Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day at the Oregon Garden

Judging by how full the parking lot was, not to mention the garden tram, I think half the folks in the area had the same idea we had: if it's sunny on Mother's Day, let's drive up to the Oregon Garden!

Fortunately, there's a lot of garden to see, so once we were in, it wasn't crowded. Busy enough, but not crowded.

This early in the season, at Silverton's elevation, bloom time is a little behind the valley floor. It's been a cool, late spring to begin with, so while the tulips were done and the rhodies were out, irises were just barely getting started.

We said hello to the "pot people," a friendly terra-cotta couple in the children's garden;

The little garden train, a new feature, was up and running -- after the train was stolen a few weeks ago, found, and returned!

The green wall, a feature that's becoming the darling of architects trying to plan for sustainability, is looking bare in patches. Even the experienced gardeners at the Oregon Garden are still investigating ways to keep green walls green.

The monkey puzzle tree looks so wonderfully architectural, but having lived with one in the back yard, I'm not eager to plant one again. Those sharp, triangular leaves, long summer grass, and bare feet just aren't a good combination!

The day was marvelously sunny, just warm enough for shirt sleeves and for lying in the grass, looking up at the tulip tree:

Alas, the Cooley iris walk wasn't in bloom, but I found this gorgeous specimen just opening up:

What do you think? A cute little water feature like this in the back yard? Shouldn't take long, I think... given an unlimited budget and a large crew of burly men...

Rhodies were in bloom, including this striking specimen in pink and yellow:

The home demo garden featured this living fence of espalier apples. Amazingly, there were no wire supports for the branches. Must figure out how they did that because I want an apple fence in my garden:

This utility shed has a green roof, which is hard to see with the sun behind it...
...but easier to see from the lawn above, on the other side. Now there's some "green architecture" that works. My son is at Portland State, where several of the buildings have green roofs. Scientists studying them have found various insect fauna starting to move in, the beginnings of a whole rooftop ecosystem.

We had lots more to do on Mother's Day, including a trip to the land of Yarnia -- the rest of the story is over on my knitting blog: Of Gardens, Yarn, and Bacon: A Mother's Day Tale.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

As though we needed another reason to eat chocolate...

Now there's a study out of Johns Hopkins suggesting that compounds in dark chocolate may help protect the brain from stroke injury.

I'm looking forward to future prescriptions for Sees, Godiva, Dagoba...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

And we've got to get ourselves back to the garrrrdeeennn...

It's been a long and busy winter and early spring, what with teaching and being out of town for conferences, running here and running there... I didn't even get time to grow my own starts this year, alas.

But here we are in May, past the last average frost date by two weeks, it's a sunny weekend, so dare we start some summer planting?

We dare!

This morning started with some plant shopping, yielding a nice little haul of annual flowers and some veggies. I even found Brandywine and Cherokee Purple tomato starts at the garden center. Add a gallon of stinky fish fertilizer, that magical stuff, and we're off.

Yeah, dinky little starts tucked into their garden beds don't make for impressive photographs, do they? But they will once summer gets going.

Since "last average frost date" is just an average and isn't always to be trusted anyway, I tucked the tomatoes, squash, and melons in under tomato cozies and cat litter jugs with the bottoms cut out. Lettuce, chard, and spinach should be just fine.

Around the garden, the Irix tenax is in bloom:

As are these sky-blue dwarf iris:

Columbine have been popping up everywhere in fresh new colors each year:

Salmon pink and deep burgundy together -- stunning!

And doubly stunning when seen from below, looking up at the overhanging pine and the blue sky:

It's beginning to look a lot like suuummmerrr!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kitty Woes

(Cross-posted with my knitting blog)

This is Mr. Licorice, sometimes known as Mr. Fangs and Claws:

He came to us as a half-grown abandoned kitten that wandered into a co-worker's garage. Out of all our feline herd, Licorice is the only one who goes outdoors on his own. Even though he's neutered, he acts like an intact tom: aggressive, territorial, foul tempered when he's indoors; aggressive, territorial, and happy to be petted and adored when he's outdoors. Prozac failed to curb his behavior, and while tempting, I can't keep him under sedation all the time. So we had him microchipped, put a reflective collar on him, cross our fingers and hope for the best, knowing that outdoor cats are exposed to all sorts of risks.

Well, Licorice must have run head-on into one of those risks, because Monday evening he came in with an open sore on his chest that on inspection looked like an abscess that had opened up. He seemed chipper enough and had a good appetite, but the next morning it was still open and oozing and had a foul odor, so I confined him to the sick kitty crate for observation and called the vet. Most likely he'd gotten into a fight with another cat, and since the wound was on his chest, he was not the one who backed down! Yeah, that's our Mr. Fangs and Claws.

Wednesday morning (after a dose of sedative so getting him in the kitty carrier wasn't quite as bad as wrestling a cactus) he went into the vet's office. By then he'd developed a fever and the wound was still draining. When the vet got him under anesthesia and got the abscess open, it was pretty bad. It had gone deep, the fluid inside was thick and smelly, and there was a patch of skin that had gone necrotic. If we'd tried to treat this at home, he wouldn't have lasted long.

So Licorice came home that evening and went straight back into the sick kitty crate. He was pretty agitated and loopy coming off the anesthetic, so I covered the crate with blankets, trying to calm him down. The next morning he was very quiet and subdued, probably hurting from the surgery. His appetite was good, though.

And this morning he's a little brighter and demanding to be let out of his crate (sorry, it's kind of a nasty view of the drains in his incision):

He's eating well and using the litter box, so recovery looks good, but he's not a happy kitty. Hates the plastic cone. Hates being confined. Hates it when the other cats come and stare at him.

Poor, sad kitty:

That was a $600 hit to our bank account, and we were already tapped out helping my mother-in-law buy heating fuel. I think we've got just enough left for groceries until payday, but we're going to have to be reeeeal careful.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Garden for the Globe

It's Blog Action Day 2009, and this year the theme is global climate change.

A garden blog seems like the perfect venue to talk about going "green" to address global climate change and reducing one's carbon footprint. After all, one can plant a tree to absorb carbon dioxide and photosynthetically transform it into wood and other plant tissue. Problem solved. Right?'s a start.

Think about where to locate that tree. On the south side of a house, a deciduous tree can shade the house in the summer, reducing the costs of keeping the house cool. On the north side, an evergreen can block chilly winter winds, reducing winter heating costs, while a foundation planting of woody shrubs can protect the house as well. Stick with small trees that top out at 20 feet or so, and you might have your trees and solar panels, too. Choose shrubs appropriate for the climate, and you reduce water usage as well. Now we're cooking with gas... er, solar.

Using trees to take up carbon dioxide and cutting heating/cooling costs to reduce carbon output is all good, sure. But solving the global climate change puzzle is going to take a lot more than planting a tree and turning down the thermostat. It's even going to take more that putting up a solar panel and thumbing your nose at the electric company trucks.

What got us into this mess in the first place was the use of fossil fuels to energize an industrial revolution which led to an out-of-control consumption-based economy. Mother Nature took hundreds of thousands of years to put all that petroleum and coal into the ground. Humans have burned up perhaps just shy of half of it in less than 200 years. That's a lot of carbon, all at once. Of course it's going to have an impact.

What have we gotten in return? We have fast transportation, machine-produced goods, labor-saving appliances, hot-and-cold running water, central heating, fresh produce year-around, and all the other former luxuries that we now consider daily necessities and would be loath to give up.

We live in a society grounded in consumption. We haven't always been this way. In the past, people of the US took pride in their productivity. Most people lived on small farms. People cooked, sewed, spun, and knitted. They worked wood, braided rugs, made milk into butter and cheese and apples into pies and cider. In the country, people grew most of the food that they ate. Even in the suburbs, while houses might have a lawn and flower beds in the front, they more often than not had a kitchen garden in the back.

