Gardens as Solace and Refuge

Stroll garden
Our stroll garden is an inspiring place for a walking meditation.

Most gardeners have an emotional attachment to their gardens. I certainly do. And who of us has not used their garden, during a difficult time, as a place to think-or maybe not think and make all thoughts disappear into weeding, raking or planting?

Rake at the ready
Rake at the ready as more plants get their annual spring chop.

The virus, COVID-19, has coincided with some dire circumstances in my immediate family, but even if it were just the virus, it’s enough for me to focus more time at home and in my garden. I’m lucky I have a garden in which to immerse myself now and a pet who enjoys meandering through it with me. Many of you reading this do, too. 

Oscar, our puppy cat
Oscar, our faithful puppy cat, loves to walk through our garden with me.

Some hospitals have ‘healing gardens’. I have never figured out why they are uniquely healing, as I believe that just about any garden can have that effect. But, on the rare occasion I’m in a hospital, I will visit them to become soothed.

The Chelsea Physic Garden
While the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London, England, is not within the confines of a hospital, it is a treasure to meander through and learn more about healing plants.

People without a garden may want to visit natural spaces, maintaining precautions as needed during this period of ‘social distancing’.

Egret and blue Heron at our local pond
The egret and the heron have not heard of ‘social distancing’ as they are clearly not practicing it. But what a delight to visitors to see them together!

However you connect with Nature, it is there for us during difficult times to make us whole, however that may be defined for each individual.

Pond Turtles
Turtles on a platform getting a good dose of sun while they can in late winter.

If you don’t have a garden, now is a good time to create one. Then you can apply the recent advice of my friend, Naomi Brooks: “Weed when you need to think, no pruning when you’re angry, and edge to recapture a sense of control.” Something tells me I have a lot of edging in my near future.

Neighbor's borrowed view
A borrowed view to our neighbor’s flowering tree is a welcome sight during a pause in edging a border..
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IT’S TIME TO CUT BACK

My cutting back period is typically Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day and this week I chose to cut back lavender, my bird topiary, and a bunch of grasses, so I can prepare for planting.

Before lavender is cut back

Lavender is one of those evergreen woody ‘perennials’ that needs to be cut back hard every year to regenerate the plant-right down to new growth closest to the center of the plant. Otherwise lavender turns into a twisted mess of wood in about 5 years and you have to replace it.

After being cut back-and even then maybe it could be cut back more sharply.

I trimmed the bird topiary lightly and then took a photo to study its shape. Note my red lines which are the guide for its final trim.

Red lines help guide how I’d like to improve its shape.

Even dried grasses have a wintry presence. Wait until late winter to cut back.

Big, bold grasses add structure even during the winter.
Smaller grasses add texture and increase the definition of evergreen shrubs.

When I trim grasses, I do so knowing the trimmings will be chopped and used as mulch, not taken away to become compost elsewhere.

Plenty of grasses mean plenty of mulch for plants that need protection from evaporation during hotter days.
One last thing to remember, there’s a different technique for cutting back herbaceous grasses from evergreen grasses. On the left is Japanese Blood Grass (and prefers moist soil). It turns brown in winter. Cut it back to about 3″. On the right is Sesleria autumnalis (which tolerates drier soil). It is evergreen but has some die-back which makes it unattractive. Cut it back to 6″. Don’t cut it too short or it can die from crown rot.
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Opening My Garden

Near the house, our fire-pit area has plenty of seats and a red umbrella for a little shade in the hottest part of the day.
Near the house, our fire-pit area has plenty of seats and a red umbrella for a little shade in the hottest part of the day.

Belonging to a gardening group such as the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon offers an opportunity to share your garden with other members. Each year the HPSO committee creates a booklet containing a list of gardeners willing to open and share their gardens from late spring to early fall for that year. Gardeners must make their decision in January, allowing the committee adequate time to create the booklet.

A swath of blue oat grass surrounds an ornamental pot with some attention getting succulents.
A swath of blue oat grass surrounds an ornamental pot with some attention getting succulents.

