Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's Blooming this Week

Daffodils are so sunny!

First bloom on the Candytuft, Ibertis sempervirens and Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, leaves.

A close, close-up of the tiny flowers of Sarcoccoa, Sweet Bay.  Wish I could send you the fabulous odor!  Almost as good as Daphne odora!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pronounced wil LAM et

We have been watching the History Channel’s How the Earth was Made this season. We really enjoyed the first show that was a 90 minute documentary about how the Earth was formed and how old it is. We have not been disappointed in the series that was spun-off that documentary.

Last week was Glaciers in North America which led me to a line of thinking. Back when I was in high school, we were taught that the great glaciers came down into the Willamette Valley. This was evidenced by the ‘erratic rocks’ found throughout the valley. Then, we would see pictures of Yosemite and the European Alps showing u-shaped and hanging valleys. Of course, I would mention that I had never seen a u-shaped or hanging valley in or around the Willamette Valley. The teacher would reply that erosion had changed the valley floor; which I never believed!

In the late ‘70’s and into the ‘80’s documentaries started showing up about plate tectonics, glaciations, and the Missoula floods and I was hooked. All of a sudden I was seeing explanations for the Cascade volcanoes, the earthquake-volcano connection, how glaciers form and move, and best of all --- where those erratic rocks came from!

Turns out during the last ice age the glaciers did not come south far enough to enter the Willamette Valley. The Willamette River flows north, like the Nile, so if a glacier came far enough south to plug up the Willamette there would have been evidence of a lake or a new river bed flowing towards the east or west. And there is no such evidence.
Erratic Rock State Park

The cause for the erratic rocks ---- The floods from Lake Missoula! Lake Missoula formed, during the last ice age, behind an ice dam in present day Montana. The lake was so big it reached up into Canada. When this massive amount of water broke the ice dam it flowed over the ‘Scablands’ of Eastern Washington, scouring the soil down to the bed rock; over ‘Dry Falls’ a waterfall that out did Niagara Falls by a lot; following the current Columbia River course to the Columbia River Gorge, where it forged through the narrow canyon; on to the wide mouth of the Willamette River and on to the Pacific Ocean.

When the water, full of the soils it had just lifted off as well as chucks of ice from the ice fields, reached the Willamette River it flowed up river; such was the force. As the back water sat in the valley the suspended solids began to fall out. In the Portland area the soils are sandy and some areas are downright rocky. Heaviest solids fall out first. The area down to about Salem has wonderful silty soil. South of Salem to Cottage Grove has increasingly clay soils.

The erratic rocks were carried on the ice chunks. They are found on a shelf around the edge of the valley. If you ever want to see one of the rocks, try Erratic Rock State Park off Hwy 18 between McMinnville and Sheridan. There is another on Brownlee Road, between East Ellendale Road and Orrs Corner Road, just outside Dallas.

(Dallas was named for the VP of President James Polk. It is the county seat of Polk County. You are welcome.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Invasive, Noxious, Uninvited

In case you haven’t heard; Butterfly Bush, Summer Lilac; Buddleia davidii is now considered an Invasive Species in Oregon. Just like Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, a popular water garden plant; butterfly plants have escaped into the wild and are crowding out our native plants in the wild.

I am beyond overjoyed that English Ivy, Hedera helix, is also on the Invasive Species list and as soon as stocks are sold out will no longer be available. One look at Deepwood Park in Salem or Forest Park in Portland is enough to sour you on how it can take over and crowd out native plants our native animals depend on to live. (I am saddened because I love Ivy as an indoor plant.)

What the new classification means to home gardener is this: These plants are no longer for sale in Oregon and they may not be shipped or brought into the state. Gardeners are also requested not to share plants, cuttings, or seeds.

Back 15 years ago, when I was going to school, we discussed the use of a great many plants. I think all my professors were saying that some plants were so aggressive that their use in the garden should be banned and most of us students agreed. It makes no sense to use plants that escape and endanger our native flora and fauna.

Having said that, I absolutely love my Buddies. I have one that was a present from my mom and another that was bred just for me. This wonderful grad student bred a bunch of Buddleias and named them for a group of us ‘older’ women getting their degrees. Since I love yellow, he named his best yellow for me and gave me a start. I love my ‘Suzie’ plant to bits.

Buddleias can produce thousands and thousands of seeds; or just a very few. If you find seedlings around your yard, you have one of the aggressive varieties. Just dig and throw the seedlings into the garbage. Be sure to keep your plants deadheaded (removing flower heads before they go to seed.) Pick up the clippings when you trim the plant. Either burn them or send to your local composting service if you cannot put them in the garbage. DO NOT dump your clippings. Buddleias regenerate from clippings and that is the most common way of releasing the plant into the wild.

There are plenty of other garden plants that have escaped to the wild. Some from tasty fruit that the birds eat and poop out the seeds along with a fresh fertilizer packet; English Holly, Ilex aquifolium; European Hawthorne, Crataegus monogyna; Himalayan & Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, R. discolor, R. procerus By wind sown seeds; Bachelor’s Button (I thought it was a native), Centaurea cyanus; Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare; Salt Cedar, Tamarix ramosissima; Tree of Heaven (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (P.S.) one of my all-time favorite books), Ailanthus altissimo. Tomato seedlings are found where ever sewage sludge is spread.

It is up to us gardeners to keep up on what is escaping from our gardens and go the extra mile to keep that from happening. To that end I would like to recommend some books and websites where you can get more information about being a thoughtful gardener.

I read Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards when it first came out 15 years ago. It is still relevant today. The second book is Planting Noah's Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology as good as the first.

I would direct you to your Land-grant College or University and your state Department of Agriculture for more information on Noxious and Invasive Plants and Weeds. The USDA Plants website is a plant nerds heaven with links for Invasive and Noxious Plants as well as links for Natives, Endangered, and Recommended Plants for your area.  Here in Oregon, you can go to the following sites:  ODA Plant Division Noxious Weeds, OPB Silent Invasion Special, Garden Smart flyer, or Oregon State Extension.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Late Winter Joys

Icy cold this clear and beautiful morning. The lacy, bare branches against the sunrise sky are reminders that it is still winter.

Yesterday, one of the neighbors was mowing his lawn. A few clear days and everyone starts seeking outdoor chores in the late winter sun.

I went grocery shopping yesterday. I like to shop about a 15 minute drive from home. On the way, I saw daffodils blooming; duck weed in the drainage ditches forming large mats; Redbud, Cercis canadensis, just opening; Candytuft, Iberis sempervirens, in bloom; Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis , the first native shrub to bloom every year; grasses and grains reaching for the sun; and a couple of horses just horsin’ around.

We took time to cut back our bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra. It was causing problems for the neighbor. It looks like hell now, but in a couple of months it will have new growth and fill out.  And what a difference in the light on the east side of the house.  That bamboo has been growing there for 26 years!  It took ages to fill in and get its hieght.  I didn't realize how much shade it cast.  We'll miss it on sleep-in days and this summer when the sun gets hot.  But in the interest in neighborly friendliness, it had to be cut back.

While we were working it was hard not to enjoy the Hellebore, Helleborus sp. The one in the front yard is white. They are the same plant. I took a cutting off the front yard plant to plant in the side yard. I am thinking it might be the amount of sunlight.

The Candytuft is still in its winter color. While I noticed some blooming; mine is not quite ready. We have been teased that when it is in bloom it looks as though we dumped snow on the parkstrip. I love this hardy plant. It is very drought tolerant. I don’t water it at all during the summer. Since we don’t get much, if any, rainfall from mid-June to late August this plant is pretty dry.
After it blooms I run the lawn mower over it to remove the seed heads and force new growith in the middle.  Otherwise, it gets bare in the middle of the plant and looks 'leggy.'  I prefer it to look tight and lush.

My favorite Camellia japonica

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feed 'n Seed

Take me to the local Feed & Seed store and I am in as close as nirvana that I ever will be. The first thing I love is the smell: Grains, salt licks, hay, straw, and the sweet tang of molasses tying it altogether.

Now it wasn’t always that way. When I was 10 my friend Judy gave me a guinea pig. When Mom took me to the feed store it took all my being not to gag and vomit. I couldn’t stand the smell. I told her to buy five pounds of rabbit feed and a small bale of alfalfa, and then I rushed out of the store.

I could hear Mom and the store owner laughing over my rush and my order. Seems five pounds of feed would feed a guinea pig for a life-time and then some. The store owner kept an alfalfa bale for small farm animals. He would just pull off some for kids, no charge.

Then, one day I walked into a feed store and fell in love. All the little goodies for rabbits, I have owned six, the whatnots for dogs and cats, doohingees for cattle, baby poultry in the spring, and the seeds. Oh, the seeds. In the 100 pound bag, bulk by the scoopful, in packets; it is a Horticulturist’s dream come true. I can plant acreage, lawns, flower borders. There’s organic fertilizers and petro-chemical as well. I steer clear of the petro-chemical pesticides, allergies you know.

I love the selection of seeds. Organic and treated, which ever you wish. I love buying my bean seeds at the feed store. I can get the 1 pound bulk of Blue Lake pole beans we prefer far cheaper than those in the packets. (We prefer the good ol’ Kentucky Blue and Kentucky pole beans but the strings are a real pain.)

Last year I found starts and full sized plants for way less expensive than the garden centers or gigantic home center/hardware/lumber/garden center places. I am going to the Feed and Seed this year for my plants. I don’t do my own starts. Every time I do, one of the cats either eats them or uses the tray for a litter pan. It’s just not worth the work.

If the current winter weather has you down, stop by a feed and seed to dream a little dream of spring.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Voodoo Lilies

So I was perusing a new perennial catalog the other day. In fact, I perused two. But this one kind of set the hair on the back of my neck to tingling. The room got all watery and swirly; this weird music started playing. I was back home on 10th Street. Peggy and I were about 10 and 11; we had been sent over to Mrs. Shipley’s house to cut back her hedge.

We had the clippers and a ladder. We were discussing whether or not we’d find a bird’s nest or maybe a paper wasp hive. We both had noticed a new plant growing next to Mrs. Shipley’s garage. It had strange black strap like leaves. And overnight a funny looking flower had emerged. It was purple and had a long yellow wand sticking out of it.

Out of curiosity we ventured over to look. Oh, how I wish we had just walked away. The closer we got, the worse the smell got. Oh my, stinking, rotting meat smell. Mr. DePaola, who lived just to the east of Mrs. Shipley came out and told us that was a lily that only bloomed every once in a while. He and Mrs. DePaola had complained for years. But Mrs. Shipley would not get rid of it. She said it was a treasure; a very expensive plant that had been handed down to her from her mother.

He told us if we took the plant out he would pay us. We ran home to ask Mom what to do. (Mom was paid by Mrs. Shipley’s son to shop for her, take her to the beauty shop, have me mow the lawn, Shelley and Debbie to clean her house. Mrs. Shipley had the beginnings of ‘senile dementia’ now known as Alzheimer’s disease. We cared for her like she was our Grandma.)

Mom was in the bathroom gagging. Seems some horrid smell was getting to her very weak stomach. We told her about the plant. She told us to dig it up, put it in a garbage bag and put that into Mrs. Shipley’s garbage can. We knew Mrs. Shipley wouldn’t remember it. She still thought of her son as a little boy.

Armed with hoes, shovels, and rakes we went to work. Or rather Peggy went to work. I was too busy gagging and chocking. I watched from our front yard as Peggy chopped the plant to smithereens and dug the bulb. She gathered the debris into a bag and tied it shut. After dropping it in the garbage can, Mr. DePaola came out and paid her $20 (a fortune.) I let her keep the whole amount. Peg took off her clothes in the basement and put them directly in the washer set on hot water with bleach. She wrapped in one of Dad’s old shirts he used for painting and ran to take a bath. I don’t know how many times she washed her clothes or bathed. Dad’s shirt went directly into the garbage.

Back to the future, the plant that brought all this on was the Voodoo Lily, Typhonium venosum. There are many plants that have the same characteristics: Dark brown to purple coloration; a yellow or maroon flower stalk, and stink.

They are known collectively as ‘carrion flowers.’ These flowers are fertilized by flies and other carrion eating insects. Usually the bloom lasts less than two days. But those two days can be agony for people who can’t stand the smell.

They reproduce by seed and bulb. Some are regular bloomers. Others bloom irregularly. They like a rich soil that is moist; but not waterlogged. Shade is the preferred sun requirement. Usually vigorous in zones 5 to 10. If you live in a cold weather area you will need to lift the bulbs every fall and replant in spring. Be warned, the bulbs can stink as much or more than the flower.  Be aware that every part of these carrion flower plants is extremely poisonous. Something to think about if there are young children in the area.

When I was a student at Oregon State University, a graduate student brought in an example.  As other Horticulture students gathered around to look at this 'Outer Limits' plant.  I hung back about 300 feet.  The grad student thought I might really want to see this plant.  I told him my story.  He understood.  At the end of the day, I saw the plant still in the same place.  I walked clear aound the greenhouses to get to my car, just to avoid that plant.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February Chores

Garden things to do in February:

Rent a blower and clean up the leaves from the Pin Oak, Quercus palustris
     This 60’ to 70’ tree spreads to about 25’. Ours is about 28 years old. It was a gift from Scott’s sister Heather. We planted it too close to the house. Subsequently, we have to clean the gutters more often and sprinkle moss killer every year. My real grouse about this tree; it holds its’ dead leaves over winter. I love the autumn red leaf show. It’s a real stand out. We planted it on the south side of the house for the summer shade.

Prune any excess growth low on the Princess of China tree, Paulownia kawakamii.
     This fast growing tree only gets to about 30’. It has heart shaped leaves (The Victorians used to cut the tree down every year so as to get the extremely large leaves. It is quite a garden sight.) And light lavender flowers with darker spotted throat. The fragrance is pleasant. Just remember to prune only on days it is above freezing, otherwise you will damage your plant and leave it open to disease and insects.

Lightly rake over the bark in the front yard.
     And make sure to pick up the Camellia japonica blooms. If left behind they will rot, unsightly, and pass a fungus on to the plant. That fungus will ruin next year’s blooms. Just removing the debris will break the cycle.

After they bloom, prune back the camellia and the Rhododendron sp. 'Cynthia'.
     The camellia needs to be ‘thinned out’. I prune out some of the inner growth so the bush tits can get in to eat the scale and air can circulate reducing the mildew on the leaves. Cindy, the rhody needs to be cut back every year. She is in the wrong spot, she is just too large.

Pull up the tiny holly bushes the Cedar Waxwings, Bombcilla cediorum, plant every year.
     Many ions ago, some neighbors got together and planted male and female holly trees in their front yards. Now, the cedar waxwings show up in late spring to eat the berries. The birds roost in my pin oak every night until they move on to the next forage. In the meantime, they poop out the seeds wrapped in nice birdie fertilizer. I love their ‘zeet zeet’ call.

Plant seeds.
     Yes, I will be planting seeds in the chill of winter. I choose seeds from annuals that reseed every year. You know the plants I’m talking about: ‘Love in a Mist’, larkspur, calendula, bachelor buttons, California poppies, cosmos, poppies, zinnia, and nasturtium among others. Just read the back of the seed packet. If it doesn’t say not to sow or transplant until the danger of frost has passed; then you have a plant that will weather. I am planting these in the front yard. Usually, I look for starts to add color. This year for less than $10 I will have color that lasts all summer long.

That takes care of the front yard. I don’t want to think about the backyard right now. Other than I will choose a spot on the edge of the garden for a couple of rows of peas. Washington’s Birthday, February 22, is the date to plant peas. I might add a hill of potatoes so we can have creamed potatoes and peas on Father’s Day.

