Thursday, September 07, 2017

Farm Life: Gardening with Chickens

The Original Vision: My garden would be the bucolic picture of life on the farm. Every critter would live in perfect harmony with one another. The compost wouldn't smell, the chickens would fluff up and poop in unison in the designated spot like a well-choreographed hen ballet, and everyone would use the gravel paths I painstakingly created for their use. The compost bins would be loaded with fluffy black gold. I would be wearing cute little overalls with a gingham blouse and my hair would be perfectly coiffed while heading out to pick tomatoes with my picnic basket lined in red-and-white checked fabric. Life was going to be perfect. Well, it is pretty sweet, but, hold on, wait, please allow me to paint the more accurate picture of the reality of farm-life, especially the part about chickens.

Can you spot the girls? Common chicken warfare is to split up and hide behind small shrubberies.
 On the peaceable kingdom: Our cats want to eat all the neighborhood cats that wander into our piece of paradise. One black kitty in particular has a death wish as she comes over from the neighbor's house, hungry or ready to hunt birds. On the two or three occasions I let our kitties out unaware that Black Kitty was in our midst, they chased after her and proudly came back with clumps of black fur in their mouths. So much for peaceable kingdoms. The chickens chase the squirrels and, while I'm at it, I've seen them chase the doves. When we introduced the three pullets we call the Pellets (Bea, Cheddar and Cheeto) there was much strife in the chicken kingdom. No eggs, just pecking order business and the rather astonishing change of our black girl, Blanche, into - well, Bruce. She crows now every morning. Like a half-crow, but a crow all the same. She, (ahem) pardon me, um, mounts the other chickens to keep everyone in line. OK! Moving on.

Here, Cheddar and Cheeto talk in secret chicken language about their next target. I suspected they were in cahoots together. Now I know the truth.
 The compost bin, full of hay, kitchen scraps and you name it, is regularly attacked by the chickens and I'm sure night creatures. There are avocado pits 89 feet away from the bin as well as a 4' radius of compost goo that the chickens rearrange daily. Walking out the front door, you need to have glasses on to see well enough to dodge chicken bombs. Those gals poo anywhere they want, usually on man-made surfaces, not grass where it magically becomes fertilizer. Did I mention how horrid chicken poo smells? As far as staying in the designated lines, HA! Chickens (and moles and raccoons and skunks) go wherever they wish.

Can you see the dinosaur in them?
 As far as my overalls and gingham blouse, substitute for a sleeveless cutoff T-shirt with stained shorts and rubber sloggers with chicken pictures all over them with brown socks, once white, that have the ability to stand on their own. My hair is in a wad on top of my head so that the cheap Fred Meyer cowboy hat I bought for sun protection will stay on my unusually small head. Never mind the sweat mixed with sticky sunblock and mystery dirt under the fingernails, despite going through a pair of gloves a week. Really. I'm a vision of beauty, let me tell you. Probably with chicken bombs under my rubber shoes.

Facility Manager here: Actually, TP looks wonderful in her dirty, stained clothes and silly hat. I love it, except when she enters the kitchen! Yikes!

 Here, Frida thinks she wants to eat green olives fresh from the tree (from last year). They would each take one out, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another. Chicken logic. All of this is just fine, though - it's still paradise. That is until this happened:

The plant formerly known as Cornus canadensis, bunchberry. Currently known as compost.
Deal breaker. Don't mess with the plants. This is the reality of "free-range chickens." Chickens scratch the *f*%%#@@! out of, well, basically whatever they want. It works like this: I plant a treasured plant with starry-eyed dreams of its full glory in a few years. I water said plant carefully and often in this horrible, hot, drought-like weather -- Facilities Manager has a full-time watering job around here. Bugs (and moles - that's another post all together) go where the water is, chickens go where the bugs are. Those little fluffy butts don't have a care in the world. La la la, the choreographed hen ballet plays out as plants are pulled out of the well-tended buggy wet soil, dry out, die sorry little lives at the hands of prehistoric monsters. Tamara MAD!

When reading up on keeping chickens, I read that they do this but you can put little fences around your treasured plants and that will deter them. I have about 4,789 "treasured plants" - little fences my ass. I read that they would destroy gardens and I denied it. No no, not in my garden. This will be the one exception in the whole world where the magic chickens will read my mind and do exactly as I wish, for I am the chicken whisperer (head hung low in shame and disgrace...lesson learned).

This is the head dinosaur, Frida. Her cohort, Blanche (Bruce), innocently eats watermelon in the background.

FM: It is not really Bruce. We call her Tranny Blanche! We support diversity!

They travel in packs and go everywhere, including the neighbor's home. Not good. It's like a gang.

All this while no one, I mean no one was laying eggs this summer. OK, why do we have chickens?

Nearly every day I raked the gravel paths only to find this every morning. Entire garden beds have been destroyed by these creatures.

Frida and Blanche teach the younguns how it's done.

Miss Cheddar, looking all innocent-like. I'm on to you, Missy.

Destruction in action. 

Not to mention the hundreds of these - dust bowls. Places in the garden look like the moon with all these craters. Difficult to photograph, but believe me, they are there and several inches deep. They bathe in these and make new ones every day. You would think the same bone-dry dust bowl would be enough, but no . . . one must have fresh dirt to be properly preened.

Enter my hero, Facilities Manager, who enclosed the hens in a . . .  wait for it . . . in a "henitentary." Small, harsh and penal. Oh yeah, music to my ears. After building a temporary addition to their pen, he bought 500 linear feet of fencing, attaching it to the existing coop and pen and designated the upper northeast corner of the property as the chicken badlands. Not much more than weeds and a few planted shrubs, it was going to be our native habitat area. I think it still can be, but with the addition of chickens. And moon craters. And chicken poo. On this decision, initially we went back and forth for a week or so, thinking it might magically get better. Let me share with you, it doesn't. Even with two acres to cruise around in, chickens find the plants you don't want them messing with. It's chicken law. Eventually Facilities Manager snapped, too, and we were in blissful unison on this decision to wrangle them onto their very own land.

 Don't feel too badly for the girls, they now have an 8,580 square foot area (instead of two acres) to make craters, pull out weeds, and poo wherever they wish to their hearts' content.

Tamara happy. Tamara not heading for a heart attack any longer. The compost bin stays as I left it, gradually turning to black gold now that it's in one stationary pile. Craters are slowly being filled in, paths remain groomed, plants stay where I plant them. No more chicken bombs at the front door, little plants have a fighting chance and, oh, by the way, we're getting four eggs a day from five hens and one cross-gender hen who thinks she's a rooster. Oh yeah, we've got this chicken thing dialed in.

Life is back to normal and our whackadoodle farm is, well, paradise after all.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Let's Go! The Oregon Garden

Oregon is a place rich with gardens. I've blogged about the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the International Rose Test Gardens, Elk Rock at the Bishop's Close as well as many private gardens. One of the most ambitious and largest is simply called The Oregon Garden, also one of the newest of all we've visited before, having been completed in 2001. Located in Silverton, just outside of our state capitol of Salem, it is open 365 days a year. Since my dearest, oldest gardening friend recently moved to Silverton, I foresee many visits in my future. Yay for me! Here's the first of I-predict-many-visits, a brief overview of this 80-acre garden.

The larger garden is categorized into some 20 specialty gardens, including a children's garden, a pet-friendly garden, a conifer garden, wetlands and more. I don't think we saw them all. In due time.

For simplification, let's tour the gardens now in the same order I saw them. We'll start here, in the parking lot of all things. An amazing full-sun garden full of perennials, shrubs, conifers and ground covers. They are very good about labeling plants at the Oregon Garden, a bonus for those of us who may wish to seek out these plants.

Nepeta or catmint is so easy for a full sun locale. It just blooms and blooms and sets off other more structural plants. Plus, cats like it. That's good, right?

Although a loose planting scheme prevails in many of the gardens here, there are touches of formality or shall we say repeated plants such as matched plants on either side of a path.

Lately I've been really into Calluna or heather. They used heathers to their fullest advantage, fronting many borders with some low-growing varieties. They add an evergreen or gold or silver touch to many beds here. 

Coreopsis is another great front-of-the-border plant. Most tolerate full sun and rather dry conditions.

This Potentilla caught our eye. I like them well enough, although I do not currently have any in my garden. That could change with this beauty that sports pale peach/pink flowers.

Just leaving the parking lot and entering the main gate, another touch of formality feels like giant arms welcoming you in.

In pots by the front gate are two Eupatorium 'Elegant Feather' plants. Mine in the ground are well over 7' high, these are much smaller by comparison, but an interesting choice for a container.

