Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall color is here!

The O Isami
I've been looking forward to the fall color for the last month, and it started a couple weeks ago with the first yellows, and my big O Isami. It showed a bit more red this year, but it's pretty much gone now. Then some of the grasses and the grape arch lit up, and now the dogwoods and some of the A. palmatum Japanese maples are picking up the color. We haven't had any sharp cold nights here yet, so the colors are just trickling through the gardens and woods a little at a time. That's fine--a nice long fall is a lovely feature. And after the astonishing 8" of rain in September, I haven't had to water anything but my potted plants, and that's been nice. I've had a chance to catch up on my garden chores too, and now I'm leaf-ing the garden, even as I get to murder the young weeds that sprouted after the big rains.

But I'm way behind on my posting, so this is a long one:

Red Dragon, Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus, and Hydrangea Merritt's Beauty
This early morning combination of the Zebrinus flowers, the Merritt's Beauty dried flower heads, and red tints of the A. palmatum Red Dragon was irresistible.

Disanthus cercidifolia
The big Disanthus showed the most color ever this year, and lots of red.

Fog at sunrise
Just a little ground fog on the Christmas trees on the hilltop east of here.

Mixed Panicums and Helictotrichon
Three Panicums turned gold (a fourth on the far right edge) to contrast with the Blue Oat grass.

I love red leaves in the fall
The A. palmatum Hilleri, now taller than I am, and the first palmatum I planted here.

Another view in the afternoon light, showing the bright lime green of the young bark. I had never noticed this color contrast before. While I was weeding around it, I found a tiny baby red-leafed seedling! I marked it with a stick and next year I'll move it to where it'll have a bit more room. Hope it's like its mom!

These were translucent, with delicate sawtooth edges
An old chunk of fir stump or root sprouted these pink mushrooms the other day, and they were so pretty I snapped the photo, not noticing the two big and one tiny slugs having a meal! In the spring and fall I get about a dozen species of mushrooms in my garden, and I have a pretty good photo collection but have only managed to identify a few of them. I've found both poisonous and edible ones, but the slugs and mammals beat me to the edible ones. I'm okay with that.

Anna's? It was 2" - 3" head to butt
This morning while I was planting my winter broccoli starts, a hummer came to sample the pineapple sage hedge next to the veggie bed. When it noticed me noticing it, it flashed its bright red throat at me.

I had my camera with me and miraculously managed to get these photos.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hosta Guacamole

Hosta Guacamole

I got a nice photo of my Guacamoles today and I don't think I've ever posted them before. They really look great this year, better than ever. I love their colors and vigor and unattractiveness to slugs, especially for green hostas.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Time for Fall Haircuts

Bronze sedges, all trimmed up

The bronze sedges (Carex comans) have had a great year. The new babies all grew well and the established ones outdid themselves, growing their long, golden tresses out to amazing lengths. But when I'm out doing fall weeding and breaking up the small branches that have fallen over the summer, I can't do much without getting tangled in those strands, which are frequently as long as three feet. Last spring, just to make things easier for myself, I cut the long leaves off my three bushiest, hoping I didn't mar them for life. I didn't need to worry—those plants were fully as furry this month as they had ever been. So yesterday I broke out my heavy garden scissors and went around giving haircuts. The strands are tough enough that they could tangle and conceivably, in sufficient numbers, choke up equipment, so rather than throw them whole into the recycling bin, I just cut them into finger lengths and left them on the ground for mulch.

I usually don't have to give full haircuts to the orange sedges, because except for their seed stems (which I will cut off when they get in my way), their leaves rarely grow more than 12-14". However, over last winter I bought half a dozen seedlings at a couple of stores that were labeled "Orange Sedge" but turned out to have leaves twice as thick (1/8" compared to 1/16") and twice as long as my old standby orangies. The only thing I can guess is that the polite, refined ones I've had for years are a cultivated variety of C. testacea, and the ones I (and another friend) picked up this year are the original species, substantially larger and a bit rougher-looking. Their coloring is almost exactly the same, and the leaves on the young plants were narrow, so I was easily fooled. I've pulled my miscreants out of the small bed I'd placed them in and moved them to an area where they can compete with each other for space, and not overwhelm their heuchera neighbors, as they were doing.

