Saturday, April 30, 2011

Garden Art: An Ode to Salmon Fertilizer

On our way to a medical appointment a few days ago we noticed jet sleds in the Willamette River as we drove over the Burnside Bridge into downtown Portland. It was fairly early in the morning, and the appearance of so many boats only meant one thing to us: salmon. It reminded me that I needed to hang up a piece of garden art I'd purchased a year or so ago so I thought later that afternoon might be a good time.

Salmon have always been around throughout my entire life, but I see them less and less on the dinner table. Instead, the salmon I now see is often in a bucket, it's sludge-like, and I feed my garden with it. If you've ever used the stuff, it's likely you never bought it again due to its odor, but the salmon emulsion fertilizer is truly great stuff.

Later that afternoon, I attached the salmon head to our back door. It faces east because salmon head that direction when they leave the Pacific Ocean, swimming up the Columbia River in order to reach their spawning grounds. Ideally, from Astoria, Oregon to Washington State and Idaho, the salmon will find their way home to spawn.

Native Americans along the Columbia annually place the bones of the first caught salmon of the season back into the river. They are meant to act as a kind of marker for the supernatural salmon to return to the area during next season. My salmon is the mythical salmon, so it is white. I too want to make a kind of salmon prayer, urging the fish to come home.

I also placed my salmon marker facing east to watch the sunrise, watching over my garden, showing the others which way to go, cheering them on. As for the salmon fertilizer, much like the salmon bones, I toss it out each season so the supernatural bees and other pollinators know I'm open for business.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Garden Flaws: How to Improve Aluminum Windows Blocking Your Complete Garden Vision

Our home was built in 1911, and during the last 100 years, some things have been changed. Sometimes these changes don't sit well with the real integrity of the house, and for me, one of these many beefs I have is with the aluminum windows on the back of the house. They just don't fit in with the rest.

Originally, the back of the house had a large sun porch and a butler's pantry. Much later, the wall between these rooms was removed, the door to the kitchen was covered up, and the large windows were replaced with these cheap aluminum ones. I love the extra back room, and the lack of kitchen storage space is something we deal well with, but the windows drive me nuts.

In a perfect world, I'd replace them and put back the appropriate windows, but this is not that world. Usually, each summer I hide the windows with plants from the outside, and this year is no exception. I intend to grow all of my Christmas cacti in these old hoops soon. The sight of the plants is almost always distracting when you have them all hanging in a row, but what about a solution? I need a solution I can afford!
Then I noticed this amazing window treatment at the Portland Japanese Garden last weekend at their annual plant sale while I was standing in line. It's brilliant and I think it would look great! Our garden is a mess right now, and it is hard to see all of this clearly through the debris, but I think this is the new plan. 
Don't you agree? (I should add that we have plenty of other Japanese elements in the garden and this might actually begin to tie them all together. So often the details are so easily overlooked.) 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Top 12 To-Do List for the 2011 Growing Season

There's nothing I'd enjoy more than to complete the many tasks on any one of the lists floating around this house. As a recovered perfectionist, it has pained me greatly to become so physically unable to do so many simple things. But I'm not giving up—and neither should any of you—when swelling or any other kind of chronic malady shows up to bring dark clouds to an otherwise sunny day. I know that when you cannot work, you cannot hire help, but that doesn't mean that you should let it all pile up as I so often do. Things need to be tackled, and when they are tackled, you beat that obstacle and are better prepared for whatever else is coming your way.