Before we paid admission we had to stop at the retail nursery. They have a small but nice selection of many of the star players in this garden. I bought nothing this day, but my friend scored some great plants. Most gallons are priced at $8, some even half price.

This combination of moss, rocks and black mondo grass was especially pleasing to me. Maybe I'll try something like this someday in my shade garden.

A simple planting of a row of birches under-planted with asters shows that you don't have to have fancy plants to make a fabulous place connected with nature. 

We sell this at Joy Creek Nursery and I bought one. Here is a mature specimen of Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' - a variegated salix. They limbed it up a bit and I like the effect.

OK, that was all just near the entrance, now on to the individual gardens. This is the edge of the Amazing Water Garden. 

A sea serpent among the lilies.

And a nutria munching on some plants, a beaver look-alike but with a long rat tail.

I believe this is Salix purpurea, a stunner that can get quite large.

It's nice to see these and many other Lagerstroemia or crape myrtles in the Portland area. They really do well here and are so beautiful this time of the year when they put on their spectacular show. Xera plants has an amazing selection in the event you are shopping for one.

Big, wide paths allow for the tram. It's free with admission and is a great way to see the garden for those who need a little lift. I wish we had done it, actually, to provide for a better overview. We were so enthralled with everything I believe we went around in circles a bit. No matter, that's what we do . . . explore then come back for more another day.

At the edge of the Conifer Garden. A nice use of stones and heathers.

The Conifer Garden boasts one of the best collections of dwarf and miniature conifers in the U.S. It was created in partnership with the American Conifer Society. One of Facilities Manager's relatives, a cousin Verl of Holden Nursery in Silverton donated many of the trees in this garden. Thanks, Verl!

I had no idea that bald cypress were so beautiful.

Well laid-out paths make for easy strolling and enjoying.

More heather! I had a bit of an obsession.

Here, Teucrium chamaedrys or wall germander is used as a border for annuals. It was long ago used in knot gardens and herb gardens and is an excellent plant in my opinion. I have four in a row and they are no fuss evergreen small shrubs. They take well to pruning and shaping, so they can make a good alternative to box hedges.

Creeping rosemary doing its thing. This is what I hope mine does someday.

This ever-changing palette of plants is a test ground for Ball Horticulture. Feedback is welcome in the form of guest surveys, available in the visitor's center.

Adjacent to the Silverton Market Gardens is this shady pavilion with a wonderful water feature in the background.

Masses of zinnias give a cheerful effect.

At the intersection of two gardens, a small maintenance building blends right in.

Although very informal, this was one of my favorite scenes. I'll need to go back and explore the Lewis and Clark Garden.

Somewhat primal, it is very satisfying.

What an amazing tree with a crooked surprise. You can't see this from the path, rather you have to go under the foliage. Hellebores below as a ground cover.

Well-placed stones lend a sense of history to any garden. Here they are inter-planted with sedums and grasses.

A whole hedge of Berberis, I think these might be 'Helmond Pillar'. 

I like the Flintstone's bench.

I had a hard time drinking from this very creative water fountain. I did it, though. I was thirsty.

A sweet spot to take a break.

The Children's Garden is very sweet, much to my delight. This Hobbit-themed home was quite inviting. Hmm . . . maybe I need one of these! Facilities Manager?

Fun-shaped trees are for adults, too.

A topiary of stars is a welcome change from regular old pom-poms.

Any child would find delight here.

Terra-cotta kids!

One of the better uses of old household items used as garden decor. The toilet and bathtub? Not so much my speed (toilet and bathtub out of frame to the left).

More creative topiary.

The Bosque, Spanish for grove. This area is often used for weddings, according to their website.

This area is the Rose Petal Fountain area.

Formal box hedges are neat and tidy. 

There is also a Pet Friendly Garden to showcase safe plants for your furry family.

On our way out, this hillside of Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' felt very impressive.

There are so many other photographs, but I had to keep this a reasonable length. As I hopefully explore more in the future, I will certainly share what I see and learn. With over 20 formal gardens to explore as well as a wetland area whereby Silverton's waste water is treated and used to create habitat for water-loving flora and fauna, it's a win-win. I don't think I mentioned it, but there is also a hotel and spa on-site, as well as a restaurant and cafe. So bring your appetite and enjoy an amazing setting. There are education programs, movies in the garden, a gift shop and so much more. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Have you visited any wonderful gardens of the world this summer? Let us know in the comments! Thank you so much for reading and happy gardening!