Thursday, June 22, 2017

Progression of a Project

I love it when a plan comes together. I love it more when I don't know what I'm doing but fake it and somehow it works out, which is usually the case. The faking-it part, that is. Fortunately for me, plants are so forgiving that it works out most of the time. This blog post is thus the progression of a medium-sized project as it nears completion, the jury is still out whether or not it is successful. A little more work to go, but I hope the end results match the image in my mind. Here we go:

This is the property and home when we bought it in late 2015. The labyrinth is, of course, gone, replaced with a full garden. The edge of the labyrinth, closest to the camera, is the area we'll be looking at.

Here is the labyrinth last April after the rocks were removed, the sand pushed back to allow for the removal of the landscape fabric underneath, and plants beginning to be placed.

This is about August last summer. The labyrinth is the garden area seen in the upper left, the additional space was created when we moved the rocks and began planting meadow plants. The edge of this area still screamed "circle" to me and I wanted to mix it up.

Here it is from the south looking north. The whole garden just sort of ends in field grass, not very interesting.

That's when I had the idea to make it a "step down" and to plant it with fescue and other drought-tolerant scrubby plants as a transition to the surrounding landscape. This photo is from early spring this year with basically nothing emerging. There are many grasses, asters and herbaceous perennials in there. And Hobbes, of course.

My "step down" got a little deeper and wider thanks to Facilities Manager. He mounded the soil on the south side of the swale. I had not thought about putting the soil there, I actually didn't think about it much but he started and the mounds affectionately became the Himalayas. That's assistant FM Sharon, who always seems to be doing some heavy work for us.

OK, I like the change in profile to the land. I just went with it and decided I would create it as I went.

Facilities Manager added chunky gravel to the base of the pit to help keep mud down. He eventually, with the help of friends, added smaller crushed gravel to complete the look.

I still wasn't sure what I would do with the Himalayas. The kitties had their own ideas.

Because the soil used to make the mounds was basically turned-over field grass and the surrounding soil, we needed to solarize or sterilize the soil to kill weed seeds and the grass. We did this by covering the mounds in plastic. I learned after we did this that clear plastic works better as it acts as a greenhouse, trapping sunlight and really heating things up. D'OH! Live and learn. We are really just winging it, after all.

As seen looking towards the west. The soil on the right is the edge of what was the labyrinth. After I took these photos, I cut openings in the plastic and planted a few Arctostaphylos species to get them off to a good start, as well as a few blue fescue grasses. We waited a couple of months until I couldn't stand it any longer and I recently removed the plastic. I probably should have waited a few more months, but . . . I was impatient.

Here it is with the plastic removed and the plants in place. I decided to soften the edges by raking soil down to the gravel so it forms a soft edge. The grassy area between the two mountains of soil will eventually be graded so it slopes down and becomes level with the gravel to make for easy access and a more welcoming feel.

The edges of the labyrinth garden have many low-growing cascading plants that will eventually cover the edges, such as trailing rosemary, Zauschneria or California fuchsia, sedums and others. If we had more resources, I would edge the labyrinth side of the gravel walk in rock to make for a kind of low retaining wall. Maybe another day. I also wish to add flag stones in a meandering pattern to create a very rough and informal walkway, just for fun. I hope to plant more fescue in the gravel, to make it more naturalistic.

As seen from behind, chickens following me. 

This path through the center of the labyrinth will continue down to the vegetable garden someday. For now it ends here and, to the left, there's a step down to the new gravelly area. That design will evolve into a more comfortable solution for getting down there. I'm open to ideas!

Here is one of the berms (and chickens) looking south. In time, as everything fills in, the horizon lines will change.

The view just to the right of the previous photo showing both berms.

Just for fun, here's a shot of the labyrinth as it looks today, same shot as the first photo.

This whole garden, while I do have gardening experience, is really a big experiment. There are no rules, we're making it up as we go and having fun doing it. This latest project, while not complete, will I believe be unusual and interesting when it fills in. If it doesn't work, the worst thing that can happen is that we fill it back in (aaack . . . not really [FM says who said what now?]) and plant grass seed. As it is, however, I think it will connect with the outlying hills and scrubby country foliage and make for a more interesting horizon overall. Are we crazy? A little, but that keeps it fun.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Vegetable Garden

What an adventure we've been on. Just this past week we nearly completed the vegetable garden and orchard planting phase of Chickadee Gardens. It's amazing to me to think that just a year and a half ago, we lived in Portland on a 50 x 100 foot lot. Now we are in Saint Helens, some 30 miles north of Portland on 2+ acres, growing food. Here's a peek at how things are shaping up:

With a coat of chalkboard paint, we made the inside of the garden shed door a functioning sign board. It's true, we have all these veggies and fruits listed. While they may not be ready yet, they are technically growing.

Let's have a little before-and after-fun. This is what the vegetable garden looked like before Facilities Manager cleared and plowed the land. This photo was taken last summer.

