Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Deep watering is deep

Now that the rains have mostly given way to sun (am I cursing us by saying this?) it's time to think about watering on a regular basis. If you don't have a proper irrigation system you may want to get one. Or, if you're like me and you enjoy watering by hand go ahead and do that. Just make sure you water thoroughly.

Soaking your plants really well a couple times a week encourages deep strong root systems. Why is this good? Shallow root systems are needy and weak. They require more watering and are more susceptible to disease and general abuse. If you do use irrigation, set it up so that it's not running every day if you can. Most gardens really don't need it every day. You'll be glad when you take that mid summer vacation to return to plants that are still alive (because no matter the instructions you give your dog sitters will forget to water).

I generally like to water in the morning, but if you're really busy any time of day is okay unless it's really hot. I like to water in the morning and in the evenings during a heat wave. Drink up.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Itchius Maximus or Poison-oak

Poison oak or toxicodendron diversilobum is not to be messed with. Here in Portland you can find it in the forests cozying up underneath a Doug fir or in some other shady spot. It also happens to be in my parents backyard where my dad and his landscaper had a bit of a scuffle with it (yes, the plant won round one). Now that it's been identified it's going to face the firing squad-first a splash of weed killer and then death by shovel. If you're thinking this is cruel, think again. Besides giving you a nasty, blistering rash it's a heck of a plant to rip out due to it's tough rootstock system and the fact that you have to avoid having any of it come into contact with your skin.

If you happen to notice it creeping into your yard get rid of it quickly before it matures and no, cutting it down to the ground every year won't stop it. Get it before it gets you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are you a mullet gardener?

One gardening approach is a lot like a mullet-business in the front, party in the back. Keep the front yard simple so you can spend more of your time fiddling in the back flipping burgers and yelling at the kids.

A lot of famous gardeners actually have quite boring front yards-why? Because they're smart. Wowing your neighbors with show quality rose beds is fine if you have the money to spend on a crew of minions but if it's just you you'll want to devote your time where it counts-at the party in the back.

So slow down if you've just moved into a new house or if you're getting started on a new project. The best of intentions can end in lots of dead and misplaced plants. And if you screw up in front everyone will know and we can't have that! Okay, so maybe you like the front yard better, maybe you like listening to your neighbor drone on endlessly about their problems-fine. Putter around and try to figure out where you think you'll spend your time and start working on that area first. Let the boring parts of the yard be boring. You don't actually need every space filled. Gardening is supposed to be fun, not a chore. Don't save the best for last-get started on it and let it grow from there. Party on dude.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's summer and I don't have a thing to wear...

My spring pansies are a fried up sad mess on my balcony. I'm embarrassed to call myself a professional gardener. And yes, pansies for all you plant snobs. I know they're boring old lady plants, but old lady plants make me happy as do their little yellow faces bobbing in the rain-plus they're cheap and the only thing that blooms in that spot in February and March that's not a bulb.

Part of the reason I've waited so long to plant my summer annuals is because it's such a pain in butt working on the balcony. It's too small to actually work on-besides, I'm not really supposed to be putting my weight onto it. Everytime I'm out there I imagine my clay pots and my body plummeting into the courtyard like a scene out of a gothic romance novel.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I think I'm really in yellow this year and as usual I'm into cheap this year so it might be those big fat zinnias and probably some petunias so that they can fill in and cascade down through the wrought iron. I've had a fantasy for the last two years of doing only one color-it would look pretty cool and stunning from across the street but whenever I get to the nursery I abandon my sophisticated approach and end up with pinks, oranges, reds, etc. I just can't help it, I'm an old-fashioned midwest girl at heart.

So, my big plan? Decide at the nursery. I always do with annuals. Making do with what the nursery has in stock is fun and challenging and if I can get all my plants on sale I'm on cloud nine. You'd be surprised how creative you can be with limited options and for you indecisive nit pickers out there having only a few choices will make your life much easier.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bearberry: A good native plant

Bearberry is often used as an easy groundcover, but it can be planted alone, or in small groups (although don't expect much height out of it). It likes full sun although it can grow pretty well in light shade-I love it underneath a small patio tree like stewardia or dogwood. Yes, it is native to our region and yes it has great foliage-pretty but tough, shiny little leaves that turn a bronzy red come fall. Spring blooms are followed by little red berries and if you look closely you'll notice how pretty the crinkly bark is. Plant it in a woodsy looking area of the yard with bleeding hearts, foxglove and columbine. Good varieties are "Massachusetts" and "Point Reyes," but most are nice. Don't have a fit if you don't think yours is growing-it can take some time to get established but like an old loyal horse, once it gets going it'll be a good, solid performer.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Japanese anemone add late summer early fall color

