Six on Saturday

The Propagator, riding high and wielding his lasso, corrals a herd of enthusiastic gardeners for another Six.

1. Soaker hoses. Finally J assisted me in placing the miles of soaker hose that had been lying in a tangle for months. The previous arrangement was not efficient and it left many plants uncovered or at the ends of overextended lines of hose from which nary a drop dripped. So little confidence did I have in the prior arrangement that I quickly gave up using it altogether and resumed hand watering so as to avoid condemning any of the plants not located along the circuitous length of one of the soaker hoses to untimely death. I look forward to turning on the hoses and proceeding with other tasks for the allotted time rather than expending what little energy remains at the end of the workday on hand watering.

2. Buds. Like most gardeners, I love to see new growth emerging in the spring. The stirrings of life. The embryonic expression of the full-blown leaf and flower that summer will bring. The resolution of the suspense that each winter’s semblance of death brings.

Sedum spurium maybe “Tricolor”
Baptisia australis “Blue Indigo”
Ribes speciosum

3. Street trees – Golden Rain Tree. One leafed out so far in advance of the other that I feared the delayed tree had slipped from dormancy into the deeper slumber of death. But no! Behold the bronzy unfurling leaves. Given that the trees are situated so close to one another and under seemingly similar conditions, it is difficult to account for the different rates of emergence from dormancy. Any theories? Do you think they will sync up in time?

Koelreuteria paniculata

4. Blooming manuka. Seems to be thriving in its new situation in well-drained soil, full sun, and with the added proection that proximity to the warm house provides on frosty nights. The dark leaves of delightfully indeterminate hue are offset by diminutive magenta flowers. Have I mentioned my passion for very small leaves recently?

Leptospermum scoparium

5. Golden hops reemerge. Originally planted outside our apartment, where it grew and thrived, strewing cascades of golden tendrils across everything in sight. The move to our new house required a brutal sheering, which had roughly the effect on the plant’s vitality of Samson’s haircut on his legendary strength. The subsequent year was marked by sullen protest, with little to no growth and a sickly, almost self-pitying hue. With time, I grew weary of the plant’s reproachful look and consigned it to a corner where I proposed to forget all about it forever. But here it emerges again, with that fresh brightness that promises such possibilities for the long growing season that I am tempted to try to heal the breach and scatter some organic fertilizer by way of making amends.

Humulus lupulus “Aureus”

6. Fern leaf biscuitroot. A new and, best of all, native acquisition from the Soil and Water Conservation districts’ sales. The stems are an interesting purplish color and the leaves do, as the name promises, resemble fern fronds. The internet advises me to expect golden umbels by way of flowers. Apparently these plants and the related barestem biscuitroot were used for both food and medicine, as the plant’s taproot, foliage, and seeds are all edible. Personally I enjoy the name: the fey assocations of ferns followed by the down-to-earth practicality of a biscuit. Something airy, something solid.

Lomatium dissectum

Six on Saturday

Join the Propagator and his bumper crop of gardeners for another Six on Saturday.

1. Botany for Gardeners. I am working my way through this book. So far, it has evoked fond memories of high school biology textbook illustrations. Fewer practical lessons for the gardener have been derived, I’m afraid. But I do feel suitably elevated by exposure to theory.

