Labor of Love

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David and Lenda Black worked side-by-side on their Woodburn home for thirteen years. As they worked, they turned a modest 1970’s home and lot into a one-of-a-kind garden showplace. They have artfully blended the tidy look of a formal garden with the relaxed warmth of home and garden; a place where one might wander and lose track of time for hours.

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David & Lenda Black

Tall fir trees surround parts of David and Lenda’s back yard, making a lovely backdrop for flower beds and providing home to a pair of large hawks (possibly Northern Harriers). While Lenda and I savored lunch on the patio, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, enjoyed sunflower seeds at their nearby feeding station.

 

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Partial view of back garden as seen from the screened patio (to see the back yard before the project began 13 years ago, go to the end of this article)

Although there is plenty of plant variety in David and Lenda’s yard, it’s not hard to guess that Hydrangeas are Lenda’s favorite.

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“Buttons & Bows” Hydrangea

 

“If I could have only one flower in my garden, it would be Hydrangeas,” Lenda said.

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeas bloomed in many colors that day, some varieties with flowers so unusual Lenda had to tell me they were Hydrangeas.

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“Annabell” Hydrangea (Lenda sometimes calls them “Mopheads”

 

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Hydrangea with Lace Cap Flowers

Like most gardeners, Lenda admits that she sometimes sees only the weeds that appear overnight and forgets to appreciate what she and David have created.

Every corner of David and Lenda’s garden is well-loved. The side yards are tended and cultivated as lovingly as the back and front yards. Every bed is home to many happy plants, and flower beds have pleasing shapes and soft edges. The beds seem balanced, with each plant seeming to belong exactly where it is, though Lenda says they didn’t plan the garden in advance.

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Lenda calls this spectacular Hydrangea “Pink Spirit”

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As Lenda and I walked, I realized what a generous source of life a well-loved garden can be. Everywhere I looked there was movement; hummingbirds, bees and other insects, tiny white butterflies moving from bush to bush, and huge yellow and black Swallowtail Butterflies. The garden was teeming with creatures dancing quickly from plant to plant, and flower to flower, while colorful Goldfinches took turns at the feeders.

 

 

 

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One of many lush spots in David & Lenda’s gardens

As we walked through the yard, I couldn’t help but imagine the balance of heavy labor and tenderness that created Lenda’s garden.

 

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A portion of the side yard. Just beyond the daisies is the vegetable garden.

“I look to the garden for peaceful reflection and to keep the body in motion,” Lenda said. “David considers himself a Jack of all trades, master of none; yet he constantly amazes me with his ability to learn new skills.He has done all of the remodeling of our home and has built all of the garden structures.”

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One of David’s creations built to support the huge Wisteria. On the other side of this structure is a play area for grandchildren and a strawberry patch for the children (and the birds!).

David created the door that leads from the house to the covered patio and the back garden. It is simple and lovely, made of straight grain fir, which I will admit means absolutely nothing to me. I only know that I find the door very beautiful.

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From Inside Looking out to the patio and garden.

The first time I saw that door it seemed to speak me, “Welcome, I am an invitation, a promise that you will be delighted when you walk through to the garden beyond”

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Looking in from the patio you can see the lovely doors and the cedar ceiling David installed over the patio.

David recently created a beautiful clear cedar tongue and groove ceiling for the covered patio. He also screened in the patio, which in no way inhibits the view of the garden, but did enable a delicious, yellow-jacket free, fresh air lunch the day I was there.

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The garden structure from the screened patio

Lenda and David are modest about the beautiful home they have remodeled and the amazing garden they have built from scratch, though they confess it was, “an awful lot of work.”

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Another view from the patio
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She was kind enough to pose for a minute

A few minutes before I left their home, David, Lenda, and I were admiring a large blooming white Hydrangea in the back yard. Only a few feet away from where we stood, a bunny was busy collecting grass in her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind us as we watched her carry the grass under a large bush where she settled down comfortably on her nest. She was just another example of the richness of David and Lenda’s garden, and she was a delightful end to a lovely afternoon!

 

 

The back yard before David and Lenda began their gardens:

 

 

Cedar Creek Trail

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The lazy, drone of bullfrogs follows Teddy and I up and down the Cedar Creek Trail during our early morning walks. Bullfrogs, merciless hunters of our native wildlife, are with us to stay, so I allow myself to enjoy their tuneless call.unnamed-6

Several weeks ago, my dog Teddy and I stumbled upon the Cedar Creek Trail behind the YMCA in Sherwood. Stepping into such a peaceful world so near the busy highway was a delightful surprise.

The paved trail is surrounded by lush greenery; lovely suburban homes sit on one side and natural wetlands and wildlife haven stretch the length of the other side. In quiet places along the creek, red wing blackbirds sing from the top of old snags, and impressive stands of tall fir trees create a forest habitat where chipmunks play amidst fallen logs on the forest floor.

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In the busy days since recently moving from Milwaukie to Newberg, I’ve missed the small daily adventure of immersing myself in the sight and smell of the outdoors and quietly observing the ordinary lives of suburban wildlife. Fortunately, I’m learning that this area has many opportunities for outdoor exploration.

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Our first morning on the Cedar Creek trail I kept expecting the path to end around the next corner, but it continued through several neighborhoods with side trails giving access to the main trail. I followed the path as it snaked alongside the natural habitat, stopping to listen to birdsong, smell the fresh air, and pay attention to occasional rustling in the brush.

