Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wrapping Up September

That was fast. September over. Now, October greets us. As summer wound down I was able to take advantage of cooler days and move a few things around. Yes, already--moving plants! We were also able to plug away on a few projects. Here's a wrap-up of September:

Pennisetum 'Karly Rose' in the evening sun. I see why it's got the name rose in it. Two of these grasses were gifted to me at our garden blogger's spring plant swap. I did not know what to expect but am very pleased.

Paths throughout the labyrinth garden that were simply sand are now graveled. As plants fill in I am hopeful that they will spill over and soften the edges. In time, in time...

From another angle. It dresses it up a bit.

On to the shed. I had painted over red trim with the charcoal gray. We've seen that post here. David surprised me, however, by building this:

A porch roof for the garden shed.

With a coat of paint. I think I'll paint the underside to look like a galaxy of stars. Facilities Manager is busy building another addition on to this building complex - an overhang area to shelter the lawn mower parking spot. You can see that to the left. I'm also getting shelves to organize my empty plastic pots on the back of the shed. Hooray! More photos when those projects are complete.

Last week we saw the near completion of the fire pit. Here, several more flagstones were added. As you can see we had a fire or two to break it in. What a joy to have this homey feature....evokes memories of sitting around the campfire, telling stories, roasting marshmallows. Now we need to update those chairs. Facilities Manager bought those in about 1989. Ouch!

The chicken coop/cube was dressed up with a clematis or two and support panels. In time, the green will be gone...waa ha ha ha (evil laugh).

Facilities Manager has been busy taking down this dying maple tree.

He is almost there, but a slight chainsaw accident rendered FM banned from the chainsaw. He is only allowed to use it with a buddy around. Thank the heavens for our fab neighbor nurse Faux Doctor Mary MacGyver. She took care of FM and we owe her big time. We have the BEST neighbors! FM is fine, by the way. Just a bit scarred on the arm and thumb with no stitches and a new humbled spirit.

The whole of Mt. Compost is gone! Thrilling. Now I am left with this dead grass area that should become more meadow-like garden, don't you agree? Oh, the ideas rolling around in my head. That's how I roll, adding this and that, coming up with dreamy ideas left and right until the right one lands and sticks.

Now that we've covered all the chores, let's have some plant fun. Goldenrod - Solidago 'Fireworks', a village for pollinators. Its late season bloom is a welcome flush of color. This non-invasive version of goldenrod is a must-have for attracting bees.

The rudbeckias and gaillardias or blanket flowers have been blooming all summer. I know they are short-lived but they are place holders for now, anyhow. They were here on the property so I simply rounded them up to this more appropriate location. I hope they do self-sow around over the years, that would be a welcome plant for my pseudo-meadow.


Zinnia 'Senorita' - an annual I direct sowed into the garden. It has performed quite well, I am pleased with its salmon/coral color.

The labyrinth garden starting to show some filling in, depth, and layered effects.

My favorite upright sedum - Sedum telephium 'Matrona' has done very well here. They too are a haven for pollinators.

Here's a short video showing many bees enjoying this plant. If you enlarge it by clicking the full screen button on the lower right it shows up better.

As I have removed annuals from this front bed of the gravel garden and opened up space, some of the more permanent residents are able to stretch out more. The three Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' just at the base of the deck are filling in nicely as well as adding a little frothy glow at sunset.

In the same bed to the left, some of my favorite plants are filling in the gaps and already look like an established garden rather than just nine months old. Here, from left to right: Verbena bonariensis, Pelargonium sidoides, Erodium chrysanthum (foreground), Glaucium flavum or horned poppy and behind them chocolate cosmos and Pennisetum 'Karly Rose'. Whew. There is more, believe it or not, that is not pictured from this angle.

Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie', one of three purchased at Little Prince of Oregon. I am so excited to watch these grow over the next several years. They have already put on a surprising amount of growth.

One of three yuccas moved from the old garden. After sulking for several months they are finally putting on new growth instead of dying.

I was given a "mystery clematis" at work, it finally bloomed. It lives on the other side of the chicken coop. So lovely! I wonder if the future chickens will eat it?

Grevillea victoriae, purchased from work this spring, has grown significantly.

Olives! The four Olea europaea 'Arbequina' trees planted have produced a surprising number of fruits. I grow these plants for their silvery linear foliage, the olives are a bonus.

One day soon we'll be able to actually enjoy our deck.

Since it's officially fall, I thought this image of a volunteer pumpkin would make some smiles. I left a couple of heirloom pumpkins out in this general area last fall for the deer to eat. I think this may be a seedling of Musquee de Provence pumpkin. Anyone care to chime in? Aren't those variegated leaves fantastic?

