Archive for May, 2008

with leaves like these…

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

…who needs flowers?

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I bought this Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Puget Pink’ at the legendary Heronswood nursery in ’03. I had no idea it would be this slow-growing. The hornbeam I bought at the same time is now towering above the roof line, while this baby is little more than knee-high. Still, when these brilliant leaves unfurl, all is forgiven. It maintains a pinkish cast through the summer, but these are its glory days.

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The heaths and heathers do bloom, of course, but it is the new growth that brings them to my garden. This one is called ‘Red Fred’, and I waited a few days to long to snap its picture for you to see it at its most colorful. Those little tips were like glowing embers.

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This Euphorbia is called ‘Excaliber’, a name that would recommend it to me even if the foliage were not so appealing. It has the usual acid-green cuplike blossoms (or are they bracts?) later on, but so what? Here is where the action is.

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‘Philippe Vapelle’ is a cranesbill with such softly textured, scallopy leaves that one barely notices the lavender blossoms with darker purple veining. In fact, I sometimes cut them off, as it seems to prolong the freshness of the foliage.

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They keep coming up with new heucheras every year. The newest ones are usually priced sky high, but I had to have ‘Caramel’ (on the left) regardless. Now I can hardly distinguish it from ‘Amber Waves’ (on the right)…can you? Hubris strikes in the garden as much as anywhere else, I guess.

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Then there are the dark ones, whose names I have completely lost track of, but dote on none the less. I quite like the frothy little wands of flowers that are coming on about now, but could live without them. Not so the resplendent leaves.

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This geranium is a passalong plant from Amy and I have no idea what its name is. It is easy to propagate from cuttings, and a good thing, too, because it plants covetousness in the hearts of all who see it.

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Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ is one of a growing number of evergreens finding their way into our plan. I was told early on that gardeners follow a predictable trajectory: start out with pretty little annuals, move on to perennials in lush borders, become seduced by shrubs and trees and finally graduate to evergreens. I think it has a little bit to do with getting worn down by all the work involved in maintaining the early stage plants. Plant yourself a juniper or a cypress, give it supplemental water for the first year or so, and that’s pretty much it. It grows in beauty year after year, and overshadows ever more of the dreaded lawn. But that’s the cynic’s view. The subtleties of form and coloration have endless appeal to a more practiced eye.

In answer to that leading question…of course we all want and need flowers. What would life be like without them? I still watch buds swell with nearly maniacal anticipation, and ooh and aah with the rest over on Carol’s May Dreams Gardens site every Bloom Day. In a pinch, though, the above bevy of beauties, and their brethren, could see me through.

prune now or pay later

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

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We expect gardening photos to scale the heights of beauty and grace, right? Well, not this one. This is an example of what can happen if you put off the inevitable. I know. It looks like an amputee from a Civil War field hospital. Richard and I seldom agree upon when, where and how much to cut back, so Mom Nature steps in. Last winter was a harsh one, with heavy, wet snow and ice. Several trees that had been overreaching cracked under the pressure. This cypress on the back of the house is the worst case in point. It had been slowly spreading, until it completely shielded the unattractive foundation, and yielded endless boughs to deck the halls during the holidays. We knew it was getting out of hand, but, like I said, the bickering never resolved itself into a plan of action. Now we are left with a barren expanse which I am trying my best to see as an opportunity rather than a disaster.

Yesterday, I apprehended R heading for the Acacia, loppers in hand (I gave him the loppers as a gift, so how much complaining can I do?). With the cypress incident fresh in our minds, we were able to negotiate each cut with admirable equanimity. The trimmed branches are dramatic in a vase. The tree, I think, will be spared the embarrassment of the fate of the cypress.

not so fast, deer

Monday, May 19th, 2008

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By and large, we take a live and let-live attitude toward the deer. They provide endless entertainment from our dining room windows, and in return, they are allowed to browse at will. I will buy strawberries at the Farmers’ Market because the deer nibble the flowers before they can begin to develop into anything humans deem edible. Trees are a different matter. After the deer stripped a young eucalyptus of every trace of foliage (who knew that they would go for something so aromatic?) a remedy became necessary. Richard drove metal pipe into the ground to support deer netting that would surround each tender young tree. It proved effective and not especially unsightly. Still, those poles seemed to be begging for adornment.

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This picture shows a hose guard made by a local ceramicist. I bought three of them several years ago because I fell hard for them. I don’t know about you, but try as I might, I just can’t make hose guards work for me. These beauties sat around waiting for the deer fence epiphany. The stake, meant to go into the ground, fits snugly into the top end of the metal pipe. Cute, huh? The first picture (above) features glass electrical insulators (hope I got that right) slipped over the tops of the pipes. These things always appealed to me, so whenever they popped up at garage sales, I would buy them. Never had a clue as to their fate until now.

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I ran out of stashed goodies before the corralled trees ran out, so off to the local craft store for me. These 3″ wooden balls were intended to become dolls’ heads. With the application of red spray paint and a big long screw to slide into the top of the pipe, they become a variation on my post cap theme.

Visiting gardens and nurseries is a sure way to fill one’s memory banks with ideas . They might mingle in there for years before they pop out disguised as your own brilliant brainstorms. One garden owner (wish I could remember, so as to give full credit) had taken a paint pot to some poppy pods left standing after the petals fell. The result was a surreal parade of sculptural unflowers in an array of colors alien to most gardens. At Dancing Oaks Nursery they had crafted special stakes to hold their collection of electrical insulators, which spring, flower-like, from various beds. In other words, truly original ideas are few and far between, but out of the stew of influences we can often pluck a tasty morsel or two…and, in this case, deprive the deer of a few tasty morsels until the trees get big enough to fend for themselves.

may bloom day

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

You may have noticed posts on the 15th of the past couple of months with photos of what is blooming at the time. The brainchild of Carol at May Dreams Gardens, it attracts garden bloggers from far and wide. They post their pictures and comments, then leave a link on Carol’s site. What fun it is to tap into these avid gardeners’ personalities and to see what is blooming in different parts of the world. I always thought Portland OR was the mecca for growing things, but after skimming Pam’s site, I was almost ready to decamp to Texas. Of course it could very well have simply to do with Pam’s exceptional photography.

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First up, as seen through branches of the acacia in the foreground, is sweet little Saxifraga andrewsii in combination with Penstemon newberryi. They seem happy in the gravel bed surrounding the pond.

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In the woodland, Erythronium has followed me from place to place ever since I first dug a few from my mom’s yard. She had great swathes of them that had sprung up naturally, but I am still waiting for my three to start a family.

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The apple trees are less showy than the cherries or the pears, but if one looks closely, their blossoms are the prettiest of all.

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I must plant more of this Dicentra spectabilis so there will be plenty to add to spring posies. The white one (Alba) that was nearby has disappeared.

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The flowers on Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi are an unexpected bonus. I bought it strictly for its scalloped leaves. Like the echeverias, these guys refuse to stick to the script, and keep morphing into new forms. Oh, well…that’s half the fun.

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It almost seems like cheating to include something like this Armeria that went straight from the nursery into a pot on the deck, but I’ll do it anyway.

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One of the few shrubs that came with the house was a full grown lilac. It fills the air with its perfume, and turns lovely rusty shades of red in the fall.

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I once brought Silene to life from seed gathered on a camping trip in Canada. I mourned its loss when I tried, unsuccessfully, to move it. Now I find it growing wild all over the place, Yippee!

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It takes a lot of anything to make an impression when the property is large. Rhododendrons are just the ticket. We buy a few each year, so our collection is starting to take on a wee bit of “gravitas”. ‘Horizon Monarch’ is right at that stage when you can see all of its stages at once, and how the color develops from bud to full flower. We try to seek out varieties with interesting foliage, so that they can hold their own after the fabulous flowers fade.

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R ‘Misty Moonlight’ is in full bloom under the cedar trees.

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Going from macro to micro, these little Ipheon ‘Wisley Blue’ are scattered at the base of the cherry trees. With the help of some scilla, they mask the dying foliage of the early tete a tete daffodils, but I haven’t come up with anything to take over once these go. Any ideas?

We’ve come a long way since March, when it was easy to cover every bloomin’ thing without fear of boring the audience. Now, with the whole world bursting at the seams, a bit of editing seems appropriate. Here’s the list of flowers that failed to make it onto my A-list: many Euphorbias upstaged by wulfenii, Polygonum bistorta ‘Superbum’, Myosotis scorpioides, Mahonia ‘King’s Ransom’, Galium odoratum (see previous post ‘May Wine’), Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafree’, Choisya ‘Sun Dance’, iris, Poncirus trifoliata, and various tulips and viburnums.

