Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let's Go! Gardens of the Netherlands: Keukenhof

In 2011, David and I enjoyed our honeymoon (a year after we married). We chose to visit dear, wonderful friends in the Netherlands and also to see a bit of Belgium. It's been three years since our visit, but in anticipation of Spring bulbs to-be-a-bloomin' very soon, let's look at some fresh colors of spring a la Keukenhof Gardens. Let's go to de Nederland!

We were welcomed to Amsterdam with a welcome sign. You guys are the best!

Just minutes after being picked up at Schiphol airport, we were swept away for fresh air, daffodils and TULIPS! What a lovely surprise and time well-spent. This was a roadside stop on the way from the airport to Keukenhof. This scene played out all along the way. My oh my! 

There we are, the four friends in a field of pure joy. Then, in only a matter of minutes, we were at Keukenhof:

What a gorgeous place.

 Here is what Keukenhof's website says about this spectacular Spring garden:

Keukenhof is the most beautiful spring garden in the world! More than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths fill over 32 hectares with colour and fragrance. The pavilions feature 30 alternating flower and plant shows. Discover the latest trends in gardening and get new ideas from our 7 inspirational gardens. Numerous works of art are shown to advantage amongst the flowers. Take a bike ride or boat trip from Keukenhof and enjoy the bulb fields surrounding the park. Every weekend there are events and activities for visitors of all ages. Keukenhof buzzes, enchants and inspires for eight weeks long! Don’t miss it!

 They aren't kidding. Art and millions of blooming bulbs---a perfect relief from a long flight across the Atlantic.

I really enjoy the ribbon effect of the flowers weaving along, looks more naturalistic.

 Even if you are not a fan of tulips (who isn't??) the masses of color are really impressive.

Inside the several greenhouses, millions of tulips were on display and blooming away. 

 How could you possibly pick a favorite with hundreds of varieties to choose from? And, yes, you can buy bulbs there. We did. They ship all over the world at the appropriate time.

You can imagine the delightful aroma of vast rooms of tulips! Smells like hugging Grandma! (disclaimer...those are the words of my husband). Inside the greenhouses people are smiling and look a bit lost. It is overwhelming.

There is a great history to the tulip -  it did not come from the Netherlands but rather from the Ottoman empire. Tulip mania enused, the Dutch eventually created a futures market for the tulip and at its peak, bulb prices are reported to have reached the equivalent of $75,000. Crazy. It's hard to believe that this humble beauty was at one time so rare.

If you are interested in learning more about tulips, Michael Pollan has a fabulous book and documentary called The Botany of Desire. In it, he explores what he considers four game-changing plants in the history of humanity: The potato, marijuana, the apple and the tulip. It really did have a significant impact on our history.

This is one of my favorite images, so early Spring! Lovely.

This sculpture hugging the tree pretty much sums up my feelings for the Netherlands and our dear friends and this incredible Spring garden. 

Next time, a few more places around the Netherlands and Belgium, but for now keep dreaming of Spring and all those fabby tulips and daffodils!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Another Before and After: A Winter Project

I don't think anything will top the experience of last week's post about Jimmy the Hummingbird, but in the spirit of gardening I shall carry on!

I wish to to share a winter project that's been rolling around in my head for some months. Winter can be a great time to plan projects and changes in the garden and sometimes actually do them. That is, when the weather cooperates. Luckily, where I live in zone 8b Portland, Oregon, our winters are (supposed to be) mild (just erase the Snowpocalypse from memory and we'll be on the right track here). At every chance I am outside. A few weeks ago in milder weather I started another project, which is to ADD MORE PLANTS in every available nook and cranny. Operation "Just One More" went into overdrive. Haha, I hear my husband sighing off in the distance as I write.

At some point after staring at this view for a couple of years, I imagined a line of ferns along the front of the green fence to soften the hardscaping. When my husband agreed, stating that it would help to absorb runoff from the eco-roof I was elated.

I figured I would simply remove---say---two rows of square pavers and have dirt underneath to work with. Add organic compost, mix in, and voila!

So I went to work removing the pavers. I had compost waiting in the wings so I hastily dumped it in without actually digging below in the trench. So the other day, it was time to plant. Then.....

Du'OH! I dug straight into old brick pavers.
There must be a few we missed when we installed the pavers in 2012. So I dug out a couple.

