Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Sun Lovers

Flowers are center stage right now at Chickadee Gardens. Despite the intense heat and record temperatures, most of the garden is holding up with some supplemental water. It seems all of the sun-loving flowers are all blooming at once setting off two areas I affectionately term the Labyrinth Garden and the Meadow Garden. From the beginning they were to be a bit loose with flowers and grasses that tend to reseed so as to achieve a naturalistic look. I notice plants are indeed filling in and a hint of the impact I was hoping for is beginning to come through. These gardens are farthest from the house, close to our neighboring fields, so the wilder look seems appropriate. Let's look around.

At the edge of the Labyrinth you begin to get a sense for what it might look like when it's completely filled in.

From a distance the patterns and textures begin to emerge (perspective is tricky here, it's a couple hundred feet from where I am standing to the house).

An array of hot-colored flowers mix and mingle down here.

As the paths get closer to the house, the color theme changes. In the distance you can see purples of Liatris and Echinacea purpurea and Mondarda 'Raspberry Wine', a gift from Mindy of the garden blog Rindy Mae, for example.

Found objects become art next to the Cotinus 'Pink Champagne' finally doing it's bubbly thing this year. From Xera Plants.

Oh, that color combination works for me.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' grass begins to spread out a little. Its airiness adds to the charm of this part of the garden which is not quite as wild as what we've seen so far. More regular plantings of Teucrium chamaedrys or germander, Artemesia 'Powis Castle' and some various evergreen shrubs make it feel more like a mixed garden bed rather than a meadow. This grass makes a nice transition plant as it's on the way to the less formal plantings.

Although some shy away from Chasmanthium latifolium or sea oats, I welcome its tendency to reseed. For now.

Here, Coreopsis 'Full Moon', a gift from garden blogger and writer Amy Campion, edges the Labyrinth. It plays well with the other brightly colored flowers. In the background, Stipa gigantea, a gift from another gardening friend adds height to the edge of the garden.

Grass seed head of Pennisetum spathiolatum. This was a gift from yet another garden blogger (blogger plant swaps are the best!) Scott of Rhone Street Gardens. It's a winner, I have two of these and would welcome many more.

General cheerfulness with the many Rudbeckia hirtas scattered about. I know a lot of gardeners shy away from these due to their, well, commonness but also their bright colors. I understand if you have limited space and wish to grow more interesting plants, but here I'm going for connection with the land and plants for pollinators. Almost everything in this part of the garden has been covered in bees all summer. No shortage here, especially of native bumble bees and many tiny bees hardly noticeable. The butterflies have been more abundant than I have ever seen them, too.

This centerpiece of the garden is no flowering perennial, rather it's Salix eleganos var. angustifolius commonly known as rosemary willow. A deciduous shrub/small tree, it has a silvery impact when blown by the breeze as the undersides of the leaves are quite light.

Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' was a throw-away at work last year. It is easily 7' tall and has so far required very little water.

Some Rudbeckia or another moved from the old garden...or maybe it was a seedling that showed up? In any event, the rich oranges fit right in.

I've shown this recently but it is worth repeating, Helenium 'Mardi Gras'. To me, even the spent flowers hold interest and I'll leave them, as I will most seed heads, for birds and for winter interest.

This sunflower is past its prime, but I like it all the same.

Zinnia 'Inca' from Select Seeds really delivered this year. Others not so much but these, wow. Big blooms, too.

This is Silphium perfoliatum or cup flower. Its presence in my garden is a bit of a mystery. I think it came from Anna of the blog Flutter and Hum by way of Alan of the blog It's Not Work, It's Gardening. In any event, it's easily 8' tall with large square stems. Poor thing was in limbo for so long I didn't know what it was. Finally this year it's happy in its new home and is blooming for me for the first time.

Delosperma 'Fire Spinner', another gift from a garden blogger's swap, I had taken for dead. The main clump was, but I had placed a teeny tiny other start in a different spot. To my amazement, it survived the winter from hell and so, I moved it. It's thriving here and as I've learned, likes a little summer water as they are from a part of Africa that receives summer rain.

A Gaillardia seedling - the mother plants are long gone but I've found a few seedlings this summer.

Honey bee coming in for a landing on one of the giganto sunflowers 'Gray Mammoth Stripe' at the back of the veggie garden. These monsters top out at 10', no kidding.

In a slightly more formal area closer to the house, soft mauves, whites and pinks prevail. Here, Acanthus spinosus settled in quite nicely with a Guara linderheimeri in the background. Both were gifts from garden bloggers. Are you seeing a pattern here?

These crazy towers are fascinating to me.

My original Echinops ritro from the old garden was left in place as it was huge and very well-established. I was a little bummed about leaving it, but I shouldn't have worried. It turns out that soil from the old garden, brought in with many other plants, had plenty of seeds. I had about 10 seedlings, but kept only two. This is the larger of the two, left in place where it wants to grow.

White on white. Two Achilleas - Achillea millefolium and closer to the camera, Achillea ptarmica 'Angel's Breath'. The latter would make a lovely substitute for baby's breath in flower arrangements.

