Six on Saturday

The Propagator once again invites gardeners from around the wide world to the table for Six on Saturday. You, too, can join in!

1. Bananas. Was it the improbable height, the generous, ribbed, jewel- bright leaves whose glamor survives wind tatter, the prehistoric flowers? Or perhaps nostalgia for a childhood partially spent in Hawaii? Or was it the delightful discovery that Musa basjoo could grow outside year round in our climate and resultant fantasies of a secluded courtyard, rustling with tropical foliage? Regardless of the contributing factors, I could not and did not resist the opportunity to buy 4 bananas this fall. After much deliberation, they were planted in a barrel and rusted wheel derived I believe from some form of defunct mining equipment. In anticipation of frost, they were shrouded in horticultural fabric. And then, as I imagined that they peacefully slept in their beds, picture my horror and self disgust when I discovered that 2 of my lovely bananas, which had been entrusted to a newly acquired barrell, were drowning in a pool of rainwater! Of course, this disaster had been entirely preventable. Fool that I am, I neglected to consider that wine barrels are designed and constructed to hold liquids. Or perhaps I imagined that the nursery where I had purchased these planters would have drilled drainage holes on my behalf. Folly and foolishness. J was summoned, along with large drill bits, to add drainage holes to the barrell’s base. The putrid water gushed forth. The shroud removed, the 2 bananas that had the misfortune to be planted in a barrell were duly inspected. Their color – not wholly devoid of green. Their texture – rather like the central rib of a bok choi leaf – not without crispness. Two weeks later, the top of one banana was lopped off and a lovely green color greeted the eye. We are cautiously optimistic.

2. Further revisions. I have an unfortunate tendency to acquire plants on impulse and “fit them in” following their arrival home, without adequate planning. The result is that transplants are a frequent occurrance as the unsuitability of the original site becomes evident. Or as the vision develops. In this case, both practical and aesthetic considerations have contributed to a redesign of the area around the house. Currently occupied by a palette of plants fairly similar to that found throughout the perennial beds, concerns about tender specimens that would benefit from the heat of the house in winter have led to a reconceptualization of this area as home to the front garden’s collection of exotic plants. In particular, the Giant Cape Restio, tea tree, and bananas will be moved to the perimeter of the house. This will necessitate moving several plants elsewhere to create space, but it shall be done.

3. Asparagus. Last weekend found me tackling the project of editing the asparagus bed. The bed was originally constructed in spring 2020, based on an embarrassing misunderstanding of instructions found online. It was absurdly lumpy, the crowns were exposed, the plants by and large failed to thrive. So, after further instructions had been duly studied, the strawberries planted alongside the asparagus were moved to new locations underneath the Goji and gooseberry bushes. The asparagus roots were dug up, the many mummified roots were removed. Six new bare root asparagus were obtained. The bed’s questionable soil was tempered with compost. Now they are all planted, with hope and firm resolutions regarding organic fertilizer. We shall see.

4. Garden tools. I inherited classics including the shovel and rakes from a friend. A couple of trowels and a cultivator were acquired from a thrift store. An action hoe was added later. Most recent additions have included the hori hori knife and – best of all – the homi, a gift from my Korean in laws. After conducting initial research into the proper use and handling of this tool, I allowed imagination and necessity to guide me. So far, it has proven invaluable in removing weeds, as it has the capacity to hook and pull roots as well as to cut them. I have also been using the homi to refine shovel-dug holes, as the shape is ideal for carving away hard soil to widen or deepen a planting hole. Plus the priceless assurance from the manufacturer that, “With Youngju homi, you are already the best gardener.”

5. Apple tree. The newest addition to the home orchard. Part of my ongoing campaign to woo J into the garden. In general not a gardening enthusiast, J has a weakness for fruit. I don’t honestly believe that the many fruit trees, vines, and bushes I have planted will spark a new interest in horticulture, but it’s worth a try.

6. Pollination question. So, I featured this fascinating and rather dangerous looking plant (aptly named the Crucifixion Thorn) on a previous Six, remarking on its white winter blossoms. I have recently noted that said blossoms are receiving frequent visits from the local fly population. Are they pollinated by flies?

Six on Saturday

We pay homage to The Propagator, who has created this space for the sharing of all six things garden each Saturday. Though I have merely dipped my toes and frequently pose “late” due to time zone differences, I have found that the practice of sixing provides an opportunity for reflection on one’s gardening practice, for noticing what is taking place in the garden (especially in the winter, when we tend to avoid the damp and chill and regard our gardens as being about as dynamic as Sleeping Beauty), and to exchange knowledge, curiosity, and wonderment with others who find joy in their gardens. So here it goes:

  1. Bare root fruit. ‘Tis the season for bare root fruit plants, and for once I managed – sheer luck – to buy early rather than late. I typically remember that I meant to buy bare root plants around the beginning of March, when the once ample stock has dwindled to a few unpromising, desiccated sticks passed over by more planful shoppers. And so I applied by uninformed standards to a wide selection, giving preference to stems with an (imagined?) blush of vitality, avoiding peeling bark, carefully evaluating root size. Beginning with the raspberries, like Noah, I selected two of each kind. Heritage, Canby, Jewel, Amity. Then, a spirit of moderation belatedly kicking in, I secured only 2 (two!) of my favorite Marion Blackberry. One Captivator gooseberry (I already have another planted), 2 York blue elderberries, 3 yellow Muscat grapes. Having reviewed literature and instructional videos proffered by university extension services and sundry gardening gurus, I took the plunge and planted all but the 2 elderberries on Sunday. I can’t pretend that the available instructions were followed faithfully. For one thing, the space available for my home orchard/vineyard/U-pick berry farm is far too limited to permit the recommended allowance of 8 ft. between rows. So 8 ft. became approximately 4 ft. Rather than full sun, part shade, with the possibility of thinning overhead branches to allow for more light. I admit that the result is far from the tidy sort of early American potager that I may once have aspired to. But planted they are and I do feel a probably unjustifiable pride and optimism with this step toward the realization of my vision for the garden.
  1. Riparian restoration. This is likely the first of a long series of photographs of the restoration efforts being undertaken on the banks of Gilbert Creek, which bisects our lot. So far, I have begun clearing dead bamboo, thinning overly thick clumps. Our neighbor, who specializes in habitat restoration, has planted close to 50 native plants on the banks. Closest to the water are Juncus and Carex, willow stakes and red twig dogwood. I was concerned that the rising water would sweep the newly planted specimens downstream, but thanks to my neighbor’s careful placement and (hopefully) the plants’ growing root systems, this has apparently been averted, to my great relief. Further back, blue elderberry, snowberry, and mock orange have been plated. There are about 5-10 more plants (mahonia, vine maple, red flowering currant) awaiting placement at the top of the bank overlooking the creek. My neighbor will be planting another 50 plants (among them, Douglas spirea, Pacific dogwood, sword and deer ferns) in the next 2 weeks or so. So far, the change is not dramatic. The plants are largely dormant and blend in with the dominant background of bamboo. However, every glimpse of our new additions fills me with delight. While I do not plan to eliminate the bamboo altogether, I hope to thin it dramatically, allowing the understory of native shrubs to come into its own. I hope that the Juncus, Carex, willow, and dogwoods will develop strong root systems that will help prevent erosion. I imagine a time when we will see more wildlife returning to this stretch of the stream to take advantage of food sources afforded by the natives we are planting.
  1. Changes in garden layout. The mad rush to fill the perennial beds is definitely at an end, and I am beginning to feel a bit pressed for space. I have identified more and more plants that must or might be moved. I have puzzled long over the placement of the raised beds, which has not satisfied me from the beginning for a number of reasons. To wit, the upper beds are under the shade of the large maples on the bank of the creek, they were placed on uneven ground and look cockeyed, and I generally don’t like the visual effect of the two tiers of raised beds. The problem was, then, how to move/eliminate the upper beds without sacrificing too much room for growing vegetables. In a moment of inspiration, it occurred to me that by changing the layout of the paths around the herb garden and lower raised beds, I might be able to secure enough space to move the upper beds down next to the lower ones. As these are constructed of blocks and boards, they can easily be disassembled and reassembled in different configurations.
  1. Ground covers. I love ground covers. I collect new ones whenever I encounter them and have plans of propagating them to provide elegant cover for all the margins of the perennial beds. Creeping Jenny, Ajuga (several varieties), Hens and Chicks (several varieties), stonecrops (several varieties), mondo grass, sea thrift, potentilla, New Zealand brass buttons, creeping thyme.
  1. Road verge. As previously discussed, J and I participated in a city tree planting program earlier this fall. Our house felt particularly exposed to the street when we moved in. The fence went some way to addressing this problem, but further measures were clearly required. I did not want large trees that might shade out our front garden, a consideration that, along with the narrowness of the verge, left us with 2 choices of trees: dogwood (out of stock) and Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree). For a fee of $50, the trees were purchased and planted by the urban forester and his crew. Meanwhile, I had weeded the verge and added loose soil left over from other projects around the garden. I sowed a number of wildflower seeds in fall. Now a mixture of (to me) unidentifiable sprouts has emerged. My hope is that at least some of them might be the wildflowers I scattered, though I am not deceiving myself. As I have no idea what the seedlings of these plants look like, I am assuming that the best plan is to wait until they grow a bit and declare their true identities. Under a thin veneer of newly added the soil, the verge is covered in compacted gravel. Any recommendations for drought tolerant verge plantings on very poor/compacted soil are welcome.
  2. Rhipsalis. These bizarre, Medusa-headed tropical cactus are among my favorite houseplants. I have a couple of varieties – rhipsalis cereuscala and hatiora salicornioides. Rhipsalis are epiphytic and look lovely in hanging pots. Their blooms are tiny and perfectly formed. They are pretty forgiving (particularly the cereuscala) and seem to grow well in a variety of light and moisture conditions. I find that a weekly watering – only after testing to make sure the soil is dry – is generally adequate. If stressed, they will begin dropping sections of their long, cylindrical leaves. They are also incredibly easy to propagate by cutting and many leaves grow adventitious roots.