Photo from http://www.abebooks.co.uk

2. Mulches. Over the course of my admittedly relatively brief career as a gardener, I have experimented with many a mulch. Straw, bark dust, wood chips, cardboard, ground and unground leaves. “What have I gleaned from these not very scientific trials?” you may or may not ask. I like wood chips for those small (and ever-shrinking) areas in which I prefer that nothing grows, such as paths. Bark dust brings back memories that I prefer not to revisit and is thus shunned unless donated to the cause by an insensitive, but well-meaning soul. Dyed bark dusts are doubly shunned, regardless of intentions of would be donors. I feel that I may safely pass over synthetic mulches of all kinds as unmentionable. Leaving us with straw and leaves. Spoiled straw may be acquired at a deep discount from the local agricultural coop and is therefore tempting. I admit that I find it aesthetically acceptable, even pleasing. Despite warnings re: herbicides, I have detected no deleterious effects on the plants that I am trying to grow, while I have observed excellent weed suppression. I recognize that straw is usually thought suitable only for the homely kitchen garden, but I ask whether this is the product of careful consideration or purblind prejudice. Whole leaves are accessible once a year in great abundance, presumably untainted by herbicides, and have the added recommendation of serving as nature’s mulch – at least in forested areas. Two concerns present themselves: are the unchopped leaves smothering whatever is underneath? And something once read and vaguely understood about the distinction between soils in which the fungal element predominates vs those in which the bacterial reign supreme. So, chopped leaves are a ready remedy to the one concern. As regards the other, I appeal to my learned and largely imaginary audience, “Are leaves contraindicated as a mulch for plants that thrive in soils where bacteria are dominant?”

3. Seed and Scion Exchange. It was everything that I dared not hope for, and more. Hosted by a nonprofit based in Illinois Valley, situated on a remote farm dotted with the requisite handbuilt-from-scrap-materials outbuildings, frequented by the vaguely pagan, possibly somewhat ill-informed, sprouted grain bread-breaking denizens of my dreams. Vegetable seeds were in abundance. Ornamentals somewhat less well represented, but the selection delightfully unpredictable. Starts were given away by a lovely, older, long-haired couple who reported that the poppies had been grown from seeds harvested from the man’s parents’ garden. The scions were largely, if not entirely, from countless heirloom varieties of apple, the root stock also available for grafting. Having neither the skill nor the space to undertake this project, I confined myself to the roots and shoots of sundry herbs on offer – comfry, marsh mallow, borage. I left feeling more hopeful than I have in some time, after the added delight of identifying a local plant with a remarkably agave-like appearance and slightly contorted leaves, previously glimpsed on a remote hike and thus left respectfully untouched, growing freely in the parking lot across the street from the farm. I shall return.

4. The first buds of Ceanothus “Blue Jeans.” The leaves are rather yellower than I would like. Brief research suggests that no supplemental feed or water are required or desired by this plant and that full sun is required for it to maintain its form. Have I perhaps overwatered or overfed? The yellowing suggests stress, though the flower buds appear prolific. Any ideas?

5. Analogies. How do you use analogies and contrasts in color, form, size, leaf shape in your planting schemes? The below analogy (bulb fennel and Cape Restio) was unintentional. Redundant and detracting from the striking impression that would otherwise be created by either plant’s feathery and lime green foliage? Or does it suggest the emergence of a rhythm, the possibility of a commentary on convergent evolution or the deepseated kinship of all things? I haven’t decided. I am hoping that the maturation of plants situated between the two will provide a foil that will render their similarities pleasing, even intriguing.

6. Ornamental asparagus (above) continues to struggle in its new situation. Evidently stressed (dead and discolored foliage) and with no evidence of new growth. Any ideas what I am doing wrong? Kniphofia (below) also seems unhappy. The orange to green gradient and crispy tips suggest a failure to thrive. The soil is well draining, the plant situated in full sun. Am I over or underwatering? All suggestions are welcome.

Six on Saturday

Merry gardeners lay their picnic blankets under the inviting shade of the Propagator and share tasties from their baskets and tales of plants past, present, and future.

1. The seedlings. Several weeks ago, a tray was hopefully prepared, sown with 6 kinds of seeds – 5 newly acquired. The tray was duly placed under a grow light controlled by a timer, and the water trough below dutifully filled. Now, having transplanted the last of the seedlings from said tray into pots of proper soil and placed them in a small “greenhouse” to harden off, I can reflect on the successes and failures of this project. First, it should be said that 4 of the seed varieties sprouted. The highest germination rates were shown by Culver’s Root and Datisca cannabina. 4 strong yucca seedlings emerged. The sticky monkeyflower seedlings were tiny and appeared to have minimal root development at time of transplanting. The scarlet globe mallow and Dutchman’s pipe did not make an appearance. 2 different shades of slime – a bright green and a rust – appeared on the surface of the planting medium. My conclusions are that I will have to thin the Datisca and further research how to germinate the Dutchman’s pipe and globe mallow.

