Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another Before and After - Late Summer Changes

Autumn is here. 

**SIGH** There, I said it. But, with it comes change, and as I mentioned in a previous blog post, it's the perfect time to evaluate the garden and see what stays and see what goes. 

I've had plans to change a few things around all summer (and beyond), but have waited until all of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's open garden days (mine, namely) were finished. Mostly because ripping up the garden is kind of stark at first, and is not what you want to present to curious strangers visiting your garden.

So, in that spirit, let's look at a couple of areas - "before and afters" if you will - I have been working on for a couple of weeks. I think the "after" photos are not that satisfying as they actually look worse. Eventually, (hopefully), with a little faith, the plants will grow and branch out in good order and my master plan moves forward! 

So here's the first area a few years ago. It was all peonies and really hard soil. Not the best place for peonies, but it always filled in with green foliage and looked ok. I love the flowers, but the foliage left me flat.

Here is the same area a few of months ago, a couple of peonies removed and a Phormim 'Jack Spratt' amongst some sedum. My instincts were to move the peonies all together but did not have the heart to do it yet. Then I got practical.

Here's the same area last weekend with six new Sedum 'Matrona' (very small right now). My goal is to visually continue the line of sedums on the left (not in this photo) to harmonize the area. 

My goal is to have continuity rather than "onsie - twosies" plantings, something I have learned the hard way. Why sedum? I love the way 'Matrona' looks from its early stages to the beautiful foliage colors to the soft pinks of its blooms. Bees love it, too, and the seed heads are great for birds in the dead of winter - and it looks good en masse. So not very pretty right now but soon it will fill in and hopefully both Phormiums will also fill in to give some vertical spikiness. I also moved the dry birdbath with sedum in it - the only reason it was originally there was due to a chunk of foundation concrete directly below that means I cannot plant anything. Well, I dug around it, added soil and planted a Callistemon sieberi, a recent purchase from Cistus. And evergreen. Did I say I'm trying to add more evergreens to the garden? I am, for the dead of winter garden. So a Bottlebrush - and David picked it out! I think he liked it because it's from Australia which is a place he adores. I was thrilled. What do you think so far? Am I crazy? Well, yes. But.  

 Here's some mature Sedum 'Matrona' in the evening light. Pretty, don't you think?

OK - Moving on to area #2.

Here's the area we refer to as the "Jurassic Garden" - before. It's a shady area that would like to be the "white garden."

 Same area, different angle - before. OK, I like hostas but this is my white garden so the yellow-edged hostas had to go. Again, am I crazy? Well, a girl's got to have her vision, right? Besides, I did not buy these hostas, I inherited them with the house, so there is no love lost with these gone. Also, they were too big for this area. 

 And here's the "after". Three new 'Fire and Ice' hostas purchased at the HPSO Fall plant sale at PCC Rock Creek earlier this month. They have the creamy white interior on the leaf and fall right into my master plan! Waa aaah aaah...(evil laugh).

Same area, different angle. You can just make out the three new hostas. They are medium-sized plants so hopefully will not take over like the last ones. It's really opened up now, but that's ok. It will fill in, with some prayers to the plant gods. OK, what do you think? Not quite so Jurassic, but I think I'll be happy with it next year, plus other plants now have a chance.

Onward! Area #3

This next area was never really photographed well. It is the area I'm directly looking at in this photo, there are two Ribes sanguineum or flowering currants in a SMALL area (amongst other plants, of course). One had to go, despite the fact that they are native to this area and are really great shrub-trees. They have beautiful pink blossoms first thing in the spring that hummingbirds adore and have yummy currants for the birds.

 This "before and after" is a bit more difficult to show in photos but I'll give it a go. 

 This is the same area last fall, you can just make out the flowering currant in front of the yellowing leaves of the Cornus - Red Osier Dogwood (another great native plant for this area). It looks small there but this was a year ago. This thing grew fast, I cut out multiple branches throughout the spring and summer just to keep it in check. A few other things have been moved since this was taken - the whole area looks quite different now.

