A Return

The drought persists and smoke from an ever-growing number of wildfires still muffles the sky and obliterates the mountains, turning the landscape unfamiliar, dimensionless. Watered religiously through the dry months, the garden nevertheless has a distrustful, withholding quality. New growth is slow and leaves blighted by the parching heat of July and August curl like little dead hands, clinging to their resentments.

Where is the space for the generativity, hope, joy of gardening at such a time as this? When drought- weakened forests succumb to insatiable fire? When the ghosts of thousands of charred trees haunt the hillsides and fill our lungs. When I am filled with sadness, fear, foreboding, anger, guilt. Can the garden hold all of this? Is this a conversation that can be had through the language of gardening (planting, tilling, watering)? When decades, probably centuries of ignorance, avarice, indifference, carelessness, denial culminates in the ruin of what is most beloved and we – none of us – can stand faultless before the unmistakable evidence of our destructive nature. Is it too late to garden? Is a garden too small, too insignificant a gesture in the face of such enormities?

Six on Saturday

1. Opuntia propagation. As this cactus appears to be thriving in its rusty planter and I am attempting to contain its branching somewhat in order to minimize the likelihood of uncomfortable collisions, I thought I would remove some pads for propagation. These have now been drying for a little over a week and will soon be ready for planting in various lackluster corners of the garden.

2. Scented geranium. This plant was purchased this year in a fit of nostalgia for the rose-scented geranium that all too briefly graced the window of my college dorm room. Sadly it succumbed to spindliness due to lack of proper light, but the delights of rubbing its tough, hairy leaves and smelling the rose-like but somehow distinct fragrance was not forgotten. I am pleased to announce that, post transplant to a larger pot, this geranium has bloomed. Of course, I am wary of apparent successes with plants I have struggled with in the past. I am hoping to bring this one in to overwinter in the kitchen. Any advice would be appreciated.

3. Mantilija poppy. Growing a bit and blooming! This plant has not disappointed me, except perhaps in its stature, but I am hopeful that another year of getting established will see it towering over its companions. Seed shall be collected.

4. Gaura and friends. This corner of the garden pleases me with its dreamy top heavy grass, feathery fennel, ever more monstrous evening primrose, and profusion of delicate pink gaura blossoms that wave on delicate wands, almost as though suspended in the air.

5. Gallardia.

6. Trumpet vine. Last year, I dug up a couple of volunteer trumpet vines sprouting in the back and placed them in this barrel to overwinter. They have since grown apace and I will soon need a long-term plan for their support if they are to remain in their current situation.

Six on Saturday

After a brief hiatus, I am joining the Propagator and his merry band of gardeners for another Six.

I recently returned from a trip to visit J’s parents as well as his sister and her family in Indiana. While there, J and I set up a raised vegetable bed for his parents, and I planted a number of perennials in the bed that runs around the foundation of their house. This bed already featured hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, potentilla, iris, and salvia planted by the previous owner, but there were large gaps between these plants where weeds were encroaching. The first task was to address the aforementioned weeds. Once weeded, the beds could be planted at intervals with perennials selected from the local nurseries. Rudbeckia, echinacea, gaura, baptisia australis, verbena bonariensis, bee balm, catmint, sedum Autumn Joy, and yarrow were planted, along with several creeping sedums for groundcover. The planting process involved clearing away pebbles laid down as mulch, cutting through landscaping fabric, digging through heavy, compacted clay, and amending each hole with a raised bed mix, then replacing the rock mulch. I look forward to watching the new additions grow.

Six on Saturday

Thanks to The Propagator, who summons all who love gardens to share Six each Saturday.

1. Fertilizer. I admit that I have a tendency to neglect my plants’ needs for fertilizer. Particularly the vegetables, which I have been made to understand are “heavy feeders.” It’s not that I don’t have organic fertilizer. It’s just that I tend to become overwhelmed by navigating the different feeding requirements of different plants at different points in their growth process, and paralysis follows. A recent distribution of fertilizer around all of my perennials and shrubs was followed by a panicked discovery that several of my native shrubs may have been stressed and their lives shortened (!) by my misguided ministrations. Self-castegation, guilt, and further paralysis ensued.

