Little Free Library Stolen on Tacoma’s Hilltop at S Sheridan and S 12th/Earnest S Brazil St behind Safeway

Some time on the evening of October 27th or the morning of October 28th, 2014 a metal newspaper box serving as as “Little Free Library” was stolen from the corner of S 12th/Earnest S Brazil St and S. Sheridan Ave on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

Please keep an eye out in case it has not already been sold to a scrap yard for meth money.

A story written about Little Free Libraries written for South Sound Magazine can be found here.

To see more photos of Little Free Libraries in Tacoma, you can click here.

Guerrilla Urban Farming

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It’s taken almost exactly three years (closed escrow on this place on May 18th 2010) but I finally got rid of all the lawn.

Something that most folks don’t know is that lawn is bad for the environment, just like street and sidewalk, a well manicured lawn on compacted soil is an impervious surface, meaning that water won’t filter through the earth and percolate down to recharge aquifers, it just overwhelms the storm drain system carrying fertilizer, pesticides and dog poop (along with gas/oil/antifreeze and whatever else is on the street) with it out to the Puget Sound via Commencement Bay.

Over the years I’ve been in this house, I’ve been slowly converting lawn in to more useful area; a nice pervious gravel bed under my grape arbor, a fairy garden, adjacent to a small orchard of mixed fruit and one hazelnut tree, and a huge garden area. The only place out back where I now allow grass to grow is in the chicken area so that they can eat fresh greens when free ranging.

I converted the (very small) front yard slope into flower garden the first year I was here, but was left with a huge parking strip full of the offending green stuff. This parking strip is 15 feet deep (measured from the sidewalk to the street) and runs the length of the property.

A neighbor, one bock over on the other side of the street has a wonderful little guerrilla urban farm that I have been admiring since I moved here. It’s hilarious at peak squash season, as the vines go insane and sometimes encroach in to the street. Since the legality of taking over what is essentially city property (but we are required to maintain) for urban farming/gardening in the front, where people can actually [gasp] see it is somewhat questionable, I like the slightly “naughty” feeling… [raises dirt covered fist in the air and yells]…”POWER TO THE PEOPLE! SQUASH IN THE STREET!”

THIS is what I am aspiring to… (you can see my house in the background)

this is not my garden... this is a neighbor one block over (you can see my house in the background) who I aspire to be like

But first, I had to get rid of the stupid lawn…

I was pretty happy to have this be my LAST mow.

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I didn’t want to dig out the sod or rent a sod cutter (sod this old doesn’t come out easily anyway) and really didn’t want to have to mass apply herbicide, so I decided to use the same technique I used for my actual front yard and garden beds out back, which has worked fabulously.

I raided my basement, then the Safeway down the street for cardboard boxes which I laid out over the lawn. Once weighted down with topsoil, mulch, or in my case Tagro, it will kill the grass with no cutting, digging or chemicals and then the cardboard and grass will decompose and amend the soil, no tilling required.

That big pile there is 3 cubic yards (that’s 4,800 pounds, over two tons) of Tagro

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as it turns out, 3 cubic yards wasn’t quite enough to do it as thick as I wanted…

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so I got another 3 cubic yards…

Gardening - Spring 2013

Gardening - Spring 2013

over the course of one afternoon and the following morning, I shoveled 9,600 pounds (oh so close to five tons) of Tagro, thus re-confirming my status as “crazy lady no one wants to mess with” on my block.

It sure felt good when it was all done. (Ibuprofen was my friend that night)

Gardening - Spring 2013

So just like that, I reclaimed 535 square feet of prime, sun filled garden space…

As I was shoveling and shoveling, I fielded a lot of questions from neighbors young and old. “Are you crazy?” and “Can I feel your biceps?” comments aside, they were interested in the process, my reasons for it and what I was going to put there.

I have been thinking about putting up some signs talking about urban farming and what is growing there due to all the interest the project has received thus far.

Anyone who knows me, figures out pretty quickly that I am a very serious and dedicated anti-Monsanto/Big Agra and pro local, healthy, sustainable, non-GMO food activist.

Of course, it was going to be food.