2. The wall finally wills itself into existence. Following the removal of rotten fencing and assorted detritis, the retaining wall that will hopefully allow us to render the back area more level is finally going up!

3. Supports for cane berries. These were planted as bare roots more than a month ago. Now, I plan to place salvaged wood from the demolition of the back fences at either end of each row to create a support for the canes when they begin to grow.

4. A crowded corner. This corner has been causing me some consternation. It is far too crowded, and I feel that I must relocate several plants in order to restore balance and allow adequate growing room. Specifically, I am thinking of moving the Cleveland sage, far too wonderful a plant to be consigned to the almost invisible background. I also contemplate moving the bronze fennel, which would appear to far greater advantage elsewhere.

5. Madrones under stress. The leaves of my transplanted madrones are showing stress. I have no idea how many – if any – will survive this trying time. My only comfort is that madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant, so the blame for this current sad state of affairs cannot be entirely assigned to me.

6. Seed and scion exchange! After a long “dry spell,” there is finally a local exchange of plant matter scheduled for Saturday at a farm in Cave Junction. I plan to filter through my seeds for redundancies and things not to my taste and bring them, along with a few cuttings, to this event. I have no idea how the event will be formatted, particularly in light of social distancing requirement. My dearest hope is to behold some of the local plantcentric eccentrics, hippies, survivalists who I imagine are likely to crawl out from under their respective rocks for such an occasion.

Six on Saturday

The Propagator casts his net, capturing the silvery, leaping imaginations of gardeners far and wide.

1. Willows awaken. Imagine my delight when a recent review of the willow sticks lodged in mud early this winter began to show signs of life. Few things could appear more miraculous to me. And I envision previously bare, raw looking banks torn by each new flood sheltered by their guardians – willow, red twig dogwood, and Douglas spirea alike, their branches and roots capturing organic matter (and the odd bit of discarded clothing or broken plastic toy), gradually reclaiming lost ground.

2. Early forage. Having rather belatedly become aware of the importance of early food sources for bees and other pollinators, I am keeping an eye out this spring for what’s on offer in the garden. Several bulbs, including muscara and hyacinth, violets, and the lovely sulphur yellow flowers of my otherwise unsuccessful broccoli raab. This latter appears to be quite popular with an assortment of small pollinators. Tree-wise, there’s some sort of plum, whose cloud of flowers is stunning and its fruit not worth eating and quince.

3. Reconfigured soaker hoses. Last year’s soaker hose arrangement failed to provide adequate coverage, necessitating frequent supplementary watering with the hose. This year, armed with another length of hose and fittings, I am determined to deliver water to each plant in my perennial beds. So far, I have managed 2 of the smaller beds fairly well, with only a narrow strip of groundcovers left out. This weekend shall see me completing the task, though I remain apprehensive that: (1) my supply of hose will be exhausted before the full area is covered, (2) the water pressure will be inadequate in some of the farther branches of hose, and (3) I will continue to struggle to trust my system and be drive by anxiety to frequent, redundant waterings, thereby undermining the whole purpose of installing soaker hoses in the first place (i.e., water conservation and labor saving).

4. Multiplying goldenrod. I was thrilled to discover that my goldenrod, which graced the garden with long lasting wands of brightest yellow beloved by pollinators, has not only survived the winter but multiplied! Now, I fully realize that this is far from astonishing given goldenrod’s reputation as a “weedy” and “thuggish” denizen of the garden, but I am as delighted by the multiplication as I would be if this were the most delicate and persnickity of plants.

5. Newly emerging restio shoots. Another exciting development. After weathering its transplant mid-summer, followed by an occasional hard frost this winter, the Giant Cape Restio is producing new shoots.

