branches and debris all over the place.


Then I noticed someone looking over the fence at me.







Suddenly I wasn't grousing about the neighbors tree any more. I was hanging out with their little black chihuahua and his new buddy. They are two of the cutest dogs I know!

After a while our neighbor Noe came out and told us about watching the tree fall in the windstorm. He said it was a wake up call to him and his family. They are going to look for other hazards in their home, and make an emergency plan for future disasters. He was sorry about the fence. 

I said not to worry. A fence is just a fence. Suddenly that seemed so minor!






















I wish I'd taken a picture of the meadow after I completely degrassed it, to prove that it really happened and show how hard I worked. But I thought I could do it later, and then later a tree fell on it.

Here is a pile of torn up grass in the background and some wood chips from the tree in the near ground.

The story about how I worked on the yard just changed. It's not the story of all the work I did and it's not the story of how it turned out. I will tell them another time.

It's not the story of how I was frustrated at having a tree fall on my fence, and my soil stepped on, because I got over it. It's not about pollinators or biology or plants or anything.



Its just a story about gardens and shade and rain and dogs and trees and neighbors and making plans and unmaking them again, as sometimes happens.





Such is life that you never know when a willow tree will fall onto your work and leave wood chips and ivy fragments all over it. You can't plan for a dry year, though with climate change ahead I should plan on less freezing each year. You can't plan which windstorm will kill a tree, but you can make a shrewd guess which trees are most likely to succumb and you can recognize that it's better to fall on a fence than on a house.

You can enjoy work, and listen to games, and you can remember that distractions, redirections and changes of plan aren't just sidelights -they are life, happening. Live it and enjoy.

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