So sweet! The plant is HUGE. Pumpkins have a long way to go.

That is a wrap for September. As autumn rolls in, I feel a sense of relief that I will be able to slow down a bit. It's been a whirlwind of a summer adding plants MADLY all over the place, it will be fun to sit back and watch them fill in and see who does what.

Thank you so much for reading and until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making a New Garden: The Evolution of a Fire Pit

The gods of fire compelled the Facilities Manager to construct a fire pit in the garden. While not quite completed -- more flagstones arrived yesterday -- it is pretty much as it appears, i.e., a place to grow warm and enjoy the companionship of smoke and flame in the great outdoors. Join the FM now as he journeys through the process.

Ah, the fire pit. Home-made and golden, we are ready for our first fire! What follows is the short tale of how we did it:

Here is the old landscape. As the entrance to the gardens is most often down the stairs we reckoned the best fire-pit placement would be here so we can see the broad vistas to the south or turn and see the house in its steel-clad glory. Note: Pink is no more. Hooray! The scraggly maple in the center of this photo is a good point of reference to use throughout this post.

Facilities Manager's mother is attacked here by numerous and ground-hungry plants we brought to our gardens from our former residence in Portland. Yes, FM's mom is just 30 inches tall. Tiny Sharon. This photo, from February, shows where the fire pit would be, just behind Mom. Note where the maple tree is.

Hark, the memories of the back-breaking sod-cutter! Well, we had to remove the sod to start to landscape the surface. Note: In the background you will see the beautiful chicken-coop under construction. The very first picture in this blog post features the green cube in a lovely fashion.

Yep, that's the fire pit in Stage One. A tad larger than the end-result, but a good place to start. Maple barely visible in the upper right-hand corner.

From the north-side now, looking down the garden slope to the south. The ring for the outline of the fire pit is just visible on the right. The soil from the pit and the pathway leveling effort provided the materials for the embankment -- see below -- for the grass gardens. Note: There below is that beautiful coop again, this time in mid-construction primer.

Let the digging begin: Kind of shallow. More digging is necessary to ensure the fire pit does not become a garden pond. Tamara here: I just want it noted that David, I mean Facilities Manager, did this all by hand. Not that it's such an overwhelming task, but I thank my lucky stars every day for him!

This was all moved by shovel in hand. Good exercise!
Tamara again: OK, so he beat me to it.

This is the construction of the rock embankment. Chief Gardener did this duty. I believe at this stage we enjoyed a fire in the pit.

Yep, we sure did. See the remains. And the yard debris is ready to go again. 

There we go. The FM dug down about 40 inches and then filled the pit with three wheel-barrel loads of gravel. Some four inches of sand was then added. This is a so-called "french drain" to, again, prevent a garden pond in the fall and winter months. In any case, the FM plans to make a lid for the pit, i.e., a pit-lid!

The pit was then filled with water to determine two things: A, How it drained; B, To find the level of the bottom. Working on a slope one often becomes confused as to levelness.

Here the FM installs the floor of the pit. These are hard kiln bricks available at Lowe's for $2.66 each. We used 96 bricks in the pit with four bricks to spare for repair purposes.

FM spent an hour or so making sure the bottom bricks were as level as possible. Paver-sand was sprinkled on the surface and swept by hand to fill in the gaps between the bricks. This will help dissipate the heat. So we believe, anyway.

These are the rings to rule all rings. Again the paver-sand was used between each ring of bricks.

Here I back-filled with the removed soil. Carefully, though, so as not to disrupt the bricks. Tossed in some gravel, too. Then the FM watered the outside fill and compressed it. It turned out as hard as concrete and the bricks are very secure in place.

So three rings (to rule them all) up and checking out how the stones would look.

More testing. Kind of swirly, no? The Chief Gardener wondered about hanging the flagstones over the lip of the brick ring, but fearful the heat would crack the flagstones and to ease cleaning, it was decided to just line up to the edge instead with about an inch of sand and gravel between the top ring of bricks and the flagstones.

Ah, now that's a fire pit!
Okay, a comment or two. We thought of mortaring in the flagstones but decided to try the laid-in method first. The mortar may crack under the heat and the just-laid-out in the manner shown above allows the stones to be a bit flexible. We are sure they will settle in as the rains come and we use the fire pit and walk on them. Not at the same time, haha; we won't be fire-pittin' during a rain storm!

The final work to do is to install the new stones, which will simply enlarge the flagstone pattern, and then to clean out the sand and gravel from the pit and then toss in some logs and enjoy the crackling fire and the Chief Gardener's stupendous gardens.

