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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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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Seeing Genius Loci

 

SedonaTrip1

This October Michael and I travelled to Sedona, AZ. and national parks in Arizona and Utah. It was a journey through geology and I found myself wishing I knew more about geology the farther we travelled.

Driving east from the Las Vegas airport, we turned south towards Sedona from the main highway. The terrain began to change dramatically. Cinnamon, ginger, and eggnog-colored rocky cliffs climbed steeply on either side of the road. At road level, we followed a sparkling, verdant creek. The contrast of colors and the sheer, natural beauty of our surroundings were stunning.

hiking views
hiking views

Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the spa resort where we were to stay for two nights and saw what could have been the front garden of far too many homes in America. Lawn, boxwood borders, hydrangeas and other familiar garden plants surrounded the spa. It was so out of character to the area! It was almost as though there was an abrasive line where their garden ended and the natural environment started. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why didn’t they just work with what they have?” Our local excursions presented an amazing array of native plants. Manzanita’s deep crimson bark and pale gray-green leaves combined with brassy yellow flowers of surrounding groundcovers were gorgeous. Prickly, paddle-shaped cacti were abundant. Blue-gray leaves of Agaves against rusty-nail colored soil took my breath away.

abundant Agave, manzanita, and cacti
abundant Agave, manzanita, and cacti

Seeing the genius loci of a site isn’t difficult. It’s usually rather obvious. So why is it ignored all too often? We owe it to ourselves to pay attention to this critical clue to the design of a garden. It doesn’t mean plants need to be entirely native, but it does mean respecting available resources and character of place.

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Ta-da! The Planted Fern Bench

The Planted Fern Bench
The Planted Fern Bench

The fern bench is fully planted and enjoying some fall rain to get it off to a good start. There will be some plant changes around the bench, as well, as the ‘Autumn Dig’ begins in earnest. Planted in the bench are the following plants: Blechnum penna-marina, Cyclamen coum, Dryopteris affinis ‘Crispa Gracilis’, Mukdenia rossii – variegated form, Asplenium trichomapes, Hosta ‘Eco Salad Bowl’, Epimedium leptorrhizum, Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’, Hosta ‘Chickadee’, and Adiantum pedatum.

Many of the plants will spill over the sides of the bench in time. My intention is that they will cover the edges of the soil-filled box. Next spring I’ll take photos of it when it leafs out once again. I may have to put a temporary cover over it that will shed snow if we get as much as we did last year. I do have concerns about how much weight the bench can hold, which is why we are no longer sitting on it in the first place.

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BurnOut is a Bust

Burnout fertizes the buttercup weed
Burnout fertizes the buttercup weed

After spending nearly $100 in BurnOut to kill 800 s.f. of lawn, I have to report that it is a bust. I have new grass growing in, but worse, is that it did not kill the Buttercup weed (which it touts it will kill). I’ll have to check to see if it has killed all of the viola. So it appears that if I cannot find the 20% vinegar solution that I may have to resort to something like RoundUp combined with CrossBow (what is recommended by our county agent to get rid of non-natives). Ick. I hate using chemicals in my garden. The only way I can justify this is that I have tried the best alternatives and only plan to do it once.

To be clear about how I used the BurnOut, let me state that my first purchase of about $40, was for a gallon of the stuff premixed and ready to spray. I sprayed on an afternoon that was about 80°. The directions say to keep the area dry for at least several hours, which I did. Early the next morning, my sprinklers went on for about 10 minutes. I allowed this because it was going to be another warm day and the lawn sprinklers also water the surrounding plant borders. After at least 5 days of warm weather, it was clear I needed to spray again. When I returned to Portland Nursery to get more, they told me that it is normal to have to reapply organic weedkillers to be effective. This time I purchased the concentrated formula that I would need to mix myself. It was almost $60 for this. The suggested mix ratio is 1 part BurnOut to 2 parts water for the greatest effectiveness. I mixed 3 batches to this ratio and sprayed 2 of the batches on the worst areas of the lawn. The rest I used in some gravel path areas that had weeds. What you see in the photo is after 3 days of warm weather and one day of cool weather resulting in rain. The irrigation system was turned off before the latest round.

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It’s fall – time for garden changes

Cooler nights and crisp morning air is signaling changes to my garden. But I’ve been keeping a list all summer of things I want to change as soon as this 90° weather stops. Yesterday began the change from unmowed lawn with more buttercup and violas in it than grass. Michael never has time to mow it.

Yesterday I purchased and sprayed the lawn with an organic product called BurnOut. It has some interesting ingredients in it that cause lawn to die faster than I’ve ever seen RoundUp do. Clove oil, for one. It leaves a scent of cloves behind, which is much nicer than the usual synthetic chemical smell. Once the plants are all dead, I will rake out as much of the dead stuff as possible, fill in the low spots, seed in some ‘Fleur de Lawn’, and top-dress with compost. The seed is a mix of low-growing flowering plants and short perennial rye grass. It may need mowing once a month and needs very little water. Doesn’t this sound like a much more sustainable option than a standard lawn?

The lawn is dying ever so slowly. Grasses are tough plants!
The lawn is dying ever so slowly. Grasses are tough plants!

I have a client who has seeded it over the back of his very steep property, too. It is touted as a good erosion-control groundcover. Another plus. As seed begins to come up, I’ll post another photo. In the meantime, see the dying grass that I sprayed 25 hours ago.

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