2. Raspberry trellis. In a fit of activity, some of the pressure treated posts uprooted from the back area, where they were supporting a rotting fence, were de-nailed and moved to the front to form the basis of raspberry/blackberry trellises. Holes were excavated and the posts situated. And that’s where the activity ceased. And has not been resumed, partly because I suspect that I may have to redo the post holes with cement if they are to support the weight of the (hopefully eventually) growing vines. I have also weighed the virtue of their “weathered” appearance vs. the potential advantages of cleaning them up further and adding a coat of paint. A decision has yet to be reached.

3. Melianthus major scare. Several larger leaves were flaccid, their beautiful blue color giving way to a sickly, jaundiced yellow. Panic stricken, I hosed it down, then read a series of articles purporting to educate me in the art of distinguishing between The Underwatered and The Overwatered plant, as well as those providing background on Melianthus major’s growing conditions in the wild (by streams and ditches). Thoroughly confused, I checked back in an hour to find my beloved plant seemingly restored. Tentative conclusion: Underwatered.

4. Cistus x aguilarii “Maculatus.”

5. Penstemon pinifolius.

6. Blooming.

Six on Saturday

Once again, I am joining The Propagator for Six on Saturday. Visit the comments section of his blog to learn about gardens from around the world.

1. Aphids. The tell-tale leaf curl, gleam of sticky residue. A closer look reveals innumerable tiny forms, black, gray, bright green, seemingly motionless, in actual fact busy sucking the life force from my plant. I admit that my first instinct is to reach for the horticultural soap, to direct a firehose-strength spray at the afflicted stems, to pick off and ruthlessly crush each little perpetrator. But an admittedly superficial horticultural education stays my hand. There must be food to attract and retain the beneficial insects that keep aphids and their brethren in check. The system will find balance – not immediately, but in its own time. Patience and a willingness to accept some damage are called for. So I have been waiting, watching, hoping that the natural checks and balances will kick into action before my plants are annihilated, hoping that the aphids are not communicating a virus for which there is no natural defense. So far, I have seen more lady bugs, including juveniles. The affected plants have not died and both seem, for the moment, inclined to bloom. A tenuous faith is affirmed.

3. Seedling setbacks. Of the seedlings I have bought or grown, few have survived the ravages of the garden’s night time visitors. Basil, cucumber, and ornamentals alike have suffered, leading me to contemplate new protective strategies (cloches of hardware cloth or tops of soda bottles?) Any recommendations?

2. California pipevine. Finally, after purchasing seeds online, and sowing those seeds without a single seedling emerging into the light, sulking in my disappointment, reading several articles about the object of desire and pining away, I have at long last got my hands on a real, live California pipevine. I had hoped to train this strange specimen up a trellis situated between the perennial beds and the berries, but several sources suggest that the pipevine prefers at least part shade. So it has been planted instead by the stream and will, if all goes well, be trained to ornament the railing of the back deck. This fascinating vine, whose flowers resemble those of a carnivorous plant, apparently pollinated by tiny fungus gnats, which it traps in its pipe-shaped flowers long enough for them to become thoroughly coated in pollen. The flowers are reputed to emit a rather foul, fungal odor to attract the chosen pollinator. On the less repugnant side of things, the California pipevine is the only host plant of the California pipevine swallowtail, which lays its eggs on the leaves. The toxic leaves nourish the caterpillars without harming them; the accumulated poisons serve to protect the butterflies from predators. The chrysalis bears an appealing resemblance to furled pipevine flowers. If my vine survives and grows, I will be watching closely for signs of the gnat upon whose grotesque appetites the plant depends for its survival, and the beautiful butterfly in whose life cycle the vine plays such an important role.

Aristolochia californica

4. More natives acquired. Limnanthes douglasii, Clarkia purpurea, Mimulus guttatus.

5. Marshmallow. The Seed and Scion Exchange seems to have receded into the hazy past, a thing too wonderful to have occurred in fact. And yet, some evidence remains. Admittedly, kale and lettuce starts perished in the recent greenhouse catastrophe, while pea starts have struggled (displaying shocking ingratitude for the charming trellis I constructed for them). Comfrey failed to sprout from the roots that were lovingly planted and watered, and the few seeds I brought home have remained unplanted. But the unpromising stump of marshmallow has begun to send forth green shoots. Marshmallow from which marshmallows are no longer made. Apprently sometimes savored as a delicacy, the plant (of which leaves, flower buds, and roots are edible) was at other times consumed as a last resort during periods of famine. Water used to boil any part of the marshmallow can handily be used as an egg substitute. Traditional herbalism makes use of this plant’s properties to heal respiratory conditions.