6. Fence cleared. So, this past weekend saw me swinging a crow bar with violent abandon to demolish the last of the rotten patchwork posing as a fence that obscured the view of the stream from the back garden as well as a ramshackle sort of coop or hutch marring the side of the barn. Furthermore, the mountain of uprooted vinca that formerly cloaked this area was finally binned. I confess I had been avoiding this task, feeling as I did that more than enough time had already been sacrificed to the eradication of this interloper. But when I observed the vinca sprouting hopeful new growth atop the tarp, my ire fueled previously unthinkable exertions.

Six on Saturday

Once again, the Propagator holds court, bestowing favors and welcoming genteel guests from far and wide to pay homage with gifts of their finest fruits and flowers.

1. Melianthus major. This plant has long been an elusive object of desire, with its striking blue, serrated foliage. It was recently located on a pilgrimage to Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island in Portland, along with a few other botanical treasures.

2. Another Rhodocoma capensis. This one acquired from Xera Plants in Portland. I selected this specimen because of the preponderance of new shoots, whose look I like. They are reminiscent of a giant reed, but prefer the dry, well-draining conditions we have on offer over marshy ones. Xera had 2 other kinds of restios on offer during my recent visit, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to acquire another of these to add to the exotic collection now accumulating around the front of our cottage.

3. Final native plant sale. And the largest harvest yet. More of several varieties of bare root shrubs and a number of perennials (columbine, blue eyed grass, goldenrod, coastal strawberry, kinnikinnik, rose checker mallow, and more). These have been distributed according to their light preferences and my whim, around the riparian restoration zone, perennial beds, and strip next to the road. Arriving at the end of the months long process of replacing noxious weeds growing along the stream bank with hundreds of natives, with the help of my neighbor, is a relief. The thought of keeping it all watered through the long, dry summers for the first 2 years is a bit overwhelming.

4. Ribes speciosum or Fuschia-flowered currant. This is a native with a very exotic looking flower and quite a number of thorns. Apparently it prefers part shade, so it will likely be placed near the quinces along the fence to deter whatever needs deterring.

5. Another manzanita. Some time ago, I obtained 2 manzanitas from Shooting Star Nursery. Both of these boast dark red bark and long, pointy leaves more green than silvery blue. But a covetous eye continued to wander to my neighbor’s front garden, where manzanitas thrived with silvery foliage which grows perpendicular to the ground, moving in the wind like a dancer’s finger cymbals. Finally the opportunity arrived to add one of these ghostly manzanitas to my collection.

6. Ornamental asparagus. I have always loved the look of asparagus plants with their thread like stems and feathery foliage. So, when I encountered this lovely ornamental asparagus at Cistus, I bought it. It seems to have experienced some transplant stress and some of the older foliage has yellowed. However, I am hopeful that new growth will soon emerge to take its place.

Six on Saturday

The Propagator beats his tom-toms to beckon tillers of the soil from the far reaches of the earth to display that which is best and brightest in their early spring gardens.

Traveling again this weekend in the name of plants. My final (and largest) order from a soil and water conservation district native plant sale needs picking up, and I am taking advantage of the opportunity to revisit some favorite spots along the north coast of Oregon.

1. Planters reconfigured. As promised, bananas are in barrel adjacent to chimney, while crucifixion thorn is now (inadvisably) in rusted metal planter in middle of high traffic path area. As the garden develops, my original path scheme is revealing its many limitations. Keeping company with the thorn are cuttings of The Biggest Most Upright Prickly Pear ever beheld in these parts. Upon being (more violently than intended) flung from the pot where they overwintered, these cuttings revealed an extensive root system. With the added space, my hope is that they will begin to spread their wings/paddles. My fear is that their nasty spines will ambush unsuspecting garden goers, but I refuse to allow fear/accurate foresight to interfere with my aesthetic vision! The side pockets have been planted with yucca, newly acquired dickia, and a kalanchoe that I was firmly convinced had frozen/rotted into oblivion, but upon digging, revealed healthy looking roots.

2. Crocuses. Purple. Golden. Always my favorite first flower of the spring in these parts. Upon reflection, I attribute this preference to their diminutive stature and modest design, which seem well suited to the time of year. Almost as though they were as surprised as we are and didn’t have time to premeditate a fancy party dress. All these were planted long before our tenure here began. Next year, I believe I will add to their number.

