The author’s backyard overlooking a forested ridge. (Photo by Peggy Barnhill)

The author’s backyard overlooking a forested ridge. (Photo by Peggy Barnhill)

Gimme a Smile: Welcome to my backyard

KINY is running a photo contest of pictures of your backyard to win a backyard BBQ set. Here’s a word picture of my backyard.

After the astonishing disappearance of an entire forest behind my house, we now have a lot of sunshine in the backyard. Sun is good for growing things, right?

Let me tell you the story of our coleus plants. We took four thriving potted plants on a cross-country road trip in the dead of winter. We lovingly tended them from Ohio to Seattle and then took them on as a carry-on for the flight from Seattle to Juneau. We repotted them for their new home and set them outside to soak up some sun on our one week of sunshine several weeks ago. Sunshine — that’s what they need, right?


Those hapless plants sat out in the life-giving sun, got sprayed with refreshing water from the hose, and proceeded to shrivel up like vampires at the merest sight of daylight. No amount of pampering can bring them back to their former glory. We’re starting anew with cuttings rooting in water inside.

Aside from the ill-fated coleus, we have quite the victory garden in our backyard. We’ve got peas, pumpkins, potatoes and even corn growing in pots, and an ambitious field of sunflowers on the back forty. If only the sun would come out and give them a boost.

I subscribe to a live-and-let-live philosophy of gardening. Give me plants that grow on their own without any input from me. I loved our bumper crop of dandelions this spring that brightened our yard with their cheery yellow blooms. A riot of raspberries on one side of the house provides employment for a bunch of busy bees. All I have to do is cut the old canes every spring. Grass has always been a challenge in our shady yard, but now all bets are off. We’ve let the grass grow and go to seed in the back, creating a vibrant meadow. Good thing we don’t have to worry about an HOA.

We have an awesome fire pit in our backyard. It’s nothing more than a ring of stones encircled by tree stumps. With the sun shining right on it, it’s the perfect place to kindle a fire using a magnifying glass, a pile of dried grass and a supersized helping of patience. In the evening a match or two will do, and the fire can keep us entertained for hours. When we’re ready to go in, after letting the fire die down and spreading out the ashes, a squirt from the hose should put out the embers, right? Not necessarily. That fire can get so hot that the water literally boils on the stones lining the inside of the fire pit. I can see the stones drying right in front of my eyes.

The back deck is a great place to sit and watch my bird friends flitting about the bird feeder. We have one rogue tree branch that got weighted down by snow one year and, when the snow slid off, the branch popped back up to get caught under the roof of the back deck. I tried in vain to get it to free itself, but now I kind of love it there. The dark-eyed juncos perch on it while waiting their turn at the bird feeder. When I sit with my feet up on a tree stump table, coffee cup in hand, I feel like I’m in a beautiful bird sanctuary.

Sadly, the birdseed attracts mice as well as birds. We have to wonder if that might be a good thing. If we make the outdoors so attractive to the mice, maybe they won’t bother coming indoors. It could work…

Besides the birds and the bees, some other winged visitors influence my backyard retreat. Mosquitos and no-see-ums take up residence at the first hint of spring. These wee beasties have the last word, dictating when I can and can’t sit outside on my own back deck. Apparently, they haven’t heard of the live-and-let-live philosophy.

It’s a beautiful evening for hanging out in the backyard, bugs or no bugs. Maybe a fire will keep them away…

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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