“What!? You’re going to grow food out here where people could steal it?”

If someone is hungry and wants fresh vegetables, they are welcome to them. I have way more than I need from my huge garden out back.

Last summer, my friend Jack, like many in this area had a bumper crop of plums. He harvested all of them, laid them out on a sheet with a sign that said “free”. He even provided plastic bags to carry them home in.

What if everyone who could, grew some of their own food. What if they made the excess available to neighbors who didn’t have the land/skill to do so? What if we taught people how and shared our plant starts and seeds with them, and they in turn did so as well?

Can you imagine how much healthier, happier and more connected our communities would be?

While I’m happy to share food, vandalism and waste would make me very sad , so I am keeping “high temptation” things that could be vandalized out back, such as red tomatoes and corn (the neighbors down the street had some issues with kids picking their corn and throwing it some time back) A neighbor grows his really weird looking, off color tomatoes such as yellow and green zebra out front with no trouble.

I didn’t get my seeds started in time this year, so it was off to my farmers’ market and Gardensphere for as many organic/non gmo starts as I could get…

Gardening - Spring 2013

What I can’t grow from organic starts, will at least be heirloom and open pollinated (those are non-GMO) so that I can save seed.

One of the many scary things about Monsanto’s monopoly and GMO is the loss of genetic diversity. At the rate we are going, the only way to save these wonderful, much tastier and safe heirloom fruits and veggies is to save uncontaminated seed from season to season (you know, like farmers used to be able to do)

Seed saving is vital to the future of our food supply.

I have planted the front garden with broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, carrots (from seed), radishes (from seed), red onions, walla walla onions, artichokes, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, butternut squash, kentucky wonder pole beans and snap peas

I roped the area off in order to keep the tender young plants from being tromped on and just to make it pretty, planted double knockout roses in two whiskey barrels I recently acquired. If all goes well, I will be picking up some landscape timbers in the next few days which will help keep the neighbor’s grass out, and keep the dirt in the bed and off the street/sidewalk.

Now I just need everything to grow baby grow…

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Of course, the back yard is getting some new plant action as well…

As a matter of fact, I’m sure that yesterday’s wind and freezing rain storm, and today’s hailstorm are directly related to the fact that I planted tomatoes on Friday. (well, the crappy weather on Saturday is mostly due to the law of nature that says it has to be cold and nasty on Daffodil Parade day)

Gardening - Spring 2013

Gardening - Spring 2013

Gardening - Spring 2013

and don’t forget…

Gardening - Spring 2013

The apples, cherries, plum, peaches, pears and blueberries are blooming.

It’s so amazing out there that I don’t even mind the copious amounts of pollen attacking my sinuses.

More photos of this year’s garden work and things in bloom can be seen by clicking on this link new photos will be added to this set as they are taken.

~L



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The Saga of Lucky the Rescue Chicken

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It happened one Monday afternoon early last November.

I was in my home office doing market accounting when I heard a huge screaming match erupt in the street out in front of my house.

I walked out on to my front porch and saw a bunch of older teenage girls fighting about some sort of Facebook drama.

I stayed out there just in case it got out of hand, and/or spilled over in to my flower beds.

As the ruckus broke up, a young woman, Danielle, who was not involved walked over to me and and said, “Excuse me… Ma’am…” Worried that she was afraid of being jumped and thinking I might need to bring her into the house or call someone for her, I beckoned her closer.

Then she said it… “Do you want a baby chicken?”

Positive I had not heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat herself.

As she did, she held out her hands; in them she held a scared little baby chick who was only a few days old, nestled in a pillowcase.

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She had been visiting friends/family in Spanaway the previous day, and was being told a story about how all of their chickens (20 of them) had been killed by a pitbull two days prior. At that very moment, they saw the dog playing with something.

It was a baby chick that had somehow survived not only the initial attack, but survived out there alone in the cold November weather, for two days.

Once they got it out of the dog’s jaws, they discovered that it was missing a few feathers and was a bit bloodied up. Not knowing how seriously injured it might have been, they were going to “put it out of it’s misery”. She wasn’t having it, snatched it up and took it home.