3. Pacific madrone. This is one of my favorite trees and also a native in these parts. The brilliant colors of the exfoliating bark, the sinuous limbs’ expressive writhing, the bright, glossy evergreen foliage. My neighbor was invited to “rescue” native specimens that were about to be bulldozed on private land. He brought back 6 of these wonderful creatures in a tub of the heavy red clay soil in which they had been growing. Madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant, and I believe I remember reading at some point that this is due to the loss upon transplant of the mycorhizal relationships that allow them to derive necessary nutrients from the soil. Consequently, every effort was made to include scoops of the red clay from which they originated in the planting holes and a mycorhizal tea was brewed and distributed generously upon the new transplants. Now, two weeks in, all but one tree appears to be surviving, though the largest is showing signs of stress.

4. Mexican Orange. A new acquisition. Bluestone. Fascinating, stringy leaves. Flowers with a lovely perfume are promised. Importantly, this is an evergreen, and so shall join the ranks of other evergreens along the front fence, which – if all the stars align – will eventually form an untamed hedge that will lend the necessary privacy to the front garden.

5. New Plantings. Among the bare root plants that returned home with me from a native plant sale were goldenrod, Douglas aster, and bigleaf lupine. These, in time, will be joined by grasses, manzanitas, California lilacs. The California lilac in the foreground below was also rescued from the bulldozer but with significant damage to the root system. An aggressive pruning and regular watering are the measures taken to keep it going long enough to allow new roots to form. Despite the traumatic transplant, it heroically clings to a few diminutive leaves.

6. Rhubarb. The long wait is over and a rhubarb root with tiny plantlet beginning to emerge was at long last obtained from the local farmer’s co-op. As I have never particularly enjoyed sweet rhubarb concoctions, I regard this as an aesthetic addition to the garden and accordingly situated it in a prominent location in the perennial beds. This will, I hope, be the first of many gigantic leaved additions to the garden, particularly as work on the courtyard garden in the back begins shortly.

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?

Six on Saturday

The coven of gardeners gathers once again under the watchful eye of the witch-king Propagator to whisper plant lore in ancient tongues (botanical latin).

1. Flood and sun.  This week has seen significant rainfall, which is mostly a good thing in our drought-plagued region, but develops unnerving implications in light of our proximity to a creek susceptible to flooding.  And indeed the water level rose and kept rising, at one point engulfing the trunk of an alder tree and knocking ominously on our cellar door.  The flood waters have receded again to high but not too high levels, though I still can’t see the native plantings of sedge, rush, willow, and dogwood that I fear have been swept downstream.  We shall see.

2. Erosion.  Removing the invasives from the riparian area has replaced one problem with another.  To wit, while the invasives were doing a lackluster job of holding the soil with their shallow root systems and simultaneously preventing anything else from growing, the new, native plantings are too sparse and not yet established enough to do much in the way of erosion prevention.  Consequently landscaping fabric has been strategically placed below the most vulnerable areas to catch the loose soil before the rain carries it into the creek.  Most of the natives planted on the banks are shrubs.  I have ordered some ferns, mimulus, gingers, and other ground covers that I hope will help hold the soil.  Planting during the rainy season makes a lot of sense in terms of giving everything the best chance of establishing with adequate water, but baring the soil in all these vulnerable areas has made me rather nervous.

3. Bulbs.  I will admit it, I am whatever the opposite of an expert in bulbs is called.  When I lived in Baltimore, I participated a few times in the annual bulb dig at one of the parks on an affluent neighborhood where annual plantings were rotated regularly to ensure an impressive display.  This was a rather festive occasion on which aspiring gardeners shod in muddy workboots gathered in a feeding frenzy.  Can’t recalll the cost of the bulbs, but they were absurdly cheap.  Not having any idea what I was doing, I planted said bulbs in our new garden more or less at recommended depth and promptly forgot about them.  Though I now live on the opposite side of the country, I like to imagine the garden, its plants continuing to spread upward and wider, volunteer seedlings sprouting, areas of shade and sun shifting, and at the feet of the now established shrubs, the bulbs making an annual appearance.  Here in our new garden, there are bulbs that another gardener lovingly planted, probably years ago.  I enjoy the unpredictability of their placement – each one a delightful surprise.  And my research has given me newfound respect for their important role in feeding pollinators before other flowers have emerged.  Next year, I plan to add to their number.

Can anyone tell me what these are?

4. This unprepossessing stick is the winter presence of, I believe, Hibiscus moscheutos “Fireball.” This was acquired last fall for several reasons: (1) as previously mentioned, the gardener passed part of her childhood in Hawaii and is therefore drawn to tropical plants; (2) this particular hardy hibiscus has leaves whose shape and color I find more attractive than the somewhat predictable blooms; (3) it was offered at a low, low price. Planted in the height of the drought, this specimen had little opportunity to establish itself before winter came along, with its moody weather. And so, gazing at the aforementioned stick from afar, I was inclined to despair of its survival. But, being a gardener and having learned from experience that plants are as a general rile tenacious lovers of life, I approached the stick and beheld at its base the chartreuse green of life! Needless to say, I was disproportionately pleased.

5. Blueberries. Purchased at a sale, one of the five assorted bluberry bushes (the smallest) yielded the most fruit and appears to have exhausted itself utterly. Not a hint of a bud. But two of the others are looking quite promising.

6. Phormium “Maori Queen” or “Rainbow Queen.” Though a relatively new introduction to my relatively new garden, the Queen appears well satisfied with her growing conditions, and has generously given birth to 2 offspring. Jusging by neighborhood walks, phormiums have the potential to get quite large hereabouts. At some point, I would like to divide this one into 3 and spread the loveliness about. Any opinions as to timing of phormium division?

Six on Saturday

Once again, the Propagator welcomes gardeners near and far to display their prize winning pumpkins, disclose their secret recipes, and confess their gardening sins.

1. Nesting materials. At a recent trip to the local Grange, a coop that offers farm and garden supplies, this natural nesting material caught my eye. I bought another suet cage for my nesting offerings. Further research suggests that I can also offer dried twigs, pine needles, feathers, moss, and dead leaves. String, human hair, and plastic are all potentially dangerous to birds and should be avoided.

2. Bat house. The neighbor who has been helping us with our riparian restoration project brought over a Fish and Wildlife bat house that he has been unable to find a good location for in his garden. According to him, the bathouse should be positioned about 15 ft up on a tree trunk without too many branches around, facing south for maximum warmth. An appropriate tree trunk has been identified and, fortunately, J is as enthusiastic about supporting wildlife as one could possibly wish, so it’s all a matter of time before we drag out the ladder and try to figure out how to get it affixed without breaking any bones.

3. Ground cover propagation. Last year witnessed the frantic acquisition of as many different varieties of stonecrop as could be located at area nurseries. Chartruse, orange, blue, burgundy, aqua, chocolate; spiky, scalloped, rosettes, scales – one of each was purchased. The understanding was that they would be propagated and that their many offspring would supply color, texture, weed suppression at the margins of the perennial beds. And yet little has been done to advance this plan as of yet. It is true that a few cuttings were successful rooted in a pot, but many more were casualties to the as yet unidentified digging animal that leaves little depressions here and there in its quest for – roots? grubs? nuts? Sometimes these depressions are painfully close to the base of a plant, suggesting the possibility of damage. I am uncertain how concerned I should be, particularly as there seems very little to be done. The cautionary tales of other gardeners who have waged war against the animals that interfere with their plantings have met here with a receptive audience.

4. Gardening books. I am currently reading The American Gardener by William Cobbett. According to the introduction, he was an Englishman who spent a substantial amount of time in the States, became convinced that Americans were ignorant with respect to gardening and generally inclined to dismiss it, which he attributes to the devaluation of small spaces on a continent with vast tracts of “unclaimed” (by European-Americans) land. So far, I am impressed by the writing and the arguments offered in favor of the techniques he prescribes. While I do not plan to begin double-digging, I am definitely a proponent of living fences, whose advantages (particularly as a deterrent to marauding boys) he persuasively itemizes.

