Thursday, February 28, 2013

Invaders from hell

I've been removing popweed this last couple of weeks. I get it really bad in my hell strip and in the area under my neighbor's Doug fir. Despite the fact that I try to remove every last seedling before they set seed, I must manage to miss one and it shoots ten thousand seeds out when the wind gusts. And then the next year it's back. This last weekend I spent hours and hours carefully pulling up popweed and patting myself on the back for the effort (of course, it was sunny and my daphne is blooming, so I couldn't really complain). Then I moved onto moving all my ferns under the cedar and I happened to look to the left, to where we removed that huge pile of dirt last summer.

You're looking at one million popweed seedlings

Oh holy hell.

This is what happens when you leave disturbed earth bare. We neglected to cover it with mulch or overseed the lawn, so we now have a colony of popweed that is *this close* to releasing seed.

This reminds me that one of the focuses I have in my garden right now is ground covers. I need ground covers to unify, to block weeds, and to look nice. In the area under my neighbor's Doug fir it's dry and sunny. Anybody have a great plant to cover the bare mulch in this area, preferably one that doesn't need supplemental water every day in the summer? I have a variety of sedums there that are spreading at a glacial pace. It might be time for something else.

p.s. THANK YOU to everyone who has voted for me in the JDR blogger contest. Right now I am in the lead! It's such a silly narcissistic thing to ask your friends and family to vote so you can have money, so it got me all misty eyed that people would support it so enthusiastically. Y'all are the best.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A favor

Holy shit! This little house-repair-diary-turned-garden-blog-turned-why-can't-I-sew?-repository got nominated for a JDR blogger award. The prize is $500, which would buy a lot of plants. Or a lot of crushed basalt (for a project I have planned for March).

First of all, thank you whoever nominated me. I really, really appreciate it. Secondly, will you vote for me? I know I don't have the readership or the skills that some of the other bloggers do, so my hope is to not come in last.

You can go here to vote. I'm in the Interior Design category. You can only vote once, so I won't bother you again! Thank you!

P.S. Chris and Meryl of Picardy Project are nominated in the Remodeling category. You could drop them a vote while you're at it. They do amazing work.

Is it enough?

Not too long ago I wrote about the difficulty I'm having with the area under my cedar tree and a bunch of you chimed in with some really great ideas.

One of my favorites was Laurrie's suggestion to let the ferns develop into a large swath, "But make it a nice big sweep, not just a few." So I added eleven sword ferns to the four that were already there, along with four lady ferns (for a total of five of those). The lady ferns are in the back, along the fence, and they are sleeping right now.

Everything looks sort of ratty and sad right now but I'll trim back the trampled and brown fronds once the new growth starts to come up. And then I'll follow Laurrie's other advice to plant a Dart's Gold ninebark to brighten up this corner, a gro-low sumac (Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low'), and to move the hellebores into the foreground.

It looks just like a ninebark!

And then I get to redesign the side entrance to the yard, from where I borrowed all these ferns. Hooray! Thank you Laurrie, and thank you everyone who lends gardening advice to me. I really appreciate it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Garden bloggers' bloom day February 2013

I'm kind of in love with this moment in time. My Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies' is still blooming.

Sweet box just started to bloom. Sarcococca ruscifolia.

My Oregon stonecrop is making the prettiest rosettes and mingling so nicely with Sedum angelina.

My Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' is about to smell really great.

My hellebores are still going nuts.

 And my first crocus bloomed! Crocus chrysanthus 'Romance'.

The sun is shining and Cara Cara oranges are still available in stores . . . I'm giddy. Happy bloom day, everyone! Be sure to check out the full show at May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yard, Garden and Patio show: Foliage First

Dan Hinkley held a packed seminar "Foliage First: Exquisite Hardy Plants with Great Folial Interest" at the Yard Garden and Patio show. This was my first time hearing him speak and I found him totally charming. He started the talk with a joke about flowers where the punch line was, "You have to bend over to enjoy it."

He had a couple of tips, like using lots of self-sown annuals to break up your plantings (they tend to sow themselves where they look good) and using photo editing software to pull the color out of your garden photos. With the color removed you can assess your texture to see what you're missing. Loree explored this idea a while back and the photos are gorgeous. You can see that I have way too much fine foliage. I need big leaves to break everything up.

The talk was mainly plant porn with jokes thrown in. These were my favorites.

Gunnera. It can really only be grown in the U.S. in Northern California and the Pacific NW. Dan said it makes gardeners elsewhere insanely jealous and gardening is all about making other people feel bad about things they can't grow.

Image source: Wikipedia

Musa basjoo. Dan leaves his in the ground for the winter, mulching them well.

Image source

Panicum 'Northwind'.

Darmera peltata, a shade-loving NW native that loves standing water but doesn't necessarily need it.

Image source

Podophyllum pleianthum.

Image source: Dancing Oaks

Chinese fairy bells (Disporum cantoniense), whose new foliage emerges purple.

Melianthus major 'Purple Haze'.

'Purple Haze' Image Source: Far Out Flora

Melianthus major 'Antonow's Blue'.

Image source: Dancing Oaks

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies'. I'm getting this, I need this.

Image source

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'County Park Dwarf', which my notes indicate Dan uses as a groundcover.

Image source

Helwingia, a genus whose fruit fuses to the leaves. Super cool.

Image source

Schefflera delavayi.

Image source

I'm trying to figure out where I can fit a Gunnera right now because, come on, giant rhubarb! I need that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Yard Garden and Patio Show: New True Grit

This weekend I hit the Yard Garden and Patio show and got the shot in the arm I needed to get me really excited about spring. I only made it to two seminars, sadly, but they both were great. I headed over to the Right Plant, Right Place seminar (Dan Heims, Terra Nova Nurseries). I was feeling sort of "pfft" about it, but the main hall was getting crowded, I was getting tired, and I can sit happily for hours and listen to people talk about plants. It was a treat when they announced that Dan got stuck in Boston in the snowstorm and Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery would be talking about using gravel in the garden.

He described the process of designing a no-water hell strip for five of his neighbors, which was a huge success. Eventually he was asked to design some large hell strips around Reed College. They would receive no supplemental water and they were comprised of the heavy clay soil that's so prevalent here. He talked about two different things: soil prep and great xeric plants.

Xeric plants thrive on very little water but their crowns tend to rot out in our very wet winters. In order to prevent this, they use gravel as mulch, which wicks moisture away from the crown of the plant. They also amend the soil with two inches of quarter ten crushed basalt and two inches of compost. The type of gravel is important. You want crushed basalt, not round gravel, because it travels down into the clay and breaks it up better. Quarter ten gravel has also been washed, which means you won't get fine particulate floating to the top of your beds and forming a concrete crust.

He's also been experimenting with applying gravel to areas of standing water and top-dressing them with compost. This breaks up the water tension and allows the water to percolate down. They have a great article on their blog about how to improve your lawn using 3/4" of gravel and a top dressing of grass seed.

Source: Joy Creek Nursery

The old lawn grows up through the gravel and the new seed germinates on top. You end up with an even lawn (you use the gravel to level uneven spots) that requires less water, less feeding, and stays green longer.

Back in the hellstrip, once you've got your soil prepped with gravel and compost, you can put in plants that require no water in the summer. Some of his suggestions:

Arctostaphylos 'Greensphere,' a "perfect small shrub" whose only drawback is that it grows very slowly to 3' x 3'.

Image source

Ceanothus 'Dark Star.' Maurice says he loves all the Ceanothus but he probably uses this one the most. Dark green leaves and dark blue flowers.

Melicytus alpinus (Hymenanthera), a textural bony plant to 2.5' x 2.5'. This one is covered in intensely white fruit all winter long.

Image source
Grevillea victoriae, a 6x6' shrub that blooms nine-plus months per year and requires almost no water.

Image source: Tall Clover Farm

Cistus 'Elma', which has large white flowers and dark green foliage covered in an aromatic resin that apparently smells amazing.

Image source

Halimium pauanum, which has saturated yellow flowers and an eventual size of 2.5' x 2.5'.

Image source: Joy Creek Nursery
Penstemon davidsonii.

Salvia greggii 'U.C. Pink', a hot hot pink bloomer six months of the year.

Yucca 'Bright Edge', a strap leafed plant that tinges red when the weather turns cold.

Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), an underused Oregon native that forms a silver mat smothered in yellow flowers.

Image source

Sedum kamtschaticum 'Variegatum', which blooms twice and does well in the shade of shrubs.

Image source: Joy Creek

Veronica armena, whose foliage is like pine needles.

Photo source: Joy Creek

Zauschneria 'Bowman's Hybrid', which Maurice likes to use to camouflage the dying foliage of tulips.

Image source: Joy Creek

Muhlenbergia rigens, which Maurice warned to never cut back, as it will take years to recover.

Image source: Joy Creek

Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus.

Image source

This talk got me so excited to replant my hell strip and try the gravel method on our lawn where the bobcat compacted everything. My hope is to avoid watering in the front yard more than once a week in the summer, so I'll definitely be planting a lot of these. I'm sure Dan's planned talk would've been great but I'm happy that Maurice subbed in. It was just the information I needed.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Best laid plans

In the backyard I have a mature Western red cedar that has thwarted all my under-planting attempts. I've tried a number of natives, few of which have thrived. Of course, I never bothered to plant things that could survive with almost no water. One lonely hosta looks great until August, at which point it dramatically keels over. The sword ferns are happy but everything else malingers. It's my fault.

There are sad neglected boxwoods in the corner that I leave only because they're evergreen and they live despite getting no water. I really want something large to fill the space in the foreground but I've yet to find a medium shrub that can handle dry shade (but sometimes hot summer sun!) and fierce root competition. My next attempt will be gro-low sumac (Rhus aromatica), which won't get quite as tall as I want, but should be able to survive here.

I consulted with a guy at Joy Creek about ground covers because my wild ginger just never took off here. He suggested hellebores and epimediums, so I'll try that, damn it. I moved my hellebores here and thus far they are doing great.

I searched high and low for an epimedium I liked and found one called 'Black Sea.' It's supposed to turn almost black, which I thought would look great interplanted with Hakonechloa macra.

The only problem is that this epimedium turns black in winter, when everything else is dormant. You can't even see it, it melds with the mulch so well. During the warmer months it turns a very unremarkable shade of medium green. And I planted hakonechloa eight feet away. It's like I'm not even thinking, some days.

So I'm not quitting my day job. What other dry shade (but sometimes hot summer sun!) workhorses am I missing?