Planting a japanese anemone now will still give you time to enjoy their blooms come August and September. These plants are in my top ten of well-rounded, easy disease free perennials and I recommend them to everyone. The foliage looks good throughout the summer and you'll be so happy once you start to see their sweet nodding faces at the end of the summer when everything else looks burnt and tired. Mostly you'll find pink and white flowers but I've been noticing some deeper pink hybrids in the last few years. There are dwarf varieties as well if you have a smaller space you don't want taken over by the foliage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Penjing at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland

Before the Japanese were cultivating their bonsai creations the Chinese had invented penjing-the art of making tiny landscapes in a pot or on a tray. If you live or happen to be in Portland the Lan Su Chinese Garden (formerly known as the Portland Classical Chinese Garden) has an exhibit called "Landscapes in Miniature" this Father's Day weekend. Several penjing masters will be on site showing off their stuff and you can also purchase a penjing to take home-look for the little clay miniature people the penjing artists call "mudmen."

Try to pay a little attention to the pruning techniques while you can learn them from the people who do it right so you don't end up with a hacked up cistus. But for the Edward Scissorhands of the crowd there are penjing that don't have trees you have to care for-these are called "shanshui penjing" and they tend to depict more of a mountain or water theme. Zai Jain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things to do while you wait for the sun

Here in Portland it's been quite the rain fest this spring. When I first moved here as a kid it was rainy and cold until the Forth of July so it feels like old times to me. Still, it can be a little frustrating waiting for summer to begin when the rest of the country is already knee deep in flip flops and beach attire. So Portlanders, stop whining. It's going to be 100 degrees in no time and you'll be crying for a cool rainy day. In the meantime, here's a few things to think about.

* Think about the water you're saving. If you lack a good irrigation system you can be thankful for the days, weeks, that you don't have to water. New plantings especially respond well to regular rain waterings. I haven't had to hand water my new perennials in weeks and they're doing great.

* An extended spring planting season. While it's okay to plant in the summer, planting during the cool spring weather gives your plants a head start for our hot dry summers.

* Install a rain barrel and make your neighbors feel guilty for not having one.

* Get your shearing and pruning done on a cool, cloudy day. There is nothing worse than spending an entire afternoon shearing your perfect boxwood dolphin only to have the newly exposed leaves burn due to sun exposure.

* Enjoy the beauty of lush, perfect foliage. Our gardens in Portland look crisp and burnt towards the end of the summer and it really drives me nuts. Think about investing more in plants that have great foliage and texture-they'll look good in the rain before the daisies get a chance to bloom.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Try gardening instead of dinner on your first date

For some reason I have a preponderance of divorced, single male friends (what can I say, I've always been one of the guys) and they're always complaining about the difficulty of meeting women. Hmm. Let's see. You go to the same place every night and you play darts with your buddies in a dark corner of a English pub frequented more by stumbling incomprehensible Brits than pretty single girls. Once in a great while one of my friends actually manages to go on a date and they ask me, "What to do?" Dinner, yes, a movie maybe, but why not do something different like gardening on your first date?

Gardening is a great first date. You get to interact and talk but you aren't just sitting across the table staring at one another desperately trying to think of something witty to say or listening to her complaining about her limp beans. You might even get to brush up against her arm while handing her some potting soil. Help her plant a container for herbs (that you can later cook with on your fifth date), plant some vegetables or some of her favorite flowers. Don't have a garden? Go to one. Haven't met a girl yet? Sign up for a gardening class. Gardening is sexy and if she can't handle a little dirt on your upper lip when you lean in for a kiss then dump her!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Build your own rock garden around a theme

A rock garden is a great way to fill a sunny space especially if you don't want to devote a lot of water and weeding time growing a regular perennial bed.

Decide (with or without a designer) the general theme of the rock garden. A link below this post will give you ideas of different rock gardens (woodland, alpine, water-themed etc). Think about how the rock garden will blend in with the rest of the yard. Will it be set apart or will you need border plants to tie in the rock garden with your perennials? For instance, if you have a traditional country garden you may want to use plants like pin cushion and dianthus in your rock garden so that the beds compliment each other. Sedums and saxifraga look great in a northwest rock garden alongside a perennial bed filled with bolder plants like canna, hostas and other broad-leafed plants.

