Projects, A Few Ferns, An Updated Veggie Garden

This post is all over the place. Apropos, as the garden is, too. Everything is exploding with life and there are so many directions I could go as far as a blog post. Let's catch up with updates on a couple of small projects and look at my plan for the no-till veggie garden, as well as a few observations in late April.

First of all, it has been an unusually dry and warm April up until a few days ago when we received an inch or so of rain. I have a feeling we're in for it this summer with a hot one. Just a feeling. Other observations are that certain plants damaged from the winter, although slow, are making a recovery. A few leptospermums or tea trees are pushing out new growth unexpectedly and so are a couple of ceanothus. Some cistus branches are dying off one by one, but I have a feeling they shall rebound when the heat returns. The phormiums are starting to grow back, though it will be an ugly, long recovery. For the most part, though, spring is bountiful and we enjoy crossing projects from our to-do list.

Last month I mentioned this wood pile that has been here since 2016 will be relocated so FM can build a little pavilion seating area.

While the building aspect is in the works and will be revealed once complete, this is the area without the logs. Wow, it's already so much better.

Light can get in there and it just opens up the whole shade garden.

This was a year or two ago, the only photo I can find with the log pile and the mossy path. Subconsciously I must have excluded it.

Today, now opened up.

FM doing a bit of measuring to determine the height of what will be the roof.

So where did that pile of wood end up? If you look in the distance, it's now in the chicken yard.

Reassembled in the chicken yard. A few observations on the wood pile: We expected a lot of critter nests and evidence of critters but there were none to be found. There were only a few spiders. Very surprising. The super-rotted wood, of which there was very little, was placed around the shade garden to add organic material. The rest of the wood is fairly intact and still heavy after several years of sitting. Perhaps the tarp FM put over it was the reason. I will certainly post updates when the pavilion is complete.

Here the hens are telling me all about how much they love their new wood pile. Well, they're telling me something. Probably more along the lines of "Hey, lady....where's our snacks?"

Another FM project, this time in the veggie garden. He built not only this retaining wall to keep the soil from eroding away in this corner, but also the southeast corner wall that I featured a few weeks ago.

The inside of the northwest corner retaining wall.

He also built a south wall to replace rotting logs that were initially used. I am so happy with this. Thank you, FM.

The east facing corrugated metal retaining wall, rebuilt with some serious structure behind it. Asparagus bed in the foreground, Italian parsley coming up in the center of the asparagus.

Another project of sorts is going no-till with our veggie garden this year. I've wanted to do it for a while but had trouble wrapping my mind around what steps I needed to take. This is the year. While we never really tilled deeply (we only have a little rototiller) the need for fewer weeds, less labor and healthier soil directed us towards rethinking this area. 

Basically we collected leaves and spent chicken-coop straw to cover the open areas last fall. This week we raked them back to create what will be permanent paths/rows. The open soil areas are being given a healthy coating of composted horse manure. I'd love organic compost but have had a difficult time finding it. I need a couple units delivered but darn, I'm coming up short. The local compost company has had terrible compost the last couple of times we've had it delivered. It was full of plastics, garbage and, frankly, I'm done. So a friend has a horse boarding business and composts the stuff, so FM has been picking up a few loads with his truck. Moving forward, I plan on redesigning the whole "rows" thing into more square planting areas with really permanent paths but one thing at a time.

Here are strips of composted areas in between the leafy paths. We plan on covering the soil areas with spent straw and/or leaves as crops are harvested to keep the soil covered as much as possible to prevent weeds germinating. I don't really know what I'm doing here but I have to start somewhere.

One more FM project - he had built a grape support from branches over this gate several years ago but that rotted and fell down this spring. He took a couple metal arbor supports generously given to us by Danger Garden and a bit of bamboo to rebuild it. I realize it's a bit odd in that this is a gate that has no fence attached to it. It was originally part of a flimsy chicken wire fence we removed the first year we lived here and decided to keep the gate on a whim.

A small project I am working on is defining edges to the shade garden with bricks that were given to us by a friend. I'm defining edges and taking names! There's no stopping me now! I'm finally at the point when I have a little time to put energy into small projects such as this, details which I overlooked while building this massive garden.

And now for a few ferns. Austroblechnum penna-marina, syn. Blechnum penna-marina, alpine water fern. This cutie pie is only a few inches high and spreading to form colonies.

Our native maidenhair fern, Adiantum aeluticum has fully unfurled and its black stems can be appreciated.

Dryopteris lepidopoda, sunset fern.

Asplenium scolopendrium, Hart's tongue fern with the cutest curled up fronds.

Polystichum setiferum looks so alien, so cool, with its unfurling fronds.

Adiantum venustum, Himalayan maidenhair fern, while similar to our native maidenhair, is much shorter and can be evergreen in a mild winter.

Cyrtomium macrophyllum, large leaf holly fern, has taken a long time to settle in and look good but it was worth the wait.

Not ferns but shade lovers, too, Vancouveria chrysantha, very similar to the Willamette Valley native Vancouveria hexandra, except this is sort of evergreen and has pale yellow flowers. A very pretty inside-out flower.

A tapestry of foliage shapes and textures including Maianthemum stellatum, Brunnera macrophylla, Saxifraga x geum 'Dentata', Oxalis oregana and Polystichum munitum.

Other random observations: Last year we thought the Cornus nuttallii was on its way out, and decided to give it until this year before we cut off branches, just leaving a snag. Well, lookie there. It's alive and well, though not very dense. A friend mentioned that it probably wants summer water, so I will happily give it some this year to see if that would help. We began irrigating it at the end of the summer last year per our friend's advice, perhaps that helped.

Mirabilis multiflora survived the super cold of January, but then again it is a deciduous perennial with what is reported to be a HUGE root mass/tuber the size of one's arm. I'm so pleased to see it pop up with those rather lovely leaves. I suppose my fear was less about the cold and more that it had rotted.

I am pleased, surprised and excited that the Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' is pushing out new leaves. Perhaps a full recovery is in its future. I hold out hope.

Critter observation: I noticed the berries of Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens' have been munched on. I wonder . . . squirrel, a mouse, ants, slugs, a bird? I've never seen that before.

Clematis recta 'Purpurea' has the best purple foliage. While it will soften to a greenish color in time, this stage is my favorite.

Baptisia 'Wayne's World' was a hit with a garden club who recently came over for a visit. It does resemble asparagus, but I assure you, it's not.

Verdant views all over the place in April.

Finally, a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who came to our plant sale on April 21st and also who shopped the House of Dreams Cat Shelter plant sale on the 27th. We donated bunches of plants to the latter, I hope the sale went well. The greenhouse is now pretty cleaned out (a good thing, I had a lot going on in there) and now I have room to make more plants.

And to think, I didn't imagine I'd have enough to make a blog post this week. Turns out I have about a dozen ideas buzzing around in my brain. Typical for spring, I suppose, lots of energy. OK, now to go plant up that veggie garden. Broccoli starts, here I come.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we do love hearing from you.


  1. delurking and just wanted to thank you for your blog posts--really enjoy your content and beautiful garden and the learning that goes on in our changing climate. I am gardening on an island in the Salish Sea so we have composting sourcing issues as well. Just started reading The Ecological Farm by Helen Atthowe and will be trying her closed system method of regenerating her soil by using cover crops and grass clippings. We do use horse manure from our neighbor who we know only uses natural supplements (vs. synthetic antibiotics, etc.) for her horses. We are what we eat for sure. Atthowe moved away from manure after reflecting on her observations and soil testing concluding it was too much of a good thing--and has relied only on cover crops and grass clippings for her market garden. I'll be testing her theories myself and see how it goes. Hope you have a great growing season and thank you again for your generosity in sharing your garden :)

    1. Hi Chris, oh, thank you for the book recommendation, I will check that out. Definitely food for thought when manure can be too much of a good thing. It's a delicate balance for healthy soil, for sure - when we first had our soil tested they said not too much organic matter which really surprised me. That was years ago, though. Do report back on your observations and thank YOU for commenting, reading and coming along with us on this wacky but wonderful garden journey. We're all learning together, so in that a community is made. Cheers.

  2. Anonymous7:55 AM PDT

    I appreciate the 2nd to last photo, "Verdant views all over the place in April" showing how full the garden has become (the log pile is a nice touch); in a few months this particular angle will be abstracted by the full glory of grasses.
    Over 20 years ago, I used giveaway bricks from a neighbor to define the edges of a few garden beds, so you know I appreciate that design feature :-D
    It is fun to see FM's talent and artistic abilities reveal themselves in varies hardscape projects throughout the garden. I'm looking forward to seeing the new pavilion seating area; I know it will be fabulous.

    1. Anonymous3:16 PM PDT

      Should be 'obstructed' of course...

    2. I'm glad you like that pic, Chavli. I have so many pics of the garden right now that as I mentioned, I am all over the place right now. I wanted to include at least one wide shot so that's the one.

      Giveaway bricks are the BEST. I loooove reusing items, finding homes for seemingly throw away things so it was a joy to reuse those. The seating area...I know FM is hoping for a stretch of dry weather so he can complete the new pavilion. I will definitely post pics once complete. Cheers!

  3. You two are always busy! And I'm always impressed by what you accomplish.

    1. We are always busy...hee hee...I NEED A VACATION. Seriously though, I'm SO happy you'll be attending the Seattle Fling! There's our vacation, right? I'm looking forward to hanging out in person! xo

  4. Marty and I were just discussing what the particulars involved were with "no-till," so learning your approach is timely! And re your log pile, we finally moved our winter debris pile, me admonishing M to watch out for all the critters...and there weren't any! Maybe they all left in late winter/early spring? Your verdant views are amazing! Glad you're finding time for the detail stuff now.

    1. No-till - it's taken me a while to wrap my brain around HOW to do it. I know the why and I'm on board, so I'll keep you posted with mistakes, successes and I'm sure hilarious moments of being a pure idiot. I'm up for it, though! I am a creature of habit so rethinking the steps to make it happen was a challenge.

      So no critters for you in the wood pile, either? Odd, that. I wonder why. We hear so much about critter habitat, etc. - makes me wonder!

  5. Wow, that is a lot of projects and work you've done! I would've expected lots of critters in the wood pile, how great it was clean. The Asplenium scolopendrium is adorable! Your garden is looking beautiful, can't wait to see the new pavilion.

    1. Isn't that little fern adorable? They get better every year, too. Thank you so much, I'll post pics of the pavilion when it's done. Cheers!

  6. I can't wait to see more about the new seating area, it looks like a great spot. So the wood pile, do you use the wood? The new garden structures are fantastic and I am so happy the metal things are getting some use!!! Ferns, *sigh* so beautiful...

    1. I can't wait to see more too, Danger! I must confess, your pavilion was the inspiration! It's so beautiful and while ours won't be that substantial and beautifully built, it will hopefully be a place to relax all the same. And the metal things are getting used - I don't always know how I'm going to use something but there seems to be a million uses for random things around here. As I mentioned earlier I love reusing items, giving them a new purpose. The rest of the metal things I am planning a rose arbor, so be on the lookout for that. Cheers!

  7. Some stunning photos of the garden. Nothing like Spring to bring optimism for the upcoming year. Re: your no till garden. I have done one for 25 years and it's so easy. The key is to keep the soil covered all the time, have designated pathways that are mulched and just keep adding any amendments to the surface. Over time the weeds become less and less. Be aware about the manure though. There are herbicides used in hay to control thistles (Grazon in Canada) that take years to break down even after they have been ingested and the manure composted. It will kill everything you plant so double check what the animals have been eating before using.

    1. Thank you Elaine for your input and experience with no-till gardening. OK, keep the soil covered all the time - check. Designated paths - check. I am skeptical about manure in general (is it composted enough, will it burn, what did the animal eat). So far what I know is the manure supposed to be good, no herbicides, but I may not use manure moving forward. Hopefully I can find a good source of organic compost. I do make my own but not enough. Cheers, thank you again!

  8. FM has a wonderful skill set - truly a remarkable number of projects accomplished. I like the retaining wall idea. Plastics in compost are a huge pet peeve and I detest those stupid little plastic stickers on produce. I purchased compost from the municipal system a few years ago and will never do so again. Still pulling out bits of plastic and most plants seemed to hate it. I much prefer our homemade stuff, though we don't have the volume I would prefer. I think the lonely gate is a nice touch.

    1. FM does have a wonderful skill set, he impresses me every day! He'll be out there sawing, painting, singing along to the radio then BAM I have a retaining wall. He figures it out - how to put something together. He built the chicken coop and the greenhouse too both without any prior knowledge. LOVE that FM!

      Plastics in compost - WHAT THE CORN? Pet peeve of mine, too. I think you and I are in the same boat - prefer the homemade stuff but there is simply not enough. Anyone in Columbia County know a source for really organic compost with no plastics? Give me a shout.

      I like the lonely gate too. It goes to Narnia.

    2. I would be tempted to stay in Narnia if that were true!


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