Six on Saturday

In the deep midwinter, we warm our hands at the hearth of horticultural comradery, all thanks to our generous host, The Propagator.

1. Fig tree.  The sap has sunk away from the tree’s shivering extremities, and once again the time has come to contemplate pruning.  Last year witnessed a wholesale editing of all branches deemed non-normative.  This year, the gardener promises anyone listening a gentler, more subtle approach.  The problem is that I know little more than I did last year about how to apply the principles of pruning to fig trees generally and this wayward specimen in particular.  Any advice from the readership would be most welcome. In particular, should I keep any of the suckers?

2. Compost.  I’ll spare you a picture of this one. Upon taking possession of the cottage, my highest priority was to establish a receptacle for compost.  With some prompting, J obtained wood prised from pallets by a local entrepreneur and constructed this box, with removable slats to facilitate access/meddling/harvest.  Yet, these many months later, harvest remains purely hypothetical.  The pile has grown, but has not, apparently, prospered.  Carbon-nitrogen ratios became imbalanced, the pile dried out, the scraps bucket became infested with maggots.  When originally established, the compost heap was stocked with worms acquired from the local Worm Woman and from the internet.  Given subsequent mismanagement of the bin, the fate of these friends is unknown.  Fear (of finding no worms, uncovering a clutch of maggots, etc) has, thus far, prevented me from investigating further.

3. Invasive plants.  Here in the Northwest, we have a long list of noxious weeds and invasive plants: Himalayan blackberry vines, English ivy, holly, vinca, bamboo, Scotch broom, just to name a few.  Most of these species were introduced intentionally, whether because of their ornamental qualities, their perceived usefulness, or their nostalgic value.  Some of these plants are so ubiquitous in our region that, growing up, I considered them definitive of the landscape.  I now make a point of eradicating them, to the best of my limited ability, from any space that I have a claim to.  In my garden, I have begun battling both the vinca and the ivy.  The ivy was removed from the trunks of trees it was smothering, but still covers one of the slopes leading down to the stream that runs through our property.   I have dedicated hours to smothering and uprooting vinca, with some success, though the task is far from complete. I’m afraid that eliminating the bamboo is at present not feasible, as it appears to be holding the stream bank together. However, I have hired our neighbor, who specializes in habitat restoration, to underplant with a variety of shrubs, groundcovers, and a few trees, that I hope will eventually serve this function and allow us to reduce the bamboo.

