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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.