Thursday, June 30, 2016

Our First Summer at Blue Jay Lane

It is officially summer, an easy, enjoyable time in our old garden when we once hosted gatherings and open-garden events. We would enjoy walks in the neighborhood and visit Portland's food carts on warm evenings to partake in fish tacos and cocktails. This year, summertime living is not so easy here in the new garden. But that's fine, we agree, for there's work to be done. The merging of two brand-new gardens has begun and I wish to share our progress.

The flower that is the banner for this blog, Mimulus aurantiacus or shrubby/sticky monkey flower made the move and is showing its appreciation by blooming.

The remainder of one giant brush pile was made into wood chips with this beast rented from our favorite store, Don's Rentals in Saint Helens.

Not the best photo, but the area where there are now wood chips spread around is basically where the pile once stood, some 10 feet tall. Now, although difficult to see, there are several shrubs planted. I have a Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo', Sambucus nigra 'Thundercloud', Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold', Hydrangea 'Fuji Waterfall', Rhamnus californica 'Seaview', a Myrica californica and two Vaccinium ovatum all planted in this semi-sunny area bordering a deeper shady woodland area. There's one more project down - it was wonderful to get those into the ground and get rid of that giant pile.

The next task was to till areas where we had removed sod earlier this month. Our wonderful neighbors loaned us their tiller for which we are very grateful.

We both got in on the act. It was not as difficult as I thought it might be.

The area to the west of the gravel garden was also tilled. It was all weeds and field grass up until a couple of weeks ago. The plan is to plant some meadow plants and also extend the graveled area seen here to the left.

A nice blank slate. This is to the east of the gravel garden.

This is the same general area. With the sod removed and the soil tilled, I laid out areas for paths and composted the other areas for planting. The paths will be cut out more deeply and gravel added, I may add stones for pathways eventually.

In this photo you can see both gardens with the new transition zones connecting them. The labyrinth garden is being extended out so it's not a circle any longer and the gravel garden is being lengthened. It will be a large contiguous area rather than two very separate and different gardens. The plantings for the transition zones are still being considered, I have some seed ready to be sown which I will use in some of the areas. The seed is a native wildflower mix of short stature. Eventually, we'd love to have a taller meadow beyond where you see field grass (lawn?) at the peripherals of this mega-garden. I am also planning on planting a low clumping grass to cover some of the area to the left. I had considered Carex pansa, but apparently it may not be the best choice. I'm still researching possibilities.

One thing we ran out of during this process was compost. Two more units delivered last week, which is why I missed a week of blogging. So sorry! It was a very labor-intensive task to do this:

We composted the ENTIRE berm garden on the north side of the house. This garden is at least 100 feet long and at some points 10 feet wide. We completely composted this AND then the nearby shade garden in one afternoon.

Here is a corner of the shade garden. This is about 60 or so feet long on its longest side, which forms a triangle. Mind you these gardens are at the top of the property. The compost was at the bottom. How did we do it in a day? With the pickup, of course. We loaded it up repeatedly and drove it to the top and worked from there. Either way, my body is still paying the price for this compost extravaganza. At least it's done and we can move on.

Here is what's left of Mt. Compost. I think the labyrinth garden needs another layer, don't you? Especially as it's just visible on the left of this photo. In other words, in close proximity to the mountain. Easy by comparison.

How about more hard labor? Gravel? How about 10 cubic yards. Here David is laying out an initial layer for our paths. We were tired of walking on mud.

A man and Mt Gravel.

David has also been busy working away at the chicken coop. He calls it the "Chicken Cube," and it really is a big, white cube. I told him he should paint it to look like a Rubik's cube. Remember those? He wants to paint it green. I want to use leftover metal siding from the house on the coop so it matches. I think it would be really cool. He doesn't.

I show this photo to point out the faint circle on the middle right side. That is to mark where the fire pit will go.

David dug out the pit and leveled the ground around it so we have a place to put a stone bench eventually.