This year I decided to open my garden since I hadn’t done so for the HPSO in several years. In January, all things seem possible. The reality is that it always comes down to the wire with doing the best you can manage with whatever Mother Nature and life has dealt you during the intervening period. So plans to remodel and paint both pergola and patio fence, relocate the blueberries to the crop circle to create a bocce court, and sand & paint the decks succumbed to being too busy with garden design clients. Removing two of the three overgrown (and invasive) English laurels left a large space on which to spend the limited resources of time and money. Many garden areas simply needed an infusion of a few plant replacements: either new or relocated. Some areas just needed to be ripped out and re-done. Plants needed to move to new areas to be more successful. I’m not telling gardeners anything they don’t already know. This is the life of a gardener.

 

Attending an open garden often creates expectations that the garden must be in a perfect state. In a small garden, that is more likely the possibility, as the amount of required resources isn’t as demanding. However, in a large garden, such as mine, resources required to do everything one wants to do can leave one in a pauper’s state. And with our numerous mature Douglas firs, the fir debris alone is a constant maintenance issue. I also believe that gardeners should not be intimidated by these expectations because seeing a portion or two of a garden in an unfinished state offers opportunities for learning that might not otherwise be visible. This would not be the case for a show garden or a garden where people are being charged to enter (necessarily), but for a garden club where members share their gardens, this practice should be more common. I have visited some public gardens when only the irrigation system was visible at the end of February. However, I saw volunteers pruning, preparing soil, and was able to analyze the irrigation layout. Very educational!

At our patio, a copper-finished set of steel screens with Japanese family crests keeps the mood Asian in a refreshing way.
At our patio, a copper-finished set of steel screens with Japanese family crests keeps the mood Asian in a refreshing way.

On the adjacent deck are comfortable rattan red-orange chairs with a gurgling pot nearby.
On the adjacent deck are comfortable rattan red-orange chairs with a gurgling pot nearby.

Heleniums were at their peak near our Thai spirit house...where good spirits greet garden visitors.
Heleniums were at their peak near our Thai spirit house…where good spirits greet garden visitors.

The large grass circle in the foreground generated a lot of discussion around sustainable turf grass and what is considered desirable aesthetically.
The large grass circle in the foreground generated a lot of discussion around sustainable turf grass and what is considered desirable aesthetically.

The day my garden was open (several weeks ago on a perfect August day) I had roughly 50 people visit, which kept me on my feet talking with other gardeners for the full 5 hours. Many plant questions were answered, gardening advice was shared, lemonade and gingersnaps were dispensed, and everyone had a delightful time. Enjoy the photos from the day!

No garden is complete without a little sense of humor. A few of my commonly used tools...to protect 'in case of dragons'.
No garden is complete without a little sense of humor. A few of my commonly used tools…to protect ‘in case of dragons’.

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My Arms Look Like Hoses

Rosa 'Paprika' loves it dry.
Rosa ‘Paprika’ loves it dry.

About this time of the summer, as wave after wave of heat descends on the Pacific Northwest, I find I spend an inordinate amount of time at the end of a hose. So much so that I begin to feel that in lieu of arms, I have hoses. This year has been worse than most because I decided to turn off the irrigation system and water by hand.

Purposely not using the irrigation system may seem foolish, but much of the system needs to be revised and repaired. Rather than waste water shooting in the wrong direction, I’ve opted into the more time consuming method until we can make repairs in early spring.

Feathery flowers of Stipa gigantea
Feathery flowers of Stipa gigantea

Epiblobum (aka Zaushneria) will bloom until Thanksgiving without a hard frost. Hummers LOVE it!
Epiblobum (aka Zaushneria) will bloom until Thanksgiving without a hard frost. Hummers LOVE it!

