First Week of Spring

Kicking the season off with some checkbook gardening; obligatory, because our minds are willing but our backs are middle-aged. This morning I met the tree guy and he ground out 10 stumps that we needed removed: 5 dead juniper/arbor vitae skeletons, the aforementioned hated Pieris X 2, and 3 variegated Euonymus that were another nursery for powdery mildew. All 10 were ugly and eagerly bid farewell. There is so much bed real estate to plant in now, I’m giddy.

Grinding.JPGThe utility companies come the night before and mark everything – see the red spray paint on the lawn sort of pointing to the electrical box? Right in front of the place where the giant blade is eating the tree stumps? Yeah. That’s a bit unnerving, especially for the guy doing the work. When he was done, he warned me about planting anything deep rooted there (like that giant pine tree we’ll talk about in a minute). Though I’d love to camouflage the electrical box, there will only be medium to small perennials going into that bed, nothing very woody or large.

The pine tree is a story too. It’s beautiful. Mature, pyramidal, lovely, and full of some bad news beetle – Buprestids probably and maybe some Cerambycids. I saw D-shaped holes when I came for the inspection on this house (I thought asking for an arborist to come inspect as well might be going too far), so I knew there was trouble. The tips of last year’s needles are yellow, another indicator. There’s also pitch on some of the lower branches. The trifecta of conifer woe. So today the tree is getting some much needed chemo – injections of strong insecticide to try and save it. I do not want this story to end with “We used to have a pine tree out front.” We’ll see.

Clean up after stump removal is fairly intense – there are huge holes in your garden and tree debris scattered around, I am good and filthy. An excellent start to the day and to spring and to the beginning of some sunnier, warm days.

I realize there are two more things I should do before buying any plants.  1. Pull apart the raised beds sitting right in the middle of the border in the backyard, so I can redistribute the media and shape the beds, and 2. Order a few/ten/many yards of mulch to go over everything and tie the beds together while tidying things up. Mulch is to your garden what vacuuming is to your house: instant facelift.

Happy spring weekending!

Saturday Around Oregon

A few images from this beautiful summer day in the Pacific Northwest:

Vintage Pots_Fotor

Kicking around a vintage store in Eugene Oregon, we stumbled across these tiny pots, watering can, and in the back on the right, fruit pint containers made from wire and wood.  Darling containers + utterly impractical = win.

Lab Glassware_Fotor

Laboratory glassware would make excellent kitchen and barware.  You could measure out extremely precise amounts of cereal or gin or what have you, order replacements as easily as you reorder liquid nitrogen or stirring magnets, and cook things over a Bunsen burner.  Cheers to feeling scientific in the kitchen; cooking is, after all, chemistry.

Notice to Seedsmen_Fotor

I realized when I saw this sign, I had thought invasive species and noxious weeds were a relatively recent concern – not so.  Only one year before the referenced law on this sign, Gorse introduced from Ireland helped burn Bandon, OR to the ground, so people were familiar with the dangers of introduced species.

Inoculate Nitragin Sign_Fotor

Inoculate yer cow peas, people.

Spring Annuals: Why won’t my flowers GROW?

Have you ever bought a 6-pack or a few small pots of bedding plants, brought them home and planted them, then had them just sit there like a bump on a log?  No new green growth, no new buds, just….a still life in your garden.

I’ve had it happen with begonias, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, mums, and even bacopa.  They don’t die or brown or wilt, they just fail to thrive.

“Oh hi!  We’re still here!  Still tiny!  Nothing to see, move along!”

You might overwater them in frustration, feed them, sing to them.  Nothing doing.  You had visions of lush hanging baskets or a carpet of color, and so you wait.  And wait.

Why does this happen?  Plant growth regulators.

Growers produce a crop to be ready at a certain time and look a certain way.  Spring bedding plants should be healthy and vigorous, but compact.  No one wants leggy delphiniums at the start of the season.  So growth regulators (PGRs) are applied during production to keep plants from getting too large or too leggy.  Applying PGRs is an art form: too much and you smoke the crop, too little and the plants aren’t the size you want (or the size the big-box store specified they wanted).  The wrong PGR: no flowers at all, or nothing but flowers and little foliage, or Easter lilies that are 4-inches tall.  It’s easy to miss the mark.

In an effort to time shipments and keep the plants saleable for as long as possible, PGRs might be liberally applied, and it takes some plants a long while to metabolize them and start growing again.  It can takes weeks or even months.

If you buy from a good independent garden center, this probably won’t happen very often. One thing you can do is to watch brands and the name of the grower on the plant label: buy enough plants and you’ll learn quickly who has a handle on PGRs and who has a too-heavy hand.  Some growers don’t use them at all, and they’re more common on annual plants than on perennials.  When they’re used correctly though, you won’t even notice.

You’re probably not a brown thumb.  There’s no magic involved.  It’s just PGRs.

Composting for the Lazy Gardener

I’ve been sheet composting since before I knew what that meant. Basically it’s just composting right in your beds, which at this time of year means sweeping up all the dropped leaves from the trees and raking them around the base of the plants. Sometimes there are apples in there, or cones, or whole plants that were pulled out.

The only rules are no diseased foliage (so I never use rose foliage or branches) and no weeds. Many weeds can set seed even after they were pulled out of the ground; better to just toss those or compost them in the traditional way.

You can compost kitchen scraps this way as well, but I usually bury those slightly for aesthetic reasons.

Yesterday I put the leaves from the purple ornamental plum around some newly transplanted Euphorbia. Their blue foliage with the burgundy and yellow leaves underneath looks great, and I avoided spending $100 on mulch for the beds. Come spring, the soil will be loamy and shot through with mycelium from the fungi doing their work. The plants will have had relatively warm feet all winter, so losses are less than if they were uncovered.

The key to keeping your garden attractive while sheet composting is to keep your edges clean and sharp and keep the compost in place. You can turn the soil a bit to hold lightweight leaves, or keep all the material raked in the beds until it starts to break down and form a mat over the soil. That takes about 2 weeks with a little rainfall (or the hose).

All winter long, as I pick up debris around the yard, I toss it into the beds. Smaller pieces break down faster, and the plants won’t be vying for nitrogen because they’re mostly dormant.

In the city I didn’t have room for a compost bin, and that’s how I came to sheet composting. I have room now, but I really like the way the beds look with the seasonal detritus used as mulch.  At the LA Arboretum there’s an enormous Ginkgo that sheds seemingly acres of bright yellow leaves.  It would be a travesty to pick them up, they’re lovely spread over the blue Senecio and herbs around the tree.

Gardens Illustrated

I’ve made the rather dubiously delightful discovery of Gardens Illustrated. It’s $8.15 an issue, a mere $84 a year. Ouch!

But it is so worth it. First, if you live in the PNW, the UK has a similar climate so the plants and ideas translate well. Second, it’s a BBC publication and is very well done. Third, they don’t use pruners; they use secateurs. Irresistible.

These bees are Buddhists

This is the little garden out at our research farm where the honeybees have one half of the 10 acres and the horticulture department and organic farmers have the other.

The hives are out of sight, but do you see the all the birdhouses hanging up in the tree? Bumblebee nests.

The hanging bells are CO2 cannisters cut in half and painted gold. There is a Thai Buddhist symbol of the elephant and the monkey with honeycomb hanging in the center. Just behind, there’s a drop off to a small tributary of the Willamette River.

My club was out there with the master gardeners planting a water wise garden. While we were having tea during a break, we were standing around the hives.

You have to believe me: these are the calmest bees in the world. Several landed on my sweater, and I petted them. And they were like, “Okay”.

Then we went back to work, and here’s part of the garden coming together. You can see a good amount of the farm in this view. Did I mention it was foggy?

The plants in this garden are several sedum varieties, penstemon, rosemary, agastache, one tiny juniper, cistus, ceanothus, a dwarf native iris, helianthemum, and coreopsis.

As I write this, I am wondering if the deer, who ran by that hoop house in the distance maybe 2 minutes after I took this photo, came and did a little mowing last night. Beasts.

These guys provided the background music.

And I have nice things to say about this Shantung Maple. Lovely.