Showing posts with label portland yard garden and patio show. Show all posts
Showing posts with label portland yard garden and patio show. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Yard Garden & Patio Show - The birds and the bees - and the bugs!

Portland's Yard Garden and Patio show was this weekend, which always signals to me the beginning of the gardening season. The display gardens are fun but I look forward to the seminars most of all. I woke up on Saturday with a terrible sinus headache, then I took medicine on an insufficiently full stomach, then I started throwing up . . . I realized that the show just wasn't going to happen that day. So Sunday it was!

I made it to only one seminar: "The birds and the bees - and the bugs!" which was moderated by Nancy Goldman (of Nancyland). The panel included Glen Andresen or Bridgetown Bees, Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society, and Nikkie West of the Audubon Society. So we had a honeybee keeper, someone focused on native pollinators, and a bird expert.

There was a lot of conversation volleying around about honeybees versus native pollinators and whether we should care about honeybees (who are not native to North America), none of which was resolved in an hour. The one thing that the panel could agree on was that native plants provide the best nectar for native pollinators. Most of our native pollinators are solitary, which makes it hard to study them like we do honeybees. They don't produce honey, so it's harder to evaluate the quality of their diet like we do honeybees but preliminary studies are showing that non-native plants are a bit like junk food. They provide energy but not necessarily as much nutritional value as natives.

But I don't want to become a native purist! I can hear you saying. Me neither!

Here were some of the takeaways:

  • You don't need to have all natives in your garden. You can get a lot of bang for your buck by making sure you have one native in bloom at any time throughout the year. In theory you could get away with including just four or five natives in your garden.
  • But which ones? For those of us in the NW, The Xerces Society has created a document highlighting some of the best of the natives with their bloom times. It's located here. The best part? They are some of the prettiest natives like lupines, camassia, and milkweed.

Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube' handles soggy clay soils like a champ and it's GORGEOUS.

I planted straight species Camassia quamash this fall (from Brent and Becky's) and I'm noticing it is showing up in nurseries right now. The foliage of my Camassia doesn't turn ugly after blooming the way daffs and tulips do, which makes it extra appealing. It's tall and structural and gorgeous. I can't recommend it enough.

Anyhoo, more takeaways:
  • The city of Portland maintains a list of natives to our city, so you can claim to have planted hyperlocal natives. Think of how miserable you can be at dinner parties! The list is located here. Go get your smug on!
  • If you want to provide shelter for mason bees, less is more. Smaller boxes or bundles of bamboo (or whatever) in several locations around your garden are better than having one gigantic box. When you get a lot of pollinators in one spot you increase the chance of disease and pestilence. 8-10 holes are plenty.
  • Bumblebees need cavities to nest in, like old mice nests. Xerces has instructions on building boxes, if you want a fun project.
  • Keeping your garden untidy is a good thing. Bare soil, just a little, allows bees access so they can build underground nests. When you cut back grasses and perennials, bundling them and leaving them on the ground instead of composting them gives pollinators habitat to raise their young. Glen calls it "Laissez faire/laissez ass" gardening.
  • We need to look at aphids differently. 96% of terrestrial bird species feed on aphids. They are an important food source, so having them in our gardens isn't a bad thing. 
Is everyone familiar with the "Everybody Reads/One City, One Book" idea? It's a program where they encourage everyone in the same city to read the same book, like we're all in a giant book club together. It was championed by a librarian by the name of Nancy Pearl. She has an action figure, guys.

I had the good luck of taking a class from her in grad school and the woman is a BADASS. Wouldn't it be great if our cities championed an "Everybody Plants" program? Is this already happening anywhere?

In Portland they could dispense camassia bulbs in the fall to residents. In the spring we'd have a city-wide wash of gorgeous blue flowers to link all of our neighborhoods together. If you get all the landscape designers and nurseries on board, you could hit a large number of home gardens. Then next year they could champion meadow foam!

Meadow foam (Limnanthes douglasii) is available from Annie's Annuals

It seems like the conversation around natives is changing to be less purist and sanctimonious, which I welcome. I think discussions about natives leave a lot of people feeling like they're being asked to rip out all the non-natives they love so much. I would never want to garden without agastache or agave or any number or plants that aren't native to Portland. But ask me to incorporate four or five natives that provide the most bang for the pollinator buck? I'm not just willing to do that, I'm excited.

Anyway, it was a good talk. I've had pollinators on the brain a lot so I really appreciated it. And (for me, at least) the gardening season has begun! Let's do this.