What I’ve discovered is many plants didn’t need the amount of irrigation I had programmed. Often I was over watering an entire zone for the sake of one plant (i.e. Astilbe or similar thirsty plants). The entire driveway garden has not had any additional water this year other than the two cloud bursts associated with infrequent thunderstorms. The only plant that has suffered so far is a daylily up near the top whose roots mingle with a Douglas fir tree. I’ve decided that I will move that daylily to an area where it is not as dry and allow more Euphorbia characias wulfenii to seed in there, with perhaps some red-orange Kniphofia. These are two plants already in the bed that are doing well. Also included in the mix are Stipa gigantea, Eryngium giganteum (although I’m considering its purge due to its slutty ways…it is also known as ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’), masses of orange lilies, carpet rose ‘Paprika’, purple asters, Blue Star junipers, Coppertina ninebark, Berberis ‘Sunjoy Gold Pillar’, Epilobum (Zauschneria), 3-Yucca ‘Color Guard’ in red-orange pots and a newly planted  Callistemon. The border is about 5’ deep at the top, tapering to 2’ deep about 75’ down the driveway. Then is widens again as it gets beyond the property line row of arborvitae that my husband planted when we first moved here 24 years ago.

So while the rest of my garden gets pampered with additional water, this is one area that gets very little and still thrives.

Yucca 'Color Guard' sits in 3 pots that act like exclamation marks along the border. Note the orange (glass) flower...so unusual for a Yucca...wink, wink.
Yucca ‘Color Guard’ sits in 3 pots that act like exclamation marks along the border. Note the orange (glass) flower…so unusual for a Yucca…wink, wink.

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Sharpen the Pruning Shears; I’m Ready for Spring.

It’s late January in case you hadn’t noticed. The days are getting a little longer and there’s a wee bit more sun. Time to prune!

It's no mystery why grasses need to be cut back this time of year. They've been hammered by wind, rain, a little snow and ice.
It’s no mystery why grasses need to be cut back this time of year. They’ve been hammered by wind, rain, a little snow and ice.

I’ve already begun with hellebores, which if I don’t clip off the old leaves, the new flowers will have a rather dismal looking skirt. Once I’ve finished with the hellebores (they are in multiple locations in my garden and I probably have at least 40 of them), I’ll begin to cut back the grasses. There are many of those, too. I’ll probably cut back the evergreen ferns…especially the sword ferns…as I cut back the grasses. Then there is always the issue of clearing all of the piles of clippings during the process. Clean up as you go if you can.

Worn leaves on hellebores detract from their flowers. So cut them off now. You'll be rewarded with a fresh flush of new growth after flowering.
Worn leaves on hellebores detract from their flowers. So cut them off now. You’ll be rewarded with a fresh flush of new growth after flowering.

I will also prune or even remove the Betula youngii that I’ve had in place for so many years. When I planted it I didn’t look up how big it would get. That would be de rigueur for me today. I recall seeing a mature specimen at the Blodel Reserve, further north in WA State. It was quite large. This is when I knew that eventually I’d be in trouble. So several years ago I planted a Viburnum which will get to around 8′ tall and have been allowing it to get larger every year at the edge and a little beneath the tree. Now it’s large enough that if I remove the tree, the Viburnum will shade the plants that the tree has shaded. It will also not shade the Puritan rose a little farther away which means it will perform better, too.

Yes, it’s mid-winter and the livin’ ain’t easy. But summer will come and there will be those magical days that I so enjoy outdoors. And maybe I’ll have a little more time to sit in the garden and enjoy it.

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It lives! Spring is on its way…

I try to take a stroll in my garden every day. At this time of year I am on the hunt for anything in bloom. On recent walks, I’ve discovered the following:

Hamamelis 'Diane'

colorful Hamamelis ‘Diane’ with its thread-like red blossoms

delicate Cyclmen coum

Cyclamen coum

fragrant Viburnum bodnantense

Viburnum bodnantense

Others I’ve discovered are Sarcococca (can’t miss its fragrance), Galanthus, and Petasites. And it’s only February. Woo-hoo!

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Open Garden = Hard Work + Satisfaction

So where have I been since May? During the first week of June I traveled to Spokane, via Richland to visit family and Moses Lake to visit friend, Bruce Bailey (Heavy Petal Nursery), then speak to the Inland Empire Gardeners. The following week I took off for California to visit more family. On the way I stayed in Santa Rosa. From there I visited Cornerstone in Sonoma and then Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. I spent the rest of June frantically getting ready for an open garden.

Visitors wander through the garden past the crop circle.

