Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rancid Peanut Butter and Crabapple Ammunition

We’ve been having record breaking heat here in Oregon this week – 106 degrees yesterday – so I’ve been getting up early to work in the garden while the temperature is bearable. This morning I found my self cutting dead wood out of a Clerodendrum fargesii.
Clerodendrums and I have a love-hate relationship. I shouldn’t be surprised since among it’s common names is “Tree of Good Luck” and “Tree of Bad Luck”. They are brittle, borderline hardiness, the foliage smells like rancid peanut butter and if you prune them too heavy, or if they freeze back, they send up suckers everywhere and create a thicket. BUT in the fall they are my favorite tree. The Clerodendrum trichotomum (called also Harlequin Glorybower) is my choice for it’s creamy, intensely fragrant flowers in late summer. When the flower drops, a brick red calyx opens up, forming a perfect star with a metallic blue berry in the center. The glorybower makes a small tree about 18-12 feet tall. If you’re lucky, you can find a variegated form called “Stargazer”. Our Stargazer is over by the pool at the Village Green and it has a pale blue clematis (possibly Mrs. P. B. Truax) rambling through it. Yum.
Another nice family member is Clerodendrum bungei. It has medium sized mop heads of cerise pink buds that open up into a ball of flowers. Unfortunately, this clerodendrum is not fragrant like it’s big sister. It’s more shrubby, reaching about 4 feet tall.
The Clerodendrum fargesii that I was pruning in the bird habitat is not as nice as either of the two above, but it makes a fragrant thicket, which is a good thing to have in a bird habitat.
Another thicket plant we have in the bird habitat is sumac. Not a fancy one, just regular old sumac. It creates a perfect screen for birds to take shelter in.
None of these thicket plants is good for a postage stamp sized lot, but if you have a lot of space, thickets can be quite lovely and a haven for wildlife.
While I was in the Bird Habitat, I also noticed the Dolgo Crabapple hanging low to the ground, heavy with fruit. This crabapple is really lovely in the late summer. It’s fruit, the size of quarters, turn a deep cherry red. I grow it as an ornamental, but I imagine you could also make them into jelly. When I was a kid, we used crabapples for ammunition in neighborhood war games. They left a good welt, but they were plentiful and tasty too. When I first planted the Dolgo, I stood there and picked off about two thirds of the fruit to relieve the weight on the branches and keep them from splitting. It was a long, tedious job. But then I realized that if you take the branch and shake it a bit, a lot of the apples fall off and instantly thins the tree for you. So now a few minutes of shaking relieves the branches of their excess weight and supplies me with a nice pile of ammunition.. Garden war games anyone?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are You WiltingYet?

Outside my office, at this moment, it is nearing 100 degrees and it isn’t even noon yet. While many people are tucked into air conditioned buildings, or soaking in the lake, I know that there are a few of you who are still out in the garden. Whether by choice or because you work outside, here are a few tips to keep you a little bit cooler and healthier.

Protect skin with Sunscreen. Apply it throughout the day. Just doing it in the morning isn’t going to help you at 2:00 when the sun is the worst. Sunscreen towelettes are very handy to tuck into a pocket.

Protect your eyes with sunglasses. It’s possible to sunburn the whites of your eyes, which is not a pleasant feeling (it feels like a bunch of sand is in your eyes). Also, UV rays can do serious damage to your eyes. Get in the habit of putting your sunglasses on and leaving them on. You could be saving your vision. When buying sunglasses, check to make sure they have UV protection. If they’re safety glasses, that’s even better.

Eat for the Heat – Eat light lunches and then have a snack in the afternoon. Fruit gives you energy to make it that last few hours. Pretzels replenish the salt you’ve lost through sweat. Small cans of V8 also give you a boost along with a shot of salt. Sports drinks are good for replenishing sodium and electrolytes. Caffeine brings the blood closer to the surface of the skin and will actually make you feel hotter. If you must drink soda, drink something without caffeine. Water is even better.

Drink LOTS of water to avoid dehydrating. A good idea is to take a clean gallon jug. Fill it half full of water at night and freeze it (leave the top loose so it doesn’t burst). In the morning, fill it the rest of the way with water and you’ll have cold water all day. On hot days you should be drinking a minimum of 64 ounces of water. That’s ½ a gallon. You should be drinking water before you get thirsty.