 Here's the Ribes or Currant cut back and dug up. Kind of sad, really. But hopefully it will find a good home at my upcoming plant swap. It just needs more room than what I have. But what to put in its place? My friend and fellow garden blogger at Rhone Street Gardens suggested another native plant, an Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' - one of our native vine maples. OK, here it goes:

Voila! OK, not much to look at, really. A stick in the ground and a sad little Abutilon by its side. But, this vine maple has some benefits: It's got red bark, so good contrast, they leaf out in spring with cheery chartreuse green colored leaves that turn golden in fall, plus it is a smaller version reaching only 10' or so, and it is slow-growing with a more graceful habit so I'm thrilled! Thank you, Scott, for the recommendation. 

This area is really opened up; it used to be a sea of green mass. Now it has some contrast and other plants have a chance to grow rather than being smothered. 

Of course other plants in this area have been repeatedly moved around, a habit (for good or for bad) of mine. There's an Australian mint bush below for some evergreen action - it was in a bad spot but now it's right at home. Add a few Heuchera 'Marmalade', some grasses and some Mimulus aurantiacus and the orange/red/yellow section of the garden is coming together. Now all I need is patience. 

OK, area #4. Last area for now, this one is out front. We have been in the back garden up until now.

This is the Phygelius I mentioned needed moving, or rather a new home.

OK, here's the after! You can actually see the Arbutus trunk now. I have moved a Rhododendron occidentale, or Western Azalea, in its place. It's another native and has a fabulously scented bloom. It's deciduous, too.

 Here's another view, the newly opened up area. 

All in all, I am happy with the changes, but I know I will need patience for the new plants to fill in properly. So what do you think? Have you moved around things a million times and changed things significantly in your own garden? Do share your experiences in the comment section, I'd like to know I'm not the only crazy obsessed gardener.

Happy gardening until next time! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Master Gardener's Demonstration Garden: Veggies for Those in Need

Today, let's visit the Multnomah County Chapter of Master Gardener's Demostration Garden, a place I love and find to be a very valuable community resource. 

This past January I began my adventures as a future master gardener primarily to gain knowledge in areas I felt I was lacking (soil science, pruning, insect control, etc.). Classes are finished, and I'm well in to my 66 hours of required volunteer time to complete the course and be deemed a "Master Gardener" (although I just consider myself an ongoing student with a huge binder full of ... plant facts and resources). The Demonstration Garden is where I put in volunteer hours alongside some very fabulous, warm and generous people. 

The Demo Garden, located in Southeast Portland, is used to produce vegetables, fruit and herbs. It is part of a 12-acre site owned by the Portland Public School system; the area of the Demo Garden is approximately 1900 square feet in size. The garden was created in 2008 and has been cranking out the food ever since. Organic food is produced for Meals on Wheels and local schools, and everything grown is delivered to these and similar organizations. There are work parties twice a week through the whole growing season as well as planning meetings. What does all this yield? As an example, on September 12 we harvested and donated 135 pounds of food to Lents Meals on Wheels and the Kelly School SUN food bank. How cool is that? This alone is reason enough to consider becoming a master gardener. 

Mulch Maid, a garden blog I follow, posted about it here in May 2011. Not much has changed, but it is nearing the end of the harvest season so thought I would share some of the bounty produced by this wonderful place and by its wonderful volunteers.

Strawberries, pumpkins and the hoop house.

Here are some cucumber beds about at the end of their productivity cycle.

Veteran master gardeners plan each year for next years' crop by taking on individual beds and planning carefully for the following season. There is seed sowing and planting and as veggies grow and are ready for harvest, that becomes the first and most important task of the day - harvesting what is ready. We harvest as much as we can, carefully weigh and log each item and from which bed it came. We also record any special observations. Everything is then delivered by 11 am, and we continue on with other chores such as watering, weeding, planning and general tasks laid out by the guru for the day. I tell you, there couldn't be nicer people to work with. Many of these gardeners have been doing this for years and are quite dedicated, which will keep me coming back to help again in the years to come. 