She spent the night sleeping with it in a shoebox on her bed. She fed it oatmeal and made sure it had water and was warm (pretty impressive chicken care for a city girl) here in the Hilltop.

She had no idea how she was going to find someone to take care of it, and was carrying it with her everywhere, in hopes that she would find someone in the hood who could take on a baby chick. She was beginning to get discouraged and was not sure what to do.

So as she was just about give up hope, the person she was walking with randomly ended up being accosted over a facebook fight which erupted in the middle of the street.

Unbeknownst to her, she was standing directly in front of the Crazy Hilltop Chicken Lady’s house…

What are the chances? Seriously?

Despite my declaration the previous spring of “No more chickens in the house.” there was no way I was turning this young woman and injured baby chick away.

“Of course, I’ll take the chicken.” I told her.

As I was bringing my brooder cage, heat lamp and chick waterer/feeder up out of the basement, her eyes got really big.

“You have chickens?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yes, sweetie, you ended up at the Crazy Hilltop Chicken Lady’s house.”

Her eyes got even bigger, and for the first of many times, she solemnly declared, “God brought me here.”

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I took her out back to meet the rest of the girls, gave her my business card so that she could contact me, and let her know that yes, she could come visit the chick.

I hoped it was a “her” as roosters aren’t allowed in the City of Tacoma. I did make arrangements for one of my farmer friends to take her, in case she turned out to be a he.

We named him or her “Lucky” as it seemed to be the most appropriate name we could come up with.

Whatever injury that little chook had, its lungs were fine; that poor lonely thing cheeped LOUDLY 24/7, probably wondering where all of it’s flock mates were and calling out to them.

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It became apparent to me that there was no way I was going to be able to safely introduce her to my flock comprised of much larger, older chickens (you never introduce a single chicken to a flock like that, they’ll get pecked to death)

I promised Danielle that she was indeed saving the chicken by leaving it with me, and I was fond of the cute little cheeper, despite the noise, smell, mess and fact that I didn’t want to have baby chicks in the house again after raising Laverne and Shirley from two day old baby chicks.

About a month later, I was running out of ideas, when I had a chance conversation with my friend Wendy, who lives just down the street from me. About a month before this occurred, they had traumatically lost all of their chickens to a dog attack (neighbor dog that was allowed to roam free, dug into their yard) A friend gave them three young chickens, one of which had died. (it happens)

That’s when we hatched (pun intended) the idea of having Lucky live at their house since she was only a month younger than her chickens and it would be much easier to integrate her into their small flock than my large flock of angry birds. (really, they are vicious little velociraptors)

It took a bit of time and patience on their part, but the other two girls accepted Lucky (once pecking order was established) and now are very protective of her, nestling her between them when they are roosting at night.

I walked over to see her today and am very happy to report that she is happy and healthy in her new home and is indeed one lucky chicken.

Here are a couple of photos from today’s visit.

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I also got to meet Rorshach the neighborhood bunny… (who roams freely on that end of the street, but likes Wendy and Todd’s yard best)

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Danielle and her mom were getting ready to move from the Hilltop just as this happened, so I’m not certain where she is now.

I just hope she knows what a good thing she did, and learns how well it worked out.

~L



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A Tale of Two Goblets

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I’ve been having a blast at both Throwing Mud Gallery and in my home studio working on my pottery.

I’ve grown a bit weary of throwing bowls, although I will have more fun when decorating my home thrown ones with brushed glaze rather than the dipped glaze at the studio. (hey, guess what a lot of you are getting for the holidays?)

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so I’ve been adding mugs to the mix. Mugs require throwing a cylinder which is a slightly different teqhnique.

out of the kiln at Throwing Mud

The handles have been a challenge; cutting to the right length, shaping, decorating, attaching so that they don’t crack, go limp or fall off…

My first handles were pretty amateurish, but I’m feeling pretty good about a couple of them that I put on today, especially the one on this pitcher.

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Pitchers… Oh, yeah… I’ve been throwing pitchers… Here’s one that came out of the kiln today as well as one that was practice for throwing bottles, it actually makes a lovely bud vase for a large flower with a short stem.

