Soon to be renowned!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Financial Report

News today from FPG's CFO: I am sorry to report that both our recent Rock Sale and last month's Dead Plant Clearance Event were utter failures; as such we have missed our revenue goals for the fiscal quarter ending—wait, how do fiscal quarters work? Ah well, there's a reason I became a gardener and not something useful.

What this means for the continuing development of the Gardens is that our operating budget is roughly equal to any buried change or scrap metal we find in the earth-moving process. Thus far, our coffers contain two and a half tire-irons, an old matchbox car, a surprisingly complete set of silverware, two dozen rusty nails, a screw driver, and a small pair of scissors.

We're saving up for a trip to the scrap yard, but until then we are forced to be thrifty and innovative in our use of tools and landscaping materials. For example: gas for the lawnmower is expensive! But, in a pinch, one of those hand blenders from the kitchen on an extension cord can work just as well. Probably. Bang. That's real savings right there.*

Or consider a retaining wall (oh, do consider a retaining wall). I wanted to build a short one to put the veggie bed up on a small terrace, but allan blocks or natural stone can be pricey—in that they have a price and so are not free, which places them light years beyond the aforementioned operating budget. (I don't even want to think about how many tire-irons it would take to pay for that kind of hardscaping.) So the ingenious solution I stumbled upon was to simply use materials found around the yard. The previous owner left behind lots of good stuff, so surely I could find something with which to build a retaining wall. But what?

Lo and behold: bricks! Old, leftover bricks work splendidly for a small, informal retaining wall. I couldn't believe the previous owner didn't want to take these with her! Well, you know what they say: one man's trash is another man's … masonry. So I rounded up all the bricks I could find and voila, I had a great dry-stack wall complete in no time. Now, unfortunately, I could only find three bricks, so the wall is a little patchy in spots. But at a total cost of nothing I'm pretty darn proud of the results. Check it out:

This retaining wall was built entirely with found materials!
*Who am I kidding, this is a bad idea. Really, just terrible. Don't waste your time attempting this. I just wanted to seem thrifty and innovative.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rocks 4 Sale

Wow! That's all I can say. I can't believe we're letting these babies go. That's right, this week only, we're making available to our most loyal patrons a select handful of authentic stone ... artifacts (well, stones anyway) unearthed in the construction process of Fencebroke Promontory Gardens.
You there! How would you like to take home your very own piece of gardening lore? Well this little potato-shaped number here is the very same rock that invoked a storm of foul language when it lodged in the tines of my digging fork! You can't put a price on that kind of history! What am I saying, of course you can!!! $39.95. Plus $9.00 shipping and handling. Plus a $14.95 … convenience fee.
Or how about this bad boy here? This near-boulder was buried in the exact spot I needed to put a fencepost. What are the odds? Well, now it can be yours for 3 payments of $98, plus another payment of … um, $98.
These prime specimens of local geology are just flying out the door, so be sure to claim yours soon! Not your typical fieldstone, despite what they seem, no sir, each of these rocks has been imbued with the very essence of Fencebroke. See that spot, right there? Essence, I tell you! $249.95 for … a dozen. A baker's dozen. Buy a dozen for $249.95 and get a baker's dozen free.
We have only a very limited supply of these mineral masterpieces—I mean it's not like they're found in every shovelful of dirt! (Maybe every other shovelful, but still!) Limited! Rare, rare, rare! They're certainly not piling up uselessly alongside the shed.
Plants die, but rocks are forever!
A rock a day keeps the doctor at bay!
Unleash your inner rock!
Buy them all and use them to make a fire pit—
actually, that's not a bad idea. Over on the side of the yard, there … hmm.
Nevermind, false alarm everybody. There's no sale here, these rocks are spoken for! The rock bubble has burst. Rocks are yesterday's—oh screw it, you get the idea. I have a fire pit to build!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mt. Sod

