Thursday, March 30, 2017

Take Five: Five Plants that Perform

Working around plants all day, let us hope that I can make recommendations for the hardiest of the hardy plants. Plus, having been through the most punishing winter I can recall, I can tell you what I see first-hand as the clear stand-out winners. I'd like to highlight five plants that perform incredibly well (in my humble opinion). Three of the plants are native to my neck of the woods, two are not but all are tough as nails, easy to care for and still look healthy after the test that was winter 2016/17.

 First up is a new-to-me native, Thermopsis montana. Commonly known as mountain goldenbanner or false lupin, this plant occurs in much of the west in meadows and along stream banks. It reaches about 3' in height and the bees love it. Here, a bumble bee comes in for a landing on a plant I photographed last summer at Joy Creek Nursery. I have since added it to my own garden.

It prefers sun and is great for a wildflower look. It likes wet sites that can dry out in the summer. Perfect for the Pacific Northwest. We had a flat of these out in four-inch pots at the nursery all winter long and they came back strong with new growth this past week. If these survived our winter in four-inch pots outside, they must be indestructible. They did go a little dormant at the nursery last summer when it was extremely hot so I will be interested to see what they do in my garden this year.

  • Late spring to early summer bloom time
  • 3 ft. x 2 ft.
  • Soft Yellow flowers
  • Sun 
  • Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

 The next great plant performer is Erodium chrysanthum. Greg, co-owner of Xera Plants, recommended it to me when I was asking about a plant that can handle a particular pot and situation in my old garden. I have moved three of them from the old garden to this one. I also purchased a few others since then because I am so impressed. They form a mound of soft glaucus foliage reminiscent of ferns early in the season (meaning late winter). They were one of the first signs of life I saw in my garden this past month. Given a mild winter they are evergreen.

 They eventually start their nearly nine-month bloom cycle in spring with pale yellow flowers. This color combination in shimmering tones works for me. Most silver foliage plants tend to have bright yellow flowers, but this is a butter soft, nearly white one. Just lovely. It blends well with so many other plants.

Low growing to only eight or so inches high and a foot or so wide, they are wonderful edging plants for the front of the border. They are also drought-tolerant. I give them full sun and great drainage and they thank me with constant flowering and easy care. This is native to southern Europe. 
  • Summer to mid-autumn bloom time
  • 6 in. x 16 in.
  • Pale Yellow flowers
  • Sun 
  • Zones 7, 8
  • Great Plant Pick 

 Sedum oreganum is my go-to native groundcover and edger for sun to light shade. It looks exactly the same year round, save for a little reddish hints if it's extremely stressed. I can't believe how good this looks after our winter. I knew it was good in my Portland garden, but out here, even with chicken abuse and poor weather, it performs like a champ.

 Here it is pictured in the old garden. It spreads at just the right speed. Not too quickly but it's no slug, either. It crawls along and is so easy to dig a bit up and start another clump elsewhere. Just stick any part of the stem or leaves into soil and it will eventually take root.

 In this photo of the old garden it is at the base of the Hakonechloa macra as a filler. It does just the perfect job of filling in the blanks. It can handle irrigation fine which is another reason I like it - it plays well with others. It also does fine with some drought. 

I used it as an edging all over the old garden. Here it is pictured with Heuchera 'Marmalade' and Uncinia rubra.

Pictured with another Pacific Northwest native Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco' showing they handle similar situations.

  • Midsummer bloom time.
  • 3 inches high x spreading
  • yellow flowers
  • Sun, Part Shade 
  • Zone 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Great Plant Pick 

This is Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly', also known as Heather. It's an evergreen sub-shrub with changing foliage colors. This one is pictured at work, Joy Creek Nursery. Let's look at it through the seasons:

High summer with perovskia or Russian sage. This is one plant, a good 3' across and about 15" high.

This was our first hard frost in December. Still, one of the only things around with winter interest. The long-gone perovskia is in the background.

