Dreams DO Come True

A hot tub.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a nightly soak in a hot tub, in my backyard, under the stars with my FM. I have dropped hints, both subtle and flamboyant, but a hot tub never seemed to be high on the priority list. This desire began long before the Queendom was a twinkle in our eyes. In fact, my first suggestion of a hot tub came over 10 years ago when we first bought our home in Delta. Having chosen a house with no hot tub, I thought that the addition of one would be a fantastic 10th Wedding Anniversary gift to ourselves. But our nuptials that year were celebrated in high style with a running adventure across Peru and no funds were left for a backyard  tub.

It has become a bit of an inside joke between FM and me. We allude to it as we do our ‘five year plan’ or other future improbabilities (like raising goats, acquiring a back-hoe or taking a hot-air balloon ride). But when we moved to the Queendom, suddenly a hot tub became a real possibility. Our home has a lovely wrap-around deck, under the eaves of the roof, where we can chicken-watch, barbeque and admire the pond, but it cries out for a more expansive deck where we could dine and lounge in our spare time (haha!). But more than anything, it NEEDS a hot tub.

Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, FM directed my attention to a hot tub website. Alumi-Tubs are wood-fired hot tubs. The tubs are made of aluminium and have a deep firebox which is set in the water with heat-exchanger tubes, a safety fence and a chimney. It has cedar panelling around the exterior, giving it the look of a cedar tub but with none of the maintenance. It requires no electricity and, best of all, it is made in Sechelt, BC – only about 90 minutes drive and two ferry rides away from us.


By the end of the day, it was decided. We would pick up our new tub two weeks later, during our weekend adventure in that area, and bring it home with us on our flat-bed trailer. Eric and Wendy, the owners and manufacturers of the tubs, greeted us at their home and gave us a quick tutorial on setting up and using the tub. Together we rolled it onto the trailer and were on our way.


A perfect fit! Homeward Bound!

When we got home, we simply rolled it off the trailer onto our driveway and filled it up with water. About halfway full, our water shut off and we realized that we had completely emptied our well (oops!). Giving barely a second thought to the repercussions of that problem, we soldiered on with the task at hand. We managed to fill the rest of the tub with water from our pond. (And now we know that our well holds approximately 250 gallons of water) By the end of the day, we were soaking in its luxurious warmth! (we only managed to raise the water temperature to about 97F so it wasn’t really very warm!)

Right now, it is sitting where we first placed it, in our driveway, since we have not quite built the fabulous deck I spoke of earlier in this post. We also have not put on the cedar-panelling or made a proper, insulated cover. These things will take time and our design ideas are numerous. Perhaps next summer?? Luckily it is quite portable and we can simply empty it and roll it anywhere we fancy. We purchased a submersible pump and water filter so that we can easily use our pond water to fill it, rather than our precious drinking water from our now replete well.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

We are willing to push the 'trailer trash' look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We are willing to push the ‘trailer trash’ look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We have used the hot tub every day since we got it, save one day of terribly inclement weather. We have almost mastered getting the water to reach 104F in the late evening after lighting the fire upon coming home from work. We have even had a few nights where it was too hot! FM has expressed his surprise at how much he enjoys our evening star-gazing sessions. It took twenty years to convince him but now the fun begins!

The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:


unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined


unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

You Have to Start Somewhere!

With the arrival of summer, so came the arrival of our families. Everyone was keen on visiting our new home and checking out our rural lifestyle. I am proud to show off our place, with its wrap-around deck and new-car feel.

Home Sweet Home – but no garden in sight

But stepping back and looking at the photos that were taken, I can’t help but notice the abruptness of the modern house plonked in the center of wild land.  There is no gentle transition from wild to domestic. When settled on the porch, sipping a mug of something, I find that I am not really pulled to step off the deck into the surrounding nature.  We need to create a warmer feel that helps blend our home into its setting.

A garden is needed.  A small garden at the front of the house which will soften the edge of the gravel driveway and give the impression that the house has naturally sprouted and grown here.

A bit of a junk yard has developed at the side of the house as we continue to figure out where everything should go.

Can I count these weeds as a garden?

A lovely view of the weeds, concrete supports and our spider web collection!

With the beginning of the school year upon me yet no class to call my own, I decided that my September project would be the front entrance garden. I figured that a little hard physical labour would have me begging for the sub finder phone to ring.

