Posts Tagged ‘garden’

Does This Plant Come With A Warning Label

Some plants should come with a warning label – caution, will seed freely.  This is also true of garden compost and bagged soil amendments – be forewarned – hidden seeds included.  If you have bought or better yet been given that special plant that in no time has established itself everywhere in your yard, or you purchased the bag of steer manure or garden compost or had a unit delivered only to find it full of unwanted weed seeds, you have a direct experience of what I speak.  Bulbs can be like this as well – warning- propagates aggressively.  I laughed when my good friend bought three gallon pots of grape hyacinth.  I told her to only plant them where she would like a few thousand to spread.  I know because I have filled many two and three cubic yard bags with the ones in my garden.  This was only after carefully spreading them around the first two years.

I started my perennial gardening with hardy geraniums.  In the first years I bought any geranium that had a different name.  Some were tidy little plants that stayed in place or spread modestly.  Others grew large in a season and I happily divided them up and planted them around, mainly G. oxonianum ‘A.T. Johnson’ and G. psilostemon.  When you have a lot of dirt and a small budget this kind of plant is quite welcomed as it fills the space.  You may not be thinking and throw the unwanted ones in your compost and then at a later date spread the compost around.  Oh my, those plants are showing up everywhere.  And so my hardy geraniums have.  I still have a fondness for most of them but the ones whose leaves have a distinctive odor, the macrrorrhizum family, I put in the lawn trash almost without exception.  There is always an exception.

Plants are smart (read Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan) they will woo you into letting them spread.  I have a Malva zebrina which I took from my friend Susan.  It grows to about three feet and is filled with beautiful lavender swirl flowers from early summer till frost.  The variations from one plant to another are intriguing.  What could be a problem with this you ask?  When you find about 100 of them the following year you may have a change of heart.  I bought a red veined sorrel in a 4″ pot that came with a hefty price tag for a plant of that ilk and size.  It seemed quite precious.  I now have hundreds if not thousands.  Anyone having a plant sale is always welcome to dig those up.  Rosa Rubrifolia anyone?  A lovely tree rose with blue green foliage and a sweet single petal pink rose.  You can find small starts of this all around the mother rose and within 15 feet in most directions.

I still shudder when I remember the plants that became gardening disasters.  The worst was a variegated Australian grass given to me by the plant buyer at Portland nursery with the instruction to propagate it.  I planted it by my greenhouse under the water cooling system.  Lovely, I thought!  When the first sharp pointed spike poked up through the greenhouse floor a savvy gardener would have acted immediately.  Being generally overwhelmed I thought I would take care of it later.  So for two years I diligently snapped the shoots off always intending to finally deal with the problem.  On the third year the shoots were showing up three quarters of the way down the greenhouse floor.  It was a major excavation project that took a few days and required two passes till it was all out.  This is a plant for the freeway median line: invasive, indestructible and needs no care.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson.  About four years ago I had a handful of garlic and onion seed that I blithely tossed into a long bed at the back of the property.  I have had garlic growing in that bed ever since.  In general this had been just a pesky problem until this year.  Last year I made a great effort to get all the garlic out and prevent it from seeding anew.  So I was really surprised when new plants filled my beds again.  I’m not sure just what I have as it looks like a young tough scallion but smells faintly of garlic.  What I do know is that it is everywhere.  I filled a trash can with the ones I dug from the small bed it had invaded.  I still have the large one to tackle.

Garlic / onion plants pulled from small bed

Sometimes when I’m at the farmers market or a plant sale I want to warn the person buying a certain plant.  On a few occasions I have done so.  I whisper that the plant will freely multiply and they don’t need three as one will be sufficient.  I am still amazed that the red vein sorrel sells for $4.00 a piece.  I have a fortune on my hands if I was only willing to dig it up and sell it.

Young red veined sorrel seedlings

Or how about that sweet smelling mint plant?  Put it in a barrel or you will spend your gardening life time pulling it out.  Another red flag plant – violets.  My friend lost her whole garden to violets.  They grow by under ground runners and seeds.  I’m so afraid of violets that I once threw out a newly bought plant because I found a violet growing in it.  I did plant one 15 years ago.  I pulled it out before the season was finished, and yet, I still find an odd plant growing every year.  Take heed, you’ve been forewarned!

Don’t get me wrong, I have some plants that spread that I totally love.  Columbine can always find a spot in my yard, or a wispy yellow grass a friend gave me.  I have a small purple hardy geranium that flowers in early spring that seeds around and the G. phaeum ‘Merry Widow’ lines a bed in part shade.  Sedum courses through my path stepping stones along with Blue Star Creeper, and I have a love / hate relationship with Astrantia which grows in almost every flowering bed I have.

Hardy Geranium that blooms each spring

If you come to my house and I offer you a plant I will always mention, “Remember I’m giving you this plant because I have a lot of them.  You will too.”  So when a friend offers you an extra from their garden you might want to investigate before accepting.  This might be a plant that should have a warning label!


The Spring Garden

When sunny days come to my NW garden, I understand why the lizard crawls onto the rock to warm his blood.  Like him, the sun beckons to me and I find myself standing in my yard with my head turned towards the sun’s warmth.  There is something in spring which calls me and I cannot help but respond to the silent message.  Come, come, comeLike the sap rising in the under layers of the tree which must of its very nature make this journey, I too, must come to this moment.

Each year I marvel at the burst of green that seems to emerge overnight from winters brown.  Within days my yard is filled with every shade of green and the first flowers announce the lengthening light.  After the hellebore brings forth their nodding heads of many hues, the Ribes sanguineum, flowering current, bursts into bloom to let the bees and hummingbirds know spring has arrived.  There is blue of grape hyacinth and blue bells; tulips in yellows, pinks, purples and white; the Euonymus fortunei ‘golden prince’ puts forth long arms of green stems with bright yellow on every leaf.

Euonymus ‘Golden Prince’

The fat buds of clematis peel open their petals and announce the expanding light, while the fragrance of daphne stops me in my tracks and demands a moments pause.  Shy nodding heads of columbine ask me to look down and the big blooms of rhododendron take my eyes skyward.

Each day something new.  When I hear someone say, “Oh I saw the garden before” I cringe.  This isn’t the garden of last year or even yesterday.  It changes moment to moment.  Each day in my travels in the yard I pick every dandelion bloom and flower I can find.  But before I stumble back to the house exhausted from my labors, three more have emerged teasing me with their wispy heads.  This is the garden of the moment, of change and impermanence.  This garden asks me to be awake, be present to the wonder of the moment because it will not last.  (Picasa photo album)

I have come to warm in the sun but the spring sun is unpredictable.  It shines and I rush to get outside only to find the clouds have closed in and the wind is cold.  Perhaps it will rain and I will stand under the big Doug Firs to stay dry or wait it out in the greenhouse.

Flowering current in early spring

I dress in layers of gardening clothes that can be piled on or removed in a moment.  They are often fairly dirty from kneeling in wet grass or soil, carrying compost and digging.  I am not the spring maiden on the garden catalog in her flowing dress, with quaint hat and woven basket.  I look more like the bag lady that lives under the bridge.  Spring weather is quixotic and it is more than once I have come back the next day to find a discarded layer now soaked by the rain.

The lizard knows the sun from cellular memory passed down through DNA.  Maybe this is how I also know the sun.  But I carry the memory of the spring warmth in my heart and warm myself through the gray days that will stretch out over the next several months.  I recall a year when the sun barely emerged until almost the end of July.  That was a test.  Yet the moment the sun shone for good, all the gray was forgotten.  Is this our human nature saying be here now?

Variegated weigela in bloom with rhododendron budding out

The garden holds many secrets.  Some secrets are caught by the astute eye which notices the subtle changes moment to moment, but others sweep in bigger movements and come to light only through the years.  Twenty years in this garden have shown me the cycles of life and the preciousness of the moment.  The garden has taught me to have patience as the small tree will grow and I will marvel years later that I planted it at all.  I have learned to let go of regrets when a favorite plant stays only for a season or a few years and then is gone.  I love the gardeners wisdom that tell us newbies that this year our plant will sleep, next year it will creep, and then it will leap.  I know too that the freshness of spring will wane and the chore of watering will at times overshadow the joy I feel now.  The garden is a task mistress.  So I enjoy the spring garden in many ways and remind myself that the sun that is so precious now will in months to come be too much and I will long once again for the rain.

Vegetables Come From the Store

Growing up I never questioned where vegetables came from.  I didn’t believed they grew at the grocery store, they just came from the store.  It wasn’t until I was a young teen that this unconscious belief came to light.  My family home in San Diego was large and mostly filled the city lot it was situated on.  There was a very small front yard hidden from the street by bushy plantings (great for finding lizards), a small side yard that we eventually made into a covered patio, and a small back yard.  The back yard was an oval patch of hopeless grass surrounded by a border that grew plants that needed no care.  I know this because no cared for them.  I used the dirt area around the lawn to bury my animals and on a few occasions watered the lawn hoping it would become green.  The lawn never responded.  Mostly the back yard was a place where my sister and I laid out to tan ourselves, and my brother keep a land turtle and later an iguana.

One summer my mother grew a tomato, a pepper and an eggplant.  I only noticed her project when the fruit began to ripen.  I found her one afternoon tending her plants and probably asked what they were.  This was my ‘aha’ moment.  Vegetables came from the earth and someone was growing them.

‘Duh’ you say and so do I now, but not then.  I had never considered this.  It isn’t that I was a book worm with my head buried in pages, or so dreamy I only noticed the clouds.  I picked red hibiscus flowers to feed the iguana, I ran the street barefoot, picked mint and caterpillars from the side yard before it became cement, and went to the egg lady’s house in the country when an Easter duckling was no longer a prized pet and needed a new home desperately.  The origin of vegetables had just slipped my awareness.

This memory stays with me.  I wonder if it is the beginning of my fascination with growing plants.  There were many years from that moment till I grew my first vegetables.  I was married and living in Sonoma County in Northern California.  We lived on a Poled Hereford ranch in the old foreman’s house.  The soil was fabulous.  I didn’t really know this at the time.  It is only in hindsight and lots of experience with not so great soil that I realize what I had that first year.  I planted a six pack of cabbages in late January and by March they were huge.  I didn’t like cabbage and so I gave them away.  I also planted some tomato plants.  One morning I found the tomatoes limp and no amount of watering would make them right.  I went to the vegetable stand where I bought them and asked what had happened.  They told we’d had a frost and that’s why they were dead.  I wanted to know why they would sell them if this could happen.  They gave me new plants for free. I imagine out of compassion for my ignorance.  So I learned about frosts.  San Diego never gets colder than about 50 degrees, frosts were not in my experience

After that first taste I wanted more.   We moved to a small cabin in the redwoods.  My husband, Bill, built me a small green house in the only cleared level space we had.  I started my tomato plants.  I had been reading about compost.  I knew there was great composted soil right under the big redwoods and used that for my plants.  They grew to 2″ and stopped.  After research I learned that tomatoes can’t grow in the acidic soil around redwoods.  All plants have a PH range in which they can grow and most vegetables want soil in the middle ranges.  Not to be deterred,  I read more and learned that worm castings is the crown jewel of planting soil.  We found a source nearby and took truckloads back to our house.  We build some cold frames from wood and old windows and I moved my tomato plants.  They began to grow.  They grew and grew and became so leggy they couldn’t stand up.  A new lesson, plants need to have seasonal highs and lows to grow well and not the high heat of a cold frame followed by the cold of night.  I put in a veggie garden in the only patch that got almost enough light.  It went ok.  I started a compost pile and tended it with care.  When Bill and I separated I took my compost and weeks later took the bin too.  I was getting attached to growing.

Through the years I planted gardens when I could.  I moved back to San Diego and put in a garden.  My dad helped me turn the soil.  We were both so excited.  He told me how he had always wanted to grow tomatoes (secret life of parents).  My tomato plants grew lush and green but not one tomato.  Why???  It turns out that when you live by the ocean the summer weather is too cool for tomatoes.  My dad and I were so disappointed but my education continued.

When we moved to Oregon the house we bought had a large garden space.  I was itching to get started.  The previous owner helped me draw up a grid and plot my garden – 25′ X 50′.  I bought a 24′ greenhouse on impulse.  I lost lots of sleep worrying that I didn’t know what I was doing.  That year I planted a packet of basil and several packets of tomatoes.  Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Soloman was my bible.  I carried it everywhere.  I found my way to Portland Nursery.  I wanted to know if they would have the tomatoes I was growing in case my starts failed.  Talking with the plant buyer he wasn’t sure; as they bought from local growers and it would depend on what they planted.  I went home and tended my new plants.  As they grew and I potted them into 4″ pots, I realized I was a local grower.  That year I sold Portland Nursery basil, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  I sold cut basil to Marco’s my local restaurant.  I was trilled with my success.

I loved driving across the river with my car filled with flats of green plants.  I was in an ocean of green, just another sprout among many.  One year I decided to really go for it.  I filled and emptied the greenhouse three times.  I drove plants weekly.  In the end I probably grew 1500 tomatoes, 500 peppers and eggplants, and lots of basil.  I grew pansies too, but they were covered in aphids and too leggy to sell.  I planted them in a newly turned bed.  When I did my accounting I realized I had paid for my expenses but not my time.  My career selling plants came to an end.

Plants under grow lights

One year after buying a new indoor growing system I grew about 900 plants to pay for it.  I sold these to friends and Langdown Nursery and then planted all the extras that I had.  My beds were filled with lots of peppers and eggplants.  Now I grow mostly for myself with a few extras to sell.  I still thrill to see the seeds sprout and bear their first true leaves.

Tomato with first flowers

I like to transplant them into their larger homes for planting out later.  Each year I experiment with new varieties but also stay true to old favorites.  If I had the room and the help I would plant hundreds of different varieties.  Neil, my husband and occasional helpmate, has asked me if there is ever enough plants?  I don’t think so.  This year I am trying cowpots, four inch containers formed from sterilized cow manure.  I like the idea of not using plastic and planting plant, pot and all.  I’ve learned that the down side of plantable containers is that when the pots are close together in a growing situation they can form mold.  I’m still learning.

So now I know – vegetables do come from the store, but they come from growers first.  Want to be a local grower?

Sweet pepper in bloom