Mulch For Garden Beds And A Pretty Winter Plant Combination

Over the weekend, our across-the-street neighbor was raking up the many Japanese Maple leaves from his gorgeous tree, and so I ran out and asked him if I could take the leaves for my garden beds, pretty please?  He said yes (not the first time for this same reason, I might add), and so away we hauled a bunch of beautiful tiny orange and gold leaves to dress our flower and vegetable beds.  Some photos to illustrate:

Bulb bed mulched, Dec. 2011

A little bulb bed, tucked in for the winter with a couple of inches of Japanese Maple leaves for mulch.

Another flower bed mulched, Dec. 2011

 
 
In this bed I’ve left room around the rose on the left and daylilies on the right, and mulched over the top of where I have lots of bulbs planted.  From garden writer Ann Lovejoy, I learned to mulch the bulb beds, because it helps to keep the upcoming spring flowers from getting mud splashed on them from incessant spring rain that we get here.
 

Fruit trees mulched for the winter. My fruit tree row, weeded (and I was aided in this by the neighbor's chickens who like to come over and visit--there must have been bugs that they were excited to eat there) and mulched with a couple of inches of leaf mulch. Dec. 2011

 
 

Vegetable bed mulched with Japanese Maple leaves, December 2011

 
 
It’s also a good idea to cover bare soil in your vegetable beds as well, and the leaves work great for this.  In the upper left corner there are some bright green garlic leaves–I planted them several years ago, and even though they get pulled up every year, they keep coming back, and not a bad thing I might add.  They are much more pungent than garlic from the grocery store.
 
 

Japanese Maple leaf mulch

 
Japanese Maples grow readily in the Pacific Northwest.   They are gorgeous, there are many in smaller sizes, and they tend to grow unaffected by disease or pests, making them a winner for the garden.  I like to use Japanese Maple leaves in my garden for several reasons:
  • They are already naturally small, so I do not have to chop them up like would have to do with full-sized maple leaves
  • They are free
  • They are amply available when I need them

In our climate, it tends to be best to use about a two-inch layer of leaves for mulching your flower and vegetable beds.  Leave room around the plant crowns; don’t cover them with mulch.  If you put more than two inches, it can sometimes become a haven for mice and other pests that like to live in the leaves if given the chance.  I also like the small leaves better than large maple leaves, because the large leaves, if they are not chopped up fine, tend to stick together in our rainy climate and don’t break down very readily over the course of the winter, and they also become a haven for slugs, which will winter over and eat the plants that you have so carefully covered nearby.

 

Another type of “mulch”:

  

Outdoor containers covered in plastic, Dec. 2011

I just grouped my containers on the garage roof together, and covered them with several layers of clear plastic.  Old clear shower curtains also work great for this, and are made from heavier plastic, which is better.  Although it occasionally goes down as low as 18 degrees here, it is pretty rare, and this in times past has been enough protection to keep containers from splitting, and plants from dying in the containers.  (Fingers crossed.) 

Now here is a pretty plant combination (or two):

 

Gorgeous early winter foliage, December 2011

 
The yellow leaves are on a red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I plan to begin shaping into an espaliered form on the wall.  The brilliant red leaves adorn a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry.  This is a perfect plant if you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub to fill a tight and narrow spot in the garden.  It reaches five feet tall but only two feet wide, and is great in a small garden.  It’s deciduous, and it has semi-glossy burgundy leaves that turn green as they age, but still keep a burgundy undertone.  It also gets bright orange and red seeds in the fall as well.  I need to take a few more pictures of it, and will then present it in a “Through The Seasons” post. 
 
 

Viola and feverfew, December 2011

 
As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to emptying the hanging baskets yet, (wanted to leave them til the last minute for the hummingbirds, because they had nasturtiums in them), but there are still some purple violas along with chartreuse feverfew.  I may pull those out and transplant them in a protected spot in containers at the front of the house.
 