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Along the trail I heard the buzz-trill of busy Towhees calling and flitting about in the low branches. I’ve never seen so many Towhees in such close proximity, though it is the busy nesting season. The songs of many birds fill the air and every few feet a robin hops about carrying a worm or grub. We would marvel at the beauty of the robin if we didn’t see them so often.

The creek flows evenly and gently in some places then stalls for a while, flattening out and providing quiet habitat for water birds and other creatures before turning into a gurgling, free-flowing body of water.

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Three tiny bunnies hopped about on the trail ahead of me one morning, then they dashed toward the brush when they saw me. One bunny allowed me to stand only a few feet from him while he held still and silent, hoping he had become invisible. In silhouette he looked like a little piece of yard art. As soon as I tried to get his picture he made a dash for the underbrush.

Two weeks ago, I watched a pair of quail moving in and out of the bushes and, a week later, saw the older birds with several recently hatched babies.

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Towhee 

I have yet to see a dog loose in the protected habitat, though there are plenty of dog walkers on the trail in the morning. Joggers, and dog walkers, birdwatchers, and day dreamers all seem to understand the importance of leaving the habitat to the wild creatures.

I’m just beginning to learn about the Cedar Creek Trail and other remarkable ways that the community has integrated wetland and natural habitat in the middle of human habitation. It’s a unique and extraordinary sign of a healthy community.

 

Blooming Bunnies

This week’s Wild City post is a gift from guest blogger, Cindi Brown.  Cindi is a professional writer and editor, my dear friend, and my writing partner. She is also the author of  the book, Poverty and Promise, the moving story of her time as a volunteer in Kenya. Cindi and her husband live in New River, Arizona near Phoenix. Check out her blog  it is a work of art.

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Spring has sprung baby bunnies across the desert. They’re more than adorable, the size of a dove, their tiny ears pointed skyward.

Apparently, baby bunnies go out on their own when relatively young. Brent spots one on the walkway in our courtyard and excitedly yells out, “Cindi, come here! Quick! It’s a baby bunny.”

We watch through the front window as the baby nibbles the only few blades of grass in the courtyard. The ground is dirt, but will soon be landscaped.

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In a minute, the baby runs under a large rock. If it stays in the courtyard, it might be safe, I think.

The next day, when I open the garage to go to work, I sneak out to the courtyard, practically tippy-toeing, to see if the baby is out and about. No signs. Crossing the driveway, I look at the yard between us and our neighbors. A large bunny sits quietly. Two babies scurry along their trails, oblivious to me. I watch them frolic.

In the evening, a baby bunny comes onto our back patio, under the table, while big bunnies and doves and quail peck away at the bird seed I just threw out. Brent and I watch the baby from the door leading onto the patio from our bedroom. We softly chant for the baby to get into the fray and eat some seeds. But instead, she hops into the little forest of potted plants that make up our nursery.

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For 20 minutes, we watch her move between the pots, sometimes looking out at the big bunnies and birds. Then she stops in front of our antique potbelly stove. Then she’s on her hind legs peeking into the lower open door of the stove.

“She’s going to get into the stove,” I say.

“No way,” Brent says.

She’s up and her little back feet pump up and down a couple of times before she is safely inside the stove. We’re giggling.

She hops out of the stove, and then back in, in one brave bound.

“I hope she nests there,” I say. “Then she’ll be a little safe.”

“A coyote could pull her out of that thing,” Brent says. Maybe. But several potted cacti sit very close, blocking the entrance to the stove.

“Put some strips of cloth in the stove,” Brent advises. “Natural cotton is the best thing for bunnies and birds, but since we don’t have any, the bunny can make a nest with cloth.”

“When they’re finished eating,” I say, “I’ll water the plants, fill their trough and throw in some cloth.”

I find a few quilt scraps of white and pink cotton fabric and place it carefully in the stove, after removing a rusted grate. The stove isn’t big at all, and the baby is climbing in the little compartment at the very bottom, not even able to get up to the larger door of the stove’s main compartment.

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For this morning’s 6:30 feeding, I scatter the bird seed on the lower patio and then drop a couple of tablespoon of seeds just outside the stove. In a couple of hours I check to see if the stove seeds are there. In the process, I scare the baby, who is at the back wall. But all the seeds near the stove are gone, and the fabric in the stove is flattened, as though she scooted the cotton around to suit her.

I follow the baby to the other side of the house and she is sitting in the dirt.

“Hey, baby,” I goo-goo. “Don’t run away. Come back and see me.”

She runs under a nearby board, still fully visible, and I continue to talk until she lights out for the bunny trails in the side yard.

Back inside, Brent is making pico de gallo and has shaved corn off a cob. “Throw this outside, will ‘ya,” he asks, handing me the corn cob. But he pulls it back quickly and cuts it into five smaller pieces. One piece I sit on it’s end just below the potbelly stove door. The others are tossed into the yard. Bunnies love gnawing on the cobs as much as they love apples.

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I’ll keep making sure there’s food and plenty of fabric for the stove, as long as the baby can fit into the door. I hope she stays in our yard and remains covered, safe from hawks, owls or coyotes. I wish all the babies could come into our yard and live in the stove.

Safe. At least until they’re a little bigger.