(If you are not a gardener struggling with chronic illness, I am pretty sure you have these lists too. If you are able-bodied, and willing to help, think about offering a hand to help another gardener in need. For you too may be there someday.)
  1. COVER. Add a larger covered area of some kind, any kind, to the backyard to encourage the cats to recreate outdoors more often. I'd like to have a place back there too. Kids might even figure out that's it's fun. We will see.
  2. SHELTER. Enclose the small shed attached to the garage/storage studio and throw out its contents. Consider using the large inherited kiln in this space. The pile of salvaged wood stored in the garage/studio is sure to come in handy for this task.  
  3. DEFENSE. Get around to having a gorgeous fence made in the backyard and add a small deck platform to it. After all this time, I'd like to finally say goodbye to that apartment building once and for all. 
  4. POWER. Add electrical outdoors outlets since there is not a single one in sight! 
  5. GUIDANCE. Clean all paths in the garden from my many piles of debris. Get rid of broken pots. Throw away anything that is not vital to the completion of my goals. No empty planters. Sell them or give them away.
  6. STRUCTURE. Make things and things with happen. The fact that our cement stucco home terrifies me is a big hinderance to the completion of this task.
  7. EDIT. Be brave and remove plants that show little improvement. Others WILL take their place. I have a pile of those too.
  8. VIEW. Buy a projector so we can watch movies with the kids in the backyard this summer. They are so often denied such luxuries and it is such a perfect fit for all involved. 
  9. DIRECTION. Better define how the garden functions with more hardscaping projects completed. 
  10. SOLID. Finish up the back porch. It's an eyesore in concrete and it needs to be pebble mosaic. 
  11. HANG. That's right. Hang all the items I need to hang, and get over my fear of masonry.
  12. COLOR. Color me concrete. Paint the architectural details on the front porch and garage/studio and consider repainting the front porch. Finally!
Hope you're all making your lists too!
Pieris japonica 'Valley Valentine.'

Friday, April 15, 2011

Germination Experiment: Begonia semperflorens

Abstract: To discover if I could germinate the most simple and basic of garden variety annuals, the Wax Begonia, from seeds collected from plants purchased by myself, or grown by myself, the year before.

Method: I collected a lot of dried capsules full of powdery seeds from some Green Leaf White begonias (store bought), Bronze Leaf White begonias (store bought), and some Ambassador Red begonias (grown from commercial seeds).

Results: Very interesting and 100% expected! The tray on the left is all Green Leaf White baby begonias. The tray on the right has some striped lime petunias on top, the mostly empty area in the middle is where the mostly sterile Ambassador Red begonia seeds were planted, and the stuffed area on the bottom is full of Bronze Leaf White begonias. 

These pathetic little tiny plants are the ones produced from the F1 Ambassador Hybrid seeds. 
Discussion: If anyone ever asks you about saving Begonia semperflorens seeds, now you will know. If they are not super special hybrids, yes, you can!

References: None.

Notes: Plant out soon. We have a sunny forecast next week and they deserve some space! 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Shore Acres State Park and the Darlingtonia State Natural Site

The last night of my trip was spent at another yurt, but this time it was located in Sunset Beach State Park just outside of Coos Bay, Oregon. This is an amazing part of the state just south of our huge sand dunes. I didn't have the time to visit them at length during this trip, but driving past them brought back memories from when I was a child. I'd also forgotten that once again, it is another unique environment with more unique plants so I will certainly return again soon. 

In a way, I was kind of sad my adventure was over. I've been chronically ill for ten years and it was a relief to get out and travel at my own pace with all of the necessary comforts and without any kind of static from upsetting or worrying others. Illness triggers things in all of us in different ways and it is often the elephant in the room. Chronically ill people don't like to be alone too much though, and we really hate to be told that we should hang out with other people like us so that we can find others who understand. Isolating all of us together can just hurt more. Anyone can understand what we are going through—if they want to do so. Many do not want to consider the time when they too will be faced with a health difficulty, but it will happen, and when it does, it will help a lot to have a friend who can help. 

The trip has led me to make three resolutions for the upcoming summer months concerning how to keep healthy so that I can live in my garden and hunt plants from time to time in the woods or wherever:
  1. Ask for help when I need help and no more new projects so that I can finish whatever I've already started. I usually stop because I get to the point where I need help and then I won't ask. 
  2. Simplify my life and my home.
  3. Remember to have fun and to enjoy all of my friends while sticking to the activities that have always been essential to me. Even if my own life has changed, none of my friends will be upset for me so long as I remain who I've always been. We all return to comfort foods, and we all know who our comfort friends are, right? 

Before I left for the day's adventures I found these little beauties beside the car. The one on the left is another twinberry and the one on the right is native salal.
Twinberry bloom.
That last day was much drier than the one before but it was still cool and windy. I jumped into the car and headed out to see the views that I'd remembered as having been so beautiful. 
I was so pleased that I'd chosen to go and as my eyes took all of this in for about an hour or so, my body was filled with a kind of pleasure that only the experience of art can replicate but it is always stunted by the surroundings of a museum and the disruptions of others' gazes. Nothing interfered with my experience that last day and I took it all in for as long as I was able to do so.

My love of Romanticism is showing through, as this most obviously is a manifestation of my complete understanding and acceptance of the Sublime. I think that my trip to see what has always inspired me, was a complete success since I feel recharged and so much more calm now. I hope to return to this idea more and more in the future when it comes to discussing garden and landscape design and if I am well enough, I would like to really dig in to some great critical theory as applied to gardens. 
Near the end of the road are the remains of an old estate built by a lumberman who'd made a fortune in the timber industry. Today it is Shore Acres State Park
The home that once stood on the site burned down years ago but the estate garden remains and that is what attracts visitors to the park. Where the home once stood, there is now an information building and shelter that can be used as a shelter for whale watching during rough weather.
Can you imagine having a patio like this one beside the ocean? Those urns are amazing and the crashing waves incredible! It must have been a lovely home. I wish I had a patio with a view like!

Shore Acres Gardens
Don't you just love the Giant Dracaena?
Hebe bloom.
Well-clipped Azalea x'Hino-Crimson'.
Garden Pavilion for weddings and concerts.
Azalea with the original gardener's quarters in the background.
Entrance to the Asian garden and pond.
Close up of Berberis darwinii.
Garden gateway to cliff overlook and private beach below. 
View looking back toward the entrance from the garden gateway to the ocean.
Some kind of hardy Heliotrope?
View looking back toward the entrance from the Asian garden.
Species Rhododendron. Not sure which.
Sorry for the blurry photo but I loved that this planter was so simply planted with only a Lamium
This is a very interesting and simple water feature. 
The much loved Monkey-puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana). 
Returning to the entrance.
Guest services and gift shop building that was added later. Its architecture really adds to the experience. 
I seriously applaud all of the work that has gone into keeping the park open to the public. It is a treasure and I recommend that everyone visit it if they happen to visit the area. 

Darlingtonia State Natural Site
Just north of the coastal town of Florence, Oregon sits a tiny little park. To get there from Coos Bay it takes about an hour and a half by car. Little did I know that again, my day would brighten even more with the kind of experience that you don't get often when you are delighted by a sight and a child-like happiness lingering in your heart's passageways just bursts out shocking you to discover you're still able to feel that way. It is good to be reminded of that from time to time.

Here is more information about the Darlingtonia Wayside with information about how to get there.
The short walk to the bog was full of the typical forest imagery yet it was all made more beautiful that day by the rain and the light. Bright green moss clung to everything, and the skunk cabbage stink was working its magic with the bugs. The forest world was as it should be...

And then the magic hit me and I was seriously in awe. This was so incredible—even if the plants were not necessarily at their best. 

Don't you just want to make snake noises? Ssssssssssss. Sssssssssssssssss. Ssssssssssssssssssssss.
I hope to return to this site a bit later this year so that I can catch them in bloom.


So, this is the last post from the trip. Though I have been home for awhile now, the posts have had to go on. I am still so grateful that I was well enough to travel on my own for a few days but I have paid heavily for the vacation and I am still not quite recovered. Believe it or not, my right calf is swollen from pressing on the gas petal. Stupid swelling problems that just get sillier and sillier.

The many seeds and seedlings I have cannot wait any longer, and I have to plant my new Burpee 'Black Cat' Petunias. I don't usually fall prey to special new introductions named to make me crave them, but I totally fell for this one. They really are black and I am happy I spent a bit extra for them.

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