Some more plant hangers-on:
 
 

Snapdragons in December

 
 

Roses flying high in the sky, December 2011

 
 

A lone, bright pink 'Zephrin Drouhin' rose, Dec. 2011

 
And some winter-flowering plants:
 

Yellow forsythia and white viburnum, viburnum=hummingbird food, December 2011

 
I’ll do a post soon of holiday decorations!
 
Enjoy a break from gardening.  I still have a couple of little chores left to do, but nothing major.  The temperatures have definitely dropped–it’s ranging from the low to mid-40s during the days and down to low 30s at night, so I am on winter hummingbird patrol, putting the feeder out in the morning and bringing it in right after dark.  Sun shining through the bright blue sky today–I love it!
 
Leave a comment if you like!
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Through The Seasons: Red-Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum

The red-flowering currant, a Northwest-native plant and hummingbird favorite with the Latin name of Ribes sanguineum, not sure of the particular variety but could likely be the commonly sold ‘King Edward VII’, through the seasons at Minerva’s Garden in photos:

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Currant, in my garden blooming in April, along with hyacinth and narcisus

After the flowers on the red-flowering currant are done, the leaves on the shrub turn green, and it looks pretty unremarkable for the summer.  But this is what happens in the fall:

Red-flowering currant foliage, end of November

Pretty remarkable change, making it a great plant selection for the garden, because it gives two wonderful seasons of interest, and doesn’t require any special watering or fertilizing once it is established. 

 Hope you had a great Thanksgiving–we had company over and had a great time.  Still eating leftovers, which actually I like.  It was sunny today, but we just went through two weeks straight of rain.  Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve left the autumn decor up in the house, and will probably switch it out next weekend for the winter holidays.
 
Leave a comment–what’s new in your garden?

Autumn Color At Minerva’s Garden

I walked around the garden yesterday and took a few pictures.  It is getting later and colder in the year, and yet we still have a lot of flowers in bloom.  I’ll show you what I mean, starting with light colors and working toward deeper hues:

Viburnum in October

Fuschia in October

I love these white flowers with just a flush of light pink–so pretty.  Now here are some in slighter deeper shades:

Glossy Abelia with pink blooms and 'Lochinch' butterfly bush in October

Pink hollyhock in October

I like the pink and grey colors together.  Now a little more color saturation and moving into the yellows, golds and oranges:

Nasturtiums and dahlias in October

Yellow hollyhock in October

And a little comic relief:

Forsythia in October--what?

The forsythia decided it must be March, and shot out a few blossoms!  I’ll take ’em whenever I can get ’em!

Okay, back to business.  Some yellow to gold tones in evergreen foliage:

'Rheingold' dwarf evergreen conifer in October

 

Another gold dwarf evergreen conifer in October

 

And some yellow to gold deciduous leaf color:

Chinese Witch Hazel 'Arnold Promise' starting to turn yellow in October

 

Pergola covered with golden 'Einset' grape leaves in October

 

Now moving into some cooler shades–sometimes there are plants that combine warm and cool colors in fruit and foliage, such as:

Beauty berry in October

The beautyberry is surrounded by winter jasmine foliage.

This next vine has finally matured enough to really come into its own.  I speak of:

Ampelopsis vine with turquoise and purple berries in October

 

Ampelopsis in a different light

I am so in love with this vine–I adore turquoise and purple in a plant!  The only other one that I know of that combines these two colors as well, but not in bloom at the moment, is:

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescense'

I love this plant so much, and so do the hummingbirds!  This was taken in May, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, back to October color.  As long as we’ve introduced cooler colors, here is:

Ceratostigma plumbago in October

I am sorry this picture does not do this plant justice, because it is so beautiful now.  I love the deep burgundy stems, dark green leaves with a touch of burgundy around the edges, and then these wonderful deep blue flowers.  Here is another shot:

Dward plumbago in October

This was a hard plant to get situated properly in my garden–I ended up moving it three or four times until I finally put it here on the walkway toward the kitchen door.  It now seems to be happy.