I adore this plant, Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination'. I have three and they are so happy in this garden. I wish I had many more, but I have not seen them offered anywhere. They were originally from Little Prince of Oregon, purchased at my then local Fred Meyer grocery store.

I love it so much it gets two photos this week.

Seed heads of Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'.

Looking east through the Labyrinth garden, towards Facilities Manager and the veggie garden gate. 

From basically that same spot, looking west towards the setting sun.

Seeds of foxtail lily or Eremurus ssp.

Rose hips from Rosa glauca.

A shrub that is repeated in this part of the garden, Ozothamnus hookeri 'Sussex Silver' looks good year-round.

Here's my river of Sedum 'Matrona'. They are just beginning to bloom and will play host to many bees who can't resist.

So, a while back I posted a seedling that was a mystery to me. Many thought it was Catananche or cupid's dart, but lo and behold, it's not. I still don't know what it is, but it's kind of cool. I left it to grow in place for now as it helps cover the soil. Please chime in if you know.

Another throw away from work, Zauschneria 'Solidarity Pink' is surprisingly pretty and quite happy at the very edge of this:

The very edge of the Labyrinth/Meadow gardens. I thought it would be nice spilling over the edge. I present this photo to illustrate how things are really filling in, despite the ugly drop off. Although difficult to see, there are many prostrate rosemary plants in there, hoping that they will spill over the edge in time and help cover it up, along with perennials such as the Zauschneria mentioned above.

From the other direction.

The soft green fluffy things in the middle are the mystery plant formerly thought to be cupid's dart.

And there they are on the right. I love this photo, it captures the atmosphere of this part of the garden.

Verbena bonariensis sends up one of many flower stalks in this part of the garden.

I am humbled every time I walk though the garden, especially now when everything is in full bloom. Plants that I transplanted hastily last fall are growing and thriving. Wildflowers I sowed last year continue to add color. Things are filling in and will continue to change as the years go by.  It's a beautiful place to be in the middle of, to observe the thousands of pollinators and soak up a little summer sun. It makes me feel like I'm finally home.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Veggie Garden

From the start we wanted to devote some of the land at Chickadee Gardens to food production. We already have a name for our edible endeavors, Blue Jay Lane Farm. So when Facilities Manager cleared the designated land towards the end of last year and the beginning of this, I realized we were really going to make it happen. This year, we focused more on getting seeds in the ground than making it look pretty - this fall and into next year we plan to lay out the land more carefully and with permanence in mind. In any event, guess what? Seeds sprouted and lo and behold, the vegetable garden is producing food! Amazing how that works!

Our little plot at sunset.

First up, beans. We sowed pole and bush beans to see what works best. My friend Alison from the garden blog Bonnie Lassie gifted me some Fortex bean seeds and, wow, let me tell you they are amazing. Alison also was responsible for the gooseberries, rhubarb and some of the strawberries. Gardeners are such generous, cool people! Thanks again, Alison.

Fortex beans are climbers (pole beans) and very vigorous. They are super-producers. We planted a half a row of these and half bush beans, both are prolific but the climbers are so huge and tasty, and they save the back from bending over (a little).

This is a big bowl filled with big beans. This is about 10 minutes of picking, and we've been doing that every other day. Stringless, too - another bonus. Plus, they taste great even at a larger size, and they don't get funky tasting.

Can you believe it? This is not uncommon, they are all around that long.

What to do with all those beans? Did someone suggest I hone my pickling and preserving skills? We've already frozen a few batches, I also decided to try pickling them, as I once worked at a bar in Santa Cruz that served bloody Marys with pickled green beans instead of celery. They were very popular (and delicious!). As this is my first attempt at pickling, the jury is still out on whether the cocktail party is on or not.

My impromptu bean-holder, my camera case. These are the regular Cantarre bush beans that are equally prolific and delicious, also picked every other day. That basically means bean-picking daily. Just a pain to bend and pick the bush beans. Pat your local harvester/farmer on the back for doing the dirty work, man.

OK, moving on to the lettuces. This whole box is dedicated to (mostly) lettuce as well as a few fennel bulbs. The lettuce came on so wonderfully this year, but the super hot (did someone say 105 degrees?) weather made the spinach, arugula and mustard greens bolt. The butter lettuce, speckled trout and red deer tongue did not bolt, though - we are still enjoying those varieties. 

You've just GOT to have nasturtiums in a veggie garden! Their peppery taste adds a kick to your summertime dishes. Plus, they help shade the lettuces. I think next year I'll rethink the full-sun lettuce thing, in other words creating some shade mid-summer in the form of corn stocks or bean towers.

The only things we did not start from seed are the many peppers Facilities Manager seems to have collected and a few tomato plants. Here, some chocolate-named pepper is just starting to turn, indicating the beginning of ripeness.

FM's Thai Dragon hot peppers. He can have these all to himself. FM says it's gonna be hot tonight!