Dress for Excess (Heat)-
Light colors are cooler than dark colors. Natural fibers will breathe better and keep you cool.

Hats are encouraged for outside workers. They keep your head cooler and shade your eyes and face from the sun. Cloth hats can be preferable to straw hats in that you can wet them down to keep you cooler.

Bandanas – Soaking a bandana in the sprinkler or with your ice water and tying it around your neck will also keep you cooler.

Powder – Powder in the summer will help keep you from getting that “sticky” feeling as you sweat. It will also make you feel cooler. Keep some garden caddy and dump some down your shirt (or your pants – honest) whenever you’re feeling particularly damp.

If possible, schedule work out in the open for the morning hours. During the hottest part of the day, do any work that needs done in shaded areas.

Be alert for signs of heat stress. If you start feeling light headed, nauseous, or shaky you need to get into the shade and get cooled off. Pour some water over your head, hands and feet. Severe cases of heat stroke can be fatal. If you have an elevated temperature, hot dry skin, confusion, headache or numbness you need to seek medical help immediately.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dogs in the Garden

I love animals and I have a lot of them. So I've learned the hard way how to garden with them. I consider my pets to be part of my family and I garden with them in mind, just as I garden with the people in my family in mind. Although a well-trained dog may stay out of areas where you don't want him, I find that giving in can go a long way when arguing with a mutt about a hole or a path. A garden is for the enjoyment of all. Even the pets. Although I'd like to cover all pets, today is for the dogs. Enjoy.

The best advice I have ever received for gardening with dogs is to let the dogs choose their paths and then garden around them. This is especially practical considering that different types of dogs will use a garden differantly. Terriers like to dig. Border collies and other herd dogs may want a circuit to run, and a guard dog will want to see what’s going on. Planting shrubs and trees a few feet inside a fenceline can give your dog a place to run each day without much noticable damage. One pet owner I talked to had a dog that would regularly jump their 6 foot fence until they cut a small window in it and screened it in with chickenwire. Now the dog can see what is going on outside and he no longer jumps the fence.
If you are designing a new garden, let the dog specify a route around the garden first, and then design around it. If the garden is already established, see which shrubs get regularly damaged and then consider moving them. It is easier to move the shrub than to train the dog, but if shrub relocation is not an option, then you can try different tactics such as temporary fencing to break up a dog trail, hoping that he’ll create one in a different area.
Digging can be a real pain to a gardener since dogs seldom dig where we actually want a hole. Try to understand why the dog is digging. Some dogs have it bred into them. They were vermin hunters that would dig out the rats or moles. These will be the toughest to work with. Chicken wire layed out under the mulch will deter this habit, but it is not particularly fun for the gardener either. I would try small pieces in areas where the digging is the worst before I would do any bigger areas.
Our big Mastif-mutt digs a huge hole each spring, but it is because he wants a cool place to lie in. Therefore, once he has dug his hole, he may dig on it more now and then to get to the cooler dirt, but he won’t dig any other holes in the garden. In the spirit of peace, I let him have his one, big hole each year and then fill it back in come autumn. I do try to persuade him to dig it in an out-of-the-way place though by digging a small hole over on the side of the yard. He is usually more than happy to expand my hole than to start a new one.
If you have a water dog who is getting into your fish pond, try netting over the pond for a few weeks along with setting up a rigid wading pool for the dog. If you play with him in the water, throwing his ball in, splashing him, etc, he may learn that this is his pool and leave yours alone.
For the problem of urine burns in the lawn, train your dog to use a specific area of the garden that is mulched or graveled for his toilet. You can usually train them easily by taking them out on a leash for a week or two to the spot where you want them to go and giving them praise after they do their business.

There are a few safety precautions to take into accord if you have pets in your garden. Many people are concerned about poisonous plants, and if you have a pet that chews on plants often, it would be wise to consult a poisonous plant list and choose your landscape accordingly, however, in 50 years of gardening and pet owning, I have never had a poisoned pet, even though I grew some highly poisonous plants. The bigger danger is from chemicals used on the plants. Poisoning from slug bait is a common and ghastly death in pets. If you must use slug bait, invest in one that is not poisonous to pets, such as Sluggo.
Pets can also be harmed by weed and feed applied to lawns (especially if they walk through it soon after application) or from pesticides applied to plants. A common problem is spray that drifts into a pet’s water bowl. If you truly love your pet and want to co-exist with them in your garden, consider going organic. HOWEVER – be aware that just because something is organic does not mean it isn’t poisonous. Organic only means that that product was once living. Nicotine, although perfectly organic, can be much more lethal than many chemical pesticides.
Some rather mundane products may be dangerous as well. If you have dogs, you should not use cocoa mulch. It smells like chocolate and dogs sometimes will eat lethal amounts of it.
Tools and toys can be dangerous to pets as well. Older pets can fall into swimming pools and not be able to escape. Barbeques should always be supervised around pets and gardening tools should be picked up and stored.

To make your garden a paradise for your pets, provide clean drinking water, shade on sunny days, a little entertainment (toys, trails, holes, etc) and a relaxed attitude about your landscape.

Quaint, custom doghouses can become garden art.
If you have a comfy dog bed in the shade on the patio, you probably won’t have your dog laying in your flower bed.
Never leave an animal in a greenhouse. If the sun comes out unexpectedly, the temperature can reach killing range quickly.

Do not feed your pets outside. Food can be infested with fly eggs quickly and bee stings are more likey from pets competing with hornets and wasps for food. Feeding outside is also likely to bring in wild animals like raccoons and possoms.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Give, Believe, Be Happy

There is nothing worse than a garden snob. Someone who has great gardening knowledge but won’t share it, like the auntie that leaves one ingredient out of a recipe before passing it on.
I have been lucky enough to have a number of mentors who happily passed their garden wisdom on to me. Most were family members, especially the grandmothers, and my parents who raised me in a nursery environment. Also all of my siblings who are attached to horticulture in some way or other.
But it’s the unrelated people who I want to talk about today who gave me opportunities to learn and who sometimes pushed me to get out there and create.
The first is Liz Lair, a fabulous, intelligent gardener who created a wonderland on Cleveland Street long ago. She would allow me to come and work in her garden and learn about the different plants, but more importantly, how to grow them.. She was the first person that ever stressed to me the importance of the soil. She also taught me that the “why and how” of gardening was more important than the “what”.
The next mentor I had was Wendell Gray who owned and operated Wendell’s Nursery on the corner of 7th and Polk for many years (sadly, it’s not there anymore). I worked a number of years in Wendell’s nursery and here I learned how to get out and share my knowledge. Wendell encouraged me to look at photos that customers would bring in of their yards and give them ideas on design. He started feeding me side jobs of folks who wanted someone to come to their house and design a garden, and he got me my first commercial jobs, pushing me when I resisted because I didn’t think I knew enough. My first really big job, at Belknap Hot Springs was something I would never have even thought about, but Wendell had already made an appointment for me and said to “just go check it out.”. That job lasted over 5 years and led me to the job I have now with Moonstone Hotels.
Sometimes believing in someone, especially when they have yet to believe in themselves, is the most selfless gift we can give. So please look around and find someone who is hungry for the type of knowledge you can give them. Even if it isn’t about gardening; even if it’s just to let them know that they have a gift and you will back them up in their trek to explore it and shape it. It may be a small gift for you to give, but it will be an enormous gift for someone to receive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Hidden Advantages to "Chop and Drop"

Here at the Village Green, Head Gardener Jon and I are a good pair. I’m creative and messy. He’s very tidy and organized. He’s a big strapping guy and I’m a weenie woman. So I have the luxury of creating fun vignettes with plants and he plants them for me. I go on a clipping spree and he picks up my piles. He’s my hero. But there are times when being tidy isn’t always in the best interest of the garden.
Years ago I read somewhere (I think it was Ann Lovejoy) about a method called chop and drop, where as you deadhead or clip back a plant, you just cut it up in small pieces and drop it behind the plant to compost right there. I LOVE this method, and I’ve found a few unexpected advantages to it.
Two years ago I cut back some trumpet lilies that had formed little bulbils on their stems. I laid the stems in a pile on the edge of the Fragrance Garden to be picked up, but they were hidden by the roses and so stayed there until fall when we cleaned up the rose bed. By that time, all the little bulbils had fallen off and the leaves on the lily stems had composted on top of them. The next spring I was greeted with a small crop of little green lily stems amongst the roses. This year, we were blessed with a beautiful, fragrant new colony of Trumpet Lilies.
Now I could have picked the bulbils off and planted them in a pot and babied them until it was time to plant them out, but I don’t have that kind of time or patience. This was much easier. I have done the same thing with a seeding patch of Lady Jane Tulips and I often leave alyssum under the roses to go to seed. The old plant dies over the winter, but offers compost and protection, so I have new little alyssum seedlings the next spring.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Paint and the Pursuit of Tackiness.

Our head gardener at the Village Green - the hard working Jon, recently painted a few of our dried alliums in the Children's Garden. I had done this years before up at a previous job (a lifetime ago) and got some very interesting reactions. Although most people thought it was fabulous, a few were taken aback and a couple were outright offended. One gentleman asked me where I had found the wonderous red alliums in the garden yonder.
"I painted them", I replied.
"You can't do that," he blustered. "It's not fair."
Fair? Sorry Bub, but all is fair in love and creativity.
I have a far away friend, Cleo, who has the most outrageous red hair I have ever seen. I knew her for years before we had a discussion about our family trees. She told me her grandmother was from Ireland.
"Oh, that must be where you get your red hair", I chimed.
"No", she replied, "I get my red hair from Loreal."
While I stood there agape, she educated me to the fact that in the pursuit of creativity it is not only our perogative, but also our duty to cheat. Paint the sun blue, make a sculpture out of toilet paper, paint the plants in your garden. Just because it hasn't been done before makes it all the better.
So we have multicolored Allium schubertii in the Children's Garden. This fall, I'll bring them in, paint them white, dazzle them with glass glitter and use them as the toppers on our Christmas trees. Is that cheating? Who made the rules? ARE there really any rules?
So my question for you today is "When was the last time you played with a can of spray paint?

PS. Today I was musing over the insipid pink hydrangea nigra in the Widow's Walk. Last year I had Jon cut off all their heads. I'm after the black stems and pink does not belong in a garden of black, purple and acid green. But after the go at the alliums, I decided "why not paint the hydranges too?" So here's Allie (Jon's Sweetheart and Gardener Extraordinaire) painting the hydrangeas black.

Chimeras- Tame Beasties in the Garden

We all remember the wonderful mythical beasts where two species melded into one – The head of a woman on the body of an eagle (a Harpy) or the man-bull Minotaur. But did you know that this can really happen in the plant kingdom?
When two different species interbreed, they are called a Chimera, just as the intermingled monsters used to be named. But the plant versions are hardly monsters, but charming additions to our gardens.
Two such chimeras are Fatshedera – a cross between Fatsia and Ivy (Hedera) and Heucherella – a cross between Coral Bells (Heuchera) and Foam Flower (Tiarella).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Out and About in the Garden

Gardening is an ephemeral art. We take a spot that’s covered with crappy soil, construction debris and weeds and create a tapestry rich with beautiful flowers and health-giving food. We create fragrant Shangri-Las to soothe our troubled souls. We make rich, painterly borders knowing full well that if we decide to stop tending these gardens, Mother Nature will move in and take over. In a matter of a few years, your Shangri-La could be a field of thistle.
But that doesn’t seem to bother most gardeners. We are quite happy to live in tthe moment. Like the seasoned traveler, we have learned that it’s the journey and not the destination that is the real prize.
Many years ago I found my grandmother on her knees in the garden planting gladiolus. I asked her what color they were and she replied that she had no idea, someone had given them to her. Then she added, to my amazement, “I don’t much care for glads, they remind me of funerals”. When I asked her why she would plant something that she didn’t like, her response was “I’ve been stuck in the house all day and I HAVE to get my hands in the dirt”.
So it is with gardeners. We lust after plants that won’t grow in our climate and we spend hideous amounts of money on the newest and biggest and best. But what we’re really craving is just getting out and getting our hands in the dirt. We have a connection with nature that is a bit primal. Well, maybe a bit more than primal. We’re the only people I know who get REALLY excited over a dump truck full of manure.
Gardening is healing. When giving garden tours, I am often treated to a very sympathetic “Oh, what a lot of work you’ve had to do”. My standard reply is that it isn’t work, it’s therapy. And it is. I sleep wonderfully at night. I LOVE to weed. There is something very Zen about weeding. Not all weeding mind you. Wrestling a large clump of grass out of cold, sucking clay doesn't ring my bells. But pulling that same grass out of a bed that I have tended lovingly with manure and compost leaves me with a weed that departs the soil with a sigh, not a scrabbling scream.
So get dirty, revel in your green knees, and claim your moment of therapy in the garden.