Regional gardener Pat Herkal contemplates her move to the Pacific Northwest and her new garden.
It is a bittersweet time for me—the excitement of moving on to new life adventures is juxtaposed with the sadness of leaving behind wonderful friends and a mature yard full of my favorite hardy roses, herbs and perennials. I learned to garden in the arid high plains of the Rocky Mountains. I soon will be gardening in the moist, temperate Pacific Northwest. The contrasts between the two environments are tremendous. Riverton is a cold Zone 4; Port Townsend, Washington, is a mild Zone 8. Winter temperatures often drop well below zero in Riverton; now I can anticipate winters with few or no freezes. From what I have been reading about the Northwest, the summers will be fairly dry, as I am used to in Riverton, but there will not be weeks of temperatures in the 90s. I avidly have followed the advice of gardeners such as Rob Proctor and Lauren Springer (authors of several books including Passionate Gardening by Fulcrum, 2000). I look forward to getting to know new mentors and to discovering different ways to garden.
When we visit Port Townsend, I marvel at rosemary plants the size of small bushes growing outside.
A large number of herbs thrive in Wyoming—the hot, dry summers mimic the Mediterranean climate where many originated. Bitter cold winters can take their toll on all but the most hardy. I am excited that I’ll be able to experiment with more tender herbs, especially rosemary and lots of lavenders. Every winter I bring in a rosemary plant that has spent the summer in a pot on the front porch. Generally, by the end of summer I have a robust, bushy potted herb. Inside, it reaches for the sun, puts on thin, spindly branches and succumbs to powdery mildew. When we visit Port Townsend, I marvel at rosemary plants the size of small bushes growing outside in gardens! Some varieties drape over rock walls and hang over ledges. I look forward to an abundance of rosemary! I also have an old, large sage that has contributed to many Thanksgivings and other feasts. In Washington, I will be able to experiment growing and cooking with the pretty but tender variegated Salvia varieties. Grasshoppers can be devastating some years in Wyoming, so it will be thrilling to bid them adieu. However, friends tell me a plague of slugs is waiting for me in the new yard.
The first time I visited my dear college friend Kathleen Halloran’s yard in LaPorte, Colorado, I couldn’t help but comment on how “herby” it looked. She took my assessment for the compliment intended, and her example is the look I want to strive for in my new yard — many varieties of herbs with select flowers to complement them. Because our new yard will be less than a third the size of our Riverton yard, I dream of a yard with fewer shrubs and perennial flowers and more varieties of herbs.
I am passionate about hardy roses, especially old roses and the dependable Canadians—there are more than 50 growing happily in the Riverton yard. I can hardly wait to plant a few of the David Austin roses I have coveted in catalogs for years. While vacationing in the Northwest last summer, I was able to transplant my favorite pink iris, a hardy geranium and a fern peony that has never put on much size. There is nothing exotic about the geranium except that it has been transplanted from my late grandmother’s yard in Pennsylvania to my mother’s yard in Virginia, to our yard in Riverton and now to the yard in Washington. This summer I will be able to watch these plants adjust to their new environment as I adjust to mine.
I am leaving a lush 1/2-acre yard, old, dependable friends—plant and human alike—a funky 1930s greenhouse, long hours behind a lawnmower, a wonderful rose collection, a beehive and miles of hoses and irrigating equipment. I anticipate making new plant and human friends, not missing the weekly lawnmower trek, learning how to garden on a small space with minimal additional watering, and the joys and frustrations of another kind of gardening.
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