Six on Saturday

As spring approaches, the gardener awakens and responds to the summons of The Propagator.

1. Plant Sales. Early in the winter, this gardener found herself feeling impatient, frustrated, racked by cabin fever. As a consequence, I took to the internet in order to determine what had become of all the spring plant sales in the dark days of covid. More particularly, I was in the market for native plants for my aforementioned riparian restoration project. At some point in my googlings, I discovered that various counties’ Soil and Water Conservation Districts were planning to hold their annual plant sales – albeit online and with pickup scheduled down to the hour. What happened next is not hard to predict if you’ve grasped our gardener’s acquisitive nature. 4 different sales were identified – all hundreds of miles away – immoderate numbers of native plants were purchased at low, low prices. Initially, I basked in self-approval. How resourceful! How frugal! Only about a month later did it fully hit home that I was going to have to make 3-4 different epic road trips in order to collect my booty. This weekend is the first foray, with pickups in Corvallis and just outside of Salem. As usual, I have tried to persuade myself and my garden-indifferent spouse that we are in fact traveling hundreds of miles for totally different, non-plant related reasons. No one is convinced, but this touch is mendacity feels only decent under the circumstances.

2. Seed Starting. Having sorted through the various plastic tubs in which my seed collection is stored and organized their contents under 2 headings: vegetable and non-vegetable, I have established without a shadow of a doubt that I have Way Too Many Seeds and cannot possibly justify buying even one packet more. Given the lack of greenhouse, the lack of cold frame, the lack of indoor space/set-up, the question is how to proceed. Last year, I acuired a light, a number of covered seed trays, which could hypothetically be rigged in a new locale. A cold frame could also probably be set up relatively easily. But February has arrived and the time to make a decision and act on it has come!

3. Staghorn fern. I purchased a small, potted staghorn from a local plantery and proceeded to nearly drown the poor thing by soaking and not allowing it to dry out. The shield turned from bright green to soggy brown and I had almost lost hope. Full transparency requires that I reveal that this would not have been my first indoor fern casualty. Articles were consulted, instructional videos watched. Emphasis was on the need for these epiphytes to receive a good deal of light, absorb water through their leaves, and dry between waterings. Instructions were dutifully followed and there were – unexpectedly – promising results. Further research revealed that staghorns prefer to be mounted on vertical surfaces so J. undertook the nearly flawless joining of 2 cedar boards. Moss was acquired (gathered from sidewalks where wind had knocked it down) and soaked. The plant was unpotted and its roots gently (enough?) Spread and positioned at the center of the board. The roots were then covered with soaked moss, the whole bound awkwardly in fishing line, and hung in a location believed to be conducive. The first spray watering has now taken place about 2 days in. The plant so far looks no worse, but experience has taught me to wait before declaring the staghorn mounting a success.

4. Survivors. A week ago, flood conditions were bemoaned and the chances of survival for the natives planted at the stream’s margins declared doubtful at best. Well, the waters have receeded, and the willows, red twig dogwoods, rushes, and carex remain. Certainly, some are rather the worse for wear, with the stream’s detritus caught in their tangled hair, but they are – as far as I can determine – alive. I see this not only as a testament to the general toughness of plants, but as support for the “right plant, right place” principle. These plants are uniquely adapted to inhabiting the banks of rivers and streams, which experience dramatic rises and falls in water level over the course of the seasons. The idea of any plant surviving when it spends days at a time submerged in icy water and weeks at a time feet away from any water in drought conditions, seems improbable, and yet, this is precisely the niche that willows, red twig dogwoods, rushes, and carex occupy in Southern Oregon.

Native willows growing along the banks of the Rogue River.

5. Local ecosystems. I live in a small city surrounded by mountains. The Rogue River Valley is a narrow valley at the convergence of the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Coast ranges. These moutains play a definitive role on shaping its climate, soil geology, and consequent biodiversity. Rainy, mild winters are followed by long summer droughts. I enjoy taking hikes in this area, because they give me an opportunity to appreciate the dramatic variance in plant life, as well as the settings and communities in which some of the natives I grow in my garden naturally thrive.

Above, the Illinois River winding through the sparsely forested serpentine mountains. Only plants specialized to grow in nutrient poor soils with heavy metals can thrive here. Below, an unidentified native bunch grass punctuates the rocky ground. Even in winter, the stems bearing stripped seedheads add drama.

6. Reusing and recycling in the garden. The garden has seen use made of recycled cardboard (under paths for weed suppression); toilet paper rolls, packing paper, and egg cartons for the carbon element in my compost; soil – dug out one place and relocated to another; pallet boards to build compost bins and hopefully a cold frame soon; plastic pots for propagation; discarded windows for cold frame; rotten straw for mulch; a former coworker’s alpaca manure for fertilizer; wood chips from tree removals for paths; bamboo removed from our grove for stakes and trellises; old wine barrels for planters; collected leaves for mulch and leaf mold; rusty parts of mining equipment for planters. I would like to find more ways to recycle in the garden. What are your favorites?

13 thoughts on “Six on Saturday

  1. I really like the way you, your blog and your garden are firmly rooted (sorry) in the landscape, the place seems to give a sense of purpose to your planting – probably worth those long trips to collect natives – this paragraph made me laugh, you really nailed the psychology of plant purchasing – the self-congratulation followed by mortification! Very chic rusty planter btw. Wishing the fern a speedy recovery.

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    • So far the fern showed some slight browning at the tips of the leaves immediately after it was mounted, but this does not seem to have progressed further. On dog walk, gathered additional moss blown off trees by recent storm to further insulate the crown. Hoping this will help as it does seem to dry out quite rapidly in its new home.

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  2. You have dramatic scenery around where you live, and the river is beautiful. We don’t see rivers that look rushing and clean around here. Ours tend to be a bit slow and muddy except when there’s been rain. Then they’re fast and muddy!
    I use a worm farm for recycling. It takes all the vegetable and fruit waste, plus some paper and even fabric.

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      • I would only add natural fabrics, and not an enormous amount. I might add a worn out blouse, or an old singlet or something like that. It’s a good covering for the worms, especially in hot weather, and eventually they eat it.

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  3. Way Too Many Seeds is the only sensible approach to take, in my humble opinion! The planting around the stream sounds like a real success – surviving the flooding without much in the way of casualties.

    When it comes to recycling, we’ve got a few features. We’re now in the position to spend money on the garden, but when we moved in, everything was done on the cheap – the path up the garden is made from gravel edged with free bricks (which I almost broke the suspension on the car bringing home!), then further up the garden it turns into old paving slabs broken up and laid in the grass as stepping stones. The old slabs are also what make up the ‘rocks’ in the rock garden. It’s taken a few years, but they look really at home now!

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  4. What a beautiful part of the world you live in. I’m so impressed at your purchasing to bolster your stream banks. Right now in the UK we’re not able to travel except for essential reasons so the thought of a road trip for any reason is enviable. A road trip for plant pick-ups sounds fantastical!

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