The post prior to this one was written on March 6, 2020, from the middle of a cactus forest near Tucson, Arizona. It was about then that things for us changed.
We had been watching the new virus spread rapidly around the US. It was in Seattle, our territory. It had moved into northern California. It was ramping up in New York.
March 6, when we took our photos at Catalina State Park, was a Friday. On Saturday, we talked about heading north, getting home before things got worse — and decided that, nah, we had a week or so left on our rental, and we’d stick it out in our warm dry sunny cactus land.
Sunday morning we both woke up early, anxious, — and decided to go home.
And so, no posts about the biosphere in Oracle Valley, Arizona, or photos of our glimpses of the Colorado River and the teasel and ponderosa pines as we zoomed our way to Portland. We got into town on Thursday, the 12th; on Friday the 13th, Jer did a huge grocery shopping, and that was the last day either of us were free to move around in a non-pandemic world. We are officially old and officially vulnerable and unofficially cautious. So we are staying home.
Clearly, it was time for a project — a pandemic project, a project that would take on the challenge, as it were. No in-person shopping possible, no lingering in plant nurseries and mooning over outdoor furniture. Nope, a project that could be carried out using on-line deliveries and websites — that was what we needed. But it also had to be something to get me (June) outside.
So I returned to a problem I’d been circling for six years.
Outside my studio (on the left in the photo above and the right in the photo below) is a wide paved driveway. The driveway has a pleasant entry sitting between two stone walls and going up a gentle slope. But once on top the slope, the driveway turns into a wide, paved, hot, and unprepossessing space. We have seldom used the driveway; friends sometimes leave their cars in it when they fly out of town. But mostly it just sits there, empty and dirty gray, looking ugly.
Over the last six years I have surrounded it with potted plants and let the Japanese maple (top left in the above photo) flow down over the entryway. I grew vines up the garage doors. I had a wooden planter box built out from a triangular bit of soil which holds a persimmon tree. All this, and the concrete still reigned.
After looking at that concrete out the back window for a month, I was itching to do something, anything, to relieve its ugliness. In early April we had a warm spell, and I pulled a couple of chairs from storage to sit in the warmer space of the driveway.
And seeing those chairs and red umbrella on the concrete pad, I found my project. The photos below show how it developed — with lots of on-line searching for materials that would be lightweight, easily assembled, and able to be moved around after delivery. I like my potted plants to sit on rollers so I can “move the furniture” when the spirit moves me. And, the tipping point for me was to realize that the space might be just right for socializing while fulfilling the physical distancing requirements.
I found perfect planter boxes at Wayfair — plastic, meaning lightweight and easy to put together, and not likely to rot in Portland’s rain. They had trellises, which I didn’t think I would use, but which we liked after we saw them. And we ordered a bunch of new rolling pot stands so the boxes can be moved about as we spaced them correctly. We can also move them to the side if we ever need to use the driveway.
These two photos look out toward 85th Avenue, which helped turn the ugly space into the feel of a circular room.
Kerri, next door, agreed to shop for annuals (mostly) to fill the boxes with flowers. The local nurseries were deemed essential services and were monitored for safe practices, but we are not yet ready to shop there. So Kerri, much younger, did the work for us, assuring us she shopped safely. Her plant picking skills are marvelous.
The last addition to the space was a couple of golden sword yuccas. Again, ordered online, with a whole set of interfaces between my notion (one golden sword yucca for on the back deck) and what we got (two enormous yuccas, with pots too big for the back deck). Never mind — the yuccas made the final end-stops, door-frames for the Pad, our physical distancing, socializing space.