I started the project by digging up the weeds and scraping up the gravel. I filled about six wheelbarrows of gravel just trying to find soil beneath it.

Next, I pulled out the tiller. Once again, FM had insisted earlier in the year that we would need a tiller and, once again, he was right. I fired up this tough little machine and next thing I know, I was being dragged around the driveway area like a rag doll! I spent the better part of two days churning up the earth and liberating rocks the size of watermelons. I managed to free up the soil to a depth of about 40-45 cm.

I headed out to the local hardware and garden stores where I selected a bunch of shade-loving, deer-resistant plants.  This is the north side of the house and receives only 5 hours of full sun at the height of summer. I want this area to be evergreen yet get a bit of colour variation through small flowers and variegated leaves.  I insisted on getting a few dwarf conifers (or specimen trees) that will anchor the garden yet never grow too high to obstruct the view from the porch. I also purchased that ugly black garden border in order to keep the soil from running all over the driveway during heavy rains.

The toughest part of this project was inserting the ugly black garden border. I guess I was in a hurry to get to the plants and it took freakin’ forever to nestle the plastic deeply enough. After that, I simply mixed in a few bags of topsoil and arranged the plants in an orderly way.  After planting, I covered the beds with a black mulch that really makes the plant colours pop.

A sitka spruce ‘papoose’; 2 azaleas, 2 heathers, 2 Euonymus – one columnar and one trailing

A weeping Norway spruce, 2 more azaleas, 2 more heathers and 2 more Euonymus

A Gold Coin dwarf Scots Pine – perhaps my favourite!

I used all those watermelon-sized rocks to cover and hide the concrete deck pillars. I am particularly pleased with the effect.  The log round works as a natural step up to the porch.

Would you believe that this project took me about two weeks from start to end?  I didn’t work on it the whole time, mind you. I will have to take one more photo of the front again for comparison   Although it is a small area (3 ft deep x 25 ft long), it is a step in the right direction.  And it makes a world of difference when you arrive at the front door.  Come on by and have a look!

Alder Creepshow

If you let nature alone for a while, it will erase all evidence of mankind. Books and movies have endlessly explored this fact but there is nothing quite like seeing it happen before your own eyes. We have only been tenants of the Queendom for a handful of months but we have begun to notice the ever-creeping, never-sleeping growth of nature.  It is enough to keep you awake at night for fear of being taken over by some strange moss or strangled by a vine (note the reference to ‘the lonesome death of jordy verrill’)

Here is the case in point.  The first photo was taken in April on the day we moved in. The second I took today from approximately the same spot.

April – grassy shoreline and clear view of the house.

October – treed shoreline and slightly obscured view of the house.

You may see a sunny spring day in the first or the range of colours that autumn brings in the second.  You may see that a tree has replaced pensive-looking FM as he surveys the Queendom – but I see ALDERS.  In six months, the alders have grown as if priming up for the London Olympics, as high as seven feet tall in places.  They surround the pond and have taken up residence in a few other  places. In the second photo, you can’t even see the kitchen door or the back porch!

They are called a pioneer species since they are the first tree to take hold after soil disruption. They are ‘nitrogen fixers’ meaning that they are able to create nitrogen and improve the soil for successive plants. Our pond was dug out less than two years ago so it is a prime example of disturbed soil that needs more nutrients. I knew all this in theory but it is truly something else to see them grow right before your eyes.

April – no alders

October – plenty o’ alders, all leafed out along the island’s edge

These two are taken from our bedroom balcony (yes – we  have a balcony off our bedroom! Shakespeare is fairly common place around here) The noteworthy thing about these photos is the LACK of alders on the near side of the pond. Guess why…

You’re right.  We have hand dug them all out. It is no easy task either. Firstly the soil is heavy on the clay content, making it like hardened cement all summer long. Also, alders tend to snap off right where the stem meets the roots, but the root will continue to grow new stems if the main one is broken off.

So with my favourite tool – the asymmetrical tree-planting staff – I have been diligently digging up the whole root system of each and every alder. So far I have made it around about 1/8th of the pond edge and that doesn’t include the worst offender – the island.

The Landscape Plans (aka the 20 year plan)

When we were looking for a house on an acreage, it seemed that all our searches led to either renovations needed in the house or landscaping needed on the property (or both).  When we opted for the Hellicar house, we chose a long-term landscaping project.