4. Moss.  I love moss. While on a recent nature walk, I collected some clumps of moss that had fallen to the ground, dislodged by the wind or perhaps by an animal.  Having obtained a glass cloche from a thrift store, I have kept the moss covered and moist.  To my delight, a number of ferns and other plants (identity unknown) have been sprouting from the mound.

5. Opuntia.  I have developed a real appreciation for this tough cactus, that thrives in dry patches and is undeterred by winter cold.  My collection includes a couple of unidentified  varieties.  One, with rather narrow, elongated paddles was obtained from an eccentric man who I found via a craigslist ad, who proudly showed me his encyclopedic collection of exotic fruit trees and bushes.  This cactus, thus far, has demonstrated a tendency to spread rather than gaining height.  When cold, it hunkers down close to the ground.  Its flowers are yellow.  The middle opuntia’s identity is known. It is Opuntia “Sapphire Wave,” though it is not looking particularly blue in this picture. The spines are quite dangerous looking and a lovely wine color. The third was acquired on a neighborhood walk.  These generous paddles were observed lying on the ground next to the biggest, most beautiful opuntia I have seen in these parts.  With permission from the friendly owner, the paddles were collected and wrapped in dog bags, through which the needles penetrated.  My arms still bear scars commemorating this cruel encounter.  The paddles were subsequently potted up and have been left to root over the winter.  Not sure how long they need?

6. Dasylerion wheeleri (Desert Spoon).  This plant is a delight.  It has a lovely, yucca-like form, with serrated, silvery, slightly twisted leaves.  My research indicates that this asparagus relative is native to northern Mexico and the southwestern US.  Apparently it can grow 6 ft tall and 6 ft wide, with a trunk.  The fermented inner core is used to make sotol, a drink that I have never tried.  This plant requires very little water and prefers good drainage. It appears to be enjoying its current situation in a bright spot near the fence. I am tempted to acquire more.

Six on Saturday 12.12.20

Brought to us by the Propagator (, Six on Saturday provides an opportunity to share the seasonal delights of our gardens with other plant lovers from around the world.  Join in!

The theme of my Six today is Natives.

1. Carpenteria californica (Bush Anemone).  This evergreen bush, native to the chaperral and oak woodlands of the Sierra Nevadas in California, grows 3-8 ft.  I have never smelled the flowers, but they are supposed to have a pleasant fragrance.  I planted this along the front fence, as part of an ornamental hedgerow that I hope will ultimately enhance the privacy of our front garden, which is rather exposed to the street at the moment.  Without doing adequate research, it looks like I managed to choose a well drained, partially shaded location that my sources suggest this plant will enjoy.

2. Ceanothus x Blue Jeans and Ceanothus “Victoria” (California Lilac).  Blue Jeans was acquired at another favorite local nursery, Shooting Star, which features an excellent selection of drought tolerant, native, and “pollinator friendly” varieties.  This hybrid is identified as particularly tough, growing 6 ft tall and wide, which it will certainly not have space to do in its current location at the middle of a crowded bed.  It bloomed this year, albeit briefly.  Later in the summer it showed some signs of stress, responding with yellowing and dropping leaves to the sustained, dry heat, but appears to be back in good form now.  I love the miniature holly like leaves.  Victoria has been planted off on her own where she will have plenty of space to stretch out, along the front fence.

3. Holodiscus discolor (Oceanspray), with just a few leaves hanging on.  This was acquired at a local nursery after its brethren were observed on a hike at Oregon Caves National monument.  It grows to 15 ft., with a foamy profusion of cream colored flowers that apparently appeal to pollinators.  My reading suggests that this plant thrives in disturbed areas, which is one excellent description of the area that lies along the boundary with our neighbors to the East.  The flowers were quite short-lived this year, which I optimistically attribute to transplant stress.

4. Zauschneria californica (California Fuschia), rather the worse for wear at the moment.  This lovely plant has come to my attention since relocating to Southern Oregon.  The bright orange-red, trumpet shaped flowers are striking against the backdrop of furry, silver foliage.  These are supposed to attract hummingbirds, but appeared to me to be mainly frequented by what I believe to be carpenter bees, which pierce the flower and rob its nectar without pollinating it.  The California Fuschia had the longest bloom time of any plant in my garden this year.

5. Eriophyllum (Oregon Sunshine).  Another exemplar of contrast between foliage and flowers is Oregon Sunshine, which has interestingly shaped leaves covered in silvery hair which complement the yellow, daisy shaped flowers.  So far, this plant has thrived through drought and deluge.  I plan to get more!

6. Arctostaphylos “Howard McfMinn” and Arctostaphylos “Pacific Mist.”  The manzanitas are among my very favorite plants.  I see them on most hikes in the area and I love their twisting, gnarled, peeling cinnamon colored trunks and diminutive bell shaped flowers.  They are perfectly adapted to our growing conditions, preferring excellent drainage, no summer irrigation, and no soil amendments.  I think they contribute nicely to the framework of larger plants in the garden that create an aesthetic context in which the perennials and annuals are interpreted.

Plant Profile 12.7.20

This series is designed to give me an opportunity to learn about and share my enthusiasm for plants that intrigue me.

Otatea acuminata aztecorum (Mexican Weeping Bamboo)

Mexican Weeping Bamboo first entered my consciousness as a peripheral vision on a stroll in San Diego.  Not as a plant per se but as a quality of filtered light (tinted slivers of light dancing with shadow in an animated mosaic).  Native to Southern Mexico and Central America, this bamboo forms clumps up to 20 feet in height.  The strikingly long, narrow leaves are light enough to stir in the slightest hint of breeze, but heavy enough to weigh the culms, producing the characteristic weeping effect.  Whereas bamboo normally cultivates excellent posture and the austerity that goes with it, this specimen bows graciously and democratically to every passerby.  Very, very sadly, this plant’s hardiness zone does not extend this far north.  Perhaps when I acquire/build/manifest the inevitable greenhouse in the back 40, a potted specimen can be wheeled in and out to mark the changing of the seasons.

Six on Saturday 12.5.20

 Once again, The Propagator invites gardeners from all corners of the world to share six images from their gardens on a Saturday.  Take a look and join in!  The focus of this week’s Six on Saturday will be recent acquisitions, which I am growing for the first time.

1. Callistemon citrinus (Bottlebrush).

2. Leptospermum scoparium (Tea Tree).  As I review this plant’s growing requirements, I am reminded that I need to move it next to the house for warmth, as it is only hardy to USDA Zone 9 and we are in 8b.

3. Rhodocoma capensis (Giant Cape Restio).  I was immediately drawn to this specimen at my favorite nursery on the Oregon Coast, for its grass like appearance and its vivid acid green color.  Research reveals that this plant and its equally enticing relatives hail from South Africa.  The Giant Cape Restio grows 4-6 ft.tall, and features subtly brown and green striped silky tassels waving from long stalks in spring.  While this plant is purportedly hardy to zone 8, I do feel some concern for how it will weather our typically soggy and cold winter months punctuated by frosts.  So far, it has shown no detectable signs of stress.  I planted the Restio next to the front fence, hoping that it will eventually form part of a hedgerow of ornamental perennials that will screen the garden from the street.

4. Leucadendron salignum “Winter Red” (Conebush).

5. Romneya coulteri (California Tree Poppy).  This is one of my more exciting recent acquisitions.  California Tree Poppy, also known as Mantilija Poppy, is native to Southern California.  It grows up to 8 ft. tall in well-draining soil and spreads by rhizomes.  Fortunately, based on my observations (still need to get a soil test done), our garden’s soil is sandy, which makes sense to me given that the lot straddles a creek.  The leaves are grayish-blue and resemble lovage leaves in shape, while the cheerful flowers are almost cartoonish, like a child’s drawing of a poppy.  Based on my research, I anticipate that containing this plant will be an ongoing challenge, if it is happy where I have placed it.  That is fine by me.  I admit that I am attracted to plants typically characterized by gardeners as “thugs,” which I attribute both to my appreciation for their lust for life and to my basically acquisitive nature.  If a plant will propagate itself for me, I feel nothing but gratitude.

6. Castela emoryi (Crucifixion Thorn) –  I found this specimen at a local nursery here in Grants Pass. Increasingly, I am drawn to plants with very small leaves (or gigantic ones – more about that another time).  Plants with diminutive leaves seem best suited to the punishingly long, hot, dry summer season here.  In keeping with my ultimate aim of conserving water, drought tolerant species are given preference.  Practical considerations aside, I find that species that tolerate lack of water make more aesthetic sense in my garden.  They feel right in this place, and tie the garden visually to the surrounding vegetation.  All of that to say that the Crucifixion Thorn, which is entirely without leaves, could not be passed up.  This plant, which I have situated close to the house in a half barrel, is native to the deserts of California, Arizona, and Mexico.  In researching this plant, I found it characterized as, “grotesque in appearance.”  Hmm.  I guess I am drawn to the grotesque where plants are concerned.  Also interesting is that this plant has insecticidal and fungicidal properties.  And it is currently in flower!  My reading suggests that it typically blooms “April to October” in Southern California.  I cannot account for the fact that it is blooming now at the beginning of December.  I am hoping that it may be possible to collect seeds. 

Six on Saturday 11.28.20

1. Winter vegetables.  After this summer’s disappointment with the edible crops, I found tearing out the spent tomatoes, squash, tomatillos, and green beans cathartic.  The cherry tomatoes had produced generously and deliciously, and I feel that they merited a dignified send off to the afterlife (compost heap).  The other vegetables had disappointed me.  Reared from lovely tear -shaped seed, the squashes produced one round of subtly flavored, honeydew colored fruit, then stubbornly refused to oblige further.  The green beans had failed to thrive, their bamboo poles awaiting tendrils that never grasped.  The tomatillos were full of promise, growing rapidly into giants and studded with surprisingly lovely flowers.  But their fruit was slow to ripen, their location presumably too shady for their taste, and their progress toward edibility halted as summer wound to a close.  The arugula and chard did well early in the spring, but bolted in the warmer weather.  I allowed them to go to seed, as they had contributed to my table and I was sympathetic to their reproductive imperative.  Anyway, I was fed up, my pride was bruised, I had had enough.  But then, October, final sale at local nursery before winter’s long hiatus, and I found that I could not resist the flats of winter vegetable starts.  They looked so hopeful and I admired their bravery.  Looking at my beds now, I’m glad I didn’t retreat into fearful avoidance.  

2. Wrapped up.  I located an incredible nursery on the Coast, featuring a variety of unusual selections, with an emphasis on Australian plants.  Now every trip to the Coast includes an obligatory pilgimage to this destination.  Among my aquisitions was a Mexican marigold, which filled the whole car with its sharp scent.  Come winter, I have wrapped both it and my Musa basjoos in horticultural insulation.  My first foray into the arts of protecting tender plants from winter’s icy fingers.  They look like unimaginatively constructed ghosts put up for Halloween and left up too long, and I suspect some of my neighbors, in their hearts, hold me guilty of spoiling the parade of holidays that defines their relationships to their yards.  Those otherwise uninhabited lawns, dominated by an enormous inflated turkey, snowman, etc, who fills the space like an exotic form of livestock being kept under less than humane conditions.

3. Leaves.  This year, following the admonitions of sundry of the wildlife friendly/ ecologically minded gardening books that I gravitate toward, I did very little fall clean up.  Yes, the streets and sidewalks were duly raked into piles for the creation of leaf mould, but the leaves in the beds were let be.  Of course, if they were found to be covering (potecting? smothering??) a plant, they were plucked off and relocated to barer ground, where they could provide nutrients and shelter for a variety of small creatures.