When you have a large garden (ours is roughly 2/3 of an acre), getting your garden presentable is an exercise in patience as well as exhausting. This past winter killed nearly every zone 8 plant in my garden – and there were quite a few. Many had been in the garden for over 10 years, so were mature specimens. They left large holes. The Tetrapanax ‘snag’ I left because it is actually kind of interesting and the birds like to perch on it. (I’m finding new Tetrapanax popping up from the roots as of the first of July.) Our long, cold & wet spring meant waiting to get the dead plants replaced. Constrained by less time and diminishing budget meant that not all was perfect for the preview tour on June 30 even with many volunteers. I owe a HUGE thank you to all who helped get the garden ready for that day! I had until July 10 to complete the remaining garden tasks before the big ANLD (Assoc. of NW Landscape Designers) garden tour. It was open to the public for the price of a ticket to see 6 other gardens. The proceeds benefit the student scholarships that ANLD distributes each year.

A Lutyens style bench in red-orange says come and sit a spell.

A view towards the Sunset award-winning pebble mosaic and the garden beyond.

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Singing the Blues

Meconopsis betonicifolia

For the past several years leaves of my Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) have shown up on schedule, but without any flowers. Mind you, when I first planted this stunning perennial, I did what I was told. I snipped off any flower buds. The second & third year it flowered beautifully. Then no flowers for about 4 years! Last year I noticed the plant was putting on another rosette or two of new leaves. This happened after I eliminated some of the encroaching Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’. This year – ta da! – a glorious blue flower appeared with more buds to follow along its tall stem.

This is not a plant for non-gardeners and people who just like to look at their gardens while someone else cares for it. This plant doesn’t grow everywhere either. In the United States, the Pacific NW (where I live) is one of the few locations where it can be grown. Then you have to site it just right. It prefers mostly shade, but it likes a little morning sun. Acid, moist, well-drained, humusy soil, and cool temperatures are additional aspects to consider. If you have the patience, these flowers are well worth the wait.

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More than a pretty picture: The Ruth Bancroft Garden

BancroftGarden1Last Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Beyond the amazing plants I could see and photograph were considerable, as yet, winter-covered plants. Many plants still had their protective, plastic-covered frames over them, providing me with good ideas for how to do the same in my own garden. The 2 x 2 frames had heavy plastic, typically used to cover a hoop house, stapled all around the frame, but about 2 inches from the ground to allow air circulation.

Beautiful Yuccas, Agaves taller than me, blooming Aloes and many other succulents caught my eye everywhere I looked. Even on a cloudy, cold afternoon, I could feel sunshine emanating from these plants. Even the gorgeous bark of Eucalyptus felt sunny. I can hardly wait to go back and see this garden in the summer! Enjoy the virtual visit through these photos.

BancroftGarden2 BancroftGarden3

BancroftGarden4 BancroftGarden5

Above right is a photo of one of the plastic covered frames. Note the space near ground level.

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Balance and Focal Point

Yesterday’s 2 hour garden activity involved the movement of one tree, Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’, and several columnar conifers: 2 Chamaecyparis ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ and 2 Alberta Spruces (Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’. The tree is being located to spread its lovely branches and shield the view of a less-than-charming storage shed. The re-arrangement of the conifers involves creating garden punctuation. One spruce now accents the end view of a curvaceous path and the other balances a view towards the pebble mosaic. ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ now sits on either side of the front walkway. This conifer’s unique penchant for looking a bit like a Saguaro Cactus adds an element of whimsy to a garden. This is entirely appropriate to the front walk with its refocused emphasis on the peacock topiary as the primary focal point of the entry garden, ‘Peacock Walk’.

PeacockTopiary2Note that the peacock is still flanked on the right by the Summer Chocolate Albizia. With the Albizia removed, that distraction is gone.The photo shows a drain channel at the ready to become a rill from the downspout. The downspout will be replaced by a rain chain, which will allow water to flow into the large copper pot. Through holes at the bottom of the pot, stormwater will flow into a catch basin, then into the rill, and finally out to a rain garden. Note the copious use of Carex ‘Toffee Twist’ in front of the topiary. This allows the peacock to take center stage. More photos to follow as this project continues into completion.

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