Monday, March 17, 2014

Garden bloggers' bloom day March 2014

Better late than never edition.

When we hit single digit temperatures in December my Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' was badly burned and lost almost every single leaf. It produced buds where the leaves dropped off. I am a HUGE fan of this. More blooms? Go ahead and lose your leaves every winter, girl.

My Daphne odora 'Mae Jima' bloomed for the first time, too!

Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmonds'

Pieris japonica

The hellebores are still going.

Euphorbia 'Blackbird'

Euphobia myrsinites

After this we really get rolling. April is one my very favorite months in the garden! Happy bloom day, a little bit late! Thanks for hosting, Carol!

Friday, March 14, 2014

I did a bad, bad thing

Last fall I bought a Mahonia x media 'Underway' from Cistus at their "tough love" sale. It was gorgeous. I tucked it, still in its nursery pot, into one of the beds so we could mow the lawn. Unfortunately I tucked it too far under the eaves of the house and it got totally dried out. And then the poor thing lost most of its branches.

Now it's the Charlie Brown Mahonia. Uggggggghhhh. This is why we can't have nice things.

Eventually it will put out new growth from the top and fill out that way but I don't think it will produce any new shoots below. Am I wrong? Should I cut my losses and buy a new one?

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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oyez! Oyez!

Please don't hate me because we went to Maui last week, even though we'd just been to Kauai in November. My brother planned the trip for his family and asked us to come along. My nieces are 7 and 9 and the sweetest kids and I didn't want to miss seeing Hawaii through their eyes, especially when they're at such delightful ages.

I tried to convince Greg to come but wasn't having much luck. Then my nieces sent him letters, including this one from Tabi:

Greg hates glitter with a white-hot passion. Only a monster would say no.

At Christmas I told Tabi she was a genius and she sighed and said conspiratorially, "There's probably going to be some glitter." She's the best.

So. Anyway. We went to Maui and instead of visiting gardens we hung out with my nieces and swam and ate burgers and swam and swam and swam. It was awesome. How cute are they? They are still, for the moment, super affectionate and not embarrassed to hold my hand in public. So wonderful.

We went on a sunset sail the first full day we were there and humpback whales were breaching all around us.

All week you could just look out on the horizon and you'd see whales leaping, slapping their dorsal fins, or shooting plumes out of their blowholes. I've never seen a whale in the wild, so that was really neat. We also took a snorkeling tour and got to swim with the biggest green sea turtles. I could lay on the surface of the water and watch sea turtles forever. They're more transfixing than TV, though you can't play on the computer in your sweatpants while you watch them.

Greg and I stayed two nights longer than my family so we could have some time alone. Greg, unbeknownst to me, made arrangements for us to have dinner in a little bungalow by the beach so we could watch the sunset while we ate dinner. Then he shocked the hell out of me by asking me to marry him. After hanging out with my family for a week!

I reacted, not by crying like a normal person, but by getting really sweaty and forgetting how old I was. Our server asked me my age and I said, "37." Greg was like, "You know you're 36 for another month, right?" And I made him pull out a calculator and make sure he was right. I honestly couldn't remember.

So I think I got so happy I had a tiny stroke! I went to the bathroom and I saw a miniature frog, which I considered a good omen. In retrospect maybe he wasn't real? Either way, I'm really happy and I'm sure the feeling is going to come back to my arm soon.

Our server was so excited about our engagement, she didn't want to leave our sides. She told us about growing up in the Philippines, her son's job, the hotel where they stayed in Times Square, the time they went to Washington DC . . . She also took about a thousand photos of me and Greg, making sure to cut off parts of our heads so she could get the table settings in the photo. She was a hoot. She also told us the key to a good marriage was giving in, "And I guess the bible says women should submit?" which made Greg laugh and me shake my head vigorously. She really was sweet but very goofy.

Now we're trying to figure out where we can get married where we don't actually have to PLAN the wedding. Wedding planning sounds like the most boring thing ever. I love throwing parties but most weddings seem like a lot of work toward creating things that no one remembers, like decorations, favors, and ornamental poufs. Instead they remember if the food sucked and if your friend made a super awkward toast.

So if anyone knows where you can get married by a sea turtle, hit me up. If the turtle could do all the planning, even better.

