Thursday, August 25, 2016

Playing with Rocks

What could be more mundane than a rock pile? So I say to myself as I look at this first photo. Stay with me's gone, the rock pile. Finally. After nine months of looking at it, mowing around it, trying to photograph the garden and magically keep it from blemishing photographs, it exists no longer!

We inherited it with the house and garden. The previous owner built a labyrinth-meditation circle with basalt rocks and sand. These rocks pictured, we imagine, were the leftovers. When we dismantled the labyrinth earlier this spring we added those rocks to what you see here. It was pretty large. 

Part of me rejoiced in having rocks to play with. After all, my brother is a geologist and, well, I collected rocks as a kid so what's not to love? Plus, they were simply here at my disposal to use throughout the garden. Woo hoo! They became the rock retaining walls for many of my projects throughout, saving us a lot of money. That is Mount Compost behind Mount Rock.

Here are just a few of the rock projects that inherited bits of the pile recently:
 Oh, remember this one? The one that was a false start on the fire pit enclosed by a mini rock wall.

It eventually became the stump table area.

 And how about this little project? There's the beginnings of the REAL fire pit, also enclosed by a petite rock wall.

 Little rock walls.

 Sort of rock walls.

 And retain THAT mound of crummy soil rock wall. See a pattern here? I'm glad I had enough to compete all of these projects, for having the same material to use throughout the property gives a sense of continuity. Now if I could only get my plant choices to get in line....that's a bit of a challenge for a collector-minded gardener. But I try. And I digress. Moving on.

But come on...after months of seeing many giant piles of stuff I began to try to picture it without these tell-tale signs of construction. Even with all of those rock wall projects I still had what you see pictured above as leftovers. It was a big pile, I tell ya.

To add to its ambiance of irritating, grasses began to grow around its perimeter.

I started using the rocks as much as I could, although it's mostly the large ones that I'm after. I thought I was doing a great job using 15 or so a day beyond my rock wall projects - placing them artfully here and there - but it barely made a dent. I just kept at it, adding rocks to special areas of the garden that needed a bit of a hose block or some kind of indestructible ornamentation. I had toyed with the idea of making low gabion walls around part of the former labyrinth and filling them with the smaller rocks, but honestly that's project #275634 on the to-do list and I didn't want to look at them for that long.

So, the Facilities Manager took over. 

The decline of Mount Rock is imminent. It shrinks like a bad Star Trek alien feeling the wrath of Facilities Manager.

As it shrank I began adding plants around it, anticipating one day being able to plant the whole thing. I had intended on moving many hardy self-sowing perennials and grasses from other areas of the garden to here to fill in and make the transition from formal gravel garden to blowsy pseudo-meadow to meadow.

Going...going...nasty fabric underneath going too.

**Bleep** gone. But where oh where did it end up? At least the small bits?

It took Facilities Manager 50 wheel-barrow loads up to the top of the property to move that big bad pile. I believe he worked on it for about a week, a few loads every day. They cover what was just bad compacted soil, so it ended up being a win-win. This is the top of our driveway and the stairs up to the shade garden.

Oh, it may not look like a huge change but it's a milestone for us. That thing had been here, looming over us, delaying the completion of connecting all these areas. Now it really can be a whole garden area. The soil underneath was dead, just as it was in the former labyrinth. I added bunches of compost and when the weather cools a bit more I will move many asters, rudbeckias and grasses to this area to let them go a little wild. I will probably transplant a few little goodies like Verbena bonariensis and some liatris, too.

Nothing to see here, folks! No big rock pile blemish in the background. Just the remainder of compost that will be gone in short order. I will then, for once and for all, have my view, unobstructed, of just plants. I get great satisfaction in using materials I have on hand and we were very lucky, despite my complaining, to have inherited such a gift as a bunch of rocks.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Shade Garden

Much talk here about our new garden focuses on dry, full-sun plants. I have a secret, a secret indulgence -- the shade garden. While I realize that it's not entirely practical to add more maintenance to our already overwhelming amount of chores, the idea of not having a shade garden left me depressed enough to put in the extra effort.

There was absolutely no shade garden here to speak of when we moved in so we had to start from scratch.

This is what it looks like today shining in its one hour of sunshine or so in the evening. But before we cover this "small" corner of the property, let us go back in time to last September.

Back then, in September, as shown here, the bramble in the background runs north/south along the western edge of our property. There is a berm in there with fir trees planted in a row. The soil was awful and full of weeds, the bramble was all blackberry.

The situation deteriorated after we had our fence installed in early January. The equipment made a muddy mess and compacted the soil. We realized that would happen and were ready to deal with it.