Fortunately for me, my original orangies, a good seven years old now, had a bumper crop of their own babies this year, which I'm still moving to new locations in the former meadow.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A wonderful summer

Grape arch over the Nikko Blue hydrangea
This has been the loveliest, mild-but-warmest summer I've experienced since I moved here eight years ago. The weather has been very obliging, not too hot, not too windy, not too cool—very dry, but that's no surprise. The heleniums are blooming, the daisies are passing, the crocosmias and some of the daylilies are still going, and the hydrangea blooms are maturing and starting to show their fall hues. The paniculata hydrangeas are in full bloom now, and my oakleaf one bloomed for the first time this year. The Pinky Winky has a dozen big blooms and even my White Dome has one tiny little bloom.

Phloxes watching over the veggie garden
I'm still moving things around that turned out to be too close, and I still have too many plants that I haven't gotten planted yet. But I made a few small improvements in the watering system, and there have been several days when I've been walking through one part or another of the garden and my breath catches because I can't believe how beautiful it is. The lushness of the plantings and the way so many of the plants just keep getting better and better seems a reward out of proportion to the effort I've put into it. I've been working on it the better part of seven years, but it's the plants that turn a planted place into a garden. If they didn't grow, or flower, or come back every year, or change colors in the fall, the garden really wouldn't be much. But they do, and because of that, the jungle and weed patches I used to have, are now a garden.

Merritt's Beauty hydrangea—the three darkest flowers in the
lower right show the actual color of these blooms

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer morning ground fog

Our summer weather is going to hit tomorrow, and that probably means the end of our spring showers. Warm temperatures, dry air, and soon, dry soil, will be the norm for the next 3 months or so. Honestly, it's been long enough since we had a decently warm summer, even I'm looking forward to this one. But a few mornings ago I walked out the back door into a really wonderful late spring morning, with the warm sun and the cool, moist meadow making a mist of ground fog that glowed for a few moments with the pink light of the morning sun.

First light hitting the understory
When the first rays came over the hills and hit the side of my trees, I got these beautiful colors.

Heuchera Licorice flower towers
I have a strip of "Licorice" heucheras in my central back garden, and this is their fourth year there. They are outstanding performers, and look beautiful pretty much all year. If they're getting leggy (hard to believe they're not after such a long time), you can't tell by looking at them, and they make a mass of bloom now that makes me think of fairy pagodas. They're so delicate, but so plentiful that they're still what I'd call a mass, just an airy mass.

Hydrangea Oregon Pride almost in full color
And last but not least, another sign that summer is here is the deep purple heads on my Oregon Pride black-stemmed hydrangea. They start out bright chartreuse and take about a week to color up to this point. My Nikko Blues and half of my other hydrangeas are in bloom or showing their first color. I haven't turned my heated bedpad off yet, but at least I don't have to put my gardening clothes in the dryer to warm them up now before I put them on. Welcome, summer!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Workshop with a Master

I was lucky enough to get to attend a workshop this morning with Patrick Gracewood, a noted sculptor, dancer, gardener, and teacher in Portland. The workshop was on how to site sculpture in a garden, both to show off the sculpture most effectively, and to enhance the garden, particularly by solving problems.

Sculpture arrangement at Gracewood Studio
This arrangement is the first sculpture you see as you enter his garden at the end of a long walkway. It demonstrates how to use sculpture to lead your eyes through a garden, to make you look and move in one direction, or from one place to the next. It also shows how you can combine permanent (as in, heavy and hard to move) sculptures and supports with temporary elements such as this beautiful braided wreath and fresh alstroemeria flower stems.

One of the other demonstrations was how to use a screen to make a feature stand out from the background and focus attention on it. The feature could be anything that has meaning for you—in this case, a beautiful bonsai.

Bonsai Acer circinatum
This large Miscanthus grass makes a great textured background for a special display, but sadly, this bonsai dwarf vine maple doesn't work with it because the texture and level of detail are so similar.

Patrick (right) and friend Tait with teak screen 
However, this oriental-style screen which Patrick made out of scrapped pieces of teak that were to be thrown away both frames the feature and makes a beautiful background for it, with the added benefit of the shadow play of the little tree on the wood.

You can see more about Patrick at, and if you ever have a chance to visit and see his incredible sculptures up close, I humbly suggest that you drop what you're doing and GO. His presentation was unusually interesting and gave me a lot to think about in my own garden. He talked about using sculptures in layouts specifically to make you sit down in your garden and just be in it.

