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!



Between fierce rain and wind, the sun will come peeking out and just for a moment, you can pretend it’s spring. So that’s what I did – pruned and trimmed and weeded and pulled out what was the largest weed of my gardening career – an 8′ Western Red Cedar volunteer that was crowded under a mature pine. Not sure if it was there by design, but I rather think not. Yesterday we procured a folding saw and today I put it to use. I wanted to yell “TIMBER!” in a dramatic and victorious way, but it was Sunday. At 8 am. So I refrained.  

Instead, I turned my attention to the hydrangeas, 3 bushes, in need of some pruning and clean up. 


If we get another frost I’ll be sorry I did this, but it’s done. Maybe a frost would have the decency to kill the Pieris, which is covered in sooty mold, flowers, and loathing. It’s only still standing because I didn’t feel like more sawing today, but it’s on borrowed time.

Robots in the Nursery

Back in my day, of horticulture school and nursery internships, we did this work by hand.  At the end of the day, resetting rows of 3 and 5-gallon boxwood, I would crawl out to my car and drive home, then crab crawl into the house and ice my back.  One Saturday morning, after a week of moving hundreds of nursery containers and doing hours of hand-weeding in the shadehouse, my back spasmed in the Safeway parking lot and I lied on the asphalt for a spell thinking about my future.  Being a grower was not in the cards I surmised, and I turned my sights from production horticulture to production problem solving.

In the meantime, along came Harvest Automation.  These little guys are so cool – efficient, precise, and tireless.  Their backs don’t spasm, they don’t complain, they space rows like a boss.


Robots in the Nursery from Vox Hortus on Vimeo.

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.

Who says Burning Bush is only great in the fall?

Euonymus alatus, or Burning Bush, is planted for its incredible fall color. It positively glows, bright red against a backdrop of already naked deciduous trees and the last few hanging leaves of autumn. The stems are flattened and interesting, which is why it’s sometimes called Winged Euonymus. It’s less acclaimed during the spring and summer months, overplanted in some areas and over-sheared to look blocky and underwhelming. Many gardening sites describe it as unattractive except in fall(1), but it doesn’t have to be.  Look!:


This planting is in a commercial parking lot and is about 6 years old.  The cultivar (I don’t know what it is, probably a varietal of ‘Compactus’) is about 3-4′ tall and wide this year, and it’s one of the softer-leaved Euonymus as opposed to the waxier-leaved species.

In the first picture, you can see how its light green to yellow foliage is bright where the leaves receive the most sun.  Plants that receive less light are a darker green.

The second picture shows this light chartreuse of the uppermost leaves – those that get bright light all day from their southern exposure.  Notice also how well this color contrasts with the dark red to burgundy foliage of the Crimson King maple in the background.  (In a perfect world, those two trees would switch position, with the CK maple next to the Euonymus and the green-leaved maple behind it for alternating color palettes and maximum contrast).

In the bottom panel, you can see the open habit of the Euonymus, how the branches arch out and away from the plant’s center.  Note another nice contrast: the light green foliage with the dark brown stem structure.  The berries are just setting, and they’ll turn to bright red Christmas lights of interest this winter.

It’s not always easy to do hedges and grouped plantings well, and this one is quite nice, especially for a commercial landscape.  I’m always happy to see something besides Laurel, Rhododendron and Oregon Grape.

(1) Most of the Euonymus alatus that I see looking rough has insect, disease and/or irrigation problems.  These plants benefit from a regular water supply, especially when they are young. They aren’t plant-it-and-forget-it shrubs, but they’re close.