Okay, I need to clean up the mint bed.
     Get the dead stems out. I also have Harlequin Glorybower, Clerodendrum trichotomum , to thin out. This is the ‘peanut butter’ plant. If you brush up against it, it smells like peanut butter. In August it has fragrant white blooms, not at all like peanut butter. In the fall, hot pink calyxes open to show one metallic blue berry. It suckers, a lot, freely. I need to get in and dig up a few. Planted in a yard you can keep down the suckers by mowing.

I’ll buy some more flower seeds to fill in the flower bed along the side of the shop. And by the garage. Oh, and to fill out the big English boarder. Scott will till the garden area and we’ll plant a garden. The lawn is a disaster; I’m going to overseed with annual rye grass. Fast growing, it will help fill in and take the abuse two doggies can dish out.

Well, I see we are now getting in over my head. Have fun in your garden.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day! Today we will find out if there are six more weeks of winter or if spring will start in just six more weeks

While shopping, I noticed the plant racks outside many stores. Colorful racks of primroses, tiny daffodils, and cyclamen. There were onion, garlic, and pea starts available as well. Onions and garlic, I might buy a few since I didn’t start any last fall.

I chuckled at the pea starts. The old timers, which I am becoming one day by day, always said to plant peas on Washington’s Birthday, February 22nd. I think I will plant a row or two of peas. I love to eat them raw or steamed for a couple of minutes with mint.

The mint garden is getting green. Here’s a hint for growing mint (poet and don’t know it.) Grow it in a contained space. I have a bed right outside the back door that is surrounded by cement. It is perfect for keeping mint contained. I also keep the lemonbalm in the same bed. Makes it handy for mint juleps and lemony ice tea. A friend counseled other gardeners to grow their mint contained in an old tire. Then, use hemlock bark to cover the tire. The first time I planted mint it grew into the lawn. It sure smelled nice whenever I mowed!

I like to buy cyclamen, daffodils, and primroses to use in the house. I line a basket with plastic. Then I un-pot the daffodils and primroses arranging them for the best color and height. I fill in between the plants with a quality potting mix (I mix a slow release fertilizer in with the potting mix) When the plants are finished blooming, I just lift the plastic liner and incorporate the plants into my flower beds.

Here in USDA zone 8, regular cyclamen will grow in the garden. I plant them when they finish blooming, remembering to use slug bait so I can enjoy them again next year. Otherwise, keep them in filtered light, water to keep moist, and you may have a new show next year. I found a pink with white stripes. The leaves have a lovely silver pattern.  I have hardy cyclamen as well.  These little guys just keep going and going.

Lots of leaves coming up. Grape hyacinths are growing around the base of the multiflora climbing rose. When the grape hyacinth are finished blooming I just pull them up. They are such fast multipliers! I throw them in the garbage as I don’t want to find them all over the garden! By the way, you can drop some in the lawn for an early bit of color. Mowing helps to keep their numbers down.
We have many different narcissis. I love the multiheaded fragrant ones. They were here when we bought the place. I will take some with me when we move.

The leeks are growing. A couple of years ago, I threw some leek roots at the compost bowl just outside the back door, in the mint garden, they missed. The next year we got leeks. I left them alone and last year they bloomed! The parent plant is growing and I am hoping to get more leek plants from the seeds. Watch my blog Cooking in Nana's Kitchen for leeky recipes!

Daphne odora will be blooming very soon. It is the featured plant on the cover of the OAN magazine, Digger. Easy to grow in a sheltered spot. Daphne is so fragrant, people are known to follow the scent looking for the source. Growing up to four feet tall and wide, Daphne is hardy to zone 7. One young landscaper told me the secret to growing Daphne is to add lime every year. So far, my plant is doing quite well.

If you are looking for early color, now it the time to get out and see what is available in your area. I also recommend shopping through catalogs for less used perennials and shrubs to make your garden your own unique oasis.