Here is the vegetable garden as it looked last week. The top half of this part of the garden is orchard and the bottom half is primarily vegetables. The row covers are currently in place to protect cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower from pests (we've had a little problem with the dreaded cabbage moths). The rows above it are planted with corn, beans, cucumbers, beets and carrots.

This photo is from fall 2015.

Exact same spot last summer after FM started tackling blackberries and dead trees.

Here is how it looks today. No paths yet, but it's on its way. One day last weekend we planted the following in this area (and to the left, out of sight of this photo): 11 gooseberries, 10 asparagus, 9 strawberries, 8 blueberries, 7 raspberries, 6 chives, and a couple of artichokes and rhubarbs. And no, I did not plan it to sound like a Christmas carol. I'm just weird that way.

FM here: We have three hens, two cats and one facilities manager! Very strange!

Again, the scene last summer after a few weeks of blackberry clearing by FM.

Same area last week. We moved three of the old raised beds that temporarily held our bare-root fruit trees and lettuce all last winter to this area for permanent strawberry, lettuce and herb boxes.

Oh....I remember when it looked like this when we bought the property. We were so excited that we completely overlooked being overwhelmed.

This is the general view as it looks today. The gravel path marks the division between the orchard, to the left, and the veggie garden, to the right. It will eventually continue on, ending at the property line/fence just visible beyond. The fence on the right encloses the veggie garden (from prying destructo-chicken feet); it will be moved over a few feet in the fall to make the path a few feet wider.

Here's the direct-sown corn, beans and whatnot with a top row of giant sunflowers. The design and look of this area will change in time, of course, as we continue to improve and work the soil with compost and other amendments recommended by Logan Labs where I had the soil tested. It will probably become more level as we work it every year, but for now we wanted to get the garden started, so it is a bit on the raw and lumpy side.

The small bed is strawberries, the larger one in back is for greens and lettuces, the one on the right is for herbs such as fennel, parsley, basil, tarragon and chives (planted at the base of the bed so they don't take over). FM sowed red clover seed as a cover crop to the remainder of this half of the veggie garden as it's not been completely planted this year. That's what you see growing in green patches all around. The rows of corn and the like are just outside of this shot to the left.

How shall we provide water to the far corners of the property, you ask? I'm glad to tell you that FM rented a trencher last week in preparation for irrigation pipes. In this shot, the line from the house has been dug past the chicken coop. FM says no he was not drinking during this process. He says always blame the machinery.

From there he turned it south, halfway between the garden with two faucets in this area. There is a third at the top of this photo for the eventual hoop house (that's another phase, another day). FM says it will mean not having to drag two or three hoses around the property, an activity that wears out the arms and can damage innocent plant life in the path of dragged hosiery.

In addition to the irrigation ditches, FM dug this channel along the north side of the house to aid in water-runoff management in the winter time. That retaining wall prevents water in the berm garden (to the right) from draining and it all ponds in that flat grassy area and becomes a boggy, muddy mess. By directing the water out via a channel outlet and a lot of gravel, we are sure this area will be drier in the winter months. Plus, FM continues to refine his shoveling skills. Whew!

FM decided to keep the trunks of two maple trees he cut down. He made lovely simple benches for us to enjoy the view from the top of the orchard looking south over the food garden. Yes, the slab on the right bench is the top of the left bench. Both benches are comfortable, but they need to be finished with a varnish or sealant before -- dare I say it? -- before the rains return this Fall.

I leave you with a parting shot of Doug, or resident native Douglas squirrel (also know as a "pine squirrel"). There are dozens of other large Eastern gray and fox squirrels around, those somewhat annoying imports that have squeezed out our native critters. So it was particularly delightful to find these much smaller and surprisingly tame native squirrels suddenly show up the other day. So tame, in fact, Doug crawled up onto my boot and looked me in the eye. No kidding. We also have a native chipmunk who hangs around from time to time, it's a thrill to live among all of this wildlife.

FM, who is an English major, says the collective pronoun for a number or group of squirrels is a "dray" or a "scurry" of squirrels. Of the two words, we prefer scurry. So now Doug has a last name. Douglas Scurry. That is Mr. Scurry to you!

As we continue to work on the Final Frontier of our garden, (otherwise known as the food garden), it often occurs to me how lucky we are. We have this wonderful land, plants, chickens, wildlife, cats and each other. Really, what more do we need? It's the adventure of a lifetime....I have to pinch myself sometimes so I'm sure we're actually doing it. I look forward to watching the apple trees grow and gathering blueberries from the field. I enjoy watching plants take over, change, even die as they live out their life cycle. It's a wonderful life and I'm glad to share it with you all.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Bring Out Your Dead! (I'm Not Dead Yet)

This post is dedicated to those plants declared kaput by yours truly due to our epic winter weather. Spoiler alert: There are many surprises in the garden right now.

Before we get into the ugly truth, I present you with a colorful photo to lure you in. Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet' from Xera Plants along with California poppies and dianthus in the background. 

In case you missed the reference . . . Monty Python and the Holy Grail, anyone?

First up is Eupatorium capillifolium 'Elegant Feather' pictured as it looked last summer.

Ouch. The winter was not kind to tall, fluffy things.

