My new mantra, apparently borrowed from an old Swedish proverb, loosely translated: There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. To put it in gardener’s speak, we left frostless, drought-ridden zone 10b in early October and are attempting to become acclimated to an extremely wet zone 8b in the temperate rain forest of coastal Oregon. And though the contrast in growing conditions couldn’t be more stark, I’m consumed with getting a small garden started, which means muddy boots, muddy paws, dodging cloudbursts, piles of excavated sod to deal with — once I found the right boots at the farmer’s co-op, it’s been a muddy adventure I can’t get enough of. (The house came equipped with a very large bath tub.) The air and sky are on a perpetual rinse cycle, so different from the port air of the house in Southern California. Marty has returned briefly to Long Beach to handle some stuff and tells me the garden is covered in the grime I try to rinse off daily, but otherwise seems to be hanging on.
For the house, hand-me-downs and second-hand furniture works. The dirty secret about gardens is the cost of getting started. Plants are the very least of the expense. Without dry paths and a relatively level, weed-free canvas, the future will be problematic. And that means getting the hardscape right. The materials category of craigslist is my new favorite haunt. I’d love to build up a free-draining berm with all this dug-up sod and use broken reclaimed concrete aka urbanite for a low retaining wall — but that’s the thing about urbanite. It’s plentiful in cities, rare as hen’s teeth in the country. Pressure-treated landscape timbers are available, relatively cheap, and will have to suffice.
Now when I look at gardens online or in books, for the first time I’m consumed with identifying what besides plants is covering the ground — and even for this very small garden most examples are way beyond my budget. Finding an affordable, local supply of a material for paths to use in place of chronically wet grass has been a challenge in a town where’s there’s no demand for it. My first idea was oyster shells — no problem sourcing those. Tillamook Bay is full of them. But the shells need to be finely crushed, and with just a hammer I was not doing the job nearly fast nor thorough enough. With the right machinery, it’d be a great little business. But as usual, I overestimate the garden desires of the general public, and judging by local appearances, there would seem to be very little demand. Lawn appears to be working just fine for the neighbors, front yards and back, whose free time is filled year-round with hunting, fishing, clamming, hiking, etc.
After weeks of searching for local materials, it came down to a big-box store delivery of crushed granite very much like what I used in the Long Beach garden. The custom-built concrete planters I wanted to bookend the patio morphed into stock tanks — again, the price tag for the concrete was way out of my budget. Maybe in summer I can DIY some concrete pavers. Trying to get this all done in the brief windows of dry weather means speed and quick decisions are of the essence — because I’m dying to get planting! And we will most likely return to Long Beach after the New Year for a few months before returning here. I am purposely avoiding being a bore and mentioning our new granddaughter, the most marvelous being to ever grace the planet — but then we all start out so promising, right?
Daydreaming now about two gardens, I feel a bit like a polygamist. Marty worries that I won’t be happy with this new rainy garden, but I remind him that every garden book I read in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s described gardens filled with plants from zones colder than zone 10. This is not a climate to suit everyone, thank goodness, for the locals very much want to keep it to themselves. But after 30-plus years in the same house, and with the pummeling we’ve all had the last couple years, it’s just the sort of adventure we needed.
I’m hoping to write again before the holidays, but in case I don’t — wishing you the very best!