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Yard, Garden & Patio show

So I did finally make it to the Yard, Garden, and Patio show after mistakenly arriving at the gun show. Gun show people are really different than garden show people. They don't smile, they don't share coupons in line, and they don't compliment your scarf the way the ticket guy did at the YGP. 

I have never been so happy to arrive safely at the Convention Center. And thank you, random people behind me at that seminar, for being nice when I rudely eavesdropped on your conversation and demanded that you show me your hellebores. Gardeners are really wonderful people.

Once there I rushed off to the Japanese Garden Elements for the Home Garden talk by Sadafumi Uchiyama. I took a Japanese art history class in college that left me permanently enamored of all things Japanese. They can take an artform from China, Korea, India, or wherever, and do it better.

Winter Landscape by Sesshu

Mr. Uchiyama was a lovely man who spoke about his work at the Portland Japanese Garden, his training in Japan, and about how gardening is great because it's a level playing field--you just need to push that wheelbarrow across the yard a hundred times and you'll get really good at it, regardless of whether you're an idiot or a genius. That's probably why this accidental-gun-show-attendee likes gardening so much. I take terrible notes and I have a crappy memory, so if anyone attended this session and feels I'm misquoting, please chime in.

He spoke about gardening mostly being maintenance and how the Japanese look at the life of a garden in terms of more than 50 years. One family might tend a garden for ten generations, during which time trees will die and need to be replaced but the structure will largely stay the same. He showed us pictures of the Japanese garden thirty years ago and how it's changed (or not changed) throughout the years, including some dramatic photos when a Douglas fir fell and took out the waterfall.

Photo from the Portland Japanese Garden's Facebook page

Finally, he offered some practical tips to incorporating this tradition into your yard. The first lesson: 

  • Kill the corners

Ease the corners of buildings, either by planting on the corners of the back of your house or building a fence that defers the edge of the house, even if it doesn't offer privacy. 

He said that foundation plantings in a yard "kill the corners" by easing the transition from a vertical fence to the horizontal ground. He talked about how important rock is to Japanese landscaping and how it must look like it does in nature. He said you can use them to kill corners, like if you're transitioning a wide footpath to a narrow one. Stick a rock at the corner and the width change won't be so noticeable. I'd think that plants in ceramic pots could likewise be used to kill corners.

Second lesson: 

  • ease the transition from one material to another. 

Instead of letting grass grow right up to a cement path, he showed us a picture of a sidewalk edged with a trim of poured cement with stone embedded, which was abutted with four inches of river rock, which was edged with clay ceiling tiles turned on their sides, which finally lead to grass. It was gorgeous.

This wasn't the photo he showed us but it's a close approximation

Or use pavers on top of your cement slab to ease that transition to a flagstone pathway.

Click to embiggen

Last lesson (and what landscapers always say): 

  • group your plants. 
Don't buy one of each. I hate this advice because HOW WILL I EVER FIT ALL THE PLANTS I WANT IN MY YARD IF I HAVE TO BUY MULTIPLES OF THE SAME THING? He says he tells his students that it's okay to leave a bare spot rather than putting a single plant in. I say phooey to that, Mr. Fancypants with your multiple landscape degrees and years and years of experience!

He said that Japanese gardens don't use annuals or perennials. Their gardens rely on an relatively unchanging lanscape of trees and shrubs that don't die down to the ground at the end of the year. The winter garden has the same bones as the summer garden. Lastly he talked about what a Japanese garden is not. It is not lanterns or footbridges or water features or tchotkies. I was so happy he said that because those lanterns and bridges to nowhere drive me crazy.

I also attended a panel on hot plant picks for 2012. Sadly, there was no projector for diplaying images of the plants they were discussing. Good thing there was June Condruck from Blooming Nursery to deliver the horticultural equivalent of phone sex. She was so good at talking up plants ("An absolutely stunning blue eye surrounded by petals that fade to a dusky purple atop an unfurling mass of shiny green foliage . . .") that I didn't really need visuals. I think I put a star by everything she described.

WANT. Eryngium 'Big Blue'
Photo from High Country Gardens

And then I bought some hellebores and some hot pink bleeding hearts to drown out the mousy and diminutive pale pink native variety that I have in the shade garden. 

All in all it was a very good time. Be sure to check out Scott's photos of the feature gardens over at Rhone Street Gardens. And if you're interested in attending the Spring Home and Garden Show, THAT'S at the Expo Center next weekend.