Friday, May 24, 2013

Mark your calendars!

On June 8th Joy Creek Nursery will be holding a workshop called, "How to Form a Garden Community Through Blogging: A Workshop with Scott Weber [of Rhone Street Gardens] and Friends."

Have you ever wondered what the point of blogging was?  Guess what, there are lots of great reasons for gardeners to blog!  You can use it to show family and friends what you've been up to in your garden, or just to keep a record of your garden from year to year.  Blogging is also a great way to meet fellow gardeners in your area...and around the world.  Join some area bloggers as they discuss what spurred them to start blogging and what the benefits have been as a result.

The friends will be Loree of Danger Garden, Jane of MulchMaid, Ann of Amateur Bot-ann-ist, and myself. If you are reading this, you are a part of that gardening community mentioned above and we'd love to see you there! And if you have friends or partners who don't understand why you blog, drag them along. If you've never been out to Joy Creek, this is a great excuse to do some shopping or see their wonderful display gardens.

If that's not reason enough, Joy Creek serves cookies and coffee on the weekends. Caffeine + Cookies + Plants = Awesomeness. Please join us!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mo' beds, mo' problems.

Last summer Loree gifted me the retaining blocks she removed from her yard during the great Bishops Weed expurgation. They sat in a pile in various areas of the yard, collecting spiders and looking terrible. My ultimate goal is to replace all of the retaining stones in the backyard with the same stone I used on the new shade bed but I spent way too much on plants last month and it's just not in the budget. I should use the free material I already have, right?

I started out a few weeks ago by dry fitting the blocks into roughly the area I wanted. Seeing that this corner was actually incorporated with the rest of the garden made me so happy. All of a sudden I realized how much this corner has been bugging me. But then I realized that I wanted to bring the line out a ways, so I had to remove some sod. And then I accidentally removed too much sod. I think I'm getting too good at it.

Side note: North Portland soil is much sandier than other parts of the city, where they have thick clay. Every time I get a plant from Scott I realize all over again how lucky I am, soil wise. His soil is sticky and unmovable and when it dries out it's hard as a rock. I've been able to see my soil improve dramatically (and quickly) by adding mulch every spring and compost every fall. My soil was badly compacted but I have almost no clay. I'm very lucky. The downside of North and NE Portland is that it was built atop a giant anthill. I could tell you horror stories of friends discovering ant infestations in their water heaters, so huge that grad students were brought in to study it.

Why am I telling you this? Because I discovered that every ant in Portland is living in this bed. I'll poison them if they come inside the house but out here they can do what they want. But, ugh.

Anyway, this area has been looking really good with all the ferns coming up, so good that I'm thinking about moving them.

I'm thinking about moving them forward and tucking another ninebark between the cedar and the pieris. 'Diabolo' grows insanely well in the northwest, sometimes reaching twenty feet (or so says Dan Hinkley). I don't think it would get that tall in a dry shady spot like this, but some height would be appreciated here. Or will the dark foliage just disappear in this area? I'm also considering a Mahonia 'Soft Caress.' Am I missing another shrub that would be good for this spot? Or should I leave it as is?

I'm badly in need of more plants to fill out this bed but I need to stop for a bit and let my wallet recuperate from April's shopping sprees and my trips to Rare Plant Research and Wind Dancer Garden. I thought creating this bed with donated stones would be thrifty but somehow I need to go shopping again.

Get opinionated on me. You all have such good suggestions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I finally achieved what most gardeners can do in their sleep

At last, my clematis bloomed. People in the northwest have clematis vines that are threatening to eat their houses. They are incredibly easy to grow, unless you are me.

I have no idea what kind it is, as I planted it almost four years ago. I moved it a few times, then finally settled it next to my 'Moonlight' climbing hydrangea. Everyone tells me that 'Moonlight' needs no trellis and can climb anything but I seem to have acquired a specimen with a lazy mutation. It can't climb without assistance, so I have jury-rigged a system. The Corokia cotoneaster in a pot next to them is doing wonderfully. I think maybe I'm just vine-ally challenged.

Monday, May 20, 2013

I'm done with High Country Gardens

I placed an order with High Country Gardens back in March. The plants are intended to go in the entrance to my yard, which is currently a weedy, awful mess.

They charged my card at the time of the order, which is fairly unusual for mail order nurseries (in my experience). I should have received my plants the week of April 15th. That week came and went and my plants never arrived. I called them and was told that I was "in shipping" and that my plants would go out the following Monday. But no plants arrived.

I called again and they told me that Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' had held up the order. It would ship as soon as that was ready.

Still no plants arrived.

I got a mass email saying that their winter had been cold and their stock wasn't where it would normally be at that time of year. My plants would ship the week of May 13th!

Then I randomly received an email last week stating that they would be unable to fulfill two of my plant requests (Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost' and Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun') and they were refunding the money and crediting me $10 to use at the nursery.

I still have no plants. At this point I want to cancel my order completely but when you call you get put through to a voicemail box that is full and no longer takes messages. When I tried to cheat and choose the phone option to place an order I still can't get a live person. It's like they just disappeared, taking my money with them.

I've placed orders with HCG and had no problems in the past. Now that they've been sold to American Meadows the whole operation seems to have gone to shit. I don't think I'll be using that $10 credit. Buyer beware.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I want an oompa loompa NOW.

I have a number of projects that I want to take care of this summer. A lot of them hinge on other projects, like bumping out the fence on the west side of the house. This area, which I call "the lab," has been taunting me.

I'm planning on removing the sod here, possibly edging the plants in stone, then replacing the sod with cedar chips. A couple of times I've even signed into YardRents and ordered a sod cutter, only to cancel it five minutes later. I want to remove the sod from the west side of the house (where the expanded fence is going in) and it makes sense to do that at the same time that I remove it here.

Then I can list the sod on craigslist once and deal with YardRents fees once. That's the smart thing to do but I want to remove it NOW. It's riddled with weeds and it serves no purpose. We don't bag our lawn clippings, so we end up with dead grass scattered all over the driveway and sidewalk, which drives me crazy.

But once we get this removed we'll have almost no lawn in the front yard. Huzzah! I think I'm going to save Greg so much time mowing the lawn that he'll have extra time to rub my back. Back me up on this.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Garden bloggers' bloom day May 2013

My garden is awash in purples, blues, and pinks right now.

Iris tenax

Salvia nemerosa 'Caradonna'

Sisyrinchium 'Devon Skies'

Rhazya orientalis

Parahebe perfoliata

Allium christophii
Allium aflatunense 'Purple Sensation' and Syringa pubescens spp. patula 'Miss Kim'

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Senecio stellata 'Giovanna's Select'

Echium candicans 'Star of Madeira'

Anchusa azurea 'Alkanet'

Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer'

Acer palmatum varr. atropurpureum 'Bloodgood'

Effing dandelions


Aquilegia caerulea 'Krystal'

Vancouveria hexandra

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold'

Sambucus nigra

Heuchera 'Hollywood'

Lupinus regalis 'Thomas Church'

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Sisyrinchium bellum

Nicotiana alata x sanderae 'Crimson Bedder'



That Verbascum is my favorite right now. Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting. It's finally the month of her dreams!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cliches and lawn care

I don't believe in the adage that "everything happens for a reason" but I do really believe that entropy tends toward the good and there will always be something good that comes out of bad. I really wanted to level the back lawn this fall after hearing Maurice talk about it at the Yard Garden &Patio show. I was totally ready to cover my lawn with quarter-ten crushed basalt. I decided in March that I wanted to do it and Maurice said the latest you could do it is April. I started to actually lose sleep, trying to figure out when I could conceivably have seven yards of gravel delivered. I'd need a lot of help and those friends I have that I KNOW will turn out for an unpleasant project had trips planned and projects of their own. I finally decided to hold off until next spring, as I was driving myself crazy.

I had a couple of wheelbarrows full of crushed basalt left over from the front bed, so I dumped it in the lowest, crater-iest part of the lawn and seeded over it.

And it promptly stopped raining. The birds ate all the grass seed. It didn't rain for two weeks.

I am now so thankful that I didn't cover my entire lawn with gravel. It probably wouldn't die, but it wouldn't be very happy and I would've wasted a lot of grass seed (but fed a lot of birds). The upshot is that I only have this silly little patch to deal with. Since it's started raining again, I can put down more seed and hope that it actually sprouts this time.

And next February I'm coming for you, lawn. I'm going to weed the hell out of you between now and then and it'll be ON. Hopefully by that time this will be the only lawn we have. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Good fences make angry neighbors

It was really hot this weekend, so rather than enjoy our deliciously cool house, we decided it would be a good time to put in the fence posts on the west side. There's nothing like digging really deep holes and struggling with bags of concrete when you're concerned about heat stroke.

We're bringing the fence forward just enough to hide the air conditioning unit from the street. We're also going to install a gate so we can enter and exit through either side of the yard.

We found the buried property line pin at the sidewalk and ran a line back to the fence post in the very back of our yard. There was a lot of measuring and remeasuring and debating about how to deal with the fact that our existing fence practically meanders, it's so crooked.

You know how there's always telling you, "Call before you dig!"? If you call as a normal civilian they will mark where your lines are in your hell strip but they won't tell you where they are on the main part of your property, which is pretty useless. We know our gas line runs somewhere through this area, just not exactly where.

We got two post hole diggers from the Tool Library because we're only digging six holes. Also, I'm scared of puncturing our gas main with an auger. It really wasn't bad at all; it took us about an hour and a half to dig five of them. And I found our gas line! Thank goodness I was working on pulling out small rocks but hand when I did, so I didn't puncture it.

THANK YOU, UNIVERSE. Not blowing up is the best!

