Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Ugliest Corner of my Yard

Several other garden blogs, in the name of full disclosure, have revealed the ugliest bits of their gardens. Here is what mine looks like -- or rather, looked like -- a few weeks ago:

That would be a useless, cracked, mossy, stained, nasty-looking concrete pad, about 22 feet on a side, that the former owners put in for their kids to play basketball on. Right in front of the house. Our kids never played basketball on it, so there it sat. But take it out? "No, Mom," they'd say. "Don't take it out. We could have a garage sale there."

Said garage sale never materialized, and the concrete kept getting uglier and uglier, with more cracks and more moss. Well, the moss was an improvement, really. At least it was green in the winter.

The kids are out of the house and I've lived with this monstrosity for too many years now. The poor "Hobbit tree" is dead and needs to come down, so with the promise of no shade on that part of the yard, and with sunny bits at a premium, it was time. Past time really, but time to do something a bit more organic with the spot.

So last Monday the concrete guys came with a big noisy machine and took away all the concrete. Now look at it!

Errr... ummm... it's, uh, dirt. Nice... well, not even nice dirt. Sticky red clay. But NO CONCRETE! Yaaay! There wasn't even a bed of gravel under it (which was probably one reason that it didn't hold up). I tried loosening the soil up with a digging fork, but while the soil was pretty soft to begin with, since we had a good rain this week, all it did was ball up in a sticky mass on the digging fork and on the bottoms of my feet. Ah, takes me back to my youth, growing up on a Christmas tree farm on a hill made almost entirely of red clay that stuck to our rubber boots until we looked like we were wearing basketballs. I sowed the whole thing with gypsum and called it good. At least that should prevent hardpan from forming.

Next weekend the barkdust company across town is bringing in a load of topsoil. That I'll spread, pile into beds, and have me a raised bed garden. And THAT will finally be an improvement.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To dig up: potatoes, turnips, Viking treasure hoard...

From the National Geographic website: Viking Treasure Trove Discovered in Swedish Garden.

Aw, and to think that the most exciting thing I've ever dug up in my garden was a lost Koosh ball.

Now there was the time when I was in third grade, when we lived in a rental house that had been a farmhouse, and my brothers discovered a trunk buried in the garden. After much digging and soaking the hard clay soil with a hose, they finally extracted it. To their dismay and disgust, all it contained with some kind of animal skeleton, probably a large dog.

But if there are any Vikings out there wondering where to bury their treasure, I've got a lovely garden...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Anyone want to buy a native plant nursery?

Wally Hansen is retiring from the nursery business, and is selling Wallace Hansen Nursery. It's a well-established native plant nursery that many folks in the mid-Willamette Valley area have come to know, love, and rely on. It appears that Wally would like this to continue as a nursery business. If you or anyone you know has a burning desire to run a nursery, has some nursery business know-how, and would like to live in Oregon, this is a terrific opportunity. Property, house, nursery, existing stock, greenhouses and all are included in the sale. See for more information and tons of pictures.

On a more selfish note -- someone please buy this and continue it as a native plant nursery, because if it goes away, there's no other place around where I can get native plants for my garden! If I'd gotten my graduate degree in horticulture instead of science education I'd be all over this.

Erosion control

It's because the driveway in the back of our house goes like this:

that there's a bit of an erosion problem at the bottom of the drive.

Access to the back driveway is by means of a blind alley, and on the other side of the alley, the ground slopes steeply down into the neighbor's yard. Winter rains go sluicing down the drive and can tear up the slope, which the downhill neighbors keep barkdusted and free of weeds, so there's nothing to hold the slope together except some photinia bushes. The neighbor kids go running up and down the thin strip of bare dirt that technically belongs to the people on the side of us, but the neighbors don't take care of it, and then they go down the steep barkdusted slope, tearing furrows in the already threatened banks. Their experiments in using a hose full blast to carve canyons into the slope didn't help any, either. After I carefully raked the dirt back into place they kinda got the hint that maybe that wasn't a good idea.

