Monday, September 17, 2012

The garden relaxes

The central back garden, Corylus "Red Majestic" in front
I wanted to use the word "blowsy" to describe my garden now, but it has too many pejorative meanings in the dictionary. I don't want to insult my garden, just because its display has peaked for this summer and it's a little unkempt. I think whoever gave the word those meanings spent too much time reading dime novels about "fallen" women. But I love the word for its meanings of "untidy in appearance, frazzled, scrubby, bedraggled, unstylish".

My garden is all of the above, and there's no part of it I don't love. The spent and faded flowers, the ripening fruits, the overgrown enthusiasts, the sagging branches, the toasty scars of this summer's dry wind, the floppiness of almost everything, the scraggy hopefulness of the new transplants and the ones I moved too late for their liking—they're all beautiful, in a forgiving, make-the-best-of-it way. My garden is relaxing, as I am. It's worked hard this year, rooting, branching, blooming. It deserves to let its hair down now, to look a little frumpy, to take a nap before it's time to dress up for fall.

The sun, too, seems to be taking it easier. It's still hot—plenty hot—but it gets up later, doesn't get as high in the sky, no longer hitting all the places it reached a month ago. And me? I get up with the sun, sort of, and I'm winding down, definitely. Besides, I don't work if the temp is over 70 unless I really must. My days right now are full of painting and watering, waiting for it to cool off again before I finish the planting and start transplanting the trees I want to move, and digging up the shrubs that I know now are going to get too big for where I put them.

The plants and I, we're waiting for the rains, hoping they come while it's still warm, hoping they come gently and friendly-like, and not with fierce winds and soggy, spitting cold. The season changes here can take a month, or they can take a day. All we know is that winter will come, whether we have a fall or not. And when the summer has been this gorgeous, this delightful, it seems greedy to ask for a wonderful fall on top of it. We can secretly hope, though.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Best hydrangea year ever

Nikko Blue

We had such a mild winter this last time that none of my macrophylla hydrangeas got frostbitten, no buds dropped, nothing. They started growing early in the spring, never got nipped by late frosts, just kept on growing and budding. When June came, so did the big mops of blossoms, one on top of another, buckets and bundles of hydrangeas, everywhere I looked, in light blue, dark blue, white, lavender, violet, blue-violet, red-violet and purple. The ones shaped like big round mounds, the ones that were odd collections of previously frozen sticks—all were lush and lovely with blooms.

The Merritt's Beauty was one of the fullest ones, three years old and never frozen. Its buds first showed a combination of striking deep sapphire and white, then opened up gradually to a rich, even cobalt blue.

Merritt's Beauty

Many of them I have no names for, grabbed here and there at plant sales and clearance bins, even florist shops in department stores. The blue-violet one in the back I call the bigger-than-your-head hydrangea because a fully mature flower head is big enough for me to wear as a hat.

Unknown or unnamed varieties, early in the season with still normal-sized blooms

There's a long row of mopheads planted in the section I call the grotto, where the soil stays wet in the summer and there's little sun.

More unknowns

My grandmother had two big blue mopheads growing outside her apartment near the southern California coast; I first saw them when I was in junior high, and I'd never seen any flower that I thought was so beautiful. From that first sight, I wanted some. I never had a chance to grow them till I moved to Oregon, and as soon as I started gardening here I started buying them and planting them. I lost several during the hard freezes of '08 and '09, and it's a constant chore to keep them all watered during the dry season. More than once I've thought of how much easier my summers would be if I didn't have to worry about them. But they're so gorgeous, those great swaths of blues and purples, fading to green, blue-green, slate-blue, and mauve through late summer and fall, till they finally go brown and slowly fall apart over the winter—I can't imagine my garden without them. Even when the two-day hot, unrelenting wind came in August and crisped bits of all of them, I knew that next year—barring a really bad freeze—they'll all be back again, bigger and bluer and better than before. If we ever have a serious drought, I may lose all of them. But until then, I'll just keep loving them.

Summer winding down

This has been a beautiful summer for the garden, and thanks to the mild temps I've been able to spend a lot of time out in it. Finally, I've been able to go out and really feel that I'm in a garden. There are still plenty of unfinished and unsightly areas for me to keep working on, but there are spots that are pure joy.

Now I'm trying to catch up on my blogging, which I'm sorry I neglected, because I've had so many great hours out there I can't count or remember them all. I have a backlog of photos to post, so this may be an out-of-sequence hodge podge for a while.

One of my go-to plant groups is Carex grasses. I have 6 or 7 species now, and orange sedges are one of my favorites. They grow in every kind of soil I have, and seem very tolerant of inconsistent watering. And nothing eats them. I was able divide a couple of my bigger ones this year, and every year I find at least a couple babies in the spring. Most of them turn out to be bronze rather than orange, but I have plenty of places to put them. The more sun they get, the more orange they show. The Bowles Golden sedges are happy where they get regular water and plenty of shade, and they don't seem to care about how soggy their site gets in the winter. I have quite a few bronze sedges; some of them were here when I moved in and they just keep going, and I usually get at least a couple new babies, just like the orangies.

Carex testacea, in morning light
Bowles Golden Sedge
Bronze Sedge
I found a new plant to love this year. Actually I had one, a Bergarten Sage, already growing in my Ruth Stout veggie garden, but this year I realized just how tough and versatile this plant is. It spreads slowly—mine is about 18" wide now—tastes great in cooking, and like the carexes, seems ready to grow anywhere, whether I take care of it or not. I bought four more of them and put them in various spots around the garden where I'd like to have a no-care ground cover. Where they get enough sun, they pop out with beautiful blue flowers in midsummer that continue to look decorative after the petals fall off.
Bergarten sage
I tried two other sages this year—they're so cheap—a purple sage I put into a mostly-shady spot where it won't get much water in the dry season, and the pineapple sage I put just outside my veggie garden, where I really didn't expect it to do much. It does get watered every other day there. Imagine my surprise when it got two feet tall and a foot across, and still has the wonderful light fragrance from which it got its name. I haven't tried it in cooking but I certainly will. I bet it would be wonderful in rice or curry. A friend confirmed that it grows beautifully in her garden as well, has for a couple years, and gets covered with red flowers in the fall. I look forward to that.

Pineapple sage embracing a small blue spruce

Just a couple weeks ago I went on an HPSO trip to Sebright Gardens in Salem, where I found this adorable little Pinus strobus "Vercurve". I'm positively silly about curly-needle pines and this little cutie will only get a few feet tall in 10 years.

Pinus strobus "Vercurve"