Thanks for checking out Chickadee Gardens this week. Happy burning!

Tamara's final note: Thank you guest writer Facilities Manager for giving me the week off. And yes, happy gardening and now that fall is officially here, happy burning!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

At Joy Creek Nursery: September Seeds and Fruits

As I wandered around my place of work this week I noticed some tell-tale signs of autumn, especially as Noel Kingsbury and Piet Ouldof's book Planting: A New Perspective is the book of choice for bedtime reading these days. As you may know, the authors are the champions of a naturalistic way of gardening, something I am studying intensely to understand the complexities of meadow gardening and gardening in accord with nature, not to control it. A lot of the emphasis for this way of gardening is leaving seed heads as they add structure and visual weight to the garden. So with that in mind I took a good look around my amazing surroundings at work. There were so many lovely seed heads and fruits; they really outnumbered many flowers. They are a special kind of beauty. I hope you enjoy this tour of just a few of the interesting wonders I noticed this week.

 Eryngium pandanifolium with a visitor.

 Asclepias incarnata - one of many species of milkweed, the host plant for monarch butterflies.

 Zauschneria or California fuchsia, or hummingbird trumpet, fluffy seed heads.

 Stipa gigantea, a very large clumping grass with dangling seeds in the sunshine.

Astrantia major, spiderweb, and a hellebore in the background.

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads.

Cynara cardunculus or cardoon, a relative of the artichoke. These monsters reach about 12 feet high and are oh-so-sculptural.

  They are so structural and crazy looking I included four photos.

These are the kind of things I love to draw with pencil and paper. So interesting and full of texture.

Seeds! From what I understand they do seed around a little.

Helenium 'Tijuana Brass' just finishing up.

 Kniphofia seed heads.

 Hellebore seed heads.

Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas' or honeysuckle fruits. 

The easily identifiable 'Miss Willmott's Ghost' Eryngium seed head. Flowers long gone but these seeds are also very structural.

 Rudbeckia hirta 'Joy Creek Select' seed heads, a whole field of them.

 Viburnum opulus 'Aureum' - a plant sure to attract cedar waxwings. Many birds adore these berries, in fact.

Aquilegia or columbine seed heads. These are everywhere in the gardens and have crossed so much we don't know what they are any more.

Phlomis fruticosa, where the foliage is better than the flowers in my opinion. Still, the seed heads are interesting. 

 Acanthus spinosus seed heads.

I thought this was a Thalictrum but now I can't recall. Its blowsy nature is stunning...and difficult to photograph.

 Seed heads of a canna lily.

 Clematis 'Sundance' and its amazing seed heads. Once I saw this, oh yes, I purchased one. To cover up the chicken house. I mean for the incredible seed heads. Yes, that's why I got it.

Whoa, that's one plant. It's, oh, maybe 10 feet long, 5 feet high and a couple of feet wide. Coverage.

 Daucus carota or good ol' Queen Anne's Lace - just another weed, but a very lovely one.

 Here is an opened version.

 Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Rose Glow' fruits. Whew, that's a mouthful for a barberry.

Thalictrum, I think Thalictrum glaucum.

Astilbe seed heads.

The Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' looks fab, tastes awful. I'll leave these for the birds.

 Rosa pomifera, a very large species rose with amazing hips. They have been going all summer, some as big as small apples - hence, the name.

 Rosa glauca, another large species rose. It has bluish leaves (hence its name!), and is also quite tall but its fruits are considerably smaller than Rosa Pomifera.

 Here's proof that we can grow melons in the Pacific Northwest. Mike grows a variety from seed every year on this hot, south-facing slope.

 This stretch of raspberries, about 60' long in the background, feeds me every week. I have had fresh raspberries regularly since May.

Although not harvested this year, the asparagus patch is nonetheless frothy and lovely.

I leave you with a Cotinus coggyria, the fluffy "smoke" of this smokebush long gone but still holding on to interesting structure. This is one of those plants that goes through many seasons - spring for new growth and fluffy seed heads, summer for foliage, and fall for fabulous color.

Something that working for Joy Creek Nursery has shown me is to stop and pay attention to the subtle changes nature brings to each passing season. Colors I would have dismissed as uninteresting or, frankly, as dead - the browns, tawny buffs and creams, I now am learning to appreciate as adding to the layers of complexity nature reveals. You need those colors to bounce the flashy ones against -- even the pastels look better against a sea of buff-colored autumn grasses.

I hope that by looking carefully at even the end of the life cycle for these plants that some beauty has shone through.

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