Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just one more plant sale and then I'll stop

This area under the hose in the backyard tends to stay sort of damp from the dripping of the hose. This summer that worked in my favor because a bunch of baby ferns popped up.


If ever you ask yourself, "Do I have enough ferns in my yard?" the answer is always NO.

I threw them in the side yard where I have a lot of lady ferns. I love lady ferns but come July they tend to look like this, especially when your neighbor aggressively trims back her trees along the fence line so your side yard is no longer in shade.

Not so lady-like.

They also disappear in the winter, so I want to work more evergreen ferns into this area. I was looking at this list of evergreen ferns for the Pacific NW and I read about the Mexican male fern, which can reach five feet! Do I need a five foot fern in my side yard? Um, YES.

Image source: Plant Lust

Alternately I could get a giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) which is native and gets just as big, but it needs soil that never dries out, so it might fare better in the rain garden in back. I transplanted all of the little ferns from under the hose and gave them a good soaking. I tried to move them in large chunks of two or three ferns, even if they were really close together. I love the way ferns look in the wild, all piled on top of each other. Hopefully it will make this area look less manufactured.

I should have placed a quarter for reference

I figure by the time these get big enough to be seen without a microscope, the sarcocca I planted should also be big enough to remove some of the lady ferns in this area. In the meantime I put in a tassel fern and an autumn fern. And my most recent Columbia Land Trust plants arrived!

I ordered a native, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, or blueblossom to replace this sad looking mock orange.


It's evergreen, a fast grower, and it's loved by pollinators. And come April it should be loaded with blue flowers. Supposedly they don't live much longer than 15 years unless you deprive them of water after the first couple of summers. I can give that a shot.

I'd show you a picture but the ceanothus is so small it really doesn't show up. I really do hope it's as fast growing as they say.

I planted more Oregon iris (Iris tenax) in front of the crocosmia. I'm hoping this area will fill in with them and then I can get rid of the iron wheelbarrow that I'm officially over. It's too precious, though I am going to give it a shot somewhere else, with sedums.


We also weeded and mulched the roses out front. This summer, during the height of my neighbor thinking I wanted her Doug fir removed, her landscaper said he could clean out under the roses and mulch and it would make my neighbor happier, so I said yes (whatever she wants!). His guys cut away more of the lawn in some freakshow pattern and, oops!, ran out out of mulch. So it filled it with weeds. Please tell me, in what universe does this kind of curvature look good?

Whither the parabola?

It's like they let a kid with ADHD loose with a sod cutter. Good thing I have a plan for this area and it doesn't involve grass (it does involve a Korean lilac!). I'm also trying to convince Greg that we can fit a Japanese maple here. IT'LL FIT, shut up.

Friday, October 28, 2011

To rain garden or not to rain garden

I've been waffling on big garden projects, excited to get going but unsure if I have the free weekends to put in the work. If I rush home from work I have about an hour and a half where I can work on things before the sun goes down. That will get cut down to 30 minutes once Daylight Savings hits. That's if it's not pouring rain. My big project contemplation right now is the rain garden. I want to put one in front and one in back. 
For anybody not familiar with rain gardens, this is how they work: instead of having your rain gutters empty into the storm drain you treat your storm water on your property. Water from your storm drain ultimately gets dumped into the river, where it's warmer than normal (which means it has less oxygen) and it's full of pollutants. All the critters in the river get stressed because they can't breathe and they're dealing with oil and chemicals that come off of our streets and roofs.
When you treat water on your property it gets slowly filtered into the ground water supply, the pollutants are reduced, and the rivers don't get inundated by water from all of our impervious surfaces (roofs, driveways, streets, patio slabs, etc).So you dig a pit where water can collect, plant it with native species, and mulch the hell out of it. Did you know that microbial activity in mulch helps break down some of the common pollutants in stormwater? TAKE THIS INFORMATION AND GO BE INSUFFERABLE AT DINNER PARTIES. Then you divert your gutters to drain into this instead of your storm drain.
Before you start planning your garden you need to do a percolation test, to see if your soil drains quickly enough to withstand one.

So you dig a hole. I thought I heard somewhere that it should be 12x12x12, so that's what I dug. It turns out I can't find any documentation saying that 12x12x12 is the way to go. So maybe I dug a larger hole than necessary? Ideally you're supposed to do your perc test in the spring when the ground is really water logged, but I can't be counted on to follow directions, obviously.
Then you fill your hole and let it drain completely. Then you fill it a second time and let it drain. Then you fill it a third time and set your timer for an hour. At that time you look at how inches of water drained and *that's* a pretty good indicator of your drainage. Anything over 2 inches per hour is good. 