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I got a wild hair the other day, and decided that I wanted to start throwing goblets. Goblets are one of the most difficult things to throw.

There are several different methods, and they can be thrown in one or two pieces. Proponents of each method have their own arguments why one is better than the other.

For example, a one piece goblet does not need to be joined, has no unsightly seam, does not require dry time to complete, has a nice heavy base so the goblet doesn’t tip over when filled.

A two piece goblet is less squirrelly to throw, has a thinner more elegant stem that is hollow so it won’t explode in the kiln if any moisture is left in it like a solid stem often does.

There are more, but you get the idea…

I came home from work the other day and decided that instead of cleaning my house or working in my yard, that I wanted to play with clay, so I decided to throw a one piece goblet.

I followed instructions that I had read seen, got a nice sturdy base and a well shaped cup. I didn’t care for the shortness/thickness of the stem, so I started working it up and thinner.

That’s when the cup portion fell off center and started to wobble. As I got it back on center and reshaped it, it finally collapsed, and this is what I ended up with. Goblet fail.

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I went into the studio today to work (I’m still taking lessons ,which include one studio session each week) and told Mark about my goblet fail.

I was waiting for the oft uttered “You need to learn to walk before you run” instructor speech, but instead, he went to his work area, and showed me three different methods of goblet construction: one piece (the one I tried) two piece throwing the stem off the hump, and the two piece method he uses.

It was a super great help, so after I got my handle attaching, trimming and glazing done on my other projects, I sat down and tried it. One thing that really appealed to me, is that this method is similar to the way glass goblets are blown.

I’m pretty excited about what I ended up with. If the trimming and connecting goes well, I should have goblet win instead of goblet fail.

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Goblet win would be awesome, as I’ve already got people lined up wanting me to do commission work.

Just for fun, I shot a video of the first stages of throwing a pot (controlling, coning/centering, opening, compression/control, and the first three pulls). I totally screwed up four pots (stage/camera fright?) but finally got one to stay together for the video. (I had a blast choosing the music to go with it)

Oh, and this is the pot once it was finished.

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Next time, I hope to have shots of the goblet all put together, trimmed and glazed.

~L



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When Art Explodes (or firing up the new ceramics kiln)

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I’ve been wanting one ever since college; which was [cough] a long time ago.

After getting settled into my house where I finally have room (a great basement and a detached garage for future expansion) I started checking craigslist for used kilns and potters wheels every few weeks. They were all either too expensive or too far away.

I finally got lucky and found a small old Duncan kiln that would plug into regular household current (didn’t have time or energy to wire up 220 in the basement) and an old ( and virtually indestructible) Shimpoo RK-2 potters wheel just across the bridge.

Before I committed to the sale, I checked around and discovered that Paragon, who purchased Duncan had the manuals online for download and still sold parts, so that sealed the deal.

Although my manual was not available online, I emailed Paragon and was sent the correct manual for my kiln. That’s pretty awesome customer service!

My dance friend Jason rode out with me to pick them up and helped me schlep them into the basement.

I decided that I didn’t want to develop bad habits on the wheel since it had been so long since I had used one, so I signed up for classes at Throwing Mud Gallery and it didn’t take too long to get the feel for it again.

Once I was confident that I knew what I was doing again, I started playing on the wheel.

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I threw what I thought was a decent bowl and got it trimmed up.

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Firing an old manual kiln takes work, calculations, practice and more than a bit of luck…

There is no computer to ramp up, hold or cool down so you must pay attention. It has a kiln sitter which holds a pyrometric cone or bar designs to melt as certain fireing temperatures known as “cones”. If adjusted properly, when the bar or cone melts a lever drops which shuts the kiln off. There is also a safety timer which will shut the kiln off after a certain amount of time in case the kiln sitter does not work.

Here’s a shot of the kiln sitter from inside the kiln.

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and after a firing to cone.

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With the timer set, the cone in the kiln sitter and my first home made creation inside, it was time to fire up the kiln.

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The next morning I was super excited to see what I would find.

BOOM!!!

I found one blown up pot. The bottom was blown off and what was left was in tiny pieces. It must have been an impressive explosion.