I will also stabilize the little raised area behind the chairs with rocks from the big rock pile as I did in the gravel garden. In the gravel garden area there is a stump table which was originally going to be the location for the fire pit. It turns out I made it too small, so it was turned into a table area instead. The idea then is that the now stump table area will literally and metaphorically connect with the fire pit area. They will match with the same treatment of rocks and ledge.

Probably a little more digging to do on the depth aspect of the pit, then building it with bricks, gravel and flagstones around the edge. Lots more work to do but it's well on its way and now I can visualize very effectively what this area could look like someday and how my dream is shaping up.

This last photo is simply the sun shining through the seed head of a grass I pulled out, likely blown in from one of the nearby fields. I thought it not only pretty but symbolic of how I see this place. We have many meadow-like areas surrounding us, many grasses both wild and cultivated. The goal is to connect this garden with our surroundings rather than live in a detached high-maintenance garden completely alien to the spirit of this place. I show this photo to remind myself of this goal and to do it sustainably as we have thus far, for the most part. I hope to continue to add native plants and find some native grasses to add to the big picture, too. I think I can find ones just as beautiful as this that really are connected to this land.

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tractors, Turf and Twigs: Farm Updates

Every day we get a little closer to actually growing veggies, a task that will give credence to the fact that we already affectionately term our land The Farm. Up to now the focus has been on the ornamental structures of the garden in general. As we crawl closer to achieving our goal of finishing the new garden beds and destroying weeds, veggies are starting to make their way into our lives.

To start, David went down the street to rent this beast. Oh, we'd love to own one but renting is much more practical. It was very funny seeing him approach the house driving this. Good thing the rental shop is two miles away as he had a car-train behind him. Haha...good stuff.

This is what it looked like before he made his mark.

Checking his work, he's about half finished.

Finished! The area is about 40' x 50' in size.

Since we won't actually be growing veggies this summer, we decided we needed a cover crop. Crimson clover it is, and, boy, is it germinating. With the recent cooler weather and rains we are well on our way to having green manure. In addition to this we also sent soil in to Logan Labs for a soil test. I took 15 samples from the site and mixed them up, scooped out two cups and sent it off. Pretty soon I will receive analytic data breaking down its mineral content, ph and more. Thank you, Amy Campion of The World's Greatest Garden Blog, for pointing me in the right direction. After I have all of the information, I will plug it into a database on and it will spit out exactly how much of each mineral and amendment I will need to add to grow nutrient-rich food.

And since we won't be planting anything for a while, David put one of the old raised beds to use. Hobbes is supervising.

Moving along to more soil topics. This time, compost. I had a unit delivered a couple of weeks ago; it is most welcome. Here, the labyrinth garden screams for some organic matter. This was taken about six weeks ago.

Yay for Beaver Bark! This is what Joy Creek Nursery uses, it's a nice rich product.

About 14 loads in...coming along.

This is 36 wheel barrows full, plus about 10 when I initially built this garden plus about four packages of store-bought compost in 2.5 square foot bundles. It will likely require additional compost yearly.

Next up on the update list, twigs. This pile had grown to at least twice this size as pictured here in about February. It was a view-blocking eye-sore. After a failed attempt at using a wood chipper on this (ran out of time a couple of months ago), David decided to tackle it again by organizing it so when we do rent a chipper it will go like clockwork.

The smoking pile is where the blackberry canes were burned. Now, we have nice piles ready to go into the chipper. After this is cleared I have a back-stock of a few semi-shade shrubs to plant.

More twigs: This old photo from last fall shows a few hydrangeas in the bed surrounded by cinder blocks. I dug them out this winter.

That was a Herculean task and I honestly did not think they would survive my brutality. Some of these took at least a half an hour of digging as their roots went deep into hard clay. I did replant them with a little plant prayer and today they look wonderful.

The row of mopheads were already there, I planted the others in a loose row behind them in partial shade. Note the smoke from the handy fire.

