Planting Potatoes In The Garden

Last weekend we got our potato starts in the ground.  (These could have been planted early in the month, but I was busy and didn’t get around to it until now.)  I am following Steve Solomon’s recommendations from his vegetable gardening book entitled Gardening When It Counts.  Back in February, I started the seed potatoes inside under lights to get them to sprout–here’s how to do that.  Now the next step was to plant them outside, and here is what we did:

1.  We dug one foot deep and one foot wide trenches in the garden beds 36 inches apart.  In the bottom of these trenches I generously sprinkled potato organic fertilizer, which is Solomon’s complete organic fertilizer minus the lime.  So basically it was 4 parts alfalfa meal, one part bone meal and a half-part kelp meal.  This got dug into the bottom of the trench.  Then there is all the dirt that you dug out of the trench, and on top of this you generously cover it with compost, and then push all of the dirt and compost back into the trench, so you have a  fertilized soil strip with nicely loosened soil.

2.Then you plant the seed potatoes.  I planted mine 8 inches apart, and four inches deep.  Water, and they will start growing vines.

That’s all there is to it.  I have made many mistakes starting potatoes in the past, so I am giving this method a try to see if it works.  I can tell you that it won’t work to skimp on compost or fertilizer, because the potatoes will not grow well and produce any sort of a crop.  The spacing is also important, because if you try to cram too many potato starts into too small of a space it won’t work either.

I will keep you updated on their progress, and also on how to hill them up as the vines grow in an upcoming blog post.  If you waited to get seed potatoes, I noticed that the local Bi-Mart still had some for sale last weekend, but your mileage may vary.

Feel free to leave a comment–which potato varieties have you planted with success?

Upcoming Local Plant Sales

1. NatureScaping’s Wildlife Botanical Gardens Plant Sale: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 24-25 at Wildlife Botanical Gardens, 11000 N.E. 149th St., Brush Prairie. Trees $8 and more; shrubs $5; perennials start at $1; Northwest native plants $3 and more.  This is such a fun garden–well worth a visit if you have never seen it before.

2.  Camas-Washougal Community Garden Club Plant Sale: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 1. Perennials, annuals, vegetable starts, herbs, trees and shrubs. Boy Scout Hall in Crown Park, Northeast Everett Street and 15th Avenue in Camas. Proceeds go to Camas/Washougal community projects and the VA hospital. 360-210-8012.  A fantastic sale put on by a sassy group of local gardeners with great prices.

3.  Mother’s Day Plant & Garden Fair: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 8 in downtown Camas. Plants and garden accessories, plus Kids Zone. Presented by Columbia Gorge Chapter of American Business Women’s Association. Funds go to scholarships for local women returning to the work force.  Parking downtown is not easy to find, so it’s better to park on one of the side streets and bring a little wagon or cart with wheels to get your purchases back to your vehicle.

4.  Master Gardener Foundation plant sale: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 8 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 9 at WSU Agricultural Research & Extension, Unit, 1919 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver. Shop for flowering Mother’s Day gifts, vegetables, berries, annuals, perennials, shrubs, houseplants and more. All proceeds benefit community horticultural programs.  This is a fantastic sale, with excellent prices and a good selection of plants that grow well in this area.  Many helpful Master Gardeners are on hand to answer questions at this event as well.

See you at the sales!

Add Seating To Your Garden

Over the last couple of years we have been in the process of building our garden from scratch, and part of that process is to add seating areas to it.  I didn’t consider seating at first, because I was so intent on getting the plants in place, and having more places to plant.  This involved tearing up the backyard and adding a series of terraces and stairs, which was a huge project.  However, that is done, and so we are focusing more on making living spaces in the garden.  Our garden is not large, and thus the seating areas are in keeping with the scale of the garden.  However, there are several of them, and they make the garden much more fun to be in, because if you get tired pulling weeds you can always have someplace to sit and take a break.  Also, I am thinking that part of the joy of having a gardening is being able to sit back and watch it, which requires some place to sit.