More purple:

Morning glory and verbena bonariensis in October

 

Clematis 'Haku Oakan' reblooming in October

 

And onto the sprightly shades of orange-red and red:

Hybrid tea rose 'Camelot' buds in October

 
 

Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline' blooming away in October

 
 

Jupiter's Beard in October--a hummingbird favorite! The golden marjoram and daylily foliage in the background help to set off these red flower clusters.

 
 

Zinnias 'State Fair Mix' with raspberries in the background in October

 
 
And even deeper red:
 

Blueberry 'Herbert' with striking red foliage in October

 

 I love how blueberry plants look this time of year–such gorgeous color.  Now on to some of the deepest shades in the garden:

 

Red raspberries and dark purple/black Aronia berries in October

 

A few red raspberries and those amazing Aronia berries.  I also love the foliage of this shrub–every day causes it to turn more red and orange–beautiful!

I could see color combinations from the flower garden and fruit garden being used indoors at this time of year–imagine deep purples and scarlets for a dramatic Thanksgiving table, for example.  Possibilities are endless–just get creative and find the inspiration that is all around you!

What is blooming for you now, and are you still eating from your garden?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

‘Einset’ Grape Harvest

I have been looking forward to this fall, because fall is the time of year when grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested.  The grapevine that I have growing on my outdoor pergola is an ‘Einset’, a red seedless table grape.  This particular variety was recommended to me by the head arborist at the Home Orchard Society at Clackamas Community College, where they have an arboretum of fruit trees, but which also includes grapes and figs, and other types of fruit.  I’ll show you the progression of this vine. 

I started it from a free cutting that I got at the Home Orchard Society Rootstock Sale and Scion Exchange, which is held every March.  I basically put the bottom end of the cutting in damp paper towel, put it in a ziplock bag, and put it in my refrigerator for about a month or so, untill roots started coming out of the bottom of the cutting.  I then took it out of the frig, and potted it up in a container with potting soil.  I let it grow a little bit more, so the roots could get more established, and then I planted it outside in position.  Here’s what it looked like as a baby vine in 2008:

So we were off to a good start–the cutting was healthy and growing.  This was the first grape I’ve ever grown, so I was a total neophyte in terms of pruning.  So basically, I didn’t do any until this year.  Here’s what I had to deal with early on:

'Einset' grape vine trunks, April 2011

As you can see, there is one plant crown, but four trunks growing out of it.  This caused the grape vine to produce a ton of leaves and no fruit.  I knew I had to learn how to prune it to get it to produce fruit.  The first thing I learned was that there is only supposed to be one trunk coming out of the crown.  But I had grown this vine from a tender baby, and I didn’t want to kill it, so I cut it down to two trunks.  (I know, I am a pruning wuss.)  I figured if something went wrong, I’d still have one trunk left to play with.

I learned a little bit.  First off, each grape variety produces the most fruit if you prune them in one of two methods:  spur pruning and cane pruning.  Each variety of grape has one or the other of these pruning requirements.  I looked up ‘Einset’ and discovered that it responds best to cane pruning.  You are supposed to do grape pruning, at least here in SW Washington State, around the end of February, when the vine starts putting out the first new growth in the form of leaf buds.  I didn’t get around to pruning it until the beginning of May, which is quite late, so I made a note on my gardening calendar to do this earlier next year.  (If you recall last February, the weather was very cold and rainy, but if you’re growing fruit, you just have to gird your loins and get out there to prune.)

I don’t have good pictures of how to do cane pruning–I was doing well to get out there and prune it at all this time around.  My hope is that next year I can take some and do a more detailed post on how to do it.  But basically, each trunk produces two cordon arms (You have to train it, ie. prune it, to get it to do this), and from this arm you want to have at least sixteen canes coming out from each of the cordon arms, because this is where the grapes are produced.  You also want to keep a spur, a short cane, near the base of the cordon arm, with the idea being that the spur will grow long over the growing season, and next year you replace the cane that produced fruit the year before with the fresh cane that grew from the spur of the previous year, to constantly rejuvenate the plant each year so it produces well.  I positioned the cordon arms and the canes so they were spread out over the entire pergola roof, and tied them into place on the wooden beams of the roof.

I had a HUGE pile of vines when I finished pruning–no photo, but I cut that entire gigantic overgrown plant back by half.  It looked pretty puny after that.  But I had faith–this is a grape, after all, and they grow like crazy each year, so I figured I couldn’t damage it too much even if I didn’t prune it exactly right.  (I later learned from a friend who has produced wine from his own wine grapes that you can take a chain saw and cut a grapevine down to the ground, but you won’t kill it, because it will send out new vines from the roots.  In fact, it is pretty difficult to get rid of a grapevine because of this.  This is one way to rejuvenate a badly overgrown grapevine–just cut it completely down and start over with it so you can train it properly from the beginning.)

So the growing season began.  Here it is in June of this year:

'Einset' grape, June 2011

So here it is cut back to two trunks, and I “limbed’ it up so there was no leaf growth until the stem got to the very top of the pergola roof.  Notice that there is a lot of open air showing through the roof at this time–not much leaf cover yet.

'Einset' grape, June 2011

But don’t feel sorry for that vine at all–here’s what it developed into by July 2011:

'Einset' grape, end of July 2011

Notice that there’s not much open space at all now–it is completely covered in leaves . . . and also, finally, baby grape clusters!

'Einset' grapes, end of July 2011

Having it growing on the pergola made it very easy to pick the grapes later, so I liked that.  And I love how they look–they are small, green and tart at this stage, but the clusters are even pretty for decorating a buffet table if you’re having a party.  Now technically, you are supposed to thin the grapes, either remove entire clusters, or remove some of the grapes–the tips—from each cluster, but I wasn’t sure how much the vine would produce, if at all, so I didn’t thin this year.  And frankly, it didn’t seem to hurt anything.  Also I’ve been told if you thin, it produces sweeter grapes, which could be true because the vine is putting its energy into less fruit, but I just decided to leave well enough alone this time around.  If you have a young vine that is only just starting to produce, the advice is to thin the fruit so it doesn’t wear itself out with a huge crop early on in its life, and then let it gradually produce more and more each following year, so the framework of the vine can support the growth of all the fruit.

Here they are in August:

Green 'Einset' grapes, August 2011

The grapes are still green, but filling out and getting bigger.

Finally, on September 5th, here is what they looked like:

Ripe, red 'Einset' grapes, September 5, 2011

So, we were in business–eating fresh and delicious ‘Einset’ table grapes by Labor Day Weekend!  I still don’t have a completely developed cane framework yet with this vine, but nevertheless it produced a lot of fruit for us for about two and a half weeks.  There were a few final grape clusters that I was giving one more day to ripen, and something (birds probably, or a raccoon?) came out and overnight had a big grape-eating party.  I came out the next day, and there were grape leaves everywhere, and fallen fruit, and empty stems on the grape clusters!  So that was the end of that!

I also had people warn me about growing grapes under a pergola where we had a dining table.  They said the bees would become a problem, but I had no trouble with bees at all.  Perhaps because I kept the grapes picked often, so they didn’t fall to the ground and attract insects.  I also have a ton of flowers nearby, and maybe they were so busy with the flowers they didn’t bother with the grapes.  It does produces a dense leaf cover that makes it kind of dark when you are seated there, but that’s why you add a candle chandelier!

For more information of growing and pruning grapes, I recommend Ron Lombaugh’s book called The Grape Grower.  Ron grows grapes locally in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

So that’s it for my grape-growing adventures for this year!  What gardening adventures have you had this season–do tell in the comments!  And visit the garden party.

Hummingbird Plants

I have had a great deal of amusement around here lately by watching the hummingbirds feeding on the summer flowers.

I’ve tried to make it a point to have something flowering each season that the hummingbirds like.  Right now, in warm (!) August, they are relishing the:

  • nasturtiums
  • petunias
  • pelargonium, also commonly known as geranium
  • liatris
  • Jupiter’s Beard
  • verbena bonariensis
  • butterfly bushes

At the moment, what we have are Anna’s hummingbirds in the area.  We’ve got two or three that always stop by and hang out in our garden.  I use a combination of plants that produce hummingbird nectar flowers, plus I have a hummingbird feeder, in order to entice them to come to the garden. 

Here are a few tips to get hummingbirds to stop by your garden for a visit:

  • Set up a feeder.  I’ve had the best luck with a wide-mouth feeder made of glass, because it’s durable and much easier to clean than some of the ones that have a tiny opening.  My feeder has red plastic on it where the hummingbirds can sit to feed.
  • Hummingbird food you can easily make yourself.  Put one cup of sugar and four cups of water in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes.  Let it cool, and I then like to line a funnel with a paper coffee filter and I pour the solution through it to filter it, and store it in a glass container with a lid in your refrigerator.  You do not have to add red food coloring to it; in fact, it is better for the birds if you don’t.
  • Although hummers are attracted to the color red, it does not have to be in their liquid nectar.  Instead, the bird feeders often have red on them, and this will help.  You can grow red flowers that they like nearby, like pelargonium and Jupiter’s Beard, or you can simply tie some plastic red bows from outdoor Christmas decorations nearby the feeder to help attract them.  They will go after any tubular-shaped flower, which is their key criteria, no matter what color or size it is.  They are not attracted by fragrant plants, but you might see them dining on those with tubular-shaped flowers.
  • Change out your hummingbird food, and clean the feeder, at least a couple of times a week in cooler weather, and up to daily in really hot weather, or else you can make the birds sick if the sugar water ferments and goes bad in the high heat.
  • Place the feeder nearby something that the hummingbirds can perch on and find shelter.  Birds do not like eating out in the open, so if you provide a plant with some foliage where they can go and hide in between feeding, it helps to attract them to your feeder.   In my garden, I have an espaliered belgian fence of apple and pear trees, and we have it strung with an orchard wire frame.  They eat at the feeder or flowers, and then zoom over to the trees and perch on the wire–just the right size for their claws–or in a nearby large butterfly bush.
  • Provide the birds shelter plants.  Hummingbirds like to nest in arborvitae, and so I have several growing in the back and front yards.
  • If you can provide water, this also helps.  The hummingbirds like a mist of sprinkling water, so a small fountain can work well in this regard.  In a regular birdbath, don’t fill it more than one-half of an inch deep, or it will be too deep for these little guys.
  •  This year I grew two types of nasturtiums that worked very well.  If you want a spreading variety, which is a great choice for filling up a hanging basket inexpensively and fast, try the ‘Tall Climbing Single Mix’ and for a more compact version, the ‘Gleam Mix’ nasturtiums.  I got mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds for $1.35 per package, the cheapest I found them anywhere, and they had a very good germination rate–quality seeds.  Find them at www.superseeds.com

I have not been able to get a good picture, because they are so fast, but I will describe to you what I see nearly every morning out of our bedroom glass door that overlooks the back yard:  I look at the large nasturtium bed that grows on either side of a blue and white old gate that I use as a trellis-support structure for the nasturiums.   So, while I’m looking at the nasturtiums, I see the large green leaves start to shake.  I look up at the trees, and they are not moving, so there is no wind.  I look back again, and see a tiny hummingbird zooming in and out of the nasturtium vines, going in for nectar and insects on the bright flowers.  The leaves are much larger than the bird, so he has to get right in there to reach the flowers.  He next goes around to all the hanging baskets and feeders that contain yet more nasturtiums and petunias.  Both flowers are hummingbird favorites.  He finally finishes by lapping up (hummingbirds have tongues), nectar from the many pelargoniums that also grow in the baskets and containers.  They drink for around thirty or so seconds, and then they go away to rest for a minute or so, and repeat the process. 

If you have more than one Anna’s hummingbird around, they may battle each other for domination over the food.  It helps to spread your hummingbird food plants and feeders out around your property, rather than clustering them all in one spot, to avoid squabbles and so everyone has a chance to feed unhampered. 

You don’t need a lot of room to have a great hummingbird feeding/gardening area–I have a friend with a tiny balcony on his apartment that attracts the little birds with his feeder and some of the annuals that he grows in containers.  The birds really appreciate finding these feeding havens in city areas where it’s more difficult for them to find food and shelter.  You can easily grow hanging baskets with nothing more than nasturtiums, and you would get a good result, or add petunias and pelargoniums to make for a fuller display.  Nasturtiums will grow in even tiny containers if you keep them watered and fertilized.  Case in point”

This is a little wire container with a flat back that I picked up last year at Goodwill for one dollar.  It is approximately 12 inches long and about 4 inches wide and deep.  I lined it with a little piece of leftover burlap from the hanging baskets, and then lined the burlap with a little piece of clear plastic with no holes in it, filled it with potting soil and hung it from two little nails that I nailed into the top rail of the fence.  Planted smaller ‘Gleam’ nasturium, and this is the result.  It adds inexpensive and bright flowers at around eye level as you walk through this narrow area on the side of the house, but it also provide a little extra food for the hummingbirds.  A little chicken garden art hangs next to it, and there is a large flowering jasmine vine with white flowers on the other side, which provides a resting spot for the hummers in between feeding.

That’s all from me–do you have hummingbirds in your garden?  What plants are they eating from now?  Any gardening tips to attract hummingbirds to the garden that you have used?  Do share in the comments–I love hearing from you.  And visit the Garden Party.


I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to visit the garden party.

Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for The Garden Party.

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow . . .

. . . and I hope to be outside in the garden because of it.  Just mostly weeding, but it will be nice to be outside for a while.  A lot of bulbs are poking up out of the ground already–I went around and Sluggo’d them yesterday, because they are prime food for the little gastropod mollusks.  The snowdrops are also about to open, and the primroses are blooming away right now.  All got chomped by slugs, and so they all got a dose of Sluggo yesterday.  The birds, including the hummingbirds, have been having a great time at the bird feeders in recent days.  The Chinese Witch Hazel, ‘Arnold Promise’ has buds that are swelling, so will have some flowers soon if the weather holds.  I have a bit of mustard greens and arugula still holding on under plastic outside, but I’ve been busy and haven’t checked them out much lately, so that’s on my list for tomorrow as well.  When February rolls around, the weather warms just enough that some of those tough salad edibles that have been languishing in the garden tend to spring back to life, so I am looking forward to that as well.

Also, an addendum to my last post about Molasses in the Garden.  I read an article in Organic Gardening Magazine that said that using molasses in compost tea is not safe to use around food plants, as it may spread salmonella and e.coli bacteria to them, so be warned.  Fine for use around ornamental plants like flowers and shrubs, though, which is where I am going to use it.

The winter jasmine is blooming away, especially when we get a few warm days in this bleak midwinter.  It’s grey days like this when I dream about March and daylight savings time beginning on March 13th this year.

It’s not far off–in the meantime, I need to get busy and look at seed catalogues and decide what to get.

The Promise of Spring . . .What is your gardening promising you in this New Year?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Reblooming Amarylis and Autumn Decorations

In Southwest Washington, for the most part, we are settling in to a rainy and fairly warm weather pattern.  With the exception of lettuce and a few other salad and cooking greens that are growing under plastic and hoops, the vegetable garden is done for the winter, at least outdoors anyway.  I have tomatoes that I picked earlier in the season that are still ripening inside nicely, so we do get to still have some wonderful fresh tomatoes on salads and sandwiches on occasion.  I am still working on cleaning up garden beds, weeding and getting them covered with plastic, but no real rush, so that can happen the next time we have a break in the rain.