Oh, the mud and blackberries. The fence crew did a great job of initially clearing the blackberries but David really took it upon himself to seriously take charge and tackle the berries. It will be a long, ongoing process as we are not spraying. He is cutting them back, digging them out and covering the "berm" with landscape fabric temporarily to deny them light and rain. So far it seems to be working.

In January I started playing with placement of plants, imagining a soft woodland carpet of Oxalis oregana, our native woodland groundcover.

When our first load of compost was delivered I spread several loads of it and laid out the basic shape of the bed. This is in the northwest corner of the property.

I then began planting. Many of these plants are treasures from the old garden, dug up and hauled out here. A few were rescues from the nursery, dormant hostas and what-not destined for the compost bin.

This Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver' came from the old garden, originally purchased at Xera Plants. It's about three years old.

Difficult to make out, I have about a dozen small azaleas that I dug up from a full sun area on the property. They were nearly dead when I moved them, fried from full sun and bad drainage.

Things are starting to fill in. You can see the landscape fabric in the upper corner held down by branches. Azaleas just visible on the left.

I laid out areas where I wanted a path or two, nothing complicated, just a small area for some shade plants to shine.

A couple of weeks ago David hauled up several loads of gravel to define the paths. It looks so much better to my eyes. I am considering edging and whether I'll need it in the long run after plants fill in.

Paths to nowhere at least give access to see the plants up close. The path may continue on eventually but for now this is about all I can take care of. I hope to have a naturalistic carpet of groundcovers and small perennials and spring ephemerals continuing out past the end of the path into the rows of trees someday. I have planted a few plants that will hopefully self-sow such as thalictrum or meadow rue and astrantia or masterwort.

The Podophyllum pleianthum survived the move (the large plant near center with the roundish leaves). I am very surprised because it was just a 40 lb. lump of clay when I placed it in the ground, no sign of life at all. I also planted a couple native viburnums - Viburnum trilobum from Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn, in an area that gets a bit more sun for they have such amazing fall color and berries for the birds. The flowers are gorgeous, too:

This is a flower of Viburnum trilobum from my former tree at the old garden.

An Aruncus dioicus or goatsbeard, another native favorite also survived the move. I would really like to see a whole colony of these in the farther reaches of the property. When they are in bloom at seven or so feet high they are spectacular.

Detail of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver'.

Our native columbine, Aquilegia formosa, another one I hope self-sows around the area.

Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Tricolor' growing along the ground. Another transplant from the old garden.

Hardy Begonia sutherlandii, a transplant, too.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson' also a transplant that I am very happy survived the move. It simply glows from a distance, really lighting up the shade garden. So far it's been a wonderful and hardy evergreen shrub for me.

Although I have native Oxalis oregana planted in clumps in many places in shade, I also added this - Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Beauty' for it has purple undersides to its leaves.

Underside of Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Beauty'.

Saxifraga dentata from Xera Plants, another transplant.

My very favorite rhodie, Rhododendron pachysanthum. It looks a little chewed up but beyond that, survived being transplanted. Originally from Gossler Farms Nursery.

I dug up three of my seven or so Hakonechola macra 'Aureola' - Japanese forest grasses - and am so glad I did. They are thriving here.

A new addition, Begonia grandia ssp. evansiana 'Alba' from Drake's where I worked last year. It seeds around and I'm fine with that.

Corydalis ochroleuca from the old garden.

Rhododendron occidentale, our native deciduous azalea with amazingly fragrant lily-like flowers. I dug up three of these from the old garden.

A wider shot in the evening sunshine, facing east.

Many ferns and grasses sprinkled throughout. I only highlighted a few plants, there are so many tucked in there, it's a little crazy. The thing is I don't know what will survive and what won't, what will reseed and what won't (of the intended reseeders), so I have crammed everything in there to be able to manage it for now. As things spread out and generally fill in, I will certainly move things to other locales to open up room. But for now the less dirt I have showing for weeds to fill in the better. It doesn't really photograph well, all its faults show up on camera much more than in my mind's eye. Perhaps it is my "gardenvision" kicking in with a special filter to rid my panorama of weeds and unsightly miscellany. Whatever the case I know what it could become so I overlook the scars and clumps of weeds in the surrounding "lawn" if you can call it that.

A parting shot.

The shade garden means something emotional to me. It is cool, it is woodland, it evokes memories of childhood. It calms me and brings me great pleasure, especially on very hot days. There is nothing more rewarding than visiting this twinkling woodland area, however small it is, after a long day of working in the sun at the nursery or at home. Seeing the setting sunbeams hit translucent foliage strikes a chord with my inner-Pacific Northwest girl. 

I am really looking forward to seeing it fill in, change, adapt and spread over the years. This is just the first step, getting it in the ground, so to speak.

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