One thing I have tried to do is to create some private seating areas.  This has been accomplished through the siting of fences, trellis, and plants.  Here is one example:

This is a tiny area, maybe 8 by 10 feet square, and exposed to the main street traffic and neighbors on two sides.  It originally started life as a muddy slope.  We leveled it and brought in gravel and edging.  In terms of plants, we have a gigantic clematis montana, variety spooneri, growing at the back of the picture.  This plant blooms in May mostly, and then it provides green foliage that completely blocks out the view of the street.  To the left is a four-foot tall fence upon which I have placed fan trellises to provide more height, and there is a narrow–maybe a foot wide–strip of dirt that has been amended and edged.  This is where I grow assorted bulbs, perennials that can take morning sun and afternoon shade and three clematis–‘Bill Mackenzie’, a summer-blooming yellow-belled beauty; ‘Jackmanii’, a stalwart vine producing dark purple flowers that anyone can grow; and ‘General Sikorski’, a more tender vine that produces amazing lavender flowers.  This provides foliage to the left of the photo that offers privacy when we use this patio area in the summer months.

You will also notice a mirror in the background; there are several along the fence that are not visible from this photo angle.  I learned this trick from a wonderful theatre director and designer–adding mirrors expands any small space.  All of the mirrors were free or came inexpensively from thrift stores.  Mirrors help to make your space look even more full of plants, and they provide extra light to an area when the sun hits it.  Containers with plants are also added to the spot–these go around the bare base of the Spooneri clematis in the back and around the base of the white column, as well as on top of the column.  This is a really cozy spot and perfect for having morning coffee or tea.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a single chair placed somewhere convenient to sit.  For example:

This is a landing where two different levels of the terraces and pathways meet.  I had my husband make this area extra large, for the purpose of adding a small table and a chair.  There are stairs leading upward on the left, and a step going down on the right.  From where the picture is taken is a gravel pathway that leads to this seating area.  Adding a table makes this chair a great spot to bring out a book or drink, and sit and take in the view of the garden terraces.  No one wants to sit with their back exposed, which is why the chair is placed against the fence and why I used foliage to create a backdrop for the seating in the previous picture; also, the view is best is this direction.  You can add colors not usually found in nature to complement your plantings, by painting chairs and tables in complementary colors.  I love the purple Verbena bonariensis against the turquoise chair.  Out of frame but to the immediate right of the blue chair is an apricot-colored rose, another great contrast of color with the blue and purple.

This next area is one that has taken a lot of work to create, but it is now a very usable area that we will enjoy for many years.  I love country gardens in Europe, especially Italy and places where grapes grow, which have a garden pergola in them.  A pergola is a four-sided structure with an open roof.  It can be stretched into a rectangular shape to form a walkway, but our space requirements meant that our pergola would be around eight feet square in size.  Here is a picture:This is the basic idea of it.  We needed to block a view of the neighbor’s house on the back, and hence the trellis with a giant rose growing behind it.  Four by fours were used for each corner and two by fours for the square frame and rafters at the top of the roof.  The four by fours were placed into metal brackets that were seated into three-foot columns of concrete that are underground, providing support.  Notice that the four by fours closest to the house are eighteen inches away from the wall, so that if we ever need to replace siding, we can get in there and do it.  You should keep at least an eighteen-inch wide pathway all the way around your house, free of plants, so you can get in and do maintenance, a trick I learned from Ann Lovejoy (go to my garden book recommendations list for some of her books that I love).  Obviously, this photo was taken when the site was under construction, so hence the piles of bricks and flagstone and sundry tools laying about.

This area got finished yesterday, and here is the look now:

The floor is roughly 8-10 inches deep.  We lined the bottom with a large piece of old carpeting that a neighbor ripped out of his house when he was redoing a room.  It’s water-permeable and thick, and frankly works better than landscape fabric, which I almost never use because the weeds grow right through it and I think it’s a rip-off.  We used some largish one- to two-inch sized rocks as the base on the carpet because we had them to use from other areas of the property.  Next, my wonderful husband, who deserves all the credit for building this and most of my garden design ideas–many backbreaking trips up flights of stairs with gravel to gain access to this area (let’s just say I owe him big-time),  placed 5/8ths minus crushed rock, or gravel, on top of that, then sited the flagstones and bricks.  Flagstones came from another spot on the property where they had been placed by previous owners, but I wanted a flower bed there (big surprise, huh), so the stones got removed and stored until now.  The bricks were being given away by a neighbor, so they became ours for free.  More gravel was poured into all the cracks, and then swept clean.  This provides a nice flat area for a metal table and chairs, and rainwater will easily drain through the gravel down to the earth below, so there should be no water buildup here at all, an important consideration in our very rainy climate.  Also it is much cooler temperature-wise to use than a concrete flagstone patio, which will become unusably hot in the summer months–those stones can act as little solar heat collectors.

