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sprig to twig » 2010 » March

Archive for March, 2010

latest urban park

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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This park has been a long time coming. It exists in the core of downtown Portland (that white building in the background is the Fox Tower and the brick building off to the left is Nordstrom). The original plan, when the city was in the planning stages, was for a corridor of greenspace to run the full length of the city, north to south. A stretch of park blocks runs from the performing arts center several blocks through Portland State University. It is lush with trees and grass and plantings.  Interrupted by several blocks of commercial buildings, the parks pick up again and run a few blocks north. In the last few years new interest and political will emerged to try to connect the two ends.

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The crane in the background is evidence that the next block will sprout a new skyscraper if and when the economy recovers. Still, we are one park closer to the continuous strip envisioned by Portland’s founding fathers.

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Is there anything cuter than baby toes? The little girl on the left bared hers to splash in the fountain while her mom looks on. The benches are, to my mind, the nicest feature of the park…very sculptural.

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Portlanders love their fountains. This one is a wide circle with more of that curved bench bordering the deeper end in a huge semicircle. Random jets shoot into the air around the large granite ball at stage center.

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We are also enthusiastic about our food carts. This one serves up an unusual assortment of fries to go with gourmet burgers.

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A soaring glass roof covers at least a quarter of the area, so we can loiter even on drizzly days.

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From sidewalk to sidewalk the area is paved with whitish granite, with a few planters built in. This strikes me as a pretty lame excuse for a planting. Maybe there is a vision at work, but I just don’t see it. What do you think?

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Narrow, elevