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sprig to twig » 2008 » April

Archive for April, 2008

tomorrow is Arbor Day

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Planting a tree is an act of optimism - a clear statement of belief in the future. You must have vision, especially if the tree is a mere whip at planting time. The spreading umbrella of shade or the pouf of fragrant blossom will take time to materialize. It may not achieve its full majesty in our lifetime, but a carefully planted specimen will reward us with untold pleasure as we watch it develop from year to year. I find myself driving by my old neighborhoods just to see how something I planted there is getting on. It’s like visiting the best longtime friends with shared memories. It always surprises me to see how something that I planted as a sapling has become a real tree in my absence.

Unlike perennials that can be put in willy nilly and moved around at will, a tree demands forethought. Its mature height and spread will need to be considered. Some are fast growers; others take their own sweet time. Impulse buys are best avoided on pain of creating a monument to rashness that can only be remedied with a chain saw. My natural inclination is to be haphazard. It doesn’t bode well for the siting of trees, so I enlist the aid of my partner in life, who is more inclined to take the long view. A case in point is the magnolia . We took turns standing on a proposed spot, while the other went inside to peruse the effect from various windows. After much wild gesticulating (a little to the left, back, back, not quite so far…no, that won’t do at all…), we agreed upon a setting where the little tree glows against the darker background of the forest and can be seen to advantage from three windows of the dining room. It has plenty of room to reach for the sky. I can all but see the monster blossoms unfurling to dinner plate magnificence. What a day that will be!

When we planted street trees, we did the research, made our choice and planted two flowering pears across the front of the house. They had been growing there for three years when the need for a third tree became apparent. I called my horticulturist friend, Michelle, to tell her what we were after. She came to measure the circumference of the trunks of the existing trees so she could allow for transplant shock. The new tree would have to be slightly bigger or it would never catch up. She then sought out a specimen meeting all of the requirements and delivered it to the site. Her detailed instructions for its care left us feeling she was parting with her first-born child. Now that is what I call a dedicated nursery person. Too much to ask for? Not really. You may be surprised by the ardor of arborists - and why not? Beyond their physical beauty, trees do so much for us. They clean our air, shade us from the blazing sun, produce food and stand as sentinals over the history of a place. On a practical note, each tree adds to the value of a property.

As a rule, trees are big-ticket items worth every penny. To get around financial constraints, think about joining the National Arbor Day Foundation. For a nominal membership fee, they will express their thanks by sending you ten free trees. The flowering group includes two flowering dogwoods, two Kousa dogwoods, two crabapples, two Washington hawthorns and two American redbuds. Alternatively, you can opt for a selection of two each of five varieties of oaks or ten Colorado Blue Spruces. When I received my ten free trees, I was distracted by other things. The poor little trees languished on the back porch. When I finally got around to planting them, I had little hope for their survival. I was in for a surprise. They thrived despite my shameful neglect, and within two years were flaunting pride of place and contributing considerable charm to the landscape. Imagine what might happen if one treated them with all due respect and followed the easy planting instructions to the letter.

open garden

Monday, April 21st, 2008

So…what happens when you open your garden (for the first time, mind you) and nobody shows up?

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I can hardly blame the Hardy Planters, as the day was bleak. Early in the week, we were promised a day of at least partial sunshine. The day dawned, we flipped on the TV to catch the weather guy, and were served up visions of wind, rain, hail, lightning and thunder…all of which duly put in appearances. To be honest, I appreciated the chance for a “dry run” (so to speak) to test out signage, banner placement, etc.

I had expected the cherry trees to be in full blossom, but they were running late. The only plant life really putting on a show was the Clematis armandii, a batch of daffodils, and Euphorbia wulfenii. What came off really well was the way banners can spark things up when Mother Nature refuses to cooperate.

The garden will be open one day of each month through October, so there will be plenty more opportunities for it to strut its stuff. The schedule, as listed in the HPSO Open Gardens book, is as follows: May 4, June 7, July 13, Aug 10 and Sept 7, all from 11am to 5pm, and June 9 from 4 to 9pm. If you would like directions, or to make an appointment for some other time, please call: 503 248 9670.

black hand lives on

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

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My totem project got me to looking at cast-off household items through new eyes. Back when I had an art deco-ish black and silver bathroom, my kids gave me this black ceramic hand, which attaches to the wall and becomes a soap dish. I have gone through several bathrooms since then, but could never bring myself to discard the hand, even though it broke into several pieces in removing it from its original place of honor. After careful gluing, it is still missing a finger…but the violets cover any defects, and I love the rather macabre impression of a lost soul reaching through a sea of violets to the light of day.

april in bloom

Monday, April 14th, 2008

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When I bought this plant, Acacia pravissima, in 2004, I had only seen it as a fairly small specimen. I appreciated its architectural qualities, not anticipating the rapid growth, much less flowers. This photo is a little out of focus, but I like that about it. It captures the fuzziness of the flowers, in sharp contrast to the crisp spikiness of the foliage.

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Here is the Clematis armandii as it looks today. It began blooming early in March under the plastic roof of the deck. While those flowers are nearly spent, these on the outside of the deck are just coming on. We get a prolonged blooming season this way. The scent becomes more pronounced as the blossoms begin to fade. It is hard to resist spending the bulk of my time idling on the deck wreathed in delicious aroma.
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Anemone blanda seems happy here, where others (Mt Hood daffodils, for instance) have failed. I bought only a few, just to see how they would do, because an earlier experiment was less than stellar. Now I will have to order more if I am to enjoy them in drifts. Actually, I rather like them scattered sparsely like this, so that the form stands out against the dark background. Maybe I will just wait and let them colonize on their own, if they are so inclined.
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I bought a little bag of these bulbs from a highly regarded nearby nursery. They were labeled Camassia. What I got was Leucojum instead, but they look very sweet in the woodland.
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These little grape hyacinths crept furtively into the garden, I know not how. Seems like a good idea. There will be more.
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I promised last time to keep a running account of the progress of E. wulfenii. This is about as exuberant as it gets. To give you an idea of scale, it is roughly waist hight on a six foot person.
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The cherry trees are just coming on. They won’t last long, if we have our usual hard rains…just long enough for the bees to find them and do their thing. There are two of these ancients out front, placed exactly the right distance apart to support a hammock. I truly hope there will be at least one day fine enough to lay in the hammock gazing up through the blossoms and listening to the buzzing of the bees.
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Meanwhile, out in the woods, a volunteer cherry puts on a show, using the darkness of the surrounding cedars as a backdrop.
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I thought it would be cheery to be greeted by daffodils just as you turn in to our lane. I planted three different kinds so the bloom time would be staggered. My mistake. Luckily, the bulb catalogs are just hitting my desk while last year’s goof-up is plain to see. This time, I will shoot my wad on just one variety, in an attempt to make a bold statement.
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Now these little dears thrive no matter what…and talk about drifts! I ask you: why are we so determined to struggle against nature’s success stories, when we could just relax and learn to make dandelion wine?

but is it art?

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

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I go to art fairs and shows every now and then, where I find myself admiring garden ornaments like totems and towers by ceramic artists. Alas, my budget, after plants, simply will not stretch to include original works of art. But wait! What about all of those odds and ends…lids to jars that have broken, saucers and/or pots with no mates, the wobbly pot that I threw in college (too weird to use, but too significant to throw away). I gathered a bunch of this detritus and began stacking it up. Perhaps not so oddly, since my taste tends to run to celadons and naturals, there were plenty of pieces that harmonized as if it were planned from the start.

Glue is always a stumbling block in projects of this kind. I had recently graduated from Gorilla glue to an industrial strength craft adhesive called E6000, so I proceeded with all confidence in its ability to hold things together. I gave my finished tower a couple of days to cure in my workroom before moving it outside. After a night in which we had a light freeze, the join where my wobbly, hand-thrown pot met with a smooth, commercial saucer gave way. I thought it was simply a result of the uneven surface, so silicone caulk was pressed into service to fill in and cushion that point of contact. Great! It held! Then all of the other glue joints began to fail. Richard found me some clear silicone caulk (the first one was white) and I went to work cleaning surfaces and reassembling the whole thing using the new method. At this writing, the tower/totem is standing up to the job. You see it here, placed among cardoons and Stachys ‘Helon von Styne’ , which echo the tones in the ceramics perfectly (as does the dirt…oh,well…).

The cardoons were raised from seed from HPSO, and fill me with a mother’s pride. When I went out there to place my tower, you can imagine my consternation when I found that one of my lovely cardoons had been sucked down into the ground by whatever creature has been excavating tunnels around our grounds. Only a few wilty leaves and a deep hole about 4 inches in diameter testified to the crime. We have moles aplenty, which I do not mind, but this is another kettle of critter. Are there gophers in these parts? Any thoughts, fellow sufferers, will be greatly appreciated.