There is just enough room for the table and four chairs, but I normally keep a couple here, and move extras in if we have company.  The table, which I love because it can be folded up for storage, came from a garage sale for ten dollars!  I will be playing around with the top to decorate it with rolled colored glass beads and a plexiglass cover.

The large rose,  an old-garden rose recommended by Linda Beutler (see my recommended garden book list for more on Linda’s wonderful books) called ‘Jacques Cartier’ that has soft pink clusters of roses and repeat blooms if it is kept deadheaded, is poking in through the trellis.  I, putting the cart way before the horse, planted a grapevine on the right-front post of the pergola before the concrete and post were in place!  But it survived the experience, and it is a lovely red seedless table grape called ‘Einset’ for which I got a cutting and started it myself for free–It now grows up onto the roof of the pergola-vive la Italy!

The wall of the house provides a secure backing for the chairs, as does the trellis and plant foliage.  In the upper left-hand side of the picture you will see (barely) a metal hook and a scraggly hanging basket from last year.  I have baskets on either side of the pergola’s main entrance, and it looks great to have flowers at eye level in the summer time.  It’s too early to do hanging baskets here, however, so that will wait until end of month or even May.  This is now the perfect spot for dinner and just hanging out in the garden, because the view is of all of the terraces that are full of plants, as well as an espalier of apple and pear trees off to the left out of frame.

I will not lie to you–this was a big project, and one that cost a bit more than some of the others (in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars for wood and metal brackets, plus around eighty dollars for gravel; garden furniture comes from garage sales or discount stores and varies), plus took many more hours to install.  However, we were able to use recycled building materials for a lot of it, cutting down on the cost.  Now it’s done and I love it, and we will get a lot of pleasure out of it for many years to come.

All of this to say–you do not need a gigantic amount of property to add seating areas throughout your garden.  It makes the garden both more usable and more enjoyable.  A single chair and a little table will do nicely, but as evidenced in the photos, other arrangements are also quite possible.

I would love to hear about your home garden seating arrangements, especially those where you have used recycled materials such as we have.  Leave a comment if you like!

Hardy Plant Society of Oregon Spring Plant Sale Next Weekend

If you are looking for some unusual perennials to spice up your borders, look no further than the bi-annual plant sale put on by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon.  There are dozens of vendors who bring their plants for sale to the Portland Expo Center and make them available for purchase to the public.  Here is the basic information about this fun event:

Who:  Hardy Plant Society of Oregon

What:  HPSO Spring Plant Sale

Where:  Portland Expo Center, Hall C

When:  Sat., April 17th and Sun., April 18th, 2010, 10am-3pm both days

Cost:  Free admission, although you will spend quite a bit to park in the Expo Center’s parking lot.  Free parking out on the street.  Unfortunately, no carts are allowed to be brought into the venue.

A link with more information, including directions to the venue, from HPSO is here.

Northwest Native Shrubs Blooming Now!

I have a few different sorts of Northwest native deciduous shrubs that are currently in bloom.  These would include Indian Plum, or Oemleria cerasiformis; Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa; and Red-Flowering Currant, or Ribes sanguineum.  Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, has been blooming for quite a while now.

I like all of these plants for several reasons.  They are native to this area, and thus require no fertilizers and, once established, need no water other than rainfall.  They produce spring flowers and their leaves in the fall are outstanding.  They, except for the Oregon Grape, will reach around 12-15 feet tall, and thus make a good natural shrub screen to hide ugly views.  Finally, they produce flowers and fruits that the birds love–they will attract hummingbirds in the spring, and other birds in the fall when the Indian Plum produces fruit (non-edible for humans, though.)  And, the shrubs, when they are in bloom, can also be paired with spring-blooming bulbs that flower around the same time, such as narcissus and hyacinth.

Here is a picture of one of my Red-Flowering Currants:

(Ignore the giant dandelion in the corner there, or think of it as an insect feeder, which it is.)  The Red-Flowering Currant lights up this spot in the garden, and notice how it is nicely set off by the evergreen arborvitae next to it–the solid dark green helps to show off the pink flowers.    The nice thing about planting spring bulbs around these northwest native shrubs is that both of them benefit from having a dry summer, so they prosper under the same growing conditions–this helps to make them good partners, plus they bloom at the same time.

Leave a comment, if you will, and let me know how you use Northwest Native plants in your landscape.