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Before + After: First Glances at Our First 3 Homes

As I am knee deep in designing a front garden that makes me smile just to walk up to it, it got me to thinking about our past homes, from the first home I bought as a single woman in the City of Roses (my hometown) where I spent 13 amazing years, to the farmhouse we invested major blood, sweat and tears to revive (both inside and out) on the Oregon Coast, to the little postage stamp-sized lot in the Emerald City we most recently left.

Here's a glimpse from the beginning to the end (note: it was too early days to save the original listing from my first house so the 2nd shot is actually a screenshot of the image from Maps that's still out there about a year into owning it - if you've never done this, enter your home address on Google Maps, go to Street View, then locate the option to see earlier years' street views...if you live in a more populous area, you'll most likely see shots every few years of your's a very HG Wells Time Machine vibe!)

my rose city home

It was plain, it was pale yellow, it was surrounded by ailanthus (the evil 'tree of heaven'), and had a white picket fence to nowhere with a boxwood hedge and, well, zero personality. But it was my first home, and I fought like crazy to get it in the crazy market of the early 2000s. Plus it was a quick bike ride to my gram's and in an 'up and coming area' on the bus line...and built in 1925 so lots of character. Over the years I eliminated the lawn, planted a pretty amazing bunch of roses and wildflowers and native shrubs, installed both a deck and a rain tank, planted massive amounts of jasmine and an herb garden, an apple and an olive tree, and of course with my love, painted it my favorite shade of blue. It made me so happy, and being a 'front porch' kinda gal, I loved sitting out there enjoying the birds and bees and conversations with neighbors and other passers-by.

the coastal farm...

The farmhouse on the North Oregon Coast was definitely a labor of love from start to finish...and I had so many plans to continue until, well, life happened. This is the place that I fondly say we "rebuilt from the inside out - AND the outside in!" - if you click on Planet you'll see the many interior transformations we did there, which were 75% DIY (just using plumbers and electricians for the code & specialty stuff...yeah I even taught myself how to build a wall!). The old metal roofing with leaky skylights came out, the poorly installed cedar shingles were replaced with eco-friendly siding (I pulled down 90% of the old stuff myself, husband did the highest bits, saved a ton of $) which I astutely painted BEFORE our GC put it up, replaced all the old storm windows ourselves, installed multiple rain tanks around the property (including the 550 gal one in front), removed the rickety 2nd floor deck and repurposed the wood into raised beds for the garden, planted a monstrously huge deer-resistant flower garden in front and fenced-in 75'x75' veggie garden in back along with my husband's 10'x20' duck house, planted a ton of eucalyptus trees (ode to my sweetheart's homeland), replaced the front door and added wooden steps, rehabbed the rotting deck out back into something we'd actually sit out on and enjoy, planted a ton of incense cedar trees to line the pasture and let the same pasture regenerate to provide a place for us to stroll, kildeers to again nest as they were meant to, deer to sleep at night and the field mice to scamper far from our crawlspace...not to mention allow the clover and alfalfa and lupine and native grasses to grow to make the most beautiful honey we've ever tasted in our hives! If our family building plans hadn't gone to sh*t, we'd still be there, but with 7 years of efforts in literally every way possible to become parents, we were exhausted, and the pandemic pushed our renovated into "cool house" territory, the value nearly doubling in the time we had it, so we ended the chapter. I had many many more plans for the front, which I wanted a sitting area for, but we were wiped out, and knew we needed to figure out a new path as the house was just too huge for the two of us. Fortunately we found a young family with some cool geographical and eco similarities to us who are not only loving the place, but fulfilling my dream of taking it to the next level - more plants, more fruit trees, more of everything that embraces the land. While they decided to hay the pasture (broke my heart but it's their land now), compared to the buyers of my first home (who immediately turned it into a rental, tore out the 100 year old lilac, and let the whole property go to sh*t that I worked for over a decade to restore and revitalize), it's gravy.

our emerald city cottage

when we downsized from the farm and moved back to the city i had such rosy memories of from my 20s, it was a mentally grueling transition. the house size itself was much, much better for us, but the property had some unique challenges and the size of the garden space matched with the sheer amount of part-shade areas that surprised me over the time we were there, along with the fact that we lived up off the street, which meant there were stairs, stairs, stairs...everywhere! For my newly arthritic right knee, along with the fact that it made hauling mulch on a wheelbarrow impossible, that was nuts. But during our two years there I did make the most of tranforming the garden in a BIG way, both in the front and back yards, and it was, as one neighbor told me "beautifully unrecognizable" from what it was when we bought it (click HERE and HERE for an overview). What I appreciated most was being in a more garden-friendly climate for the stuff I'd always loved growing back in the Rose City...a kind of 'happy medium' between there (where global warming has made it evolve from a formerly mild climate to one that hit 116 degrees in the 2021 heat dome) and the Coast where the summertime highs were considered 'hot' if if got into the upper 70s. So as you can see in the Garden section here of my blog, I documented a LOT. And it's really helped me remember going forward what I love, what would be better in another location in the garden, and what I'll pass on in future garden endeavors. I also discovered some of the best nurseries! While I still hold Garden Fever and Portland Nursery in my Top Five, I am happy to have added Kent East Hill, Bellevue and West Seattle Nurseries to that list (RIP City Peoples, whose owner sold the lot to a condo developer after 25+ years). Finally, as we didn't have a deck to magically repurpose into beds, I bought a bunch of galvanized stock tanks to utilize instead, drilling holes in the base and hugelkultur-ing to get some tomatoes and basil and pepper and zukes and even more going. I learned a lot about maximizing small spaces while still leaving room for observing (I built my first floating deck here to 'watch the world go by' as I love to do), came up with inventive ways to manage our rain tank overflow and plant for erosion control, and fell in love with the original brick planters in front that my tulips went nuts in! We covered up the original grass lawn with coffee bags, took advantage of a neighbor's leftover wood chips for the front, and the mallow, poppies, red flowering currants, lavender, and ceanothus - among so many other goodies - went nuts!

chapter four: the skagit valley

Our new place in the smaller-town vibe of the Skagit Valley, with its rich indigenous and agricultural histories, not to mention a beautifully mild climate similar to where we just moved from, makes me soooo happy. The property has no stairs to be found beyond the one step going into the house, and is situated at the top of the hill, keeping us out of the flood zone. While some have commented on the property's original "sterile" vibe the seller left us, I saw it as one awesome Blank Slate. So much more to do...but I can't wait to show you more as I get this space (and that of our much larger back yard garden!) transformed...


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