Between this and spring coming, I feel like my heart may burst. It makes me feel even more passionately that marriage needs to be available to everyone. How anyone could deny this wonderful feeling to any of their fellow humans boggles my mind.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Garden bloggers' bloom day February 2014

I've always felt that February is the cruelest month. The only bright side is that it's also the shortest. Thank goodness for bright spots like crocuses.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Romance'

Mahonia 'Underway'

Helleborus x ballardiae 'HGC Pink Frost'

Sarcococca ruscifolia

The last of the blooms are clinging to Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies', which got pretty beat up by the snow.

I'm so ready for spring and more blooms. I think the hummingbirds are too, they're sick of fighting over my slim pickings.

Happy bloom day! Be sure to check out the fun over at May Dreams Garden.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love yourself, check your supplies

We don't celebrate Valentine's Day around these parts. I think it's a silly holiday, though I do enjoy the extra chocolate that seems to pop up at work. I was thinking about what this silly stupid holiday could be good for and I thought about emergency preparedness.

A year ago we had a dinner party to celebrate the anniversary of the Cascadia quake. It was really fun but I think we scared the shit out of our guests. This year Greg had the brilliant idea to do zombie preparedness instead. I could still harp on people to be prepared for emergencies but within the safety of a discussion about how awesome The Walking Dead is.

In the course of the evening I found out one of my friends doesn't own a fire extinguisher and I proceeded to harangue her ALL night. I am the worst hostess ever. We played a round of Zombo, which is just like Bingo except it hopefully inspires a feeling of panic in those who don't have emergency supplies at home.

So how about this year we check our emergency supplies instead of trying to get a reservation for that restaurant that will charge you twice what it would on any other night? Maybe you can eat that canned food that's going to expire soon. The list above is by no means complete, but it's a great start.

So this is your gentle reminder: give your sweetheart a real gift and check your emergency supplies. If nothing else, when you see the valentines candy at the grocery store, I want you to think "disaster."

Your fire extinguishers: are they still within their expiration dates? When natural disasters hit, emergency services get overwhelmed. Fires are very common after earthquakes/zombie attacks and the fire department may not be able to get to you. If you don't yet own a fire extinguisher, you can order one online or buy them at any hardware store.

Do you have a first aid kit? I'm not talking about the old box of band-aids in your bathroom cabinet. If something sharp fell on you (or your dog or your cat) and caused a deep gash, do you have supplies to staunch the bleeding? If emergency rooms are overwhelmed, do you have enough first aid supplies to take care of non-life threatening injuries?

Do you have enough food set aside for three days of meals? When we first started putting together our kit I thought, "We've got loads of food in our kitchen cabinets!" It turns out a lot of it (assuming we could get to it) wasn't ideal. We had a lot of pasta, which would require a stove, a pot, and precious water. Have you ever eaten black beans straight from the can? They don't taste very good. Instead we stocked up on baked beans, spaghetti-os, canned fruit, refried beans, and things that are edible straight from the can. This is the first time in my life that I bought processed, sugared peanut butter.

You may get caught in an emergency situation while in your car. Do you have supplies there? Remember after Katrina how the highways were like parking lots? You may need to hang out in your car for some time. Having some food and water, plus a small first aid kit would be a good idea. You can buy pre-made kits on Amazon (I don't make any money off of these Amazon links, I just don't like leaving the house).

Do you have spare food for your pets? What if a disaster strikes and you had planned to get food at the vet/store that day? Stores might now be closed or unreachable. Portland shuts down when there is one inch of snow on the ground. Even a minor disaster will likely bring us to our knees.

In our party bags this year we packed mylar blankets, twinkies, and glow sticks. My next goal for myself is to pack "go bags" for Greg and I. Ideally we'd have backpacks stuffed with extra clothes and basic supplies, in case the house was collapsing/on fire and we needed to grab it and go. I also need to get my bicycle in working condition.

Do I have everyone feeling sufficiently panicked? How about we calm down by looking at this photo from the recent snow.

Remember: Valentine candy = disaster. Delicious disaster.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I only like the cold when it does stuff like this

Because this winter has been so much colder than the last, some of my evergreen perennials are doing wonderful things. I don't even mean that sarcastically.

The cold turned my Mahonia nervosa wine-colored. The stems are pink! I recently read up on this plant and discovered that it doesn't want full sun, where I have mine sited. It's done fine so far (I barely watered it last summer) so I'm going to keep it there until it screams.

Parahebe perfoliata's purple stems have spilled their coloring into some of the leaves, making it even better looking than before.

On the downside, my favorite agave is mush.

Agave parryi, ay yi yi.

This was before six inches of snow fell. It's completely rotted through and there's no saving it. Sigh. I guess I'll just have to go shopping at Cistus for a more cold-hardy replacement!