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At least when I mess up, I do it big.

Of course, we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I learned several things from this.

First, make certain that the pot is bone dry, or candle it first (fire on low setting with lid propped open to dry it out, which will wear the kiln elements out early).

Next, ramp up the heat very slowly. (kind of a pain with a manual kiln, but better than having to vacuum up pottery shards.

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After doing some reading and talking to Mark at Throwing Mud, I threw another pot, dried it fully and tried again with a slow, three stage ramp up.

This time it was SUCCESS!

I got a lovely, bisque fired pot ready to be glazed.

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and more ready to go in for the next firing once they are trimmed up…

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I really didn’t want to mess up the glaze firing, so I was very careful with my ramp up and cool down.

The next morning, I discovered an intact glazed pot 🙂
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I did a little happy dance after that.

This pot is under fired which is no biggie, I can just refire it. What would have been bad would have been blowing it up, or melting it to the shelf.

My little ancient Craigslist kiln will fire some glazes to perfection, but just doesn’t have quite enough ooomph for high fire glazes, the only ones which are certified food safe. Since I want to create functional art, I want my plates/bowls/bottles to be food safe.

So I got an awesome deal on this Paragon Xpress 1193 High Fire Kiln (aka “My Precious”)

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This means that I can use my cute little Craigslist Duncan kiln for bisque firing and the Paragon for glaze firing. Just like a “real” studio.

Soon, I will be able to turn out things like this at home (although I’ll still do some studio time at Throwing Mud because I like everyone there 🙂

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If you need me, I’ll be down in my basement in my studio.

Oh, how wonderful it is to be able to say that after all these years.

~L



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Earth Day!

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Earth Day 2012 has been a big deal for me.

The whole rebirth thing is reverberating strongly for me this spring.

Friday, I staffed a booth at the University of Puget Sound for their Earth Day Event. Saturday, I was at work advocating for local, sustainable, healthy food.

Yesterday, I just had to plant a tree in honor of Earth Day (well, and because I like to dig in the dirt 😉

Considering that since I bought this place two years ago, I’ve planted nine fruit trees (cherry, apple, plum, peach, pear) two nut trees (hazelnut), five ornamentals (flowering cherry, dogwood, ash and one edible ornamental pollinator (crabapple) I’m kind of running out of space.

But there was one spot in front that would shade the front porch which has a Southwest exposure and gets hit hard by the summer sun and heat that just begged for a pretty tree.

I chose an Indian Summer crabapple (beautiful, just the right size, small edible fruit, provides food for wildlife, pollinates apples) which unlike the Sugar Tyme I have planted in the back yard which has pink buds opening to white flowers, has stunning red flowers.

Isn’t it pretty?

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I also had clumps of day lilies given to me by my neighbor Steve when I first bought the place two years ago (he dropped off clumps before I even moved in) that were getting crowded.

So I thinned them down to two reasonable size clumps.

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This left me with TEN good size clumps to relocate.

I decided to plant them in the parking strip out front in between the flowering cherry trees. I want to eventually reclaim that strip from lawn to garden and this is a good start.

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You can see that the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry trees are just starting to bloom. Aren’t they lovely?

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I couldn’t leave the fairy garden out of the fun, so I picked up some pretty and fragrant carnations to put out there.

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I have more garden photos from this season on my Flickr’ page.

(if the slide show doesn’t embed or you prefer to click on individual pictures, you can view the photos by making with the clicky clicky here)

I also managed to sneak in some time at the dog park with Frodo the Wonder Corgi.

We had beautiful weather, and it was a great day to honor the earth.

~L



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Birth of a Fairy Garden

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When I first purchased my home in May of 2010, the Southeast corner of the yard behind the garage was a jungle; the Hawthorne and huge old pear tree were being choked to death by an invasive species of Clematis vine known as Old Man’s Beard.

From The Life and Times of A Wild Celtic Rose

In November of that year, my beautiful (and huge) old pear tree blew down in a violent wind storm.

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Since then, this “forgotten” part of the yard, not sunny enough to support garden beds or fruit trees (and still a battle ground for the dreaded clematis vines trying to regrow) has been left in neglect other than two marionberries being trained to grow up trellises on the back garage wall.

Until lately.

It started out innocently enough with three shade loving rhododendrons in the far corner.

Then I learned that crabapple trees will tolerate less then full sun, so I got a good sized one (tall enough for the branches to get sun) and plopped it in the same corner.

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Azaleas… Yeah, and Camellias… That’s what the corner needed as well.

Oooh, Cyclamen, Begonias (tuberus), Periwinkle and some Foxglove for the fairies were also perfect for this little corner.

I found this lovely bench…

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I also scored a fabulous bird bath…

Then the fairies started moving in, which was just a matter of time, as they love the Hawthorne and foxglove and are said to ride Corgis at night.

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Soon Hellebores and Fuchsias appeared (as did more fairies)

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So did Tulips, Daffodils and Winter Heather (Heath) in the sunny areas around the Hazelnut tree…

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It was apparent who was “running the show” out there, so appropriate signage was posted.

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This tree ent arrived.

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and his friend the Bay Laurel ent showed up on the other side of the yard for good measure.

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The area had been transformed just in time for Spring…

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All of the residents seemed quite happy to be there.

Except this one…

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It became very clear that she was not a garden fairy. She was fierce, a guardian… a….

Gargoyle.

So she now watches over the entrance to my home in her rightful place.

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If she deters solicitors and proselytizers, all the better 😉

No worries, the back has not been let unguarded.

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I am looking forward to hosting BBQs, teas and garden parties and watching this area bloom and grow.

~ L



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Garden Season Has Begun!

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Today I got a great surprise.

As I was puttering around the yard on a rare dry and above 40 degree winter day, I discovered it on the sunny side of the house, next to the concrete basement wall, the warmest spot in the yard.

My first daffodil of spring!

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Of course, the first blooms were my lawn crocus. The fall before last, I planted several dozen crocus and grape hyacinth bulbs around the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry trees in the parking strip. This fall, I planted about 80 more, so I’m hoping for a great display.

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The front flower bed is a very busy place where more crocus are blooming, and hyacinth, daffodils and tulips are popping up

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I got a little crazy today and decided to add some summer color by planting 3 peony, 8 Dahlias, 13 Asiatic Lillis, 30 Gladiolas and 50 Ranunculus.

The spring blubs (around 700 or so) already there will start with the crocus bloom in February then transition to the lavender, pink flowering dogwood, roses, summer bulbs and end with the Dahlias blooming through the first hard frost in the fall. It’s practically a mine field out there trying to walk more or less dig to plant anything, so I’m calling that flower bed full. I’ll be adding a few tulips and daffodils to the smaller bed on the other side of the front walk to compliment the lavender, roses and day lilies.

About a week and a half ago, I took advantage of another dry and above 40 degree day and ordered a load of Tagro. (it’s good poop) I got all the garden beds and containers out back weeded, cleaned out and topped off. I used the rest of it to top dress the blueberry bushes along the North fence.

This was after my friend Daniel helped me (helped means he did most of the work) put up a chain link fence to protect the garden from the dog and chickens.

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I also pruned all the fruit trees and rose bushes and wrestled with the Loganberry bush to get it trained where I wanted it to go. I also relocated a Marionberry bush next to the other one which I’m training up trellises on the back of the garage.

While picking up fence material I scored a very inexpensive, big, beautiful Crabapple tree that still had berries on it, which is now budding out.

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I also scored some rhododendrons, so now the boring corner of the yard will have fabulous color.

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I’m also planning on adding a bird bath, some shiny things and making it the fairy corner since it’s so close to the Hawthorne.

Oh, meet my new assistant…. (he looks an awful lot like my friend Knut)

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I have a few more photos available on my Flickr page

This is the best gardening start I’ve had this early in the year and I’m pretty darn happy about it.

~L



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Dog On The Street Tacoma Snow Report

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Frodo the Wonder Corgi and his human took a little jog on Tacoma’s Hilltop over to Wright Park to check out the snow.

This is what we found…

It was a winter wonderland of kids sledding and building snowmen.

Stay tuned tomorrow; it’s only going to get better.

~L



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