Factoids aside, I’ll admit that the appeal herbs hold for me is only partially based on an interest in the immediate practical applications they could have in my home, as food, medicine, dye, etc. To a greater extent, it derives from a fascination with the ways plants and people interact, have interacted, since people first came to be. An herb is by definition a useful plant, and reading the history of any herb’s uses evokes a social order past when the power of plants, and the extent of our dependence on them, were better appreciated. Ideally I would love to cultivate a collection of herbs along with their common and arcane histories. I fantasize about wandering among perhaps formally arranged beds, knowingly rubbing leaves and harvesting flowers. In reality, I believe I already grow more herbs (useful plants) than I realise. Perhaps I should refocus my ambition on becoming becoming better acquainted with my plants.

Althea officinalis

6. Plants in bloom.

Starting top left: Lupinus, Eschscholzia californica, Juncus, Achillea “Moonshine,” Gaura “Siskiyou Pink,” Nicotiana, Baptisia australis, Mimulus guttatus, Verbascum “Southern Charm,” Verbena bonariensis

Six on Saturday

1. Fence camouflage. As previous photographs of the garden probably revealed, the prospect from the house was marred by an unsightly fence on the property line with our neighbors to the east. This consists of a patchwork of chain link woven with plastic bedecked at random intervals with a topping of trellis bits. In addition to its obvious aesthetic shortcomings, the fence attracted attention to itself due to the glaring white color of plastic strips/trellis bits and failed to afford any meaningful privacy. Over the course of the weekend, bamboo fencing was added. I am very happy with the effect, as I feel that the hedgerow plantings are more visible against this backdrop, which, at a height of 6 ft., lends that end of the garden a much-needed sense of seclusion. Actually, ai think the use of a natural material causes the strip of woodland to appear much larger than it did previously, as the shrubs and trees blend into the bamboo rather than standing in stark contrast to the white fence.

2. Joe Pye reemerges! I have been wringing my hands over the non-appearance of my Joe Pye this spring. Asking myself how I failed this, one of my favorite plants. In darker moments, throwing up my hands and resolving never again to attempt to grow this plant or any of its relatives. Then, succumbing to remorse, my despair/petty anger gave way to solicitude, checking the base for signs of life, shifting mulch about, bestowing a little extra water. I considered consulting online sources, but didn’t follow through, anxious lest my worst fears be confirmed. And then, one spring morning, one – then 2 – purple shoots were detected, emerging from then soil inside the circle of last year’s dry, brown stalks. The relief and happiness that I’m sure every gardener has at some point experienced. It’s not dead!

3. Currently flowering.

4. Vine maples. These were purchased from a local native plant nursery (Plant Oregon) and planted on the top of the sloped southern bank of the creek. I had visions of these lovely creatures filling the middle ground with their lush, graceful foliage and brightening the autumnal woodland with shades of gold and orange. I am pleased to say that all 4 have leafed out and appear to be growing nicely in their new homes.

5. Wild Ceanothus. Another plant “rescued” from a construction site by my neighbor. This came to me quite large, with so little of its original root system that I was skeptical. Not one to turn away a plant offering, however, I dutifully cut back the branches and watered frequently and generously, trusting to the resiliance of plants. Something must have regenerated underground, for tiny buds and leaves have emerged from more than one remaining twig. Initially, they were so subtle that I would begin to doubt their existence whenever viewing the plant from a distance and have to confirm through careful inspection that the miraculous stirrings of vitality were not the product of wishful seeing. At the moment, I am patiently waiting to prune out dead branches, as these cannot at the moment be readily distinguished from living ones.

6. Verge planted, weeded, and mulched.

Six on Saturday

Once again, I am privileged to join the Propagator and his merry minions for another Six.

1. Biological knotweed control (Aphalara itadori). As previously mentioned, our neighbor is involved professionally in the restoration of wild spaces in Southern Oregon through the removal of invasive plants and reintroduction of native species that have been outcompeted by Himalayan blackberry, vinca, etc. As you may recall, he helped us with the riparian area of our lot, which is coming along nicely, despite what borders on neglect on my part. Anyway, said neighbor recently gave us the opportunity to serve as a test site for the release of a biological control of invasive knotweed, which thrives along the banks of our stream and many other waterways in the northwest, shading out native plants that would better prevent erosion and serve a host of other ecological functions that the knotweed cannot. So, these friends were released Tuesday and we are on the lookout for signs of defoliation in our unwelcome knotweed grove. See https://www.capitalpress.com/state/oregon/oregon-washington-enlist-tiny-ally-in-fight-against-knotweed/article_6b707076-3354-11eb-9d0b-777ac390ef97.html for more details.

2. Companion planting in the vegetable beds. I am a lazy and incompetent vegetable gardener. My intentions are almost good, but the outcomes achieved through apathy and forgetfulness are far from impressive. Whether this is due to insufficient water, shallow beds, shortchanging the vegetables on fertilizer, etc., it’s hard to say. In brief, the lackluster harvest could be explained by a swarm of variables that I have no particular inclination to sort through. This year, after rearranging my beds to take greater advantage of the sun and topping them off with nutrient-rich soil amendments, I once again launched into a poorly planned season of vegetable husbandry. So far, a few plants (red romaine and kale) have exceeded my expectations, though they are still, by any reasonably proficient vegetable gardener’ standards, dwarfs of their kind. In a flush of fresh enthusiasm, I added (for the first time ever!) marigolds and calendula, interplanted at festive intervals. I am sorry to say that I left the new companion flowers to their own devices for a day or two, trusting to the recent light rains to help them settle in, only to find all droopy and some downright collapsed. Following my ministrations yesterday, the marigolds are again putting on a respectable simulacrum of cheerfulness, while the calendula continue to protest their mistreatment, stems sprawling on the ground, leaves a flattened and grayish shadow of their former selves. Ah, well.

Onions, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, kale, marigold, calendula.

3. Pollinator Project native plant sale acquisitions. So many wonderful species that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get my hands on. Highlights for me are sulphur flowered buckwheat, baresteam buckwheat, bear grass, 2 more madrone seedlings, and California pipevine. The pipevine in particular is an exciting find – an exotic looking native that is also the sole host plant of blue swallowtail butterflies, also known as pipevine swallowtails. According to my research, this vine prefers shade or partial shade, and I am thinking of trying it under the large trees that surround the balcony at the back of my house.

4. New growth on opuntia. As previously described, these opuntia paddles were collected (with permission) from the ground where they had been dropped by a large cactus. They were carried home without adequate hand and arm protection, then planted in a ceramic pot and left to root over winter. When I decided to plant my rusty remains of mining equipment up with desert plants, I relocated the paddles, now well rooted, into the top tier of the planter. Now they are sending forth promising looking buds that I hope will become new paddles during the course of the summer. Note the clutch of succulent cuttings thriving in the protected wedge of soil between the paddles.

5. New growth on madrone. Revisiting another past posting regarding my stressed madrone transplants. These were “rescued” from a construction site by my neighbor and generously donated to brighten the banks of the stream that runs through our lot. Unfortunately, they did not prosper, despite semi-regular watering and dousing with myccorhizae. Eventually, the dried remains were uprooted and composted. Madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant. These suffered a great deal of root damage when dug up. They had reportedly been growing in the shade in heavy clay soil. They were planted in part-shade in sandy loam. Imagine my delight when I observed that the madrone that I acquired as a seedling from one of the native plant sales up north has not only not died, but is putting on significant new growth!

6. Newly blooming.

Six on Saturday

The Propagator welcomes gardeners from near and far to track the week-by-week developments in their gardens.

1. Split rail fence moved. This fence was previously positioned along the stream bank, blocking the view. Not only would disposing of all this wood be wasteful, it would be logistically challenging without renting a dumpster or truck. I also liked the frontier rusticism of the split rails. Then it occurred to me that we could move the fence over to mask the chicken wire placed in front of the dense shrubs at the northeast corner of the garden to prevent our small dogs from wandering too far. Having finally completed this project, I am delighted by the effect, which I think will frame the future pond area nicely.

2. New plants. I revisited a few of the hardware stores that occasionally have plants of interest and located: creeping thyme, woolly thyme, orange thyme, Greek oregano, dill, blanket flower, dock, Erigeron, bellflower, pineapple sage, blue fescue, Avalanche feather reed grass. The focus was on filling in gaps left by a few tender perennials that did not return this year and contributing further diversity to the foreground that I hope will eventually be a patchwork of groundcovers with contrasting textures and colors.

3. Plants added to verge. Purple euphorbias, Karl Foerster grass, blue fescue, Siskiyou Pink gaura, sempervivum, yucca, catmint, red yucca. I was looking for drought tolerance and selected varieties that I have seen thriving in the challenging conditions of a verge. I also feel that these plants will complement the plant sale natives that I had already distributed in this space. I have prioritized planting perennials over weeding. Next, I plan to mulch unplanted areas with cardboard and wood chips.

4. Pond plans. Where there is currently a pile of leaves, I plan to situate a wildlife pond. This pond will be located between the small orchard and the hedgerow/woodland area. I would like to use a 4 ft circular galvanized trough, which will be either partially or completed embedded in the ground. I plan to use available rubble to create “shelves” in the pond for plants and a “ramp” to allow wildlife safe and easy access. I have never had a pond before. J’s anxiety is that it will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. I know that mosquito larvae are an important food source for the wildlife I am hoping to attract, but I don’t want J to resent the pond. So I’m contemplating a mosquito dunk and/or a fountain or bubbler to agitate the water.

5. Blooming plants. Henderson shooting stars were planted this year after they were acquired at native plant sales. One of them has bloomed already! My red flowering currant that struggled after being planted in the dry heat of summer has recovered over the rainy winter and is flowering. Ajuga is spreading nicely and sending forth purple spires. Best of all, though, in my humble opinion, are the brilliant yellow daisy shaped flowers of Oregon Sunshine against a backdrop of silvery foliage.

Henderson’s shooting star (Primula hendersonii)
Ajuga reptans
Mecican orange blossom (Choisya ternata)
Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum)
Verbena canadensis “Homestead Purple”
Ice plant (Delosperma)
Rose checker mallow (Sidalcea virgata)
Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa “Moonlight”)
Yellow rose (unknown variety)
Bergenia cordifolia

6. Weeding. Such a quintessential part of gardening as to be almost part of its definition. The bane of some people’s existence, weeding is a contemplative, gratifyingly concrete, process of clarification, maintenance, care for others. Or it can be framed as a futile effort at control over that which is so much more complex than we can grasp with a garden gloved hand. Weeding tools proliferate – some more useful than others. But while tools can lend greater speed or efficacy to our endeavors, they cannot obviate the painstaking, slow, back-bending business of weeding itself. Lately I have been doing a lot of weeding and more or less enjoying it.

Six on Saturday

The time has arrived for another Six, generously hosted by the Propagator:

1. Wild flowers photographed during a recent hike along the Rogue River.

2. Planting under fruit trees? Have you planted vegetables under your fruit trees? What works well? My fruit trees are currently very small and cast no meaningful shade. The space between them feels squandered, and I have been reading about the possibility of planting potatoes, yams, or squashes beneath each tree.

3. Evening primrose grown from seed last year appears to be coming into its own.

4. Euphorbias in bloom.

5. Greenhouse disaster. My little greenhouse (retrieved from a streetside free pile) was leaning dangerously, but I paid no heed. Then, horror of horrors, it predictably toppled over and spilled its precious, lovingly nurtured contents willy-nilly all over the ground. Some were salvagable, some not. Now finding a place for everything in the garden has become a matter of some urgency.

6. Trumpet vine transplants. Dug up a few roots from the back area last fall in hopes of establishing a trumpet vine across the front of our house, which I felt would complement the exotic plantings that dominate this area. After reading about others’ struggles to eradicate this vine, my delight in the success of my transplants is diminished just a little. But I am delighted nevertheless.