Mine drained 8 inches in an hour. After two hours all but the smallest puddle was gone.

So now I'm worried that my property is *too* well draining and that I'm actually living atop a giant sandpit that will collapse once I install my rain garden. Worrying is what I do and, damn it, I'm good at it.

If your property won't accommodate a rain garden, don't worry, you can still be insufferable at dinner parties! You can plant a tree instead. They are super good at sucking up water on your property. True story.

Has anyone built one of these before? Should I wait until spring? Would you like to help me dig? (I'll bake bread and cookies!)

Or would you like to help me plant the 150 bulbs I ordered? I swear I don't remember ordering half of these which is why you should never, ever drink wine when there are plant catalogs in the house.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Adult problems

At the risk of airing our dirty laundry, we're having a hard time right now. It's been difficult for Greg to feel ownership in the house. He doesn't feel like the house is ours, mostly because it's mine. He misses living in walking distance from a coffee shop and his bus commute is not ideal. He'd rather live in a house that he helped pick out. And I totally get it. If the tables were turned I'd be in revolt and he'd be putting the house on the market. I've been a house dictator and he's been a total champ about it.

I have always said I wouldn't sell my house unless I got married. And I probably wouldn't sell it even then. This is my nest egg, something I was barely able to do on my own (and my parents helped me so I really didn't do it on my own). I've seen so many women get screwed over in divorces/breakups, downgraded to apartment living and a dramatically reduced income because their earning power (which is still only 78% of a man's to begin with) diminished while they were raising children. I don't ever want that for myself.

When I bought my house I was in a job I hated. After going to grad school for three years for what I thought was my dream career, I found myself in a job that I took no enjoyment from. I felt like I completely lost my personality in the two years that followed. I was very, very down. And then I bought this house and I feel like I got my mojo back. All of the sudden I had the creative outlet that I was missing at work. And solving my own problems in the house (like a clogged pipe or a broken bathroom sink) made me feel capable. Every time I was able to do something on my own I felt less adrift and more empowered. And I started writing again, in the form of this blog, and I found this fantastic network of supportive people. (And after four terrible years I finally got a new job!)

I don't do well in shades of gray when it comes to property. I won't sell my house or put someone else on the title unless we have a binding contract, like marriage. But I'm not ready to get married anytime soon and Greg isn't sure he ever wants to get married. So we're left in this weird space where he doesn't want to drop money into a space that isn't his, and I don't want to sell (let's not even go into the fact that the economy tanked and I'd probably lose money selling the house), and HOLY SHIT how do same-sex couples deal with this bullshit when they can't legally marry?

When I suggest painting a room together or rearranging furniture or something he's only interested in painting the basement black, which . . .  dude. No. Just . . . no. See? House dictator.

I'm happy to limp along and worry about this stuff later but it rears its head frequently when you live in a fixer. The house needs to be painted and the floors need to be refinished. Should he pay for half or should I pay for all of it (which means it won't happen any time soon)? Should he get input on new curtains if he's not paying for them and he doesn't really care? I try to tell myself that this is all just stuff, that a fire could wipe out my house and then wouldn't I realize that relationships are more important than the box you live in? But this box is all wrapped up in my financial future and my sense of worth. So, yeah. Does anybody have any insight? Am I being stubborn or selfish? I find myself thinking how much easier this would be if we were poor and in our twenties. But we're grown-ass adults, with investments and life paths that we started without each other. The whole house feels like a wagonwheel coffee table right now.

The upside to all this moping I've been doing? I bought myself that climbing hydrangea 'Moonlight' to make myself feel better. Would I have bought it anyway? Probably. Shut up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I love this

"The Zen master speaks of chopping wood, carrying water. The gardener will know what it is to really be in the moment when she does her most rote, insistent chores. Knowing that, I garden this way: I practice a blend of horticultural how-to and woo-woo, and the view both outside and inward and far better for the fact. I practiced increasing horticultural excess, yes, those back and forth weekender years, but I also practiced communion and some moments of peace. In short: My garden saved me."

--from And I shall Have Some Peace There by Margaret Roach

I love this woman even if she can tend a bit toward hyperbole. Heaven knows, I do too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where do you hide your trashcans?

We currently keep our trashcan and recycling bins next to the garage, where all the ferns and shade lovers live. It makes the most sense, since it's nearest to the kitchen. Oh, but it looks really bad.

There was already a random fence post at the entrance to the side yard, so I slapped on a trellis and planted an evergreen jasmine to climb it. LeAnn assured me that it will take over and cover the trellis in no time.