I continue to feed the birds.  They are enjoying the black oil sunflower seed and hummingbird nectar, along with nectar from a few surprisingly hardy plants that are still blooming, such as the viburnum, borage, verbena bonariensis, glossy abelia and the start of the ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary.  The coleus are also still blooming (!), and the hummers feed away on their columns of tiny flowers, as they do from nasturtium flowers that are growing in containers and hanging baskets.  Some of the verbena bonariensis has also gone to seed, and the little birds attach themselves to the flowers to eat seeds.

I grew Rouge Vif d’Entemps pumpkins, also known as Cinderella pumpkins again this year.  The results are adorning the front steps to the house.  I’ve paired them with containers in blue with yellow grasses and sedums.  Because they are living under a covered stoop area that is warmer than just being out in the garden, this tends to keep the containers alive all year, so there is a little something fresh outdoors that is fun to look at.

Here is a little indoor flower arrangement I did for Halloween.

I also potted up paperwhites on November 7th in a large clay pot, watered the soil, and then put the pot in the dark garage.  It will stay there until December, when green shoots will appear, and then I will bring it into the house and eventually it will bloom.  If they are started by Nov. 7th, they will usually be in bloom by Christmas and Solstice.  If you plant them now, they will still bloom after the holidays, giving you something wonderful to look forward to after the holidays are done.

 

                                                                                                        Paperwhites in bloom from last year.

I started, at the beginning of November, to start watering and feeding my amarylis bulbs, which are inside in bright sun-facing windows in the house.  Here is a little recap for you from last year on how to get the amarylis bulbs you buy now and have bloom this winter, rebloom next year:

Growing amaryllis indoors is a great way to have luxurious, large flowers indoors during the drab winter months.  It’s actually fairly easy to get them to rebloom year after year.  Here are the steps if you are starting out now with a new bulb, which typically go on sale at hardware and department stores as well as gardening centers sometime in the month of November.

1.  Plant the bulb.  The bulbs like snug containers, and the pointy top 1/3 of the bulb needs to be above the soil level in the pot.  The little plastic pots that come with the bulb that you purchase have no drain holes, so you will not need a saucer beneath them, but you also have to water carefully so you do not waterlog the bulbs.  Water so it’s moist but not soggy, and place the pot in a sunny window.

2.  Continue to water and fertilize with a complete organic fertilizer every two weeks after planting.  Eventually leaves will sprout from the bulb, and a thick stem will emerge, from which the flower head will grow.  With a smaller bulb, this may or may not happen the first year, but should as the bulb matures.  I have read that for every five leaves on the bulb, you will get one flower stalk.  My younger bulbs have bloomed with as few as three leaves.  My bulbs are not mature enough to have more than five leaves at this point, but we will see if this is true as time goes on.

3.  After the bulbs have bloomed, hopefully around or just after the winter holidays,  continue to water and fertilize every other week all winter, and through the spring and summer.  In the summer, if you wish, you may move the pots outdoors in a protected spot like a porch  in July when it warms up, but they also do well hanging out indoors in front of a sunny window.

4.  In the beginning of September, stop fertilizing the pots, and cut way back on watering.  You want them to dry out a bit, but not die from lack of water.  Very little is needed.  Foliage may wither and die at this point, and that is fine–simply use a scissors and cut off any unsightly browned foliage as it occurs.  If the pots were outside for the summer, in the beginning of  September bring them back inside to their sunny window.    Keep the pots barely moist and no fertilizer for the months of September and October.

5.  Starting in the beginning of November, resume watering and fertilizing every other week, and keep them in a sunny window.  This will help to wake up the bulbs, and they should start eventually to send out new foliage and flower stems.

Another note:  The flower stems can get very tall, and so I like to keep very slender stakes, even a thin skewer or chopstick can work, and slide them into the pot and use twine or even ribbon to tie the stem to the stake, so that it doesn’t break.  I had a cat knock one over, and the stem was hanging over.  I  used scotch tape to wrap around the stem and stake to get the damaged stem back up into an upright position, and it actually bloomed, but your mileage may vary.