In the mid-20th century, particularly after WWII, American society had a turn-around. After scrimping and saving for two World Wars, after giving up butter and meat, after endless scrap drives, after knitting for the soldiers, people were tired of economizing and were pleased with the message from Madison Avenue: luxury goods! Modern living! Why cook from scratch when you could buy ready-cooked in a can, all the work done for you in (what was presented as) a clean, hygienic factory kitchen? Why be so old-fashioned as to knit or sew when you could buy ready-made?

And so we became consumers instead of producers, happily contributing to an economy that was based on more and more people buying more and more stuff per capita every year. The price for the luxury of buying everything ready-made and on-demand was increased pollution, increased carbon emissions, and depletion of natural resources. Global climate change was the inevitable result, and it's not thousands of years in the future. It's right now.

Our consumer-based economy is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable. We can't keep it up. We must change, and do so before the economy and the ecology collapse irrevocably. We must do so intelligently, thoughtfully, and with care in choosing what kind of economy we can sustain.

And what does this have to do with gardening? Take a peek back at those farms and homes I talked about earlier. What was in the back yard? Yep, the humble kitchen garden. Where were most people living? You got it -- on local farms, supplying people in the area with fresh produce, meat, and eggs.

If global climate change is the demon child of the industrial revolution and the transformation of producers into mass consumers, the way out again is to become producers once again and become more thoughtful consumers. Eating locally is one avenue. Eating locally reduces our reliance on produce shipped from faraway countries, and you can't get much more local than your own back yard. There's also nearby farms and farmer's markets. Buying local not only reduces one's carbon footprint, it also keeps money in your local economy, which keeps local businesses and farms alive and preserves meaningful employment in your area.

Natural landscaping is another avenue. Outside of the kitchen garden, thoughtful choices among native and near-native plants can reduce water consumption, contribute to carbon-sequestering, and support local wildlife. Organic gardening methods put carbon-rich humus in the soil, which increases carbon-sequestering.

Then there is the more cerebral part of organic gardening. As the gardener goes through the seasons, learning from books and by (sometimes hard) experience about which plants to choose, how to care for them, and which pests to watch out for, the gardener connects to the natural world and the rhythms of the seasons. Thoughtful choices in the garden, from which pest control methods to use to which plants to choose, can lead to thoughtful choices outside of the garden. If I don't want to put poisons on my plants, do I want poisons in the household cleaners I use? If I'm concerned about the health of my soil, what about the soil of our nation's farms? What do I care about the latest fashions or must-buy products when I have a harvest of tomatoes and corn to take pride in?

By some religious traditions, humans began life in a garden. With a little effort, maybe it will be gardens that keep us alive as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I eat local because I can...

A long, busy summer has gone by since I last took the time to sit down and garden blog. There's something about the late summer, with the heat and the whole yard drying to a crisp and even the weeds punking out that kind of diminishes garden fever, until the spring catalogs arrive.

This summer I've had lots of landscaping projects in mind, but knowing that we were about to have the roof torn off of our house and reconstructed gave me pause: "Hmm, those guys are paid to demolish and build, they're not paid to tiptoe gently around the tulips." Nope, not at all. And I'm glad, now that construction is underway (pictures to come -- the transformation on our house is astonishing) that I did put off my summer projects. It looks like a mini-tornado has been through. Fortunately the shrubs next to the house are practically indestructible.

Eating local, whether out of the garden, the farmer's market, or nearby farms, has been a common theme this summer, and will continue all winter. I've dried several pints of sun-dried tomatoes, canned whole bushel (42 pints) of peaches from a local farm and 40 pints of pears from a friend's pear tree, and froze 60 pounds of blueberries from a blueberry farm. Oh, lordy, the flavor of home-canned peaches is incomparable. Nectar. Ambrosia. Food of the gods. I'm glad I put up double of what I usually put up, so I don't have to try to make them stretch and can have home-canned fruit salad when I want. Alas, I missed the cherry harvest and didn't get cherries put up. Try again next year.

All those shiny, colorful jars of produce look so nice on the pantry shelf, and give me a smug, self-sufficient feeling. If we're snowed in this winter, we'll certainly have enough fruit to eat. Maybe not a whole lot else, but fruit, yeah, we have it!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday Finds

It's been a busy week, so not much gleaned. There IS a lot going on in the garden now that the tomatoes are leaping out of the ground, the strawberries are producing, and I see today that the pie cherries are turning. Pictures to come!

A few things I've stumbled across:
  • Have an iPod Touch or an iPhone? Here are 10 garden apps for you to play with, from plant encyclopedias to local eating databases.
  • What do you do when your city is losing population and neighborhoods are turning into ghost towns? Does it make green sense to bulldoze vacant houses, after removing any thing recyclable, and return the land to nature? There are both pros and cons to the plan, of course, but it's interesting to see that "negative growth" doesn't have to be a dirty phrase.
  • Bloggers have an ethical code? Apparently so, according to this study!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday Finds (a day late -- so sue me)

It's been a draining weekend so far. A funeral double-header. Seriously. Two funerals in one weekend. I'm doing a good deal of quiet knitting and flower-planting this weekend.

A few interesting finds from the last week or so:

  • Goats instead of lawn mowers? More and more communities are seeing this as a good idea. And corporations, too -- check out the Google Goats.
  • USA Today finally caught on to the concept of Urban Farming.
  • Want to keep locally-owned businesses in business? Join the 3-50 movement. Choose three locally-owned businesses -- actual storefronts that are not franchises -- and spend $50 each month at each of them. The effects can be enormous. Hmm... I think between the garden center, the local pet supply shop, and the new crepe and gelato restaurant, I spent my 3-50 cash for the month and then some.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Oregon Garden in Spring

On a sunny weekend not long ago -- Memorial Day to be precise -- we decided to get out of the house and do something. The summer-like air called us outdoors and off we skipped to The Oregon Garden in Silverton (which I think was a much better plan than going to a movie, which was the first thought).

The garden owns over 200 acres of land, once a horse ranch, and about 18 acres have been developed. Moonstone Hotels owns a luxurious lodge with conference facilities in the grounds and took over the garden finances not long ago when the garden was having serious financial problems. With their sponsorship and the presence of the hotel, the garden is on track to success once again.

From the highest point on the slope, one can look down at the garden, wild bits and landscaped bits alike, and off across the Willamette Valley to the Coast Range in the distance:

The series of ponds that connect to one another down the hillside are more than just pretty. They also provide wetland habitat, and, believe it or not, filter treated municipal water, which irrigates and provides nutrients for the garden.

We caught the electric tram for a quick tour around the garden to spot things we wanted to see on foot later. For a public garden of its size, it has a lot of variation, innovation, and charming little bits like this green roof on the pumphouse for the water garden:

The children's garden was one of my favorite spots, for all the imaginative features packed into one spot. The garden sports a dragon windvane:

As well as a couple of pot people:

And a Hobbit house for the kids to play in, running through the tunnel or rolling down its slopes:

And even a huge sandbox complete with dinosaur bones to unearth:

Kids can wonder at the vertical garden and peer at all the little succulents growing on its face:

For the smallest visitors, a miniature garden features tiny houses and riddles painted on rocks:

Beyond the edges of the developed gardens is a stretch of native prairie that is slowly being restored. In the midst stands the Heritage Oak, an Oregon White Oak over 400 years old:

Who says public gardens have to be only ornamental? Here the vegetable gardens demonstrate square foot gardening:

I plan to install an espaliered apple fence like this in my own garden:

And of course there were formal gardens, with some pretty amazing fountains and sculptures:

That's only a sampling. You'll have to visit the gardens yourself to see the rest!

Friday, June 05, 2009


We just learned that the mother of a family we know in the neighborhood, whose son is one of my son's buddies, passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. She leaves behind a husband, grown son, and two school-age daughters. Must see what we can do for them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Finds

A round-up of interesting, more-or-less garden and ecology related stuff I've run across this week:

  • Deputy Dog blog shows that without a doubt solid waste pollution is a problem. Holy Shamoley, is it a problem!
  • Frances Moore LappĂ©, whose career as an environmental activist started with the classic cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet, says that we're going to have to make a few simple but fundamental changes in our thinking if we're going to even have a planet to hand on to future generations.
  • Susan Harris at Garden Rant shows a terrific Stickwork Summer Palace built entirely of natural materials. Looks like a soft-serve ice cream made of sticks and straw. I want one!
  • Every now and then the New York Times gets it right with a gardening article. This time it's one on making a salsa garden. (Yes, that's me, the country kid, snarking at them city slickers.)
  • Needled, a needlework blog, shows beautiful photos of the gardens at Arfin, in Scotland. Drool. Now where am I going to get the money to go to Scotland, because now I must go!
  • Another excuse to go to your locally-owned garden center or nursery: The 3-50 Project to stimulate your local economy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

To Dad (Air Force, Korean War), Grandpa (Army, WWI), and great-great-Grandpa (Union Army, American Civil War) who served this country, and to Uncle Richard (Army, WWII) who died for it:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

Friday, May 15, 2009

Going Vertical

The satisfyingly messy project is done -- though if I repaint the trellises, I'll use a brush next time. Even with tarps down, the spray paint went everywhere. I also ended up spraying more paint on the dropcloth than on the narrow slats of the trellises -- not terribly cost-effective. But they are done, dry, and up, adding a splash of gaudy color and a vertical element to an otherwise altogether too horizontal front garden:

The melons I grew in the greenhouse and moved to the cold frame are now planted below and tethered to their trellises, with some flat rocks spray-painted black sitting at their feet to soak up a little extra solar heat. The Charentais melons still look a little bedraggled from their move. Too soon an exposure to full sun, perhaps? Though the new leaves look better:

Sugar Baby watermelons look a little more sturdy. We'll see how they do. Melons are always a chancy proposition in this climate:

The tomatoes and peppers are all snug in their Kozy Koats until night temperatures warm up again. I'm trying the technique of clipping the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and burying the stem horizontally, with the remaining leaves sticking up. The plants grow adventitious roots from the leaf nodes (terms which my students should recognize -- right? Right?), making the whole plant sturdier and giving them more roots to draw up more nutrients and water.

The weather for the next couple of weeks is supposed to be in the 70s and 80s, great for these neotropical crops, but couldn't it have started a few days ago, instead of the day after the field trips are over? But then again, we got only light sprinkles and no torrential downpours while we were out, so there's that to be thankful for.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Students in the Mist. With Orchids.

Field trip week!

This week I took three groups of biology students into the field to do some basic ecological data gathering to come up with some descriptive statistics of the forest. The Cronemiller Lake area in McDonald-Dunn forest (owned by Oregon State University) has extensive stands of Douglas-fir regrowth, some of it fairly old, with a nice selection of native shrubs and not too many invasives.

There was a great deal of this native to contend with -- good ol' Poison-oak:

Leaflets three, let them be, right? Only, it's also a really, really good idea to be familiar with Poison-oak's many growth forms, including vigorous and rampant vines, which made taking the circumference of the large trees a bit of an adventure:

I was trying to get some shots of students at work, which, when taken from the relative safety of the trail, were coming out with a whole Gorillas in the Mist effect.

There... look closely at the base of the large Douglas-fir... you can just see them:

Ah, there's one member of the troop, moving apart from the others:

Oh, and look at this! Isn't this exciting?
Several more emerge from the shelter of the thick shrubs:
And now the sun comes out and we break into a clearing where several groups were hard at work here:

And here:
And that was another thrilling episode of Students in the Mist!

While supervising students and wielding the camera, there are, of course, ample opportunities to get pictures of the forest flora. A vine maple here, its leaves shiny with the morning rain that (hooray!) ceased before we set out:

Hazelnut leaves and catkins catching the afternoon sun:
The plumy white flower and triple triangular leaves of Vanilla Leaf, with the foliage of Fairy Bells in the foreground:

Baneberry, a sensitive species, was in full bloom. It seems to be doing well despite last year's trampling herds of students:
Lots of lovely yellow Wood Violets:

And the wild Bleeding Hearts were in full bloom:

Wild Iris turned up in the clearing:
As did Waterleaf, just coming into flower:

But the prize for the flower-spotter is tiny little Calypso, a native orchid which stands only a couple of inches high: