The Ugliest Part(s) of My Garden


If by chance you’re wondering if I’m a Frank Zappa fan, the answer is yes. (“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” is one of my favorites.)

It’s my interest in ridiculous absurdity and playful creative juvenile responses to garden problems that led me here, so let me explain…

Sometimes I see problems and I just do my best, what I can, and what I’m physically capable of doing and this leads to well, more problems down the road.

This is what happens when your garden is your studio and you like to experiment with your medium.

But there are limits and limitations. Always.

Borrowed landscape opportunities in the urban jungle. The apartment building is just feet away from the back fence and the neighbor’s cluttered back garden space is beginning to show through the dead hedge that died because I planted trees that shaded out the arborvitae hedge. (No, not that clutter there in the foreground. Those are my eternal unplanted plants lol.)

It’s come to pass that I’m at that strange point in my life where I need to do something again. I think we call this “goal setting” but it feels a bit strange to say that out loud since I’m nearly 50. Horticulture is fun, but you need to keep acquiring skills by building upon those which you’ve only just mastered. I feel sort of stuck so I need to challenge myself. For once I’ve accepted the challenge of redoing things, but it’s been a slog.

The huge Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Fine Gold’ started out innocently enough. I planted it to block the apartment and to have a view of it from my bedroom since I was ill a lot back then.

The absolute worst part of my entire garden is this back corner. It’s kept me ill at ease for long enough and I am determined to improve it this summer. The plan is to slowly remove and replace the dead, dying, and sort of healthy arborvitae plants. It will be not-so-pretty for years but I need to wait for Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ plants to fill in. There are two there already, and I love them, but I wish I’d planted a whole row of them back when we moved in. (Sigh.) I will steady and add to the temporary bamboo fence this summer. It’s all that I can do.

Can you say, “Lipstick on a pig?” The hedge was installed by my mom and friend as a housewarming present when we first moved in. At the time I was worried about it dying out since arborvitae hedges are often ugly, but I really overdid the ugly on this one.

Sure, a more permanent fence could be added, but we need to replace one along the entire south side of the house so that one is more of a financial priority right now. (It liked to fall over a bit this last winter so…)

The view looking south. Nothing like looking into 3 backyards at once! The old Doug fir created a lot of privacy and I will always remember the smell of it that first summer when I moved in.

In addition to the ugly hedge, I didn’t plan well for the ugly apartment building with a sometimes busy walkway right behind me. I planted trees to block the view from many spots indoors, but the longer I live here, I wish I’d planted more of a hedge or hedgerow along the back fence. Luckily, I am working on this spot too, but it’s a lot of reworking the garden in strange ways.

My tree sort of caused the tree next door to get ugly as well. Oops. Probably should have brushed off that tree debris on the chairs before I took pics.

And it takes patience.

There is a also another tree that will be removed. A storm broke the top of my aspen a year ago, and it’s not well. I’m all for columnar trees at this point and shrubs. I want to keep this simple, but I will miss the sound of the leaves. It is noisy in my back garden and the leaves are lovely during the late summer. They are loud enough to distract you from the noise. It was a good idea, but…

Funny how when I don’t crop this photo you get to see what the space is really like. Not quite as serene is it with that bathroom and bedroom window right there…

This must make me sound like I really want a buffer from the outside world.

Well, I do.

Oh the serenity… At one point the bathroom used to have a window and before the new fence it was a low hedge and I could sit out back and watch apartment dwellers in the shower. It was quite the experience. One young man never had a curtain so there we were.

I want to have a beautiful garden in a beautiful city at the base of an extinct volcano on the edge of one of our nicest neighborhoods. This is not too much to ask.

This is not just a 1950s addition on an old 1911 house. It was altered again during the 1970s.

The other really big issue is the back window. All three sides of the back room have these 1970s windows but I’ve not yet “fixed” this situation to my liking. I still need to order a nice big European style wrought iron window box. It will definitely help.

But that is a lot of wall.

And it wasn’t originally like this.

Once you realize that huge windows were removed during the 1970s, it’s difficult to unsee the lines in the concrete stucco.

I always wanted an old home and could only afford this one because of these goofy changes that decreased the value of the property. The kitchen was HORRIBLE but I have no photos of it anymore because my photos were not backed up when my ex crashed my old computer. The bathroom will be the next financial nightmare and then the lowered ceiling but that’s another story.

Outdoor remodeling has been a bit slow. I would love a covered area out there, but I will have to wait.

And that ugly, ugly, ugly little itty bitty tiny window.

The lesson here is to tackle the problem and address it head on. These really are the worst issues left to deal with and all I can say is that the excitement of improvement is there, beneath my exhaustion. I’ve already been pruning things and it’s fun to see change. First you play with color and texture, and over time, it’s the light and shadows. I only wish I could win the lottery to get a lot done at once, but it will happen in time.

I love the challenge of the garden and gardening. It’s the goal now to challenge myself to improve upon what I’ve build from nothing. I’m ready.

Baldassare, Rock Garden Plants, Eight Dollar Mountain, the Pacific Ocean, and Car Camping with Felix (My Cat)


Last Friday Felix and I awoke at 6 am so we could be on the road, driving to Medford (Oregon) by 7 am. Our first stop during our 4-day weekend was the home of friend Baldassare Mineo, also the former site of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery.

The Medford Garden Club was having a meeting and tea there at noon so I knew I just had to get Felix there in time to meet new friends.

Felix feeling happy at Italio Gardens and Nursery. It’s also the home of his friend Baldassare Mineo.
Rhododendron occidentale, or western azalea, in the now retired nursery planting beds at the back of the property.

It was wonderful to briefly meet the group and to hear their speaker. Gardening community matters to me, and it was nice to be “on vacation” supporting others and hearing about their projects and interests.

After a fun time with Baldassare, Felix and I were off and on our way in the morning to the home and garden of Kathy Allen. While I am a NARGS member, I’m not exactly a rock, crevice or trough gardener, but I HAVE slowly been learning about these plants for both home and work. Visiting Kathy’s is always a treat and this time of year there are so many plants in bloom.

(Just be warned not to write to your friend Baldassare lol or he’ll remind you to reference his book. D’oh!)

Saxifraga longifolia being grown in a trough.
Penstemon grahamii also being grown in a trough.
Aquilegia scopulorum, another beauty being grown to perfection.

Mostly I shopped, but more on that later.

This trip was really more of a vacation for Felix than one of my usual botanical journeys. I didn’t want to admit that the Jeep had been purchased with the hope that Felix would enjoy camping and sleeping in it with me. If I could achieve that, I could feel safe sleeping in a campground alone with him. Yurts are great, but they’re rarely available, and I just cannot sleep in a tent alone and feel safe even if the campground is full as they often are this time of year.

Felix blissed out sitting in the car just above the Illinois River near Eight Dollar Mountain. “River” is one of his favorite vocabulary words and he associates it with driving and visiting Grandpa. He pointed out every river to me during our trip. He was very proud of himself.

Before we ended up at the campground, we did go to Eight Dollar Mountain. The other laugh about this trip was that Sean Hogan had joked with Dan Hinkley a year or so ago that Felix would go botanizing with them in Southern Oregon if they let him in the car. Honestly, while I thought that was funny, I wasn’t sure. I had just brought him in to work that day and was honestly kind of embarrassed that they hadn’t already left for their trip when we’d arrived. (Nothing like wheeling a cat around in a pet carriage when a famous plantsman is around. Talk about being taken seriously—as a crazy cat mom lol!)

Turns out though, that Sean was correct. And just like the rest of us, Felix arrived and immediately started to purr because he liked the area so much. I wandered about a little bit but we had to move quickly to get to Brookings and up the Chetco River to the campground at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.

I was nervous that Felix might begin to get more anxious. Nope.

Darlingtonia californica. Sadly I saw proof of some poaching at this site. Someone had not realized you can’t just rip this stuff out of the ground. Please don’t be stupid people and purchase plants ethically that are grown in cultivation.

We made it to the beach and it was amazing. Felix loves the beach already—especially when he can climb on nearby rocks. This allows him to feel safe since there are a lot of dogs off leash—even though there are signs saying that leashes must be used at all times. It’d be a losing war to fight anyone over this since most folks go there just to let their pups run free. All it takes is that one dog though to kill my cat.

So I use caution and love the beaches along the southern coast for these huge rocks. (We have a backpack carrier now as well and that was an extra piece of safety equipment for this trip.)

“What’s up there!?! Let’s climb higher!”

Car camping with Felix was amazing. He was not the least bit anxious and he enjoys people watching so he had a lot of fun. My only regret was not having a little heater for him in the morning. Luckily I was able to get a little attachment for a propane tank along our route. He loved it and so did I. We’ll be set next time.

The Umbellularia californica grove at our campground near Brookings was beautiful. During warmer days in summertime it smells nice too.

We stopped a few more times before we reached our next campground on Sunday. Of course I slid down a small hill I just had to climb in order to take a photo of a rhododendron. I kind of did end up sore from that but that only meant I slept well that night. With my cat. In my Jeep.

Visiting another beach after breakfast the next day.
Rhododendron macrophyllum and friends.

Bandon and Bullards Beach State Park were our next two stops. I avoided getting distracted completely by plants, and decided to just park it at the campground and enjoy myself “in the moment”. This of course meant buying firewood and hauling it back to our site.

I’d purchased a chair to sit in beside the fire and of course the cat took it. Felix stared at the other campers as they walked by—some with their dogs. Many of them absolutely loved him and he knew it.

Lots of people stopped to say “Hi” to him during our stops and I’m seriously proud of him. He travels far better than most people I know and now I know that I can take him out with Grandpa.

Speaking of Grandpa, tomorrow it’s back to Southern Oregon again to pay our respects to Frank Moore along with other fisherfolk or fisher-people.

Funny that this all relates back to my first trip to the Glide Wildflower Show last month but I haven’t posted about that yet since I wanted to wait until after the memorial service on Saturday.