The first thing that we did upon moving in was consult a landscape designer.  Cassandra from Paradise Plants came for an hour walk-around, listening to our wish-list and giving her first impressions.  Our main wish is to have a big deer-fenced area for all our vegetable beds and fruit trees.  We voiced our concerns about the drainage issues on the front of the property.  We are also keen on letting most of the acreage go back to nature – with tall trees giving canopy to thick undergrowth.

A few weeks later, she gave us her landscape drawings.  She warned that these plans are long-term, as in a 5-year plan in order to plant it all, but at least it is a starting point for us.

Property overview

PROPERTY OVERVIEW –  This shows mostly the big trees that we will plant in the naked front area to give some privacy to the house. Once we have some canopy, the undergrowth will be encouraged to go back to natural rainforest, with huckleberries, salal, mahonia, and whatever else chooses to grow here. We are not keen on the hedging she proposes on either side of  the driveway but we are super keen to plant a bunch of giant sequoias and weeping willows!

House area

HOUSE AREA – This area will hopefully give me my fill of flower beds and weeding. There is quite a complex legend that goes with this (let me know if you want the list) but mostly it consists of shade trees and deer-resistant shrubs and perennials. One change we will make to this drawing is the proposed car port. We will eventually build a car port/garage but it will be attached to the workshop instead. In that place, I am keen to build a small fenced area to hide the compost bin, the yard bags and extra patio chairs. We also want to make some small garden beds on either side of the entrance steps.

Veggie Garden

VEGGIE GARDEN – This area is on the sunny south side of the workshop which we will protect from deer with 9 ft fencing. Hopefully, it will grow enough beans, peas, kale, chard, broccoli, tomatoes, etc. to keep us fed. There is a greenhouse (P) and some fruit trees too.

Cassandra left us with the name of a company who can help us solve the drainage issues, re-grading and excavation.  We contacted Dallas at Oasis Hydroseeding and he was super keen on redesigning the land. Once he heard that we didn’t want 5 acres of golf-course grass, he was full of ideas on how to make the land usable and beautiful. His plans are much more vague than Cassandra’s since he uses a lot of terminology that we don’t yet understand but it is obvious that he has done this before and knows what he is doing.

During his two scouting visits, the land was super wet and soggy. He figured that he won’t be able to bring his large machinery in until late June, since they will just get bogged down in the muck.

His main proposal is to (1) install drainage under the garden area (2) re-grade the area around the house and add 4″ of topsoil (3) hydro-seed the area immediately around the house with grass  (4) install drainage from the driveway to the pond and re-grade part of the front area.

I feel much better about this project now that it has been cut into workable chunks.

We Were Good In Bed

Garden bed, that is!  I like to think that we are both accomplished gardeners.  In our previous home, FM had been in charge of the vegetable garden and I had the reins of the flower garden.  The flower garden gave us nine months of beauty each year and we ate heartily from FM’s veggie garden through the summer and fall.

Here are some photos of what we left behind:

Close to the house we had Japanese Maple (x2); Viburnum; Red Leaf Maple; Rhododendrons; Azaleas; Hardy Fushia; Globe thistles; Lilac tree; Jackmanii clematis; etc.

In this pic, the veggie beds contain fall rye, but earlier in the season they had carrots; hop vines (yum!); kale; swiss chard; spinach; broccoli; pole beans; onions; potatoes; snap peas; etc.

Dwarf Jubilee apple tree; Lady’s Mantle; Gooseneck Loosestrife; with veggie beds behind

Dwarf Golden Russet apple; Balloon Flower; Burning Bush; Lamb’s Ear; Phlox; Dianthus; Hydrangea; Mallow; Euphorbia; Dwarf Cox’s Orange Pippin apple; Spike Speedwell; Japanese Anenome; etc.

Hydrangea; Sweet Autumn Clematis; climbing rose; Mallow; Blue Oat Grass; Golden Russet Apple; star Magnolia; etc.

These photos help me remember the green thumbs that we possess.  It will be a long time before either of us weed our new garden since it only exists in our minds at this point.  Until then, we have a long list of things to do which include excavating, drainage piping, re-grading, log removal, saw-milling, deer fencing and a bunch of other things I haven’t learned about yet.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson