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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ephemerals- Now You See Them, Now You Don't

Ephemeral plants work very well  in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), since most start growing from seed from fall to early spring when the rainy season begins, or emerge from bulbs or tubers from late winter to early spring, bloom in spring, then by the time the dry summer weather arrives go to seed or dry up and go dormant until the next rainy season.  This means they require no irrigation and also they start growing before the terrible weed grasses, my biggest weed problem, have started to grow, so can suppress them once they are established enough to come up thickly.  My favorite plant for this is Anemone nemorosa.  They grow from underground rhizomes that look like little woody sticks.  I started out with just a few from a friend, and over time they multiplied extraordinarily to become dense stands of delicate leaves sprinkled with colorful flowers.

 I started a program to dig them in summer when dormant and then I replant the area sparsely, and use the extra rhizomes to plant in other beds.   Those come up the next year sparsely, but bloom-
They can transform a very weedy grassy bed-

 into a delightful patch of flowers that suppress grass, but do best in shade to part shade-
The blue-purple variety 'robinsoniana' is delightful-
As is the frilly variety 'vestal' with a pompom in the center, ethereal but less vigorous, so rarer, than the others-

I surveyed some of my beds that used to be overrun with weeds, some of them are getting close to being filled in sufficiently with successful plants to keep weeds from coming in.
But my long front bed where I killed grass over one winter with newspaper and black plastic had too much exposure to the large lawn area and the irises, roses, daylilies, and fig trees I planted there didn't cover the ground enough to shade out invading grass, so it is a nightmare of reinvasion-
Mulching with newspaper can help a little, here some Ajuga and Columbine are valiantly waging war on weeds for me, maybe they will make it-
Columbines can do a fantastic job of self-sowing, I tried scattering the seeds in the front bed last year-
They are the scalloped leaves with slight purple tints on them mixed in with the Ajuga.

Another ephemeral that I am enjoying is Lunaria annua, the Money Plant.  I have 2 colors, white and the usual purple.  They sow themselves delicately and like shady places, so are a welcome accent with heart-shaped leaves.  And after the seed pods dry out, they make lovely silver dollar-sized shimmering dried floral arrangements.  I also learned they have an edible tuber like a parsnip-rooted parsley, and may actually try some out this year.
 The white ones are coming up more thickly, but I don't consider either one as problems, they are sedate self-sowers.
Then there is the queen of the native ephemerals, Trilliums, which make a lovely bouquet and have deepened here to a magenta from their initial white.
Then there are the incredibly elegant Bleeding Hearts, which at least here are not in evidence much in the heat of the summer.
  And who could forget these blue charmers, which are too aggressive in their exuberance and have to be yanked in late spring because of their decline into grey masses of mildew-
I just love the borage family.  I'm not going to go into all the bulbs which fit this category.

Happy gardening, Hannah

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Even Thorns Can Have Serendipity

Today I took on the unpleasant task of removing some diseased roses.  I have 5 climbing roses on a deck.  Last year I had to cut a lot of dead wood out of Reve d'Or from some unknown disease, and this year he was all dead except for one twiggy cane from last year.

 He had been vigorous and a good bloomer of peachy blossoms, this is 2008, so it was sad.

But he was very thorny, and was always catching my clothing or hat when I went by.  I have a painful knuckle where he got me today with a thorn through my glove.  But I was very surprised to find on the thick base of the plant a nice clump of Turkey Tail bracket fungi, which makes a nice medicinal tea.
So I broke them off and need to trim them up, then I can actually try making the tea!

Next rose over is my favorite, Zepherine Drouhin, who has the distinction of being first and last rose to bloom in my garden as well as keeping a few blooms all season of a lovely hot pink.  This is the first flush in 2008.  She shows little sign of the disease.

 Peeping out on the left is the magnificent red, Dublin Bay.  He is younger a few years and a slower grower.  His blooms are a fantastic red and very long-lasting on the bush.  He shows almost no signs of the mysterious disease.  He was finally achieving the height of the deck in 2008, which gives him better sunlight.
Next rose down the line is similar to Reve d'Or in color but a deeper peach, Crepuscule.  She was very beautiful in full bloom (2008) but also very susceptible with only one new little cane untouched.
She has very lovely coloration, deeper in the center.
On the far side of the overbearing Hall's Honeysuckle and therefore in too much shade is a rose that was supposed to get very large but has not yet, same age as Dublin Bay, Awakening, with a smaller light pink bloom.   Someday when she makes it to the top of the deck perhaps the additional light will spur her on.

But a newer addition to the garden, a NO ID once-blooming white rose, has been vigorous growing on one of my deer fences, and was knocked over last year when my husband was taking out a hornet's nest, necessary in spite of hornets being valuable in the garden for eating pest insects, because it was too close to foot traffic and hornets were aggressive and stung 3 people.    Perhaps it will fill in where the other roses are missing.  Once-bloomers do have a vigor of bloom that compensates a lot for not reblooming.  I freed a couple of heavy T-posts when I removed the Wisteria and Silverberry that I used to strengthen the fence and hold up the rose, so it should put on quite a show again this year, thanks Carol O.
Present also by the deer fence are the short climber Fourth of July, with fireworks-like splashes of red and white, Austin roses Evelyn and Heritage, fragrant pinks, and the large and magnificent Apricot Nectar.  Hopefully they will not be affected. It is good to see new growth, and new hope springing forth.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

It seems once I got started cutting back hopelessly overgrown and out of place plants, an addictive desire to chop has taken hold on me...  I have to start somewhere in spring to build those gardening muscles back up, anyhow.   I meant to trim my gigantic Silverberry, Elaeagnus ebbingei, left, but it is overgrowing its neighboring Aronia plant, which has fantastically healthful berries,  on the right, and had to be cut back drastically last fall just to reach the berries-

It is also running over the delightful rose Betty Boop on the other side, which has white petals edged in rose that fade to cream petals aged in peach.   I had to face the facts, horrendous trimming will have to keep happening every year as long as it is there.  So I got out my loppers and folding saw again and spent a couple of hours lopping off branches and a couple more sawing through the bark and breaking off the ones over 1 1/2 inches that were too big for the lopper.  Then I decided the ducklings were getting totally carried away with the newspapers and chipped the branches so I would have wood chips to put in the ducks' box.   I also raised the ducks' water with 2 bowls so they couldn't keep flooding the box.  Now the spilled water is going into the bowls instead.

I decided this more substantial trunk deserves having my husband assist with the chain saw for final removal.  Still a few branches left to cut off first.
Aronia are free and clear.  They will thank me with berries.  Silver chaos of shorn branches and leaves on the ground.  Since they are thorny they are good candidates for my shelter program- instead of chipping all the branches I will pile some up somewhere I may want to smother some weeds, and create a brush shelter for little critters to escape from the cats.  Before cats I used to see 3 kinds of lizards in my yard- Sceloporus (Fence or Spiny Lizards), Elgaria (Alligator Lizards, fierce and large), and Eumeces (Skinks, long, skinny, shiny and smooth), in addition to the occasional salamander and lots of garter snakes, which were becoming scarce but have been making a comeback since my brush shelter program was implemented.  Putting tarps on the ground or mulching with newspapers also helps provide shelter for the garter snakes.

 It was sad to chop down the Silverberry since I do actually have lots of room and the Silverberry has lovely evergreen leaves with silvery undersides.  Its main draw is the wonderful fragrance that wafts from it in fall.  But you should have seen the disaster after a really heavy snowfall bowed all the unpruned branches to the ground.   Fortunately in addition to the silvery form I also have E. ebbingei variegata, with yellow edges to the leaves and a much reduced size and vigor, to continue to perfume the air.  Here it is behind and contrasting well with Berberis thunbergii, with also a weeping Mulberry,  and low Bird's Nest Spruce peeping out above the feathery variegated Phalaris grass in front, which can be invasive but in the right place will defeat a lot of those pesky weeds and make a nice full ground cover.  The Euphorbia wulfenii on the right has browned out from it's early spring chartreuse.

So, I have to make up for one of many garden "Oops!" when I chose plants in a new locale, failing to research the full mature size of the plant before picking a location.  Plants look so cute in the nursery.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Fine Feathered Friends

We are plunging back into duck-keeping.  Four little downy ducklings are attempting to turn a box lined with newspaper into a pond.

Previously we raised some Golden 300 ducklings, hybrids named for supposedly laying up to 300 eggs a year.  They were not being carried by the local feed stores this year so we settled for some unknown Khaki Campbell ducks, which seem to have almost as good a laying reputation on the internet.  They must be closer to wild duck stock as well since I've never seen the rowdy pond building activity in the Golden 300's.  It's strange how people get a weird notion of eating duck eggs, even a farmer I knew couldn't seem to stomach the idea.  Imagine the best chicken egg you've ever eaten, cracked into a fine china bowl.  Then imagine the slightly yellow-tinged whites, runny around the edges, become crystal-clear and firmer, and the magnificent deep gold yoke taking on a succulent glory hitherto unknown.  There you have a duck egg.   But ducks are not as good at ripping the moss out of a lawn, or taking grass down to bare ground to turn a lawn into a garden.  They are also not as good at using up left-overs and food scraps.  Moss removal, fertilizer added-

OTOH, ducks are tougher birds, and require less shelter in winter.   Most of the time they don't even go into the house at night but stay out seemingly awake all night.  Silly chickens head for the house at dusk and can be seen totally stretched out at night inside.  This comes in handy if a chicken should escape from the run during the day, as generally they will be desperate to roost come nightfall.  But we had one set of chickens that was extremely unruly, Silver-laced Wyandottes, which are a rather heavy dual-purpose black and white barred chicken, though I had seen some cute bantam birds at a fair with the same name (?).   The Wyandottes all escaped and RAN for the barbed wire fence of the neighboring pasture or the woods when chased.  Not only that, they did not return to roost, for several days.  I finally had to get up in the dark and go out and surprise them at rest in order to recapture them.  The more docile Rhode Island Reds above will allow me to come up to them in the garden and pick them up.  Nice girls.  Good layers of brown eggs.  I can put them out in a fenced bed that needs some cleaning up and let them wander around, without worry, and pick them back up to put them back in the chicken tractor later.   But I would give RIR's first prize for complaining, the cup always seems to be half full for them.    I do a mean complaining hen imitation.

Ducks are a lot of fun when given a chance to swim in a wading pool too.  They are insanely happy when they hit the water and dunk and splash and groom their feathers with great zeal.  They do not have to have lots of water all the time, though, as long as they have a bucket deep enough to submerge their heads and wash their eyes.  But they do know how to enjoy themselves.  Even the little ducklings are blissfully submerging whatever parts of them they can when given some fresh water.  And who can resist this-

Happy spring, if it can ever decide to actually warm up around here.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Will Fear Keep You From Growing this Awesome Garden Workhorse?

So many gardeners avoid running bamboo because of its reputation for being able to send runners a long way underground and pop up to create massive stands of inpenetrable canes.   I personally love my running bamboo, it returns so much useful material for such a small investment.   I can't say that I have seen runners travel very far either.  That may depend on water availability and soil conditions, though.   Here in the PNW there is no summer rain so the ground is quite dry and may suppress formation of runners in my largely unirrigated garden.  None of my bamboos get supplemental water at all.  My main bamboo for canes at present is Phyllostachys nuda, on the right, also known as a source of edible shoots.  I haven't tried them.
On the left but younger is P. vivax and P. nigra 'Henon', one set behind the other.  Someday they may make canes worthy of their reputation.  Can't wait.  I have an older larger clump of P. nuda (shown below 4 years ago) that has provided me 10+ years with literally hundreds of tomato stakes and 8' tall canes used to add height to my welded wire deer fences, with wire stretched between the canes at various levels.  It is incredibly beautiful in the winter when all the surrounding deciduous trees are bare and ugly.

Sasaella kurilensis 'Shimofuri', which has pinstripe variegation, makes an attractive accent in a shady place and spreads very slowly, at about 6' tall-

Finally, Sasaella masamuneana 'Albostriata', known as Sasa Masa, is useful as an evergreen hedge or backdrop, at about 4' tall-

They don't come any more low-maintenance than that.  This is 27' of plant material all from one gallon pot.

I have to comment also that my one clumping Fountain bamboo, Fargesia nitida, flowered one year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with what happens when a bamboo flowers, the plant considers that it has achieved its life purpose and dies.  So... no more Fountain bamboo.

So, for my most practical plant collection, the award goes to (drumroll) running bamboo!


Friday, April 1, 2011

Chopping off the Gorgon's Head

This is the Gorgon, a Wisteria that had been a deck-eater and was moved to a place in the lawn.  She would not refrain from trying to take over the yard so I finally decided to permanently remove her, or as permanently as it is possible to remove a really rampant vine.  She did flower but only briefly in the spring, which was not worth having to cut her back every fall.  If you want to see what one can grow into, visit the Bishop's Close garden in Portland, OR to see a very large Wisteria forming an outdoor room on a very large iron trellis.
First I used a lopper on all the branches, leaving a twisted trunk system.
I then tried one of my favorite tools, a folding saw, which has been invaluable in pruning off 2-3" branches high in apple trees.  It is hard to do branches close to ground and twisted around, so I then resorted to a racheting lopper and then an axe, and finally got it cut off but left some stumps that will need further work in order to be able to mow the area again.  We will regain car access to that part of the lawn, which makes a loop around our pump house and storage building.  Here are my tools-
The next step will be to run the branches through our chipper- free mulch!  Mowing will take care of all the little Wisteria vines that will be popping up in the future.

Today I also managed to get the clean-up started on my front door blog photo-feature bed.  First I removed some dead branches and twigs from the weeping cutleaf Japanese Maple.   I pruned the dead growth off the tree peonies.   I removed some dead geranium growth from last year.  Then I cut off the Miscanthus grass clumps with my folding saw.  It has an advantage over a lopper or pruner since I can grab a whole clump and start sawing away, and don't have to do multiple cuts to reach each grass stalk.  Usually this should be done in February but it was difficult since it was so cold and wet, but I didn't see much in the way of new growth yet anyway.   This bed was supposed to be a variegated bed.  The grass is also known as Zebra grass since it has stripes across the blades.  Variegated Hebe speciosa variegata proved too tender for here and was lost; a shame since it was a beautiful plant.  A variegated Wallflower also did not last.  Lonicera nitida Lemon Beauty is still there.  The wonderful species Tulipa praestans unicum makes a dependable appearance now with variegated leaves and gorgeous red flowers.  Vinca major 'Variegata' is nicely variegated but can be quite the garden thug.  I have to balance that off with its ability to overcome weeds.  I prefer the Vinca minor 'Illumination' which stays very low to the ground, and is very lovely in bloom, pictured in my July 31, 2010 post, along with Tulipa praestans unicum.
The large brownish clump behind the moss-covered tea house is my variegated Daphne x transatlantica 'Summer Ice', which has a narrow cream edge around the leaves.   That clump had the leaves go brown in winter but a smaller bush (shown below) by the front porch stayed green.  Both have lots of little buds coming on, and keep on blooming during the summer unlike D. odora.
Another Daphne with purple flowers which makes a very neat small mound is D. 'Lawrence Crocker'.
Daphnes have been one of my favorite genuses to collect, though only 4 of 8 are still alive, #4 being D. tangutica, a nice larger clump with pink/white flowers.

Favorite perennial to collect is probably Pulmonaria, which are now coming into their full glory.  In addition to having a wide range of flower colors, leaf shapes, and silvery spots and patterns, they have the ability to self-sow, and hybridize to yield all sorts of new adorable seedlings.  Cute, huh?
And out of 14 varieties, I've only lost one to some kind of root rot- Margery Fish.  They like cool shade best, and can positively languish in a hot dry location.
The ultimate in silvery durable charm.  More photos of Pulmonarias can be seen in my May 15, 2010 post on the Borage family.