My friend Mimi harvested some flowers to donate, along with Jean, the fabulous "Guru for the Day". We agreed that the food feeds the bellies, the flowers feed the soul.

After each day spent working in the garden, the "Guru of the Day" calculates the many pounds of produce donated and work hours spent and sends out a daily work report. I must say that this is the most organized bunch of people with whom I have ever worked. Here's an excerpt from last Thursday's emailed report by Garden Guru Extraordinaire Jean:

What a great day in the garden!  Despite the anticipated high temperatures 10 gardeners, interns and vets, came out and harvested over 58 pounds of produce.  Some people arrived at 8:00 to beat the heat.  Fortunately, a breeze kept us cool and the real heat did not start until we were ready to leave.  

The total delivery with ours, PSU, and MG donations from personal gardens was slightly over 135 pounds which went to Lents Meals on Wheels and the Kelly School SUN food bank.  What a rewarding way to help people get good fresh produce!

Along with this written report, a detailed excel spreadsheet was attached with many, many details. Now that we know the Demo Garden's purpose, let's tour around some of the garden.

 The whole 12-acre site is much more than the Demo Garden. There are the PSU gardens, the learning classrooms, greenhouses and so much more.

Other tasks for the Demo Garden volunteers are to improve soil quality (get your soil tested!), composting, mulching, develop scheduling (a monumental task), i.d. and deal with garden pests and diseases by using IPM or integrated pest management.

 Weighing just a few of the 70 or so odd pounds of tomatoes harvested that day.

 Flowers and veggies combined. So lovely!

 The work buckets some of the veteran master gardeners bring along. I have yet to earn mine.

 Part of the Square Foot Garden.

 Beets! My husband's favorite.*

* No way! says the husband.

Harvesting beans for next year's crop.


So many different kinds of veggies are grown here: potatoes, onions, leeks, tomatoes, beans, herbs of all kinds, carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, blueberries, raspberries, squash, cucumbers, chard, lettuce, kale, strawberries, basil, plums, broccoli, rutabaga, and I'm sure others I cannot recall.

 Beans! Prolific, wonderful beans.

 I've learned so much about veggie gardening here, it's amazing.

 The rose bed - Rugosas and others, really lovely.

 Fabulous volunteer and veteran Master Gardener John. What a wonderful man! A Texas transplant and so enthusiastic and helpful. A real treasure.

 Heidi, the Garden Goddess and most helpful Guru. She's great! They all are!

 Inside the greenhouse.

Year-to-date Demo Garden donations: 1,379 pounds of food. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, I highly recommend the program. Having a place such as the Demo Garden for a real hands-on learning experience is priceless, the food donated is much needed, and the people you work with are the reason you'll come back. 

A lovely sentiment on the path leading into the gardens. My thoughts exactly. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

But Which Ones are Native Plants?

As I mentioned in my very first blog post, my goal is to provide a fabby garden for the people who live here as well as for the birds and bees and, well, Chickadees. That means a lot of things: beauty, continuity, interesting plants, bird baths, mason-bee houses, plants for pollinators and native plants.   

Sedum spathulifolium - can take some shade and is oh-so-lovely

Why native plants? Without sounding dull, it boils down to this: Native plants attract native insects that the birds feed to their young. Basically, that's it. Birds need the right kind of insects. Well, of course, there's more to it than that but I'll cover that further in future blog posts. For now, let's enjoy some plants!

Solidago 'Fireworks' (I'm pretty sure) - full sun, bees love it.

Invasive plants leave no room for anyone else. Invasive plants support very little life, if any, besides their own. Native plants belong here, they were evolved to do so. I try to incorporate them when and where I can, but by no means is it all natives. I loves me some glorious ornamentals, too!