may wine

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Many years ago I had a studio in a place called Hillside Center. It was a loose coalition of artists who paid small amounts of rent to inhabit a cluster of shabbily elegant buildings that had once housed a private school for girls. It was perched in a lovely setting, surrounded by trees and upscale neighbors who seemed threatened by what they perceived as an entirely too freewheeling style of life. In truth, my fellow Hillsiders were some of the most dedicated, serious and responsible people I have known, all appearances to the contrary. In a studio near mine toiled a woman whose art had been derived from careful study of ancient techniques lost to us over time. Through her research, she was able to reconstruct formulas and processes to create works of great beauty. Her historical bent extended to all facets of life. In the spring, she would serve a punch she called May Wine. It had a festive air about it, summoning up visions of maidens dancing about Maypoles in gossamer gowns. The celebratory mood was created with humble ingredients (jug wine was the norm among us in those days). I was never much of a fan of Rhine wine, perhaps because the jug variety was my only exposure, but with the added fillip of sprigs of sweet woodruff floating in a lovely bowl with ice, it became something easy to pass off as ambrosia.

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These are memories sparked by spotting the Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) springing to life when I was tramping around the yard the other day. The carpet of square stems punctuated by whorls of shapely, medium-green leaves is just beginning to produce clusters of diminutive white star-shaped flowers. This is the very best time, because just a few of the flowers have opened, with those to come still looking like white and greenish beads.

Having duly admired the sparkling effect in a shady spot, I logged on to see if I could recreate the spring elixer of those halcyon days. What I found were a number of recipes, all different, with the only common ingredient being the woodruff. What a relief! I was off the hook. No need to feel some historical imperative to use cloyingly sweet Rhine wine. I could invent my own version with impunity. My gardening books described woodruff’s taste as haylike. I would venture to call it grassy, but extremely subtle. The flavor is not the main asset here, but rather the sprightly decorative touch it adds to the punch bowl. A white zinfandel, chosen primarily for its pale blush of color, provides just the right degree of sweetness. The ice cubes could be plain, but why? I chose to make them by puddling a small amount of water in the ice tray with a borage blossom in each compartment. Freeze that thoroughly, then top off with water and freeze again. If you fail to completely freeze the first step, the flower will float to the top and stick out of the cube. I tried making them with tea, but it made for cloudy cubes, obscuring the blossoms. My answer was to make a few plain cubes with tea. Almost any tea that is very pale when brewed works aesthetically. Chamomile introduces another interesting flavor. I like to brew the tea with some borage and woodruff in the pot. After making the ice cubes, I combine the remaining tea with a bottle of white zinfandel in a jar in the fridge. By the next day, it is ready to be strained off over the pretty ice cubes in a bowl, for a party of several; or a glass, for a party of one. Toss in a few sprigs of your floral garnish and prepare to feel like the monarch of May.

may day! may day!

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Then April sighed, and stepped aside

…and along came pretty little May

 

I’m all for bringing back a simple tradition enjoyed in childhood: May baskets. The ones I remember were paper cones fashioned from construction paper and decorated with ribbons. The ribbons also formed a loop for hanging these very special, flower-filled vessels over a doorknob. When you are five, the bouquets are apt to contain dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace, as well as more legitimate flowers pilfered from the garden. Longevity is rarely an issue. The pleasure comes from stealing, undetected, up to the front door of a favorite aunt, sneaking the “basket” of drooping wildflowers onto the door, ringing the bell and diving for the bushes to secretly watch her face radiate delight when she discovers the tribute. As adults, we might give a thought to the practical matter of making our vessels watertight, but lets not lose sight of the gleeful aspects of secrecy and surprise.

Sweet, simple customs carry none of the freight of the sexiness and even gore of May Day’s pagan origins, when the ripeness of all nature led lads and lassies into a delirium of lust sanctioned by all. The fairest of each sex was duly proclaimed King and Queen of the May, to preside over the revelry (which often included human sacrifice). You can imagine how uncomfortable the puritans were with the mayhem. They did their best to leave it all behind when they came to the New World.

In the late 1800’s labor activists co-opted May Day for their own purposes, with marches and demonstrations sometimes described in the press as “commie” events perpetrated by “wild-eyed agitators”. What’s a neo-puritan like George W. Bush to do? Why, wipe out all traces of carnality and left-leaning sentiment with the stroke of a pen, or course. In 2003, he proclaimed May 1 as Loyalty Day, a time to reaffirm our allegience to our Nation.

Proclamations and cover-ups aside, all you have to do is step outside in the Merry Month of May to feel the stirrings of the earth awakening and be moved to mark the event in some significant way. If a pledge of allegiance is what comes to you, so be it. I myself am more likely to tear off my clothes and roll in the grass.