One of the principles he mentioned was the concept of sacred time, or kairos (greek), as opposed to chronos, measured (chronological) time. A garden isn't just decorative, it's profoundly functional in that it can pull you out of the hurry and bustle of your "real" life and make you slow down to the speed of nature, which is much, much slower—like the speed of deep, relaxed breathing.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Trees minus one, plus two

Our Hardy Plant group made another shopping excursion to H&L Nursery here in Beavercreek a few weeks ago—our fourth trip there, I think, in three years. They specialize in Japanese maples and unusual conifer trees and shrubs, but they carry a few other types of trees. I was thinking of getting an Amber Ghost maple and a couple dwarf cryptomeria, but instead I fell for two other Japanese maples. The Tsumagaki has actually been on my shopping list for a while, but I had never seen a Pixie before. The Tsumagaki is in front and the Pixie behind. The Tsumagaki will lose the red edge as we get into summer, I'm told.

Two days ago I went on a garden walk-around in the morning and found a new arrangement of one of my Japanese maple seedlings I've had for four years or so. It was about 5 feet tall and turned orange in the fall for a couple years, but this last year it went gold. The four inch by fifteen foot fir branch that fell smack dab on top of it was heavy enough to split the trunk down the middle, leaving one large branch on each side. I would love to plant one of my new ones there, but what if another fir branch lands in the same spot? That's the problem with gardening under fir trees—occasional death by branch.

I had a really nice moment out one afternoon when the afternoon sun caught the sword ferns and the new leaves on the Forest Pansy redbud. I love the bright colors of spring. Unnamed camellia (beautiful) on the left side, and Rosy Lights azaleas at the bottom.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Enjoying My Garden Treasures

Twin purple rhodies
While it was dry—which was lovely, if a bit worrisome due to the lack of rain—I spent a few mornings out in the garden with my camera, really enjoying having so many beautiful flowers. Every spring the show gets better as the plants grow larger and more beautiful, and are able to make more blooms. I love doing the work of gardening, I love finding and buying the plants, creating the garden, and taking care of the plants, but having them do well and start showing off is like opening presents someone else made for you with magic.

Now that it's raining, I'm inside again, playing with the photographs. Several of them are so pretty I decided to put them up for sale on my art site. If I had any room on my walls, I'd make posters of them and put them up myself. I did order myself a t-shirt with this beauty on it:

Big purple rhodie bud about to unfurl
Some other favorites:
Clematis Asao buds opening

Columbine (Aquilegia) naturalized seedling

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why I love camellias (and hellebores, and...)

The last two weeks have been all about camellias, and we were lucky enough to have an unusually dry March so I've been able to be out there enjoying them. There are some camellia varieties on which nearly every flower is identical to its mates, and others where every flower is like an original painting, and different from every other flower on the plant. The April Dawn, above, is quite unstable genetically and can have pink, white, and pink-and-white flower colors on it all at the same time. In fact I got into an argument with the nurseryman at Kordell's, telling him he had a bunch of mis-labeled plants, until he showed me a 5' specimen that had all three colors on it. The one I brought home has only these white-edged blooms, so I wonder what it'll do next year. This is the only cammie I have where the petals line up in front of each other, instead of overlapping to form a spiral.

There are peony-like camellias, anemone-like ones, singles, semi-doubles, rose-form doubles, and formal doubles that are masterpieces of geometric sculpture. Even just among the japonicas, there's a range of bloom times, so with a collection of six or more, you can have six or eight weeks of bloom. My earliest one, a Chandleri, opened ten days ago and is starting to wind down, but half of the others haven't even cracked a bud yet. I've been in love with camellias since I saw my first ones while in high school, but didn't have any of my own until nine years ago in SoCal, when I started hanging out in the camellia garden at Huntington Garden in Pasadena. One time I visited Nuccio's nursery, a long-time top breeder and supplier, and I would swear they had an acre of nothing but camellia plants. I was fortunate moving here, to end up with a site that seems tailor made for camellias. I think I've planted close to a dozen now, and I just ordered three new bi-color youngsters from another breeder, in North Carolina, Camellia Forest. Cammies thrive as an understory plant in my fir forest, put up with just a few hours of sun, don't have any obvious problems with the heavy clay soil, and the only pest they have here is the occasional root weevil, which stops being a problem once the plants get established. The blooms can be damaged by late frost, and some years I lose blooms, but it's not a problem for the plants. I haven't had to fertilize them at all, except with compost, but I do mulch them with leaves along with everyone else, and make sure they get a bit of summer water. I'm careful to plant mine where early morning sun can't hit them during their bloom season, because sunlight on dewy petals can make brown spots. Thanks to my little fir forest, more than half my yard is perfect camellia habitat. You can prune them as much or as little as you want as long as you do it right after they bloom (or you'll lose next year's flowers), they have gorgeous thick, glossy green leaves, and they're substantial enough to use as part of your garden structure. All that is why I love camellias. And these are just the japonicas; don't forget there are sasanquas for sunnier places, and reticulatas for warmer areas.