Well, would you look at that. The bit of green at the base on the right side is new growth. These sticks have been barren and dead since this winter, so you can imagine why I took it for dead. Amazing, just very late in emerging.

Next is my beautiful Astelia 'Red Gem' - one of the first plants that went into the ground in the new garden.

The multiple snows and ice storms did it in. It was mushy at the base, of course dead, right? Hardy to zone 8a, it was always one I worried about.

I left it in the ground because I was too heartbroken to try and dig it out. Recently this new growth has sprung up, so it's coming back from the roots. Amazing. I think I also found a few seedlings nearby . . . so stay tuned.

Nothing too exciting, my Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' or ornamental grape was a stick, kind of hollow at that. I just hadn't gotten around to digging it out. Good thing I waited, it's healthier than ever.

This is my Fremontodendron californicum or flannel bush last summer. Although this West Coast native plant is not large (yet), it was happy enough to push out a few choice flowers. 

I really took it for dead, all the leaves dropped and it's supposed to be evergreen. It's putting on new growth on new stems, and I am very pleased.

Feijoa sellowiana or pineapple guava is supposed to be evergreen. It held on to its leaves through the snow then in the late winter dropped all of them. I was sure it was a goner when Greg from Xera Plants assured me to wait it out. I'm so glad I did. I don't have a photo of it in its full glory, but the silvery green rounded leaves are very appealing so I would have been very sad to see it go.

Slow growing on a good day, I'll have to be patient to see this return to a good size. I can wait.

Sedum palmeri really did look scraggled, dried up and dead, even though it's been evergreen for me through most years (all that I can recall). I left it in place hoping it would generate new growth, and once again, the sedums did not fail to impress.

The Phormuim tenax 'Rubra' is supposed to be one of the hardier phormiums or New Zealand flax. It should be evergreen and large (I cannot find a "before" photo), it was neither after the constant frozen rain, snow and solid packed frozen mud around it. We have a saying around here to describe a particularly bad winter - a PKW or Phormium Killing Winter. We won this round because I have too much land to fuss with every single plant so it was left in place and regenerated from the roots. Take that, winter.

This time last year the Asclepias tuberosa or butterfly weed was in beautiful full-orange bloom. It JUST came up this week about 5".

A teeny tiny little success story is my Mahonia nevinii, a rare native California shrub I found at work last fall, extinct in many of its native lands. It's so tiny that it could easily be swallowed up by my garden. I'm trying to keep it alive so it can reach its full height of 10 feet or so, although it's slow-growing so we'll see. It's a great plant for wildlife, birds love the berries and it makes good cover. It's a mahonia so evergreen, right? Dropped all its tiny leaves after the last of the winter storms. Uggg . . . well, to my delight, it's alive and pushing out new growth. Thank you, garden gods.

The Dasilyrion I've had in pots for several years have always looked great until now. This was last summer.

With multiple ice storms and heavy snow, many of the leaves just cracked and gave way. Once the snow finally melted they showed signs of distress right away.

Here is one of two today, looking worse every day. This may be an actual case of "bring out your dead" after all. I will wait and see.

My wonderful Olea euopaea 'Arbequina' trees - all four of them - dropped all of their (evergreen) leaves this winter. Oh, I was the most heartbroken about this than any other plant.

Besides the wonderful silvery evergreen leaves, it also gave me a good crop of olives, a bonus indeed. I actually harvested and cured them. They are delicious.

For months they have looked like this, no green to the cambium layer beneath the outer bark. I just didn't have the heart to move them.

Lookie at what we discovered just this week! It lives! All four of them have some degree of growth, mostly from the roots. I am one happy gardener.

So that's the "not dead yet" update. Now for something a little more prolific.

Verbena rigida has been busy. Oh my. I mean I want seedlings to fill in the gaps, but this is nuts. Verbena bonariensis is worse.

Knautia macedonica or crimson pincushion flower has also been busy, although a little more well-behaved. These seedlings may get moved around to the meadow area.

Speaking of seedlings, I have been sowing Papaver 'Lauren's Grape' (that fabulous dark purple poppy) for four years now with no results. I finally got it right, there are about 50 seedlings emerging. Yay!

Mystery seedling. Anyone? There is a swath of them as if a seed head fell in one place and this happened.

A couple of parting shots of the larger garden. It's filling in.

A columnar apple on the right with a shot of the labyrinth garden and the house. For me, this represents the marriage of the eastern half of the garden, the edible and wild gardens, with our home and pleasure garden and meadow. We've finally connected the two, taken down fences and made progress on those permanent edible plants such as berries and fruit trees (more on that next week).

This week has shown me that it pays to be patient. The ironic thing is that I am so impatient, if I had a smaller garden all of those "dead" plants would have been ripped out and replaced in no time. I simply had no chance to get to that chore on this two-acre garden as other tasks beckoned. By procrastinating, if you will, these generous plants have shown me that they are indeed hardy, they were hit hard but have proven themselves more than worthy in my garden. They deserve to stay.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and commenting, I love to hear from you all. Until next time, happy gardening!