Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Before and after

Loree just posted an incredible retrospective of what her garden looked like back in 2005 when she purchased her house. She encouraged other bloggers to post photos of what their yards looked like when they moved in and how they look now. I don't have a lot of photos of the yard from the first year I was in the house because I was completely focused on the interior so I'll have to settle for two years ago in most cases.

Looking north from the side yard before:

And now:

Looking across the back yard then:

And now:

Looking at the back of the garage, south toward the side yard before (as we tore off the shed):

And after:

Looking east before:

Looking east after:

The side entrance to the yard before:

And now:

The front yard before:

And the front yard after (the new paint job is the real star here):

I've been going on a lot of garden tours and lamenting that the thing that makes a garden look the best is time. Time for shrubs and trees to mature and for plants to settle in. Looking at the before pictures is a good salve for this impatient mind. Anybody else have any good before and afters of their garden?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Because I'm lucky

My friends Scott and Carrie had a weeping blue atlas cedar in a raised planter they built. They could have sold it for a fair amount of money but they are super friends so they offered it to me. There was just one catch: I had to help dig it out.

The planter is a good four feet high, so digging it out meant climbing atop chairs and dead lifting it out. It was pretty grueling, muddy work but luckily Carrie does triathlons, so she's strong. I am out of shape and kept having to sit down because I was lightheaded.

Once we had it out of the ground I had to run to Fred Meyer (the only place still open) so I could root through the dregs of their large pots (WHICH SHOULD BE ON CLEARANCE NOW, YOU JERKS). I needed to think about where it would live permanently, so some time in a pot was necessary. I put it in the only area of the beds with open space: to the left of the Cryptomeria.

I think I like it here. I can move the peonies that are right behind it and the blue is nice against the wine colored ninebark.

Greg, always the pragmatist, thinks it will get too big here and compete with the Cryptomeria. I think I want to plant it here anyway. Mature plant sizes be damned!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Well, crap.

I think my transplanted bamboo is in shock. It's turning yellow and some of the culms have died.

I'm hoping it's just sulking and that it will survive. July probably wasn't the best time to put it to the test, but I'm keeping it well watered and it hasn't been crazy hot. I'm hoping the yellowed culms will rebound just like the other transplanted plants I've fretted about this summer. 

The oakleaf hydrangea that I moved was sulky for a good month or so and now it's blooming, something it rarely did in its old spot. I think it's going to be much, much happier here.

The blacklace elderberry I moved has completely recovered and I expect it should enjoy the extra space and  lessened competition. Now I just need to plant something contrasting behind it so you can actually see it.

Has anyone had their bamboo turn yellow and recover? Is this a lost cause?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Get the lead out

Was last week the longest week ever? I've had some stuff unrelated to the house or Greg that has left me feeling really blue and I've been moping around the house, watching Greek on streaming rather than grocery shopping or taking pictures of all the things blooming in my garden. Everything is going to be fine but my people are an anxious people and worrying comes too easily to me.

On Saturday we went to an open garden tour hosted by Lance Wright (beautiful!) with Greg's parents and had banh mi at Double Dragon. Then Greg and I finally saw Moonrise Kingdom and grilled in the backyard and I felt fussed over and better than I had all week. Sometimes you just need to be taken care of a little.

I think our day of leisure was restorative because I woke up on Sunday on a mission. Our toilet has been intermittently running for the last three months and it's been driving me crazy . . . so crazy that I've ignored it for three months. But there were strong words every time I heard it running!

I degunkified the flapper and adjusted the balloon arm thingy and our toilet stopped running and my blood pressure is back to normal. It took all of 15 minutes. It was running and driving up our water bill for three months. I'm a little mad at myself for this.

I didn't take pictures of the inside of our toilet. You're welcome.

I also didn't take pictures of our office, an unending source of shame for me. Just picture piles and piles of artwork stacked on the floor, an Ikea desk piled 18 inches high with god knows what, and a bed covered by plant catalogs and nursery receipts.