My goal is to make it all blend together with a seamless flow, not to have one section look like the woods of Forest Park (well, that wouldn't be so bad, Forest Park IS gorgeous, just a different kind of gorgeous for my small garden). I want to use natives as ornamentals and show off their beauty for many are quite gorgeous. Let's have a look at a few today.

Western Sword Fern - Polystichum munitum - likes shade but tolerates sun and is evergreen. I have them in pots, in shade, in sun and I tell you that when the dark days of winter are upon us, this evergreen fern is a welcome sight. This one is growing out of a rock retaining wall and gets full morning sun. Still looks great in September! I do NOTHING for it, it was here when we bought the house.

Mimulus aurantiacus - Sticky Monkey Flower - purchased at Cistus Nursery
a FABBY plant, semi-evergreen woody subshrub...takes some serious pruning by me...a hummingbird magnet and just pretty. Comes in different shades of warm colors.

Both images - Bear Grass or Xerophyllum tenax...the first image was taken at Bird Creek Meadows on a recent hike, read about it here . The one below is a plant in my garden I purchased from Portland Nursery. In a year or so, hopefully, a big spike of white blooms will emerge. In the meantime, I like its strappy grassy foliage.

Tiarella trifoliata or Foamflower...this is the native version of Tiarella, purchased at Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn, Oregon. Woodland sparkler, profuse white blooms in spring. Nice for brightening up shady areas and semi-evergreen.

Sedum oreganum or Oregon Stonecrop. This is an edging in much of my garden and is a good foundation for my two eco roofs. It has lovely yellow flowers in summer and is evergreen. Takes some shade and is not overly aggressive. A beautiful sedum that turns red in colder weather. 


Both images Asclepias speciosa - Butterfly weed or Milkweed, the plant the Monarch butterflies use as a host plant. There has been some effort to include this plant in Willamette Valley gardens as some Monarchs have been spotted. Top image is the seed pod, The bottom is just today after it burst open. The flowers are lovely, but it took a couple of years for the long tap root to settle in and actually yield some beautiful blooms which the bees LOVE. Super tough plant, lives in the hell strip and gets no attention.

Asarum caudatum or Wild Ginger. A lovely semi-evergreen groundcover for shade. It has taken a few years for it to spread but is well worth it, beautiful dark green foliage, interesting (but inconspicuous) flowers in spring. When it does naturalize, it's a lovely sight to behold. It will take dry shade once established.

Adiantum aleuticum - Western Maidenhair fern. A deciduous and delicate fern with black stems. Airy and so pretty. Shade to part sun.

Two for one! Sedum spathulifolium purpureum combined with native Penstemon davidsonii var. menziesii, purchased at Wild Ginger Farms in Beavercreek, Oregon. Lovely low growing mat-forming evergreen tough perennial with HUGE (for its size) purple flowers. If you have a hot sunny site with well-drained soil, this is a cool plant. 

A woodland combination of Oxalis oregana and sword fern.

Sea Thrift or Armeria maritima - a lovely evergreen grassy clump that produces hot pink round spheres of pretty blooms...naturalizes and is tough, takes full sun, drought and is a great edging plant. A nice evergreen shot of foliage in the dead of winter.

Lastly Ceanothus 'Dark Star' - a new addition to the hell strip and so far doing really well. Takes full sun, no summer water and oddly it was blooming today! Hmm...not supposed to but...I like to think it's happy.

 I think I'll end here as I have some 110 native plants in my ongoing plant list spreadsheet, so perhaps this topic is best laid out over several posts. 

A few final thoughts before we leave the native plant tour: 1, Native plants are adapted to live in your specific climate and soil conditions; 2, That means less work for us gardeners; and, 3, no synthetic fertilizers are required. It does not mean, however, that natives are automatically drought-tolerant. Most are, but there are some ferns and woodland plants in my area that do need some shade just as they would in their natural habitat.

Until next time, thank you for reading and happy gardening!