That’s all there is to it–as you can see, a very easy process.  You can place plain pots together in decorative baskets found very inexpensively at thrift stores, and cover the top with Spanish moss to hide the pots, making a lovely holiday decoration for your home.

‘Appleblossom’ amarylis about to bloom last year.

‘Appleblossom’ in bloom.

Stop by the Oregon Cottage Garden Party for more fun gardening posts!


Plants That Thrive In The Curb Strip

These curb strip areas, narrow bands of soil surrounded by sidewalk on one side and the asphalt road on the other, tend to be very dry and some would argue not the best place to try to garden.  However, I have had good luck with growing a variety of plants that thrive in what are ordinarily some fairly harsh conditions.  I do not water these plants myself; Mother Nature provides any water they get in the form of rainfall.  Some of these plants I didn’t even plant out there myself, because they reseeded on their own from other areas of the garden.  But these have grown and come back each year with not much help from me.  Admittedly, some of these plants are rather tall, and they may not work for you if you are trying to get in or out of a vehicle right onto the sidewalk, but we tend to park closer to our garage area where it is open and easy to disembark from a car, so it’s not an issue for us.  We followed Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery’s advice to dig up the soil in the strip and add plenty of gravel to provide good drainage for the clay soil that is there–that’s basically all we did to “amend” the soil.  No fertilizer added.  I occasionally will add some compost in the fall, and usually it gets a mulch of leaves in the fall and winter from nearby trees that drop leaves.

Several plants in this small area.  Moving from left to right, there is a bright red crocosmia ‘Lucifer,” followed by Lamb’s Ears pink and grey flower stalks below.  Next are yellow hollyhocks, and a little grouping of pink hollyhocks mixed in with some Centranthus rubrum, or commonly known as Jupiter’s Beard.  The yellow at the end is a bit of coreopsis, probably ‘Sunburst’ because I have it growing elsewhere in the garden and it reseeded down here.  Across the sidewalk from the curb strip are two terraces with four-foot tall retaining walls that are planted with other drought tolerant plants, one of which is the blue catmint that you see in the bottom right foreground.  The crocosmia, hollyhocks, Jupiter’s Beard, Lamb’s Ears flowers and catmint are all hummingbird nectar plants as well, because the flowers are all essentially large to small tubular shapes.

A close-up of crocosmia ‘Lucifer’–such a pretty flower, hummingbirds love it and it also makes a great cut flower for flower arrangements.  To the immediate left are some just finished blooming Oriental lilies, ‘Casa Rosa.’  Spring and summer-blooming bulbs are crowded into these curb strips as well, because they provide the perfect growing conditions for bulbs, namely wet conditions in spring and bone-dry conditions in the summer.  These Oriental lilies only reach about 3 feet tall down here–I have others in amended flower beds elsewhere on the property that are 7 feet tall, so my neglect helps to keep them shorter down here!

This is growing in a terrace bed opposite the curb strip.  The large plant is Santolina ‘Pretty Carroll.”  It started life as a one-gallon sized plant, and as you can see it is gigantic now, especially when in bloom.  The foliage is such a lovely contrast to the bright yellow flowers–very cool grey and fillagree-looking.  With it sprung up a light pink hollyhock that reseeded there, so I just left it and am happy with the result.  Opposite this is the blue catmint, so there is lots of blue contrasting with yellow going on here, of which I am particularly fond.  Just barely in the shot at the top is a hint of the large butterfly bush now in flower, called ‘Pink Delight,’ which is a beautiful pink and another hummingbird favorite.

Feel free to leave a comment–what types of plants do you like to grow in your curb strips, or other low/almost no maintenance plants have you found to be effective in your landscape?

Please stop on by the Tuesday Garden Party as well–lots of fun seeing everyone’s gardens!


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