5. New seeds. These arrived in the mail, the product of an impulsive online buy. Bird’s Eye Gillia and Datisca cannabina, both of which I have had on a very long list of indispensible additions to the plant palette for some time. Now it’s time to learn how to grow plants from seed. So far, my success rate has been abysmal. I also find myself in the awkward position of having lost access to the space I was previously using for indoor propagation, without having identified an alternative or built the long-desired greenhouse. I am attracted to the option of sewing seeds into pots oudoors or possibly in a cold frame. Have you had success with that approach?

6. Kangaroo fern. This lovely specimen was purchased at a plant shop in town. I have been watering it thoroughly whenever the pot feels light and it has rewarded me for my vigilance by extended its furry feet, from which new fronds emerge. My understanding is that it will eventually encase its entire pot with its feet, at which point I presume that it will be difficult or impossible to transplant to a more aesthetically pleasing container. So I should probably see to that sooner than later.

Six on Saturday

The Propagator summons all gardeners to share six items of interest from their gardens year round on Saturdays.

1. Raised beds reconfiguration. Proceeding at a glacial pace. Waiting on bright, warm weather, a surge of motivation, or a brilliant inspiration for a new design, of which only the lovely weather has been forthcoming. And then on the slighest pretext the thoughtless gardener gads off to take a hike, etc., with nary a glance over the shoulder for the neglected garden. Wonkily half-done, resembling an abandoned puzzle or poorly constructed maze that has come apart in places. Reflecting a lackluster commitment to the laundry list of hardscaping projects compiled in fall. Winter has a way of turning out to be ever so much less productive than I had envisaged.

2. Signs of life. The perennials are stirring, snding forth a cautious shoot from the roots, testing the temperature, perhaps impatient to begin another season, perhaps making a gesture, a reassuring vital sign for the inexperienced or pessimistic or else inattentive gardener.

3. Chaos reigns supreme. The lot is divided into 2 almost halves by Gilbert Creek. On the public, sunny half, the house and its garden, which has received almost all of my attention thus far. On the private half, a barn like structure, currently used for storage and woodworking and a decent sized area in part-shade, full of potential but currently a bit of an eyesore. Done so far: removal of ancient, mealy apple tree with single, thriving branch thrusting vertically into the available light of the alley; section of rotting fence ripped out; pit dug in which new retaining wall will be installed; mountains of vinca uprooted and piled on tarp for eventual disposal. To be done: so much that it’s almost overwhelming. Wall built, remainder of rotting fence removed and replaced, greenhouse installed, planting beds created, paths laid.

This photograph by On The Wing Photography.

4. Bird sighting. This past weekend a new bird sighted and heard, which J has tentatively identified as a female belted kingfisher. The call was quite distictive.

5. Yard waste. Here, as no doubt elsewhere, we have yard waste bins whose contents are destined for the municipal compost. What with the recent flurry of weed eradication, this bin is seeing more use than ever before. Previously, I was operating under the foolish misconception that I could hoard my yard waste to fatten my own compost pile. Setbacks in that department, lack of chipper/shredder, and fears lest the aforementioned weeds sneekily reproduce from sections of root have led to this ill conceived plan being scrapped. Instead, bin everything in sight we shall until this place is no longer drowning in weeds!

6. The grotto. Weed removal has created space in which our new, native friends can grow and flourish without competition from their better established competitors. It has also tended to promote a mental state of complacent self-satisfaction more noxious than the weeds ever were. Finally, it has revealed this ameteurishly constructed rock wall in its full glory (and, probably, structural instability). Plant the top with vine maples and ferns, add more ferns once they are obtained from the far-flung plant sales I impulsively ordered them from, possibly plant ferns in any crevices that can be located or created without contributing to the wall’s eventual demise.