Greg and I had a lot of artwork between the two of us when he moved in. My artwork is mostly cheap but sentimental prints in Ikea frames. Greg's artwork was more expensive but chosen without much thought. He needed art for his bathroom. "Hey, two sailboats, I'll take it." Boom. Except he paid to have it professionally matted and framed, so it looks way better than my prints, even if we don't really care about sailboats. I don't believe in hanging art that I don't love just like I don't believe in styling rooms with books if you're not a reader. At some point I will convince him to let me move different artwork into his frames, but until then we have sailboats in our entryway. The word sailboat has officially lost all meaning. Sailboats!

We both secretly think sailboating is too much work to be considered fun.

And I took all the big pieces and put them in the freshly painted basement stairwell. I am not a fan of gallery walls but we had a bunch of leftover art and I hate empty space, so there you go. Boom.

Yay, pulp fiction covers!

And then I cleared my desk because we have house guests next month and we have to pretend I don't live like a savage. Greg is super organized and his desk always looks this clear. I like stacks of papers that make my allergies flare up. That cable bill isn't going to lose itself.

So we're practically ready for visitors, I have artwork on every conceivable wall in the house, our toilet doesn't run, and now I'm going to reward myself with a little fretting session. Didn't you hear? The universe could tear itself apart sooner than anyone expected.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Operation Move Everything Three Feet to the Left

So. That poorly behaved clump of bamboo. 

We cleared the giant dirt pile from in front of it and headed to Burns Feed Store in Gresham for a stock tank to contain it. A woman behind the counter asked if we needed help.

Yeah, I need one of those galvanized stock tanks.
(Sighs) Are you going to use it as a planter?
(Barely controls rolling her eyes) Are you going to put bamboo in it?

I know this combo is popular but I didn't realize it had become so trite. I had spent the whole ride over talking about how awful the city of Gresham is, so it stung to feel so uncool (though she was nice, otherwise). Well played, people of Gresham.

I also felt stupid because I didn't think it would be that bad getting the bamboo out of the ground. I'd just dig around the base and then I'd pop it out, like I was opening a jar or something. Despite the fact that it just stopped raining in Portland, the ground was hard as a rock. It kind of makes me wonder if that giant dirt pile wasn't blocking all the water from reaching the bamboo, causing it to send out runners in search of moisture.

The root ball was a dense, tangled mess that was reinforced by metal bars that someone had driven into the ground, I guess at the time of planting. I worked at it for a couple of hours with a shovel and a hose until Greg stepped in and said, "This needs a pickax."

He spent about 15 minutes with the pickax and got a trench burrowed around the root ball. He went off to play soccer and I pulled out the wood saw and started hacking off chunks. Then I hung on for dear life, rocking the sawed portion back and forth, cascading SPIDERS, OF MY GOD SPIDERS all around me until the chunk broke off.

You know what would have helped when filling this planter? All that dirt we hauled away a few weekends back. I wish I thought these things out better.

I didn't pack the bamboo in there, so this will have a chance to fill in (assuming it survives) and I won't have to thin it for a few years. It now blocks my neighbor's kitchen widow, which will be important when we build the deck off the back of the house.

I'm toying with getting a second feed trough for the rest of the bamboo. This planting area needs to stay narrow, because this will be the pathway around the deck and through the side yard and into the front.

I'd love to put Tetrapanax in a second stock tank (I'm just copying everything that's in Loree's yard at this point) but I think it might get too wide, making it difficult to get through here. Or maybe I just don't want to deal with the derision at Burns Feed Store. I hate feeling unhip.

Friday, July 13, 2012

For those of you on tenterhooks . . .

. . . I updated the post on outdoor lighting with an action shot at night. With the tiki torches to define the beds and walkways, it was the perfect amount of light.

Our yard isn't filled with smoke, I just haven't figured out how to take photos in low light.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yes Virginia, there is a Planta Claus

Last week I went trolling for Little Bluestem seedlings (Schizachyrium scoparium) on Facebook, hoping that Scott would tell me that he had a bunch lying around. I have all the finesse and subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Instead Jane told me that she had some Elijah Blue seedlings and would I like some? Then she delivered them to my house while I was working! Like some sort of magical Planta Claus!