Though I don't know why I'd want to cover up such craftsmanship.


Why would I use a smaller piece of 2x4 when I could choose one that can be seen from space?

What's the latest and greatest way to conceal trashcans? Is anybody doing anything creative to accomplish this? Even if this manages to hide them from the street, this is the only entrance to the garden and we have to walk past them to get into the yard. Maybe I should just paint some ferns on them? There's no way that would look bad.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Garden Claus, I've been so good this year

I want these plants so badly. I would need a bigger yard but I still want them.

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica 'Atsuya Hamada'). I ache for this one.

Photo by Sean Hogan, grabbed from Plant Lust

Witch hazel. Any of them. This Hamamelis x intermedia "Feurezauber' would do the trick.

Photo from Dancing Oaks Nursery

This 'Moonlight' hydrangea vine

Photo from Great Plant Picks

A dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp patula 'Miss Kim')

Photo from: Great Plant Picks

A Korean fir. I saw this at Portland Nursery and I wanted to buy it. Sadly, it will take 20 or more years to get to size.

Abies koreana 'Hortsmann's Silberlocke'

Silk tassel bush (Garrya elliptica 'James Roof'). This is a Northwest native that I never hear about. It's evergreen and look at those flowers!

Photo from Dancing Oaks Nursery

This Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa')

Photo from Plant Lust

When does gardening Santa Claus come? December? He waits until the crocuses appear, right?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The freakshow bulb keeps giving

I loved this freakshow bulb in health.

Allium schubertii

And I love it in death, too.


Greg doesn't seem to care for it but I'm going to keep loving it until terrifying bugs hatch out of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's the etiquette on this?

Is it ever okay to knock on the door of a house you found on a walk to
ask them if you can take pictures of their yard and pump them for
information on what plants they used?

This yard was lovely, with dense plantings separated by a large swath of lawn that made it look deceptively simple and uncluttered.

I think it's the perfect combination of mass platings that I love and the clean, uncluttered look that Greg prefers in a front yard. What are the chances they designed it themselves?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Garden oopses

Some of the garden bloggers out there talk about GOOPs. No, not the newsletters from a delusional celebrity suggesting you purchase a $2600 purse for "your summer leisure time." These are gardening oopses. I had a couple of noteworthy ones this summer.

First, I planted this cucumber in the corner of the bed, hoping it would, I don't know, grow obediently along the ground or something? Levitate in the air?

Instead the cucumber sprawled like an insolent drunk, belligerently growing wherever it wanted. Into the pathway . . .


. . . onto the tomato cages . . .


. . . through the herbs, trampling the chard . . .


. . . and clinging to the retaining wall.


And then it got powdery mildew and died but the tendrils stayed strong, making it almost impossible to remove them until the tomato cages came out this weekend. Also, we had to wire the tomato cages together because I planted them too closely together and the plants got too big and started to fall over. Cleaning that all up was super fun.

Remember when I planted fennel in a victory barrel so it would do something like this? 


Yeah, fennel likes sun, so when I planted it on the north side of my garage, which lies in shade all day, it grew sideways. 


That's just sad. Weeds took over this summer and the old lady annuals died and it looked awful. But I left it alone to feed the pollinators, not because I was lazy!

Also dead? A flowering currant that I moved 600 times, relegated to a pot, then forgot to water.

I'm going to give this bamboo a try instead. It should top out at eight feet and it doesn't mind shade.



And then I shall never make a gardening mistake again! [Cue the Internet to inform me that bamboo kills children and pollinators.]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Putting the garden to bed for the winter

I told myself that I would go easy while I was cleaning up the garden, so I could leave shelter and food for the birds, but I started weeding and pruning and pretty soon things were looking kind of bare.

I've spent the last couple of weekends slinging compost, dressing all the beds in the hope of improving the soil. I had a yard and half delivered; at first I thought it was too much, now I'm thinking it wasn't enough. We were going to broadcast it on the lawn, put it in the raised beds, and apply it under the rhodies, even though we don't want to encourage them. I'm hoping this application won't interfere too much with self-sowing perennials like forget-me-not. I planted some this year, after falling in love with them on a garden tour. When I pulled them out of the ground I made sure to give them a good shake to disperse the seeds. Hopefully I didn't apply the compost  too heavily to let them come back.

After appearing in new places, failing to bloom, and hiding my beautiful rust-colored ninebark behind six-foot shoots, I decided to dig out the nootka roses. 