I have, in previous posts, referred to the blessedly blank slate of Fencebroke's existing landscape. This is a little more than something of a misnomer, and a terrific example of how easy it is to overlook little details when performing garden renovation/installation. For you see, a truly blank slate would be to have acquired an empty, dirt lot, at most in need of a quick rototilling before accepting with fresh happy soil whatever seed or root touched ground. In fact, what I failed to distinguish (despite years of experience, which should have better-attuned me to such technicalities), is that the previous owners did not leave the garden blank so much as they planted thousands upon millions of one specific plant of which they were evidently quite fond: grass.
Yes, indeed, the whole vast expanse of Fencebroke Promontory was choked with strong, healthy lawn, which is great if you like lawn, and not so great if you have aspirations to plant anything else, ever. The former case offering very little fodder for gardening, much less blogging, we were confronted with the daunting prospect of extensive sod-removal.
For anyone who has not had the joy of tearing a garden bed from a deadman's grip of thick sod, I invite you to come visit FPG for a hands-on, behind-the-scenes tour of our process. And by “hands on”, I mean here, take a garden fork, and by “process” I mean start ripping chunks from the burly turf with said fork, then use a hori-hori knife to pound off whatever topsoil clings to the roots. Repeat ad-infinitum. (Knocking the soil off is by far the most time-consuming step of this process; if you have bad soil/clay etc. to begin with, there's no great loss in skipping this step, but if you have anything remotely decent, it is important to reclaim as much of this top layer of soil around the root zone as possible, as it is the most ecologically complex and geologically scarce part of your garden.)
Surely, you think, there must be a better way. Well, there does exist a machine for removing sod—no, strike that, “machine” doesn't quite do justice here—there exists a mechanical demon for removing sod. I have employed the services of this great bucking, evil beast on several occasions in my professional career. In my opinion (and if you ever encounter the beast, please don't mention this; it would surely track me down in vengeance) it is an ineffective device, good for jarring loose your bones from their sockets and soul from your body, but generally cutting too shallowly into the sod to completely remove the more tenacious grass roots and deeper rhizomes. Plus, if you want to reclaim any of the topsoil, you still have to go through and manually pound away at the sod strips.
Together with my wife, (and to a somewhat lesser extent, our assistant Daisy) we are slowly but surely chewing away at this great task. We have successfully carved out small circles for the fruit trees, and are well on the way towards excavating a bed which will become our vegetable garden. That's a lot of sod. Where does it all go, you may ask? May I introduce to you the most inadvertent topological feature of Fencebroke Promontory: the ever-growing Mt. Sod!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Keeping Up

I've got this. No, really, I'm on top of it.
Spring is almost here and let me assure you—Fencebroke Promontory is completely ready for the season. Don't believe me? Shame on you. Look, I even put out the birdbath:

Yes sir, all of my potted plants, from previous apartments and rescues from work, are sited correctly and ready to be planted (I decided, after much deliberation, to go with a rather avant-garde design, which only looks like I just left them where they were, lined up along the fence. It'll be fabulous, trust me):
The Laburnum stump I began removing two months ago? It's, well, it's practically removed. Sure, the severed stump is still in the hole but how hard can it be to just pop it out and toss it in the yard waste bin? It's definitely not too heavy for me to lift. What, did you think I hurt myself trying to get it out and that's why it's still sitting there? Ha! I laugh. This is me laughing. No, I always hold my back when I laugh.
The Veggie bed is prepped and ready to plant. Yes, to outward appearances, it may seem like I got a third of the way into it and then gave up, but I assure you, it's—um, supposed to look that way. You know, the latest trend in urban gardening. Gotta leave some of the lawn in the bed … er, leave part of the lawn … fallow. It's complicated; you wouldn't understand.
Oh, and the Winter pruning is done. Turns out, nothing really needed it this year! What are the odds!?

The Grass is freshly cut and certainly not threatening to overtake our native stone ducks. This bit here is just a little grass I left as … habitat. Or something. Those Bluebells in the foreground are habitat, too. Ducks love Bluebells.
I even finished the gardening chores in time to get some structural repairs done. I was able to fix up that gate on the west side. It was far too neat and pristine before; now it has that proper, shabby-chic look, for a touch of Fencebroke rustic charm:

So, as you can see, everything is ready. Nothing left but to sit back and watch the season unfold. In the patio chairs … which are totally cleaned and set up, I promise.
Now I just need to step outside, for … something unrelated.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Orchard Has Been Labeled

Well, not really.
I still need some good, permanent labels to affix to the trees, for posterity (ha! Such technology does not exist! Every tagging, labeling system yet created will eventually fall off, decay, become illegible, or otherwise disappear as everyone who has tried well knows). So this is more of an online labeling session for all the countless readers out there who are begging to know what, exactly, I have planted in Fencebroke's orchard.
Well, not really.
No one was begging per se, but I could tell everyone was wondering.
So here is the roster of my fruity all star team.

In this corner, looking like mere stubs after some ruthless formative pruning, measuring in at just under three feet tall, are the mini-dwarfs! These babies are all grafted on super-dwarfing rootstock M27 which should keep them, even at maturity, at barely six feet tall! Don't let their size fool you, though, mini-dwarfs are used in commercial orchards in Europe because they pack so much punch in such a small space. Let's hear it for the little guys: apple varieties 'Liberty', 'Akane' and 'Karmijn de Sonnaville'!

And in the middle, forming the sturdy backbone of the group, we have the espaliers! Woo! Yeah! As mentioned in the previous post, these two were a housewarming gift from my parents. They brandish a different apple type on every outstretched arm (and look a little like policemen directing traffic, if you ask me). These include: Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, King, Jonagold, Spartan and Akane! That's a championship-caliber assortment, and if you can't find an apple you like somewhere in there, I don't want to be your friend.

And finally, anchoring the team in this corner, the only non-apple of the group, the outsider who promises big things: 'Hardired' Nectarine! That's right, I planted a nectarine! My Dad did some recruiting on this one, pointing it out from the Raintree catalog as an exceptional nectarine, which is supposed to perform well in the maritime Northwest. We'll see; I'm not signing any long-term contracts. But if it does thrive! Nectarines are not only the most delicious fruit of summer (this has been scientifically proven true, I'm pretty sure), but are also beautiful trees year round. It's possible we've landed a future superstar with Hardired.

I have also invited an old veteran to join the team: an Italian Prune, but we have not yet settled on agreeable terms (read: I can't find one cheap enough without placing another Raintree order and I don't want to pay more shipping costs). This old reliable plum is simply the best for eating fresh and for drying into prunes. Not the most attractive tree, but then not everyone is fortunate enough to have the looks of Mr. Pretty Boy Nectarine over there.

So that's the orchard lineup as I have it penciled in for opening day. Doubtless there will some late additions in the form of berries and other bit-players, but the core roster has been set.
Now we'll see if they're just a bunch of overpaid divas, or a true team of winners. I better go out and yell at them for a while; I don't want to start the season with a bunch of soft, out of shape trees.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Orchard Has Landed

It was opportunistic orcharding at its finest.
A week or so ago, in what could only be described as a face-slapping sign from the local gardening deities (doubtless impatient with my lack of any noticeable progress in their nominal realm), I received both a package from Raintree Nursery and a surprise visit from my parents, in the same afternoon. Both visitations happily resulted in bare-root fruit trees.
From Raintree (those fine purveyors of all things fruiting you can stick in the ground; seriously, if you haven't already, check out their catalog) this was my order of four trees I had vacillated over for the better part of two months. It turns out, the delay was all on my end, for once I actually placed the order they were incredibly prompt with delivery.
And from my parents, a wonderful housewarming gift of two (!) espaliered, combination apples. These babies, for anyone wondering, are the nifty offspring of sorcery and pomology: they are short, stout bare root trees with six different apple varieties grafted onto each trunk, the branches all aligned in a plane so that the whole tree can be sited flat against a fence, wall, etc. and not take up your whole yard. There is no better way to grow so many different apple varieties in such a small amount of space. Methinks my father sensed my growing anxiety over selecting only a few fruit trees and came up with the perfect solution. Parents are just the best.
So at that point, I had an orchard of sorts. The problem was: half of it was lying in a shipping box stuffed with newspaper, and half of it was propped up against the house in a black plastic bag. I do not need to tell you that this is not an optimal arrangement for long term orchard vitality and production. Nevertheless, such was the fate of Fencebroke's tree-fruit legacy for over a week. Because, you know, it can be hard to prepare, plant and stake an orchard while LIFE is happening, and RAIN and SNOW are spitting all over LIFE and BABY is spitting all over LIFE and WORK is flagellating BODY and TIME exists only in fleeting, three minute episodes. So I stared, with guilt and trepidation, at my precious orchard. I pictured its roots rotting, its buds falling off, just another casualty of modern LIFE.
But then, on yet another Monday afternoon initially written off to cold rain, just when I thought this orchard thing would never happen, the clouds unexpectedly parted, birds sang … and dirt flew. The next several hours became a blur of digging forks, spades and torn-up sod. Supervised by our pleased firstborn, Daisy, who perhaps sensed the unfurling of her expansive, landed birthright, my wife and I worked together, earnestly breaking ground at Fencebroke Promontory, and by the end of the day, an orchard had sprouted!