Start small if you're a little unsure about your rock garden skills. Think about what the plants will look like after they've grown in around the rocks. Don't go crazy with the rocks-You really don't need that many to achieve a nice, natural look. And try to avoid using too many different kinds of rock or your yard might end up looking like a set from Disneyland. Use self-control and start with a basic basalt or granite or limestone. Remember, the plants should be the stars and the rocks should be the backup singers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A secret garden

There is so much commotion in our lives that it infects every aspect of our soul. No matter where you turn there seems to be a mouthpiece, a loud voice telling you what you should do or what you shouldn't do. The garden world is no exception. But it should be. Your garden is your garden. It's your sanctuary, and let it be. Don't let the loud mouths tell you what to do. We have so little now that is private and quiet and sacred. Consider creating a secret, quiet garden.

It doesn't have to be big-in fact, it could be small. A little corner or a north facing path. Experiment, or not. Make it your own. Don't tell anyone about it. Let it be a favorite sword fern and a mossy rock. Or just a little area that you like. It doesn't have to look like a magazine shoot. Maybe it's already created-maybe you just like the way the sweet woodruff mingles with the bleeding heart. Perhaps you appreciate the way that weeping cherry is a little bare up top because the birds land on it time and again. A lovely garden isn't always picture perfect. It represents what is happening in your yard, the interaction between flora and fauna-the worn look of footsteps on a path can be deeply pleasing because it suggests the presence of people without ever seeing anyone. Do yourself a favor, and watch that jay swawk at you and dive bomb a chickadee-but don't tell anyone. Keep it to yourself and let it be yours to savor.

Make your own wildflower seed mix

You may be inspired by your hike to grow your own wildflowers, but some gardens are best left to the gods. Wildflowers are pretty but they can look like a mess after they're done blooming especially if that's all you've planted. And they can be difficult to grow since, like stubborn pets and children, they may not want to behave for you. However if you do have a nice sunny area that you'd like to experiment with, by all means do.

I would suggest that you avoid buying those wildflower seed mixes even if they do come from a reliable source. Why? You're never quite sure what you're getting and you may end up with a bunch of pesky weeds or invasive species. Sure California poppies are cute but in Portland they can be a menace on the scale of dandelions and annoying hipsters clogging up the sidewalks and byways.

It can be fun and easy to just make your own wildflower mix. This way you can be assured that you're getting the plant that you want and the ratio that you want. Buy your favorites and mix them in a cup or don't mix them at all-sow them in groupings if you want a slightly less wild look. Do a little research on each flower you're growing so you don't end up with yard that belongs on the noxious plant website. Then, pray for a little sun this summer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wildflowers on Dog Mountain

There are lots of places this time of year to see the Oregon Cascades delightful blooming wildflowers but one of my favorite places is Dog Mountain in the Gorge (on the Washington side in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest). The hike is quite strenuous especially in the beginning and it's about 7 miles round trip so be prepared to make a day of it unless you're a superstar. Bring a wildflower id book if you want to make the effort, or leave the books and the cameras at home and just enjoy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tom Lamb's Hummingbird Crossing

My husband took me to a place called "Hummingbird Crossing" near Walla Walla, Wa last year when we took a trip out to visit my alma mater and sip some great wine. If you love hummingbirds you must consider visiting this magical place that is a tribute to a spouse that has passed.

Tom Lamb's house at first just seems like an ordinary country house until you park, wander into the yard and notice hummingbird feeder after hummingbird feeder. We sat for a half hour watching quietly in the front yard before we were summoned to come join Tom and friends along the side of the house which is where the action awaited us.

Several chairs were set up in front of a stand that held about twenty or so hummingbird feeders and the thing was buzzing with hummingbirds-they were everywhere. Many more feeders surrounded us, but clearly this was the central viewing station. We sat and watched the birds jockeying for position until sunset when they reach their fullest numbers before they settle in for the night. If you do happen to visit, make sure you schedule your visit so that you can be there around sunset-or a little before. And if you're lucky, one of the little guys will take a break and land on your shoulder.

Here's some links with more information about this one of a kind place:

About Tom Lamb:

Add Japanese forest grass to your garden

Japanese forest grass is pretty, easy to grow and it can brighten up a partially shaded spot in your garden. Since it doesn't get very large, plant it in two's or three's amongst slightly taller wispy perennials like foamflower or heuchera for a gentle look.

Japanese forest grass comes in several colors-red, green, varietgated, or gold. If the plant gets too much shade it turns a really lovely lime green (although it won't get very full). Experiment with it in pots-I think it looks great with some old-timey traditional annuals like petunias, or big fat geraniums and/or dahlias. Grasses are a great filler for an area you don't know what to do with but you know you want something and they'll go with just about anything.