This was taken mid-winter.

As was this.

This was taken a little later.

Here is a tiny one in a four-inch pot in February. Its strawberry red foliage just shines when little else does. An evergreen plant truly with four seasons of interest, it's one of those great acid-loving plants for the front of the border (with sun) that will not disappoint. It was awarded Britain's AGM Award  - Award for Garden Merit.

  • Autumn bloom time.
  • 18 inches high x 3'
  • Cream to pinkish flowers
  • Sun, Part Shade 
  • Zone 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Great Plant Pick

Oregon sunshine or Eriophyllum lanatum with Hobbes the 20-lb wonder cat for scale. This plant is in my new garden, this is just a month or two after I planted it from a four-inch pot from last summer. It is very happy here in a hot, dry location with excellent drainage. I killed one at my old garden from too much care and water. I thought this one was done for after being buried in snow for so long but it actually looks amazing and is putting on a lot of new growth. Today it's about 2-1/2 feet across and will continue to slowly spread.

For the record, Hobbes is about 2 feet across and continually spreading his jaws to say: "Yeowl!"

This is pictured in my friend Sheila's garden in Hood River, Oregon. We visited her garden a couple of years ago, and you can see other photos from that visit here. This plant definitely draws the butterflies and bees and is a host plant for the painted lady butterfly. Fender's blue butterfly, an endangered species, relies on Oregon sunshine for nectar. You can shear off the spent flowers for a tidier look, but really it is attractive left to its own. It's pretty disease-resistant, too.

Here it is at work, Joy Creek Nursery, where this large patch cheerfully greets customers at the edge of the parking lot. This is from last summer.

Oh-so-tough and still looking good, I don't think you could kill this plant unless you did so as I did, with kindness and too much summer water. Don't fertilize, either. Just good drainage, full sun and watch it grow. It is apparently variable in its height and spread, but all grow in open mounds. Native to the West Coast of the U.S. and farther east to Montana and Utah.

  • May to June bloom time. 
  • 12 inches high x 24 inches wide (or more)
  • Yellow flowers
  • Sun
  • Zones 6, 7, 8, 9

There you have it, five incredible perennials (and a shrub in the case of the heather) that withstood a water-soaked, frozen winter and each plant came back strong. What's looking good in your garden this spring? Feel free to share, we'd love to know! Let's all share our experiences with great plants, that's half the fun of gardening, after all: Sharing with friends.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Farm Updates and the Home Orchard Society

Welcome to spring! What I don't want to talk about in this post is the weather and how awful it's been, other than to explain that the weather is the reason there have been little to no significant updates on the farm and garden as of late. Just enough has happened over the course of this punishing winter, however, to warrant a photo here and there. I also recently attended my first Home Orchard Society fruit propagation fair and, of course, took photos. So, come along with me now as we highlight the positive at spring's arrival.

Frida cam! She's been my buddy a lot out in the garden, a real companion. More on the girls later.

 The Home Orchard Society's fruit propagation fair was an eye-opener. I knew little about them, save for what my friend and colleague Nicole shared. With her encouragement, we both set out on a Sunday Morning to experience this annual event together.

From their website:
If you are a serious orchardist or perhaps a curious hobby gardener, the Home Orchard Society provides you with the best source of information and knowledge, mixed in the context of like-minded friendships, to make fruit growing an enriching experience.

The Home Orchard Society, established in 1975, is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to assisting both novice and expert fruit growers, preserving heirloom fruit varieties, and promoting the science, culture, and pleasure of growing fruit at home. Our original 59 charter members grew into this nonprofit, educational and self-help organization that today has well over 700 members scattered worldwide. The vision of “growing good fruit at home” has taken root.

We always welcome and encourage new members. Check us out.  Get in touch!

The lines were long to get in. Fruit is fun! The anticipation builds.

