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?
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.
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.
People without a garden may want to visit natural spaces, maintaining precautions as needed during this period of ‘social distancing’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even dried grasses have a wintry presence. Wait until late winter to cut back.
When I trim grasses, I do so knowing the trimmings will be chopped and used as mulch, not taken away to become compost elsewhere.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Note 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.