Monday, May 2, 2011

Second spring, or whatever happened to Sky and Lynne anyway?

Daffodil fields in Skagit County, Washington

Like many people everywhere, we are impatient for spring to blossom into warmer temperatures and sunny skies. Unlike last year, when both Lynne and I thought we had won the jackpot because of the very balmy winter in Bellingham, we had a certifiable winter this year: more snow, some periods of temperatures in the teens, and more grey skies than one would choose. Yesterday, we had such a beautiful blue day, full of sun, that we put our tomato starts outside to soak up the rays. We also worked outside, sifting dirt.

Living in Kentucky, I never heard of sifting dirt. Nor did I ever expect to live on a glacial moraine. Yet here we are, living in a part of Bellingham called Alabama Hill, a hill high enough to give us our view of shimmering Bellingham Bay, outlined by Lummi Island, Orcas Island and the San Juans. The price we pay for daily mesmerizing sunsets is soil made up of rocks and clay. Isn’t soil this poor illegal? OK, so the glacier left it 10,000 years ago (before the laws were made), scraping the rocks off the surface and carrying them along as it expanded. The glacier created this hill that we live on. That fact makes our yard seem so…prehistoric. That’s kind of how I feel, as I dump buckets of “soil” onto the screen we have set up on two saw horses, and sweep the soil back and forth with my gloved hand, seeking out the rocks that remain. I toss the rocks into a bucket on the side. It fills up distressingly fast. Amazingly, the neighbors a few doors down are willing to take this rock off our hands, as much as we have to give them. We willingly comply, with an exchange of an odd collection of plastic buckets, heavy with rock when we give them to the neighbors, empty and willing to be refilled when they come back.

The transformation of our back yard has been a huge project. We knew that it would be and that explains why we waited almost two years to start. The interior of our house is very habitable now, as the result of Lynne’s continuous efforts. The front yard has flourished, as I have taken an interest in gardening, much easier to do in a climate free of mosquitoes and intense heat. But we kept wavering about the back yard, which was covered, fence to fence, with an 80 foot deck, built 25 years ago. Had we wanted to play shuffleboard in our retirement, the deck would have been ideal. Even ping pong would have worked, if the breeze wouldn’t have lifted the ball over the privacy fence, or over the new roof, or into the Douglas Fir. None of these options were top on our list, so we asked ReStore to deconstruct our deck. We paid them for their efforts, and had the satisfaction of knowing that 50% of the wood was resold, sparing the county dump yet another pile of construction debris.

What was left when the old deck was gone, was a completely barren back yard with a steep slope. The advantage of glacial till and clay, we have learned, is that no weeds will grow on it! That’s kind of like a booby prize. If no weeds will grow on it, what about plants that we want, such as blueberries, apple trees, Marion berries and lilacs? How can we garden out there if we can’t get up and down the slope?

We found the help of a local landscaping company to build two retaining walls for us, and to install some handsome basalt steps to make the slope accessible. Did I mention looking out at an excavator parked under our living room picture window? Did I mention that once they had totally torn up our yard, the weather turned rainy and they couldn’t come back for a week? Did I mention the portable toilet that was in our driveway for the duration?

Our new retaining walls and terrace!

The “hardscaping” is done now. We have beautiful sweeping stone steps and a garden terrace to show off. As of this week we have something else new: a very sharp looking two tiered Timbertek deck, the second tier offering an enhanced view of the bay and the San Juan Islands. This deck (almost done) was built, mostly in the rain, by our 69 year old carpenter, Gerry Hiley, who, if possible, is even more of a perfectionist than Lynne. Between the two of them, this deck should be nominated for some award, or possibly displayed on the pages of Better Homes and Garden. Soon to come: railings with glass panels. Already done: a new fence along the south end of the yard.
Our visitors:  Nora and Julie with Lynne in Seattle

We started our project in March. We hoped to have it finished by mid-April, when we had visitors from Kentucky. Here we are at the beginning of May, and we have hope that this week will see the completion of the deck. Already we have accumulated plants to fill in around the new retaining walls and the new deck. But before that, back to sifting dirt.

Gerry Hiley, our carpenter extraordinaire
Lynne happy!
Winnie gives a smile of approval

1 comment:

  1. Some of us would like to have a cup of tea in this backyard when it's finished.