There was this guy selling root stock out of his truck. Or maybe he was a vendor. At any rate, we overheard people in line talking about what trees they have and what they are after. A whole group of farm geeks! We were in heaven. I was honestly surprised at how many people were there and did not know what to expect.

Held at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds, the same venue as the annual Master Gardener's Spring Fair, so I was familiar with the place. This time instead of crazed gardeners, I was surrounded by crazed orchardists.

So I quickly learned the rules. All the scion wood you want is free, but one per bucket, thank you very much. In each bucket is a separate variety of any number of fruit trees or vines. The idea is to share, to increase diversity and to preserve some of the varieties that are difficult to find elsewhere. I love this idea.

There were SO many varieties of apples. They also had pears, quince, cherries, persimmons, figs, grapes, medlars, plums, kiwis...

So. There I was, excited to get this free scion wood to be grafted to rootstock and have a new tree for the orchard. Little did I know that it's a really good idea to have masking tape and a pen to label what you grab. Uggg. I learned the hard way and ended up with a handful of mixed persimmon and fig wood. At least the pears had labels on them or I would have been dubbed the dunce of the day. As I said, I'm learning and had no idea what I was doing.

The people! By the time we left an hour or so after it opened, many of those buckets were empty. There are hardcore fruit growers out there, I'm pleased to say.

Yay for persimmons! Let's see if I actually end up with a tree or a frankentree. Time will tell in my great experiment.

There was a nice selection of appropriate books.

A lot of the apple wood was specifically for cider making, a very booming business.

See? A whole wall dedicated to cider making tools. Okay, not just cider tools but grafting and pruning tools.

There were a couple of fruit tree nurseries there, too. One Green World was there, among others.

Blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries . . . they had a fine selection.

Local honey and supplies, too. They also had orchard mason bees for sale.

This man was giving a grafting demonstration. He was a very popular booth at this event, it was difficult to get close enough to hear him, but I did manage this photo!

My lovely comrade Nicole! She and her family has five acres in Scappoose and have started a wonderful farm, Ferreira Family Farm. They hope to provide local restaurants and families with the freshest veggies available. They had a booth at the farmer's market last summer but will be focusing on CSAs this year. I've had her produce and it's wonderful. Here she is in line to purchase root stock.

So the deal is this: You get scion wood for free (which determines the variety of fruit tree you are growing) and pay $5 each for the root stock of your choice that is compatible with your scion wood. Then they get grafted on to one another and voila, you have a tree! The reason for this is the root stock determines the size and often vigor of your tree (and disease resistance in many cases). If, in other words you let that apple seedling grow to maturity on its own roots, it will likely get 40' tall and be covered with apple scab. BUT if you could shrink it down to a reasonable size so you can effectively prune it and harvest the fruit, it would be a much better situation. Plus, you will likely have more resistance to diseases. That's why root stock from other trees is used. You rarely if ever get a fruit tree on its own root stock.

Here are my heroes. I took my confused scion wood, purchased appropriate root stock and then got in line to meet these wonderful people. They did the actual grafting and helped to i.d. the "sticks" I was carrying around with me. They also grafted the HUGE scion wood to a teeny tiny root stock (that's what was given to me), which was quite the challenge. No match for these two, however. The idea, for the record, is to graft the same size scion wood to the same size root stock. D'OH!

That wraps up my first fruit propagation fair. Why did I go? To learn about it, the group and to hopefully get a few fig trees. Turns out, they don't need grafting, rather you just root those cuttings. OK. Now I have three mystery persimmon trees (remember I didn't have tape to write their names down on and i.d. the sticks? I went back to see if I could match them up with others in their buckets, but the buckets were empty by the time I got back to do so.) I also have a couple pear trees, so yay! It was fun to spend time with Nicole, too.

Now onto farm business. We have sad news to report. Our dear Betty didn't make it. She was very very ill, we gave her and the flock medication, but after a solid week of suffering, she's gone. We are heartbroken about it, but I think that's how it goes with chickens. They are very vulnerable creatures, to be sure. It is very difficult not to get attached to these girls, but I can see I need to toughen up a bit. Sad no matter how you add it up. She is missed.

The remaining three are in great health, I'm happy to report. Here, I caught them soaking up a RARE sunshine moment.

Did I mention they are laying regularly? Here is Mega Egg, courtesy of Effie, our gray beauty.

Mega Egg! Ha ha...we laughed out loud when we saw this. Turns out it was a double yoke.

 Here's our champ!

On to the gardens. A few days here and there I focused on weeding the meadow area. I know, it looks terrible. Just wait until the sleeping roots below come to life. 

This is my weed pile. I've been slowly and steadily weeding between the wildflower and grass seedlings I sowed last year that have emerged. It's tedious but also therapeutic.

Here's Facilities Manager and his mother, Miss Sharon, who was out for a visit from Idaho. FM was digging a trench for me as we're doing a bit of landscaping at the edge of the garden, more on that another day.

OK, one more bit of sad news. Danger Garden, look away. All of my agaves died this winter. I got very tired of schlepping them in and out of the garage, so kept them all near the house for the winter in a sheltered locale. That was no match for this winter, however, and I lost them all. I have decided I don't really have the time to baby any plants, at least not now. I should have gifted them to those who would properly care for them, but I honestly did not expect them to die. Even the hardy ones in the ground succumbed to 18" of snow and temperatures below 10 degrees. So I move on. There, I said it.

What I'm replacing them with is sepmervivums or hens and chicks of all shapes and colors. They have a bit of spikiness to them and are totally hardy. This lot survived outside at the nursery where I work, so I know they will be fine.

Recent acquisitions: A Chaenomeles 'Hollandia' or quince from Gossler Farms Nursery earlier this month. While it has yet to bloom, the buds and their color is still appreciated.

From Joy Creek Nursery a Drimys winteri or winter's bark. This evergreen tree will reach 20' or so at maturity. It is not very wide, so will be a perfect tree for a location near the house where I can enjoy it out of our bedroom window.

Working for Joy Creek Nursery has taught me to appreciate a whole range of plants I previously knew little about or had much interest in. Pulmonaria 'Benediction', a shade loving woodland perennial with silvery spots on its leaves sports the most glorious blue flowers. If it's really happy it might seed around a little.

Here's my Quercus hypoleucoides also from Gossler Farm Nurseries. I blogged about it last time and wanted to show the specimen I bought. It will be planted once the dead maple is out of the way.

Facilities Manager made me a compost area! I'm thrilled. We use it every day. When I say we, I mean FM, myself and the chickens.

A sweet little surprise I thought I'd share. In the lower southeast corner of the property we discovered a seasonal spring. This is the very corner of the area we are going to plant the vegetable garden and orchard. I decided to keep this intact and add some wood and stones to slow down the trickle and keep water in the soil. I've also planted some Mimulus guttatus or yellow monkey flower, a native bog-loving flower that the bees really dig. I'm turning it into a tiny little habitat. We've seen birds bathing in the shallow pools that we've created. 

Speaking of veggie gardens, I've successfully started seeds! This is early on when they were germinating. Now up and growing away are broccoli, cabbage, onion, leek, celery root and celery starts. I feel like a proud student. 

A bit of my planning...

I leave you with a photo of a frosty violet, taken at my friend Nicole's garden the morning we went to the propagation fruit fair. Winter has left us, spring is here. Let us celebrate by putting on our boots and gardening, once and for all. Yes, it's been a rough winter for many of us. We need this spring more than ever, we welcome it with open arms. Hooray for plants, plant people and their generous spirit. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by people with big gardening hearts. I hope you are, too. They've been my saving grace this winter. Thank you.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I love hearing from you all! Happy gardening everyone, and yes, I can say it finally, happy spring!