Here we have leeks, celery and cabbage. So here's a funny thing: I also grew celeriac (celery root) and, well, the seedlings got mixed up so I don't know which is which. They are technically two different plants and I suppose I'll just wing it and wait until they grow a little more. Note for next year: Don't do that.

Yes, the same thing happened with the leeks and onions. Two different kind of leeks, too. I think it's safe to say this is an onion.

And, yes, we did the same thing with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Oy. We must have been tipsy when we planted the garden? Drunk with excitement, I guess.

Kalibos cabbage, I do know that!

 Such pretty, sculptural leaves. I never really thought about it but the veggie garden is very beautiful. The shapes, colors and textures are amazing!

 Umm . . . I'm guessing broccoli?

Woo hoo! I know this one. Purple of Sicily cauliflower! When they start doing something, I can figure it out but when they are all in leaf, it's pretty difficult. For me. Don't make fun.

Corn! Facilities Manager looooves his corn. We planted I think six varieties. They are: Dakota Ivory, Glass Gem, Top Hat, True Gold and Paraguayan Chipa. This will be an interesting experiment. Many have tassels and are producing tiny ears - we're thrilled. A couple of these varieties are best for flour - that is drying and grinding for polenta or corn meal. Some are great for popcorn, others for grilling and eating.

I kind of feel like a Hobbit in our corn rows.

A few other goodies in the ground that I harvested today - golden beets...mmmm..these are for me.

Japanese long cucumbers, very sweet and low seeds...a wonderful fresh cucumber. Peel 'em, slice 'em, put a little rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and salt - voila, salad is made. Throw a fresh ripe tomato in the mix and it's even better. We're going to have a lot of cucumbers.

Two different kinds of parsnips. A little early to be harvested, but I wanted to see how big they were.

Celeriac? Celery? I think celeriac. I'll eat it and let you know.

Today's harvest. Oh, those large, fat beans in the bowl are another one we sowed. My sister-in-law acquired special seeds from her aunt in Romania. They were simply labeled "magic beans"....they sure are. 

Gnarly ol' tomato.

No idea what kind these are, but they are sweet and oddly colored.

Besides vegetables, we have a few fruit trees producing - columnar apples from my garden friend Darcy of E Garden Go. These are Golden Sentinel.

The three columnar apple trees grace the entrance to the veggie patch.

This is the lone fruit of the dwarf fig tree, also from Darcy.

Oh, gosh, did I mention squash and pumpkins? We have Red Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Winter Luxury Pie, Butternut and Musquee de Provence. Whew! If I get one of each I'll be thrilled. OK, two butternut squash. No, wait, three.

Mammoth graystripe sunflowers tower over the corn. These are easily 8' high and still growing. We've got to grow food for the birds, too, after all.

An unusual "edible" are the rose hips of Rosa pomifera. Their color is so rich, the plant itself so cool that it deserves a place in my garden even without a veggie garden. It is on the edge of the orchard.

The inside of my garden shed door is painted with chalkboard paint, so I had to put it to use. It's true, we really are growing everything on that list. OK, we harvested the garlic, the broccoli might be a dud and the spinach bolted, but they really are all in the ground and growing. It may take a few years to have a full harvest of everything in the orchard list, but they too are all in the ground and growing their little hearts out.

 It's just a miracle to me that these little wisps of green become this:

A full-fledged garden.

In this shot, perhaps you notice that one side of the gate has no fence. Not very effective, but that's ok. The gate was always there, we left it in place. We plan on creating a path through the gate all the way down the edge of the veggie garden and it will divide that from the berry patch and terminate at the other end of the property. The fence will be extended on the open side, right now the gate is more ornamental. The former owner had some fun little glass ornaments that she left in the garden, I added them to the gate to welcome all to the sweet spot.

The magic gate. Seeds are amazing things; I have a whole new appreciation for them. I feel so very lucky to be able to do this, and let me tell you the taste . . . well, there's nothing like freshly picked food that you grew. Nothing like harvesting your own carrots and beans, broccoli and spinach, blueberries and dill. Such simple things, so much joy.

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of vegetable gardening and there is an equal amount of old-fashioned advice that has been passed down through changing generations. They all have something valuable to contribute to the conversation about how to grow your own food. We don't have vast amounts of knowledge, but that's o.k. I have several books that guide us, as well as my Master Gardener training a few years ago, not to mention fantastic advice from friends in the know. We also have curiosity and the willingness to try.

 In the end it's really about finding a good site for your plants and giving them what they want. Nothing fancy here, that's for sure. Seeds in ground, water and sunshine. We happen to have good soil as I discovered when I had it tested, but it still needs a lot of work. No matter, for us it's about getting in there and doing it and having fun.The finessing comes as we learn and grow, and the best way I learn is from the plants themselves, from hands on experience. I guess my point is that if you want to do something in gardening, go for it. No need for permission or the "perfect situation" - you'll be waiting a long time. We are but a couple of humble, simple farmers excited to be growing anything. So, if you are in Saint Helens, stop by and we'll fill you up with veggies. Especially beans, that most magical of fruit. FM might even throw in a Thai Dragon just to surprise you!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Happy gardening to one and all.