I don't have any progress photos but we dug our holes 24" down, put in six inches of dry quickcrete, then filled the rest of the cavity with wet quickcrete. It's what the bag said to do and I always listen to bags. We got everything all level but some of them settled so they're a little bit off. Have I mentioned that Greg is an engineer? These little booboos didn't bother him at all.

Just kidding, I thought he was going to have a stroke. Those little errors reallllly bother him.

I was like, look, our fence meanders anyway, and there's a huge cedar tree in the middle of it. Let's drink a beer and not think about it! This is why I'm not an engineer and why I'll never design bridges or spaceships or heart valves.

We ran out of concrete when we had one post to go, so we took a little break. At this point our next-door neighbor came by and he seemed . . . concerned. I had talked to him last summer about the fence and he was like, "Whatever! Do whatever you want, I don't care!" We stopped by that morning to talk to him but he was out. I figured he didn't care, which was not very neighborly of me. I wish I had waited long enough to talk to him again because I feel terrible now.

We have some hard decisions to make now, like whether to bring banana bread or pie when we go back to apologize again for not talking to him first, again.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy accidents

Last fall I planted two types of Camassia in the rain garden, one blue and one white. I thought they would bloom together but the blues popped out in April and the whites are just now opening up.

Thank goodness for these kinds of misunderstandings. It's so much nicer to enjoy them individually.

Also filing under things-I-didn't-know, the Korean lilac smells amazing right now. I don't remember it having a very powerful fragrance last year. It's planted outside our kitchen door and walking outside right now is such a wonderful experience. I love spring!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The more you know

Every once in a blue moon I feel like my brain is firing on all cylinders  But most days I feel like, if my brain is a car, I left the parking brake on and I'm trying to drive down the street, wondering why I can't go very fast and what that whining noise is. And do I smell something burning? I came to gardening late and I feel like I've managed to amass a fair amount of plant information in my brain but there's just so much to learn

Scott and I went to the Clackamas Master Gardener fair with six billion of our friends and neighbors (so crowded! so hot!) and he'd say, "Ooh, what's that?" and I'd wager a guess like, "A fern?" and it would turn out to be a cactus or a magnolia or a small child or a ceramic pot. It was like I was picking words at random. It's a toaster! It's a park ranger!

Then he said, "Oh look, it's the Wind Dancer booth!" which my brain interpreted as Dancing Oaks, and I wondered aloud, "Why did they only bring grasses?" Scott gave me a funny look and then I started talking about how "I hate that guy" while staring at Carolyn Kolb's husband. Some guy at Dancing Oaks gave me a dumb answer to a stupid question at the HPSO sale and I was confusing him for Mr. Wind Dancer WHO COULDN'T BE NICER. 

Chug, chug, whine whine whine goes my brain. And you know what? The rude person at the HPSO sale wasn't even from Dancing Oaks; he was from some other nursery. Do you smell smoke? 

This spring I've been inundated with tiny red seedlings in my front yard. There were probably a hundred in the rain garden. I've never seen them in my garden before, so I assumed it must be something thuggish I planted in the last year. After talking to Linda about how completely Sedum Angelina has colonized in her yard (it grows in the cracks of her street) I started to wonder if it was that. 

I found a more mature seedling that was putting on green growth and posted a photo to the Oregon gardeners Facebook page and asked for ideas. Turns out it's not a creeping yellow succulent. It's Doug Fir. I felt so dumb. 

In my defense, I've lived here for four years and never seen these seedlings before. And there's not a single seedling in the backyard . . . you know, where the Doug Fir is. I'm starting to think my garden is conspiring to make me look dumb.

Edited to add: Wow! Some of my sentences didn't even make sense. Sorry about that. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Waiting on butterflies

I've planted what feels like a thousand butterfly nectar plants in my yard but I only seem to see cabbage whites and skippers. I've got milkweed and agastache, allium, aquilegia, sidalcea, mahonia, and solidago. I've got arctostaphylos and ceanothus, ribes and spirea.

I've got basking sites, in the form of the large flat light-colored rocks that surround the berm in the front.

I've got a meadow in development, which will get planted with achillea and asters alongside the grasses.

I'm feeling impatient, so I made an impromptu puddling station. Apparently butterflies won't drink from open water and they like mud puddles or wet gravel. I tucked a plate filled with gravel and soil near the milkweed. It will never stay wet all day but I've read you can bury a bucket full of sand in the soil and that should have some staying power through the heat of the day.

Do you have a butterfly magnet in your yard? What plant am I missing? Just don't say butterfly bush, it's a noxious weed in Oregon.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Checking in on the front yard

We're having an unusually sunny spring and the front garden is really appreciating it. Even though the cannas are just starting to poke up and the zauschneria is still pretty tiny, everything looks so much fuller than it did last spring.




My Verbascum bombyciferum is going to bloom, which makes me a bit sad, since the rosette it formed is so, so nice.

I can't wait to see what it will look like when it's actually filled in at the height of summer. If we're being honest, I'm a little fearful too. I have crammed so many plants into this area that I think it's going to be a little nuts. I'm going to be moving some plants in the fall, I think.