One is just beginning to bloom, the others will soon follow. I am thrilled they survived as this is as charming as can be. Now that they are on the edge of sun and shade they will fare much better.

Next up: I am starting to appreciate the efforts we've put into the garden thus far and had to share this before photo of the top of the driveway from January.

I did blog about the building of this wall in February, you can revisit that post here. The rock wall garden is beginning to fill in. I cleared invasive mint from the berm, planted many hot dry loving plants such as Ceanothus, Arctostaphylos and Grevillea. Sedums and Armeria maritima is in there too. Up above the gravel line the random crocosmia from all over the berm garden have been collected and planted here for a sea of orange this summer. Below them as the grade declines is a sea of all kinds of sedums.

At the point where the soil levels off the sedums continue on into a kind of river. It will eventually  fill in, a patchwork of sorts. There is also Sisyrinchium californicum or yellow-eyed grass mixed in with hopes that it will seed around. A smaller version of the crocosmia look.

Here's a before shot from last September. See the Alchemilla mollis? That thug took over, it was the only thing that thrived. You can see how little organic matter is in the soil, it all piles up behind this wall and without an outlet for water to flow in the wet months, the would-be well-drained soil turns to a 150-foot long brick of clay. The Alchemilla mollis is gone, the soil is amended and will be annually for some time with both compost and gravel for drainage improvement.

Same general area today.

Again from last September you can see very unhappy salvias and lots of lemon balm. Oh, and Alchemilla mollis. It had all gone to seed so by this spring it was a meadow of weeds in wet clay.

This is after many loads of compost to the whole thing and partially amended with gravel. Note the azaleas on the far right in full hot blazing sun with terrible drainage.

Yay! The azaleas are gone. My Super Farmer David is a stud. They were really in there. It's not that I don't like azaleas, they were just in the wrong place and looked out of place. They now live in partial shade among fir and maple trees.

Last September.

Early spring showing just compost and azaleas, most plants intact. I think I've moved and/or replaced nearly every plant you see here.

Here it is last week, azaleas intact.

Azaleas gone, three low-growing heathers in their place. I added a ton of compost and gravel, mixed it in well and added extra gravel at the lowest point against the wall to seriously improve drainage. I would have taken photos "during" but my camera is dirty enough, this was a tough job and might have been beyond cleaning.

We also found a 10-inch garter snake living in the berm. We hope he likes the urban improvements.

And I have added a few sweet little Thymus vulgaris 'Silver Posie' up front as well as several Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' and Veronicastrum virginicum. There were a few Perovskias scattered about, I gathered those up and planted them at this end of the garden. I am trying to have large sweeps of singular plants in appropriate places, and it's quite a challenge with such a large area of existing plants. Much digging, moving, composting, graveling goes on regularly.

And now for more turf: It turns out our first efforts with the sod cutter were a bit experimental, meaning we missed a bunch of chunks. David rented another cutter for a couple hours of fun. That is some hard work. Great job, David! Once it's all removed we will cultivate the whole area and add compost. The master plan is falling into place.

Some re-tilled areas awaiting their new life. More updates on this area another time. Now, let's reward ourselves for all this hard work with some flower photos:

In this case, fruit photos. Pa, the olive crop is coming along real good.

Very pleased to see this - Asclepias tuberosa or showy milkweed. I bought two from Humble Roots Nursery knowing they might go dormant like all the others I've planted before. Not this batch, no sir. These are up and ready to play. 

My Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' survived the move and is much larger than ever.

I've decided I really like Santolina virens, good old fashioned lavender cotton. It will be everywhere in this garden eventually.

Finally, the bloom of newly planted Cotinus 'Pink Champagne'.

Well, there you have it. I have taken many ibuprofen today, like every other day. But it's worth it and I can see glimpses of what it just might look like someday. We're really looking forward to growing veggies and some fruits, too, very soon but we have to clear that land around the newly-tilled area. Hopefully the neighbors will loan us their goats.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading along! Happy gardening to you all!