However, it soon became clear the two odd pavers were just that---just two pavers. There was concrete, too. I could deal with digging out pavers one by one. No...this was a war of Tamara vs. Two-plus Inches of Concrete. Based on the broken tools above, guess who won?

My wonderful husband stepped in. David vs. Concrete = A win for us. He went to work, mind you, after I had to remove all the compost I had so hastily laid down. Nice going, Tamara. "How are you going to do it?" I asked...silly me, like this! Sledge hammer and brute force.

Mission accomplished! Wow. At one point, about 1/4 the way in, David claimed with gusto that I would NOT be planting this any time soon as it seemed to be a two-weekend project. Well, he had it smashed out of there in an hour. What a man! Oh joy, I dashed off to Xera plants to go shopping since this was opening weekend and I clearly had blank dirt to plant in now. Thanks, David!

David Note: Two days later sore hips and arms suggest the Concrete won! : )

Yay! Their new retail space (as of last year) is open for the gardening year! If you haven't gone and are in the Portland area, please GO!

Since this is still only February and Xera's opening weekend, not every space was filled...not yet, anyhow. It will be soon, I imagine. Still, a fabulous selection and such friendly, local gardening advice. Plus, look at that table in the background to the right with all Arctostaphylos.
Plant lust right there. Plant lust!

So I came home with a Cyclamen hederifolium 'Xera's Silver', my first ever Cyclamen...I just love the silver leaves, and I have a dry shady spot to place this little beauty. I also picked up three Primula vulgaris 'Francesca' with green cool flowers...I saw it on the Xera website. Also in the haul a Helleborus x 'White Pearl' and a Pacific Northwest native Tolmiea menziesii 'Taft's Gold' or a golden piggy back plant. All for the new shady area.

I had a few plants in stand-by already for this project, a few native sword ferns, an evergreen huckleberry or Vaccinium ovatum, native kinnikinnick or Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and a couple of native Polypodium scouleri or Scouler's polypody ferns. A jeweled chain fern or Woodwardia unigemmata and Ophiopogon planiscapus or black mondo grass were to replace the rotted contents of a hanging basket.

 Messing around with planting placement.

 Final product.

 There's the evergreen huckleberry. My goal was to have mostly native plants that are evergreen and will fill in. I also have some bare root salal that I ordered from a native plant sale on its way, I plan to include that in between everything. It takes a while to grow, so I will keep the perennials in until the salal fills in then find new homes for the shady plants, which is not difficult to do...lots of shady crannies abound.

 Finished product again. Doesn't look like much now, but I am happy to at least see hints of green! Plus, it's discreet enough that it won't interfere with summertime activities in this well-used area of the garden.

What a sweet little hellebore. This should fill in nicely.

 And finally the newly planted hanging basket in mostly shade. A little black, a little green, a lot of happiness for me. And a huge thank you to my incredible and strong husband. On to the next project!

Happy Gardening! 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jimmy the Hummingbird and the Snowpocalypse

I think I should change the name of the garden from Chickadee Gardens to Hummingbird Condominiums. Let me explain.

Last week I warned that if the Snowpocolypse really did arrive and prevent us from attending the Seattle Garden show, that I'd have to resort to posting about cats this week. But something else literally fell into our lives this snowy February, that something was an Anna's hummingbird.

We call him Jimmy.

What in the world are we doing with a hummingbird in our home? 
Well, it happened like this: We regularly feed the hummingbirds here as we have a species that stays year-round, the Anna's hummingbird. In the rare occasion it freezes here, we need to be mindful of thawing out the hummingbird nectar so they have sustenance during this tough weather. They are very territorial - so much so that a female that has been hanging around the feeder out front attacked the little guy. Really. I saw it. The female was on top of him. He was on the ground with his wings splayed, his head turned and lying in the snow while she pecked at his eyes. He just lay there, helpless. 

We picked him up, brought him inside, put him in a towel-lined box in the bathroom and fed him sugar-water with a turkey baster. He ate, he sat on my hand and perked up after an hour or so.

So we took the box outside to let him fly away. We were thinking he'd regained his strength. He eventually flew out (he can fly) and landed on a branch. Within seconds the female was on top of him, knocked him to the ground and was pecking him to death. We broke it up. She flew away to continue to defend her feeders and we brought him back inside.