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'

I have been continually overwhelmed by the generosity and community spirit of gardeners. They offer up advice, encouragement, and commiseration when plants die or design plans go awry. They provide tons of inspiration and they are mindful of the other creatures that inhabit our planet and how our actions affect them. They share.

And they plug a LOT of money into our local economies while they feed their addictions.

Thank you, Jane!

Have you hugged your gardener friend today? Go do that now. And maybe make sure they are drinking enough water; it's getting hot out there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let there be light

Every year my friend celebrates his birthday by donning a bathrobe, inviting a bunch of friends over, and watching The Big Lebowski in the backyard. He projects the movie onto the back of his house and it's really fun. The last two years we have been lucky enough to host that party for him. It's all the fun of hosting a party with none of the stress and it's great.

Have you seen those great outdoor weddings where they have a ceiling of globe string lights? They are beautiful and I've always wanted that for the backyard.

Photo source:  apartmentsinteriordesign.com

In the first months in the house I had friends over for dinner and I tried to create that effect by running Christmas lights from a ladder to the roof. It looked tacky and sad. It's hard when you don't have mature trees in your yard to run lights to. I have the one mature tree in my yard, the cedar, which has a line running to it that we wrap with Christmas lights. It helps during barbecues but you don't get the ceiling-of-lights effect.  

Greg and I threw a couple of ideas around. The first was to take one of those very heavy umbrella stands that people use under their patio tables and stick a pole in it, from which we'd run lights. But we didn't think that would be strong enough. I've read that you can stick a pole in a bucket of rocks but that doesn't seem strong enough either.

Ultimately what worked was driving a 3.5 foot DWV pipe (supposedly less brittle than PVC) into the ground with a sledgehammer. 

I held a piece of wood over the pipe so it wouldn't split where Greg hit it with the sledgehammer. We left about a foot sticking out, into which we inserted a 12 foot pole we found at the Home Depot. An eye screw at the end, a couple of zip ties, and a carabiner and we were in business. We wanted globe lights for the party but couldn't get them delivered in time, so these rope lights we had on hand worked for the time being.

We tucked the pole behind the flowering currant and have plans to sink another one behind the Cryptomeria. The pole bends a bit from the tension in the rope lights so we may run a counter-wire behind it to pull the pole back a little. 

When we're done we can throw the pole in the garage and cap the DWV pipe so it doesn't fill with debris or water. Not bad for $15 and an hour of labor. The globe lights will be more expensive but I think they'll look even better at night. We're slowly classing this joint up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Get off my lawn.

The other day I was working at the dining room table and I heard conversation from the yard. Four neighbor boys were walking through my yard, over the berm, through the rain garden, across the rocks, everywhere but the sidewalk. I politely asked them to get the hell out of my yard and they very politely scurried off.

When you see one set of footprints it was then that I carried some trash that I dropped in your rain garden.

And I know that you just have to let go when it comes to the front yard. Cats poop in your mulch. Dogs lift their legs on your favorite yucca. Other dogs then pee on your favorite yucca. People step on plants in the hell strip and throw cigarette butts amongst the ground covers.

And dogs, enough with the peeing on my favorite yucca. Jesus.

But now I'm pondering growing stinging nettle or prickly pear in the berm. Someone tell me to let it go.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yard work makes me cry

A long time ago I ordered way too much soil for the first iteration of vegetable beds. Then I dug the rain garden and removed a ton of soil. Then Greg removed a lot of soil to resod the grass when we moved the vegetable beds. All of the soil from these projects ended up here.

The grass grew up and over it, the bamboo invaded it, the neighboring cats used it as a toilet, and all the weeds that ever were took up residence here. There's about two cubic yards there.