It turns out they had never bloomed because they were so busy trying to take over the world. There were canes running underground EVERYWHERE. I dug out every one that I found but I suspect that I haven't seen the last of them. It pains me to remove something native but this isn't 'Nam; there are rules. I wanted to put something evergreen here but ultimately I went with a spirea 'Magic Carpet.'



I've always loved this plant but it pops up in places like the Fred Meyer parking lot and I was stupidly worried that more experienced gardeners would look down on me for planting something that has been used so widely. It turns out it doesn't matter, people plant it because it's beautiful and takes full sun like a champ. I think the chartreuse foliage on this one is going to look great against that dark red of the ninebark. In spring the peonies (on the right) have very dark green leaves and I think it's all going to play nicely off of each other. Ultimately I think I'll remove the peonies to a pot and plant something non-deciduous with very dark green foliage. Anybody have any ideas?


This is the first time my creeping snowberry has fruited and I'm in love. In July it bloomed with tiny hot pink flowers and now the branch is so weighted down with white berries it looks like it could snap.Congrats, snowberry! You get to stay.


Creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis)


I bought my flowering currants from different nurseries, paying more for two that were supposedly var. King Edward VII. I didn't actually believe they were a different variety until they fruited. This one was trained poorly as a tree, thus it has a terrible shape, and yet it blooms better than any of the other currants and now it's loaded with black fruit. 


Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII'

I was going to remove it but how can I remove something that is so loaded with bird food? I'm not confident in my pruning abilities to bring this back into my good graces. I might just go for it and prune it down to the ground after it blooms next spring.




In comparison, this currant (presumably not King Edward VII), the first I planted in the yard as a wee seedling, has light blue fruit, a fantastic shape, and a reluctance to bloom. I'm hoping that was its youth showing and that it'll perform better next year. Learn from the nootka rose, currant! Gimme flowers or I'll cut you.


But the really exciting news this weekend is that we finally bought a specimen tree for the back corner! I went to Portland Nursery and spoke to several bearded men about what to plant. We finally settled on a Japanese Cedar, Cryptomeria japonica 'elegans'. It looks great in a garden with bamboo and it will top out at about 30 feet.


My little guy. Grow, baby, grow!


An older Cryptomeria. Photo by phildert.

It's going to turn this color in the winter.

Picture source: nestmaker on Flickr


So picture this burgundy foliage backed by the purple fruit of beautyberry that is planted behind it:


Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion'

 . . . and then flanked in front with a honeysuckle on the right . . .

Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'

 . . . and a Mexican Orange on the left.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance'

And then this little baby is in front. It's Corokia cotoneaster, a bonsai variety of wire-netting plant.

How freaking cool is this plant?

All three of these plants are evergreen, which means when we open the bedroom curtains in the winter, instead of seeing this:


We'll see something closer to this:

Minus the hose and yard debris bin.

 I can't wait for everything to grow bigger and to intersperse these plantings with perennials, tulips, and lillies. I couldn't stop smiling all weekend--I'm so excited to finally have this area edited and on its way to being awesome. 

While I was working this weekend, planting the Japanese cedar, I learned a couple of things:
  
1. This soil in this back corner is almost completely made of sand. It explains why my blueberries didn't do well here and why it smells like the beach when it rains. I think they must have dumped the extra sand here when they put in the patio slab that we removed. Or maybe a previous owner had a sandbox here? I worked wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of compost here and the soil makeup still looked really sandy.



2. I will never ever stop finding buried concrete. My yard is apparently made of it.



Happy fall, y'all!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Europe pictures!

Again, this has nothing to do with the house but everyone likes looking at other people's vacation pictures, right? When we were traipsing around Amsterdam I asked Greg, "Remember how you used to pull out the slide projector, invite friends over for dinner, then force them to look at a thousand pictures of your vacation?" and he was like, "What? No, my family wasn't weird."

So let's just pretend I crawled back into the scary closet under the stairs in my parents' house (spiders, OHMYGODSPIDERS) and retrieved that screen that weighed a thousand pounds . . . . and all of these photos are Greg's since my camera took a dump.



Dam Square.

Amsterdam is the Venice of the north! It's very romantic and civilized and there are 650,000 bikes that can go anywhere, making it hazardous to walk if you don't pay attention. Almost everyone speaks English and they are nice about the fact that you can't pronounce anything correctly. And they give you little cookies with your coffee. Free cookies, EFF YEAH, NETHERLANDS! We had spectacular fall weather and I don't think I could love Amsterdam any more. And they have a floating flower market where they tempt you with tulips. I didn't buy any because I had ordered 150 bulbs back in August. And while the bulbs there were cheaper, they didn't have anything you couldn't get online.



They have a lovely botanical garden and they give you zinnia seeds with your admission. They have a greenhouse dedicated to pokey plants that I wanted SO BADLY.


And another greenhouse for terrifying butterflies from hell. When one butterfly floats through my yard I love it. When multiple gigantic butterflies try to land on me? You might as well let a taratula walk across my face. It totally freaked me out.


Giant rhubarb!


Water lillies OH MY GOD.

Each lilypad can hold 40kg, which is like 60 MPH in the US.

My impression of sunflowers.


Then we took a flight to Torino where we discovered that travel days make me so cranky I'm almost evil. Getting to Cinque Terre required us taking a train from the airport to the heart of town where we took a city bus to a different train station where we had to take three more trains to get to Cinque Terre. It was very hot, and I am a doughy American used to being chilled while traveling, so the lack of air conditioning on some of the trains made me irritable (WHY was I wearing jeans?). Greg was trying to do things like put his arm around me and I basically told him, "Touch me again and I will punch you in the throat." It was not my finest hour.

But then we got there and it looks like this!

Overlooking Manarola

We stayed in Riomaggiore; if I had to do it all over again I would have stayed in Vernazza. The youth hostel is in Riomaggiore, which means lots of 18 year olds more interested in drinking than attempting to speak the language or enjoy what's around them. It made me crazy. Being Type-A in Europe is totally counter-productive, just FYI.




Regardless of where you stay it's very cute and there's not a lot to do except hike around and eat gelato and drink wine and watch the water. One day we walked from Riomaggiore to Manarola along the Via dell Amore. Sayeth Rick Steves:
"[It] became established as a lovers’ meeting point for boys and girls from the two towns. (After one extended closure in 1949, the trail was reopened for a Christmas marriage.) A journalist, who noticed all the amorous graffiti along the path, coined the trail’s now-established name, Via dell’Amore: “Pathway of Love.” 
Closing a padlock with your lover onto a cable or railing at a lovey-dovey spot—often a bridge—is the current craze in Italy, having been re-popularized by a teen novel."
I love teen novels and I love locks so I convinced Greg to do it. He even threw the keys in the ocean. Now he's stuck with me! Sucker.


Fun fact: If you stupidly post this photo on Facebook with the caption "We're official" everyone thinks you're engaged and/or pregnant. AS IF I WOULDN'T CHANGE MY RELATIONSHIP STATUS TO ENGAGED AND/OR PREGNANT. Come ON.

Italians will graffiti anything.
Six foot agaves!

We had dinner at the top of a cliff in Vernazza, in a restaurant that slopes noticeably toward the Meditteranean. They opened the clear plastic walls and you could see France going to sleep for the night. We ate risotto di frutta di mare and the owner made us drink limoncello (which they call limoncino in that part of Italy) before leaving.

That tiny hunk of land in the far distance? It's France.

After two days in Cinque Terre we hopped back on the train and stopped off at Pisa. Again, I was very cranky. We got a little turned around and being lost makes very irritable, apparently. I think Greg started thinking about going on a diving expedition for those keys.


Exactly as advertised, it leans.


A few trains later and we were in Florence! Florence feels like New York City after Cinque Terre. It's a little overwhelming coming out of the train station. There are people EVERYWHERE. There is sculpture everywhere, there are beautiful vistas everywhere. It's a gorgeous city.

Fresco depicting the end of time in the Duomo.

3-D Medici floors in the Duomo. 

We hit the Uffizi and saw nine million Renaissance depictions of Jesus and Mary. We climbed the Duomo, which was spectacular. I want to live there--they let atheists do that, right? We saw David at the Accademia, which was spectacular. We ate ravioli in walnut sauce that knocked my socks off at Trattoria Nella. There was this huge extended commotion going on outside all through dinner. One man had urinated in the street and the other man didn't like him defacing the city like that so he called the cops. There were heated conversations and shoving and the whole thing was like a giant stereotype about Italian passion. Then we stumbled out of the trattoria and there was a Charlie Chaplin-esque street performer doing a long routine to music. Florence felt like being in The Truman Show, the Italian version. Amazing buskers play while you wander cobblestone streets that are older than your country. It's unreal.







One last thing: I will never travel again without my American Apparel circle scarf. I read about it on Mighty Girl and it was fantastic. It made covering my shoulders in churches a snap and it did all these things while being small enough to fit in my tiny bag.

Wrap thing

Hands-free, shoulder covered administering of first aid in the Duomo  because I also carried bandaids.

Demonstrating how I could sleep in a rain storm without getting my hair wet.

The normal scarf function catches your tiny cookie crumbs!
I want to go back to there.