Now mind you I do not like handling wildlife. I think it should be left to the experts and to nature. But Audubon was not open due to the snowstorm, nor could we take him anyway as the roads were not clear. So our only choice was to help since he would have perished if left outside, via either a territorial female or Old Man Winter.

So in he came, box and all, to stay the night. We put moss in the box to make him at home and a towel, and I made a bed out of a fuzzy sock. 

Our friend who is a birder and involved with Audubon helped us with great advice and confirmed that, yes, the female would have killed him. So. What choice did we have? If Jimmy---we named him Jimmy---survived the night then his chances for survival were increased a great deal. 

Day 2: First thing Saturday morning we checked on him, and Jimmy was fine! Relief streamed through me. OK. Operation Save Jimmy was on to Phase II. We fed him more nectar which he ate with gusto. So, again, since he was fully awake and fed, we thought it would be best to bring him outside. Out went the box the second time, a little more protected. The east winds were howling so hard that with the wind chill it was about 8 degrees. We faced the box away from the wind and thought he might fly off. But he sat there. We checked on him every 5 minutes, but it was clear after an hour that he was not going to fly away and he'd freeze there if he weren't in top health.

There he is in the middle, barely visible. 

This is what it looked like in a good moment. But brutal, all the same. So in he came after an hour of that nonsense.

Interesting factoid: In the first half of the 20th century, Anna's did not come this far north in the winter, nor stay here year-round. That has since changed due to the increase of available flower nectars and increase in nectar feeders. 

A bad pic, but this is Jimmy in his box outside, he did not move from this position for over an hour, he just shivered and poofed up like you see. Not interested in flying anywhere even though he was outside and free to go.

Now inside, he had the basement bathroom to himself along with a deluxe Hummzinger feeder. I also had some mealworms that were in some suet that I extracted, ground up and mixed with the nectar to give him some protein. Operation Save Jimmy Phase III was in full swing.

We called Audubon. They said it's a very unusual situation and that we should release him, but to do so at least a couple of blocks away so as not to encounter the female. 

So, Saturday, after a minute of eating the bug-infused food, Jimmy perked up, flew around very calmly and landed on the shower door...then I rigged the Hummzinger up to hang from the ceiling. He found that quite lovely. He likes to fly in a circle, land on the shower, fly in a circle, land on the feeder, back and forth and so on.

Here he is on his feeder. He is eating on his own at the feeder, so he seems to be on the mend. Plus, he can fly like a champ. Our whole goal here is to get him back outside. The problem Saturday night is that it was freezing rain. No way I'm releasing him, I thought, until it turns to just rain. Gratefully, rain was in the forecast for Sunday, but here's what it looked like on Friday afternoon. As many of you know, it got progressively worse: 

 A Townsend's warbler keeping company with little bushtits at the suet.

 The Arctic tundra eco-roof!

 The snow got about up to Buddha's neck on Sunday.

Day 3: Sunday morning, gratefully, he's still alive, hanging out on his Hummzinger. Here's what it looked like Sunday morning after the freezing rain Saturday night: Sunday it melted a bit, but not enough - by the time any significant melting occurred, it was late in the day and the sun was going down. Not a good way to release him. Monday promised melting and freedom for little Jimmy. 

 Nitey-nite, Jimmy....Monday promises better weather for will be able to leave Hummingbird Condominums!

Day 4: So Monday morning the big melt happened. So did Jimmy's release. I was so anxious and nervous, I really wanted him to be outside where his chances for survival were much greater than in my home, but the's been a tricky winter storm. Gratefully Monday it warmed to 40 degrees and things began to melt, the rain arrived. It was time.

 Here's the video of his release:

He flew away, high off into the tree next door. I haven't seen him as of two hours after his release, which hopefully means he flew far away to find his own territory. I pray that Jimmy makes it, that the female will let him be now that it's warmed up and there's plenty of food for everyone.

This is why I garden. It's for the hummingbirds, the chickadees, the honey bees and the mason bees. It's to do my little tiny bit to make it a little bit better for nature and for us. I guess this was the Universe's way of reminding me that nature is very fragile. I am still processing everything, it was really a miracle that he allowed us to help him, that he was calm and he ate, he exercised his wings and went to sleep at night in his state of torpor. It was a miracle to be with him and that he trusted us. I really believe he knew we were trying to help him.

Good bye, Jimmy. I have some hummingbird nectar for you any time, I do hope you come visit us.