A show of hands: is anyone having the worst allergies of their lives? I am. I have never been so miserable. I spent Saturday night unable to sleep because I couldn't stop sneezing and I couldn't breathe. So I was operating on about four hours of sleep and I felt crummy when I decided that we should get rid of the pile.

I started digging and filling up the truck. I got really frustrated and tired and then I started crying! I swear I don't normally do that. Greg was like, "Okay, wackadoo," and took over. I am the worst.

We took two loads over to Wood Waste Management, who has the most genius business model. We pay them to take our dirt, then they mix it with compost and sand and sell it back to people as "soil mixture." But I'm happy they exist and our soil didn't end up in a landfill. And now our area looks like this.

Next up I want to dig up that bamboo and put it in a container, as it is very badly behaved. And sadly I think the Pieris is going to have to go. Greg and I were planning and drawing and plotting the future deck and pathways and we just don't see how it fits in. I will probably shed some tears when we remove it because that's apparently what I do now.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Planning other people's gardens

My sister recently texted me with a request for plant ideas on her back patio. The owner of their condo installed a new fence and took out the English ivy that was covering the old fence (my guess is that it will be back) and gave them an additional four inches of bare dirt. She misses the greenness of the ivy but doesn't want to do edibles this year. She wants tough, drought tolerant ornamentals that can take part shade and won't require daily watering once they are established. She has young kids that play out there, so the plants can't be poisonous, pokey, or irritating.

The area is 17' long and 22" deep. This is a split view of the area at 8am:

And 1pm:

And 6pm:

So half the the space is getting dappled shade and half is getting full sun at the hottest part of the day. She lives in Campbell, CA. Her zone is 9b, which gets pretty hot in the summer, with about 19" of rain annually. It's not unreasonable for her to take a trip to Richmond to visit Annie's Annuals. Her kids are out of school for the summer and they'd have a blast there, right? As a result, I picked out plants solely from Annie's. She should be able to dig up and move everything she plants if they move to another house.

Here's what I have picked out so far. If she had full sun at her disposal this would have been a LOT easier. Salvias! Agastaches! So! Many! Grasses! This was a fun challenge. For whatever reason the color blue has always reminded me of my sister, but she's also a brash, sassy shit-talker, so I included some hot orange with lots of chartreuse to brighten up the shade. Presented in no particular order (all images are from the Annie's Annuals website) . . .

Aeonium escobarii, a blue-hued succulent:

Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee', a compact, chartreuse perennial that smells nice. This is only plant that might need regular water.

 Anchusa azurea 'Alkanet', a pretty 3-4' bush covered in blue flowers. I just purchased one of these for my yard. 

Asclepias curassavica, a grey-leafed evergreen milkweed with hot orange flowers. It attracts butterflies and is 3-4' tall and wide.

Muhlenbergia rigens, a tough low-water grass that might self-seed but she's in a rental so who cares! This one really might be too big for the space.

Crassula lycopidiodes, a chartreuse succulent that I want to grow in my yard so badly.

Senecio mandraliscae, a blue succulent that will work as a groundcover. Bonus: it grows in our brother's yard, so she can dig some up and not spend any money on it.

Here's the mock-up of what I had envisioned. I used the iPad app Paper, which I'm deeply in love with right now.

And with chicken scratch writing on it. Can you tell I don't own a stylus?

Option 1, nothing is to scale.

The grass anchors the L-curve with the Aeonium on the left and the Crassula and Senecio to the right. That leads to the orange milkweed, the Anchusa, three bunches of the Agastache, then another milkweed, and finishing with another combo of Crassula and Senecio.  Here's how the plants would look, going left to right.

The total should clock in at about $73, if she goes with this list. 

I've also thought about this placement: 

Option 2, nothing is to scale.

Or this one:

Option 3, nothing is to scale.

Seasoned gardeners: do you have any opinions on plant placement, plant choices, or anything else? Any glaring errors? As I'm writing this I'm noticing that her cement is stained with a light blue, which pretty much matches the Senecio I'd planned to use as a groundcover. That might look dumb.