crushed oyster shells and chanterelles

Tillamook, Oregon, population roughly 5,000 — in the neighborhoods, all grass, all the time. With 80-plus inches of annual rainfall, to peel off the sod and dig is something only an obsessed gardener would do. I couldn’t wait to get started. The neighborhoods eschew parkway trees — I’m guessing it’s to allow as much sun in as possible. Just a few miles west is the ocean, and a few miles east the forest picks up again, blanketing the coast range. The Douglas fir and Sitka spruce were removed from this five-river valley for agriculture, to grow grass to feed the dairy cows — one of the few crops that thrived in the heavy rainfall. In this 1940s-ish subdivision, possibly built to house WWII soldiers from the nearby naval base, the soil is amazing.
all photos by MB Maher taken the week before Thanksgiving

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.

Munson Falls, where we foraged for chanterelles, mushrooms that peak when the rains return, approximately late August to late November

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.

JAndy’s Oysters where I sourced the shells to be crushed for garden paths

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.

Oceanside Beach, a great dog beach for Billie, but under the epic king’s tide mid November the broad stretches of sand had completely disappeared. Such tides can be treacherous, and even billy-goating around on the rocks is to be avoided. Sneaker waves are a stealthy, fearsome enemy. The local dog park is another favorite of Billie’s.

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?

on the hunt for the elusive chanterelles — and not one of these photos is of chanterelles!

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!


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11 Responses to crushed oyster shells and chanterelles

  1. Elaine says:

    The lush greenness of the PNW is particularly beguiling in the Fall. Everything looks so fresh compared to areas that are winding down and devoid of colour. I think you will enjoy being able to garden here as it will open up a whole new palette of plants for you to play with. Gorgeous photos too. Enjoy the holidays with your new granddaughter.

  2. hb says:

    Wow, what an adventure. Wonderful after yes, the pummeling. Looks very very different there, beautiful, green, wet!! though here rain is forecast for Thursday to wash off the grime. Best wishes in your Tillamook gardening.

  3. Kris P says:

    The scenery is extraordinary and it sounds as though you’ve figured out your new wardrobe requirements. Billie looks to be enjoying her new environment and I hope Banksy is adapting as well. I enjoyed hearing about your gardening efforts, challenges and all. I know you’ll find plants you can enjoy in your new, very wet garden. (You can experiment with ferns!) Nothing has to be completed all at once. After all, your granddaughter has years of growing to do.

    Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season if we don’t hear from you in Tillamook beforehand.

  4. Denise says:

    @Elaine, it is a beautiful part of the country for sure. I’ve always been a holiday minimalist, not much enthusiasm other than a little baking, but I’m really starting to feel it up here!
    @HB, so glad to hear there’s some rain coming! BTW I loved your recent aloe compendium.
    @Kris, you’re right about not completing everything at once, thanks for the reminder. I’m always in such a rush! Have a wonderful holiday.

  5. Gayle Fraser says:

    We moved from Santa Cruz CA 5 years ago to a small town in OR near the Willamette Valley. What an adventure gardening in the PNW has been compared to the coastal fog I was used to. We rented a box truck to bring up all my large agaves & succulents in pots. Got an 8×10 greenhouse for overwintering many of my plants. They are outside from April-Oct. I was shocked how the agaves lived the hot summers. They doubled in size over the last few years of not living in summer fog. I’m out in the yard most months & just bundle up in the winter. And it’s amazing to be able to water in the summer.
    We moved partially for our 1st grandchild too. So great to be close by. You will be so glad you’ll be able to spend so much time nearby your kids/grandkids.!
    Good luck with your exciting new garden.

  6. Denise says:

    Gayle, thanks so much for the positive reinforcement! Good to know it has worked out well for you. Best wishes and happy holidays!

  7. Great photos to accompany your words. I love Kris’ reminder (Nothing has to be completed all at once. After all, your granddaughter has years of growing to do.) I too would be dying to get things underway. I cannot even fathom the amount of wet you’re dealing with—ours is enough (too much) for me. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  8. Gerhard Bock says:

    As I was reading this post, I hung on every word. As obsessed as you are with creating a garden in Tillamook, I’m just as obsessed with reading about your trials and tribulations.

    And your photos! They are perfection!

    I think you have the beginnings of a book, whether you know it or not!

  9. Oooh, I’m sooo excited for you all! What an adventure. I hope you have found all the nurseries along the coast, there are some scattered about. Oyster shell is a marvelous idea, too bad it’s not readily available in bulk for you. Your post takes me back to January 2016 when we moved in here and I immediately wanted to start gardening, and I did, of course – mud and all. Do it. Go for it. Cheers and Happy New Year!

  10. Cindy Hoover says:

    Such an exciting adventure. One I aspired to but remains a fantasy. I’m so excited for you. I had to go searching for this most recent posting. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and 2022 is off to a great fun bang for you and your family. A family adventure to bring all your loved ones along I can tell. Can’t wait to see what new gorgeous garden you design from scratch (that sets a new trend for the neighborhood, even if you get the moniker of crazy obsessed gardener with the fab white top .

  11. Denise says:

    @Loree, I so wanted to catch up with you over a Cistus shopping trip — maybe in spring when the roads aren’t as slick/icy and we’ve settled in more.
    @Gerhard, thanks for the words of encouragement! (btw, those are Mitch’s photos!)
    @Cindy, so glad you found your way here to this little back alley of the internet 😉 — I need to check the FB idyll group to see what travel plans you guys are up to. Miss you!

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