I'd placed a row of rocks along the edge of the paving, trying to divert some of the water, but I'm not sure how effective it's been. So I took stronger measures this weekend. After picking up the rocks, I dug a trench along the edge of the pavement and the top of the slope, piled some of the dirt on the slope side of the trench, and mixed the rest with some compost and steer manure to increase the organic content of the red-clay-and-rock mix that serves as soil in this neighborhood. Then I set the rocks against the small ridge I'd raised, making in effect an very narrow "rain garden" -- or rather, a runoff garden. Here 'tis, freshly dug:

Since our monsoon season is late October through the end of June or so, I planted some native spring-blooming damp-meadow plants, specifically Sidalcea (Checker mallow) and Camas, which I picked up at the fall sale at Wallace Hansen Gardens. I know where I can collect Camas seeds in the spring, too, so I'll sow the plot with seeds later. Since the slope bakes in the summer, I ordered some native Goldenrod and some Zinnia grandiflora, both western prairie plants that do well in dry areas and tolerate clay. I just ordered a few from High Country Gardens to try out. If they can tolerate damp winters, they should flourish in the dry summers. All of these plants are butterfly plants, so if they colonize, I may start getting a healthy population of butterflies around here.

As for the bare dirt slope, I wanted to plant that with something that would hold the slope together, but wouldn't need much care, since it's an awkward place to get a hose into. I also wanted something good for birds or beneficial insects. My Red Hot Poker plants needed thinning, so as I was pulling out big, fat corms I thought, "Well, why not these?" They tolerate shade pretty well, they propagate easily, they exist on little water all summer, they're green in the winter, and the blossoms feed hummingbirds and finches. I collected a bucketfull of healthy corms, used my mattock to dig holes in the compacted soil on the slope, and planted the whole bank in Red Hot Pokers. If I'd thought of that sooner, I'd have tried ordering some fall-blooming ones. Oh, well, these were free. I gave the slope a thorough soaking with a sprinkler while I went inside and cleaned out the guinea pig cage, then lightly mulched the slope with the used shavings.

Now to go talk to the kid next door about the problems of erosion...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Kitten Saga continues

Readers may remember that our yard was blessed again with kittens in May (see Kittens: The Sequel). The story didn't end with that post, obviously. When the kittens reached six weeks, I was ready to get them indoors. Alas, if I'd only started a few days sooner -- poor Gadget was taken by some predator and found dead one street over. The neighbor's nosy kid found the nest of survivors in our yard (grrr!) and came over to report that his mom was going to call the Humane Society and have them taken away (double grrr!). That accelerated the plan, and after getting a spay certificate from the local no-kill shelter, I got Toast, the mother, trapped and rounded up the babies. Toast went to the vet and got spayed and came back home.

Here are the babies a couple days after we caught them. I put together a "playpen" in the living room made from those wire squares that go together to make storage cubes. This kept them safe, and and the same time kept them around people.

This is Sprocket...

And here are Edison and Gizmo.

Toast still hangs around the house. She's a smart little girl and saw me take her babies in, so when she came home from the vet, she came up on the deck to peek in the windows until she found them. I feed her regularly, and she's slowly getting used to people. I think she's a little lonesome; when I go out into the garden, she often follows me around.

So the idea was that we'd foster the babies for the no-kill shelter, and then they'd be adopted out when they were past the delicate stage and had been fixed and microchipped. We were quite sure that six cats would be too many for this house.


... we're kinda used to them now. And rather attached to them. Edison, the goofy little brother of the trio, is a lovable little purr machine. Sprocket has the most winsome face and loves to cuddle. And while Gizmo is more independent, she can be a loving little thing, too. They're all doing fine with us, but are still shy of strangers.

So it looks like we're going to have to have a word with the shelter about these three:



and our darling Edison.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Literary Gardener Calendar

It's here! For garden literature enthusiasts who need some inspiration for their own journals, here is the Literary Gardener Calendar for 2008.

This calendar features original photos from my garden, inspiring quotes from fine gardening literature, and journal prompts for each month to help when you out when the words run dry.

I'll keep a link to this calendar in the sidebar, as well as to the books quoted on each month's page -- naturally when you read the quotes, you'll want to read the books as well!

Thanks to the magic of, the calendar is available on demand and at a reasonable price until the end of February 2008. Delivery time is about a week after ordering, but allow more time during the holiday season, as the demand for calendars will be higher and the mail volume will increase.