The only ones I've lost have been ones that I bought early in the winter, and then had sitting on my back patio until the soil warmed up in the spring. They all seemed to die of frost damage to their trunks, and it occurred to me last fall that it might be happening from alternate freezing and thawing of the cambium because on sunny winter days they would get sun directly on them. So when I bought a contorted camellia japonica in december, I sank the pot into a composting pile of fir needles, in a shady spot where the sun couldn't get to it. It did lose most of its flower buds to frost, but I planted it last week and so far it looks pretty good.

I've heard many people complain about the fallen flowers making big piles under the plants, or about older flowers turning brown before they fall off, and I honestly don't see what the problem is. Maybe they just don't like anything with as many flowers as camellias have. (If you're a compulsive dead-header, a flock of full-grown camellias could be the end of you.) I can't really think of too many flowers that don't start looking bad as they die, and that doesn't keep most people from enjoying them. A carpet of pink or red or white flowers on the ground is almost as pretty as the same flowers before they fall off, and a bush surrounded by fallen blooms looks as if it's standing in a reflecting pool. As the fallen ones turn to brown—they become instant mulch. What's not to like about that?

My early bloomers have been having their best show ever this year. This is the most vigorous grower I have, an unnamed seedling with white-splashed petals, and every flower is unique. I'm going to try ground-layering this one this year, because I don't ever want to be without this camellia, no matter what else happens in my life.

This beauty is called Dainty California. It's not quite as vigorous as the splashed one, but for its size it's become a really prolific bloomer this year.

I noticed this year that after each flower has been open for a couple days, the white background turns to a pale pink, and the petals are so delicate and translucent, they look and feel like fairy wings.

I feel a bit guilty because I haven't been keeping up with my garden blogs when we're two weeks into spring and I've been enjoying my garden so much already. Last month it was all about hellebores bringing my garden to life. Last year I added several new ones in varying shades of pink and green. I also divided the seedling clump from the original one that's been here longer than I have, and spread those two dozen seedlings all over my back yard. Half a dozen of them bloomed this year, all lighter versions of their dark maroon parent. For the first time in my front yard, I finally had the beginnings of a late-winter flower garden outside my front window. The hellebore pair above, from the Heritage strain, were one of the highlights of it.

Down in the back yard, my Double Queen hellebore is done for the year, and I don't remember the flowers turning such deep green last year. I would be very happy if this one would make babies, but so far it hasn't.

Another really great early-flowering plant for this area is the flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, which actually is a northwest native. Mine are all in full bloom right now. They're deciduous, have a much more open structure, and bloom nicely in moderate shade. They're also very tolerant of summer dryness once they get established, which makes them another no-brainer plant. Except for wanting a bit more sunlight than the cammies, they don't seem to be picky about anything. I find these little flowers very charming. When the clusters first start popping out, they look like tiny mittens or socks hanging all over the bare branches, and then as soon as the flowers open, the first leaves come out too.

I hope you're getting to enjoy your garden this year!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ice fog!

Seven days in a row of ice fog and frost! The first few days, the air warmed up enough each afternoon to melt a little of the frost that formed on everything, even though the fog hung around almost all day. But after the third day, the fog here never really cleared for more than a few minutes each day, and some days the temps never even got up to freezing, so the frost stayed.

So each morning the frost was a little bit thicker than the day before. My biggest panicum started out upright, but today on the seventh day, it's totally bent over.

One evening I went to get the mail just before sunset and took my camera with me. I used the flash because I thought it might reflect off the tree branches, but instead it bounced off of every tiny crystal of fog.

Now this is what makes a hardy plant—one of my Queen Charlotte sweet violets, which always bloom this time of year.

Today I took a picture of the frost on one of my glass rings. I thought it was cool how the frost fingers formed an outside ring between a few of the piece ends. I didn't think of touching my tongue to it, but I think I know what would have happened.

Either tomorrow or the next day should be the end. This afternoon the sun was out for the longest it's been in a week, and day after tomorrow, showers are supposed to move in again. Then the ground will thaw, and I'm hoping the nights will warm up to above freezing again.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The season of dreaming

We got another snow shower early this morning that left a half inch on everything. I put my coat on over my bathrobe and went out in my house boots with my new camera. I stayed under the trees to keep it dry. When I got to the back porch there was a small fir branch that had come down in a previous wind gust, candy-coated in snowflakes.

My fingertips really cold, I came back in the house, thinking of the wisdom of winter: take this time to rest, take this time to dream, dream of how you'll grow.