4. Street trees.  Following a long period of hesitation/research/indecision, my small city’s tree planting program decided the question in favor of 2 trees, which were planted this week.  Setting aside the savings involved, this program provided me wih the very great advantage of someone else digging through the horribly compacted, gravel-will-be-labor-saving product of neglect and abuse that is our aptly named hell strip.  The trees are dormant, their remaining leaves brown and dry, but I am already very attached to them.  Fiercely protective even.  I imagine someone backing their truck into my trees, scraping the bark or knocking them at a sad angle, and I experience an anticipatory flush of rage.  I also imagine them tall and straight, framing the house from the street, embracing passersby in cool shade, and shltering the garden from the world outside.

5. Fences.  I have read on more than one occasion that American garden design underestimates the importance of enclosure.  That Americans rarely build walled gardens and all too frequently ensure that front yards will never be enjoyed by the house’s inhabitants by exposing them to the street and the curiosity and judgment of passersby.  And I concur wholeheartedly with this observation, despite my tendency to bristle at generalizations.  J. and I built a new fence this spring, which is relatively low, but creates a separation and implies the possibility of privacy.  Next on the project list is the long fence with the neighbors – a patchwork of wire, rotten leaning wood, white plastic slats, all of different heights.  This fence is located behind a series of trees and shrubs, to which I have made numerous additions, in an effort to create a hedgerow dominated by natives (red flowering currant, ocean spray, ninebark, mahonia, blue elderberry) complemented by smoke tree, filbert, mulberry, whose shelter, berries, and seeds/nuts will attract birds.  These newcomers are still quite small and provide little in the way of a visual screen.

6. Birds.  The year I spent in Maryland as a child was when I discovered the joys of bird watching.  There was a feeder behind the house and its visitors were a delight, particularly in the winter months when little else appeared to be alive.  I have been working on transforming our yard into wildlife habitat.  We are blessed to have a stream running through the middle of our lot, along which grow maples, oaks, and other established trees.  As mentioned in (5) I have been planting a hedgerow along one boundary and I am thinking of extending it along the stream.  The understory trees there are not the picture of health.  I would like to remove them, along with the invasive vinca and ivy, and replace with native vine maples, native shrubs, and ferns.  In the mean time, I enjoy looking out the bedroom window in the morning at all the birds that frequent my still imperfect garden.  They don’t seem to mind.

Join The Propagator ( who generously hosts Six on Saturday for all those who savor the quiet joys of the gardening.

Six on Saturday Sometime in June (I think)

This is my first attempt at posting for Six on Saturday, though I have recently become a voracious consumer of others’ postings, all generously hosted by The Propagator.  I started writing it in July.
Winter was not particularly soggy this year, early spring even less so.  Working to establish a new garden on a new-to-me site, I am attempting to strike a balance between dessicated and, ultimately, dead plants and wasted water.  Recently, I recruited my water meter (previously applied only with houseplants) to gauge the moisture level of the soil around my newly planted perennials.  This has given me the confidence to skip a day here and there if nothing is noticeably wilting.
And then, wonder of wonders, 2 days ago we received a thorough soaking.  An all-day rainstorm of the kind sorely needed at this time of year to moderate the often devastating effects of the long, bone-dry summer to come.  But now we’re on our way back to bone-dry again.
Anyway, here are my six:

1. Pruned the heck out of this fig this winter.  Previously the entire tree was weeping forward into the sun.  I read various guides to pruning, I hemmed and hawed, and finally J. and I took decisive action with a newly acquired reciprocal saw.  So, following the order of priority for editing outlined in the pruning manuals: (1) of dead limbs there were surprisingly few, given that this tree appears to have been neglected for a long while; (2) of branches writhing along the ground in pursuit of a sliver of light there were several, and these were summarily excised; (3) crossing branches were absurdly numerous given the growth habit of the tree.  Around this time, I threw the rest of the priority list out of the window and determined that everything weeping must go.  And go it did.  With what probably should have been frightening rapidity.  Very few normatively positioned limbs remained, and in my accelerating mania I determined that these, too, must  be cropped to heights harvestable by the other-than-giant residents of the cottage.  And so they were.  Fast-forward to spring, when the fig tree, formerly leafy and abundant, played dead for a disconcertingly long while.  I actually thought about paring back some “dead” branches even further.  But then, lo and behold, sprouts emanating from every remaining branch and many, many more from the base of the tree.  Admittedly, the tree is a reflection of my incompetence and inexperience, but much more so, I like to think, of its own admirable resilience.  That said, I am already thinking of the dark days after the sap ceases to flow, and the pruning of all those suckers that will need (and, I must admit, want) doing.  

2. My parsley starts, planted 4-5 weeks ago, have been sadly munched by something-or-rather that seems to take all the foliage off each unfortunate stem that it visits.  Mollosk?  Not sure.  Regardless, the remaining spectacle is a bit sad.  Though in my fantastical moments, I imagine that the stripped-bare stems are planning to function like strawberry runners and give birth to new satellites of parsley.  No, don’t tell me I’m wrong.  I’m sure I’ll figure it out on my own in good time.

3. Is it strange that I find the flowers of culinary sage so much lovelier than those of the salvias that are grown for their blossoms?  I think it has something to do with the unselfconsciousness.  And the bold, spiky looking bracts that remain even after the delicate petals are spent.  And then there are the leaves below, each one textured like a tongue.

4.When we first moved here, before I really got a good look at the house, I was out in the then fairly bare yard surveying the legacy of former owners and renters.  Along with a number of nondescript shrubs planted hastily in front of the house, the parched, much-abused soil masked with a thin veneer of dyed-red wood chips, was this rose.  But it did not look like this.  It was sadly wilted by the late-summer heat and otherwise struck me as objectionably conventional and probably also high-maintenance.  I was forecasting cankers and black spots.  Barring those, I felt that my sophisticated, drought tolerant, pollinator friendly plant palette would be marred by even the healthiest of hybrid roses.  But, because I can’t intentionally kill plants, I included the rose in my watering, it began to leaf again, and leaves were shortly followed by a profusion of the loveliest roses, in shades of apricot and buttery yellow, that you could possibly wish to see.  I was informed by a neighbor that a former resident had stopped by some time ago and asked about the roses, which were planted by his mother.  At the time, I thought I would gladly uproot this specimen and gift it to this nostalgic stranger.  But I have grown accustomed to the rose, and I am no longer willing to part with it.  I have come to appreciate its surprising hardiness, the variable hues of its blossoms, and its tendency to bloom at the most unlikely times (as I write in late November, the rose has 2 buds).

5. At some point in July, I noticed dragonflies of some kind clinging to the bamboo plant supports I had placed around the garden.  When I approached to examine them more closely, they were unusually unreactive to my proximity.  A day or two later, I saw these molted cases left behind.

6. Fennel.  I have been warned that it grows “like a weed,” spreading its prolific seeds hither thither and yon, yet I can’t resist this lovely, feathery, plant redolent of licorice.  I distribute it generously throughout my garden.  I welcome its feral abundance.  Plants hold memories for us, and I remember riding my bike to work along with bay side path that connects Berkeley with points north, the smell of the sea water mingling with the scent of anise pressed by heat and wind from the crop of fennel that grew, untended, there.   

Plant Profile: Datisca cannabina (False Hemp)

Photograph from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

Have you ever seen a picture of an unidentified plant and become instantly enamored?  The quest to find the plant’s identity and – equally important – a source of potted specimens, cuttings, or seeds – is breathless, fluctuating between hope/longing/greed and despair.  This plant I identified ultimately by looking up the designer responsible for the garden in which I had first seen it pictured.  Apparently this plant is native to the area from Greece to Pakistan.  2 ft wide at the base, its 8 ft stems spread as they rise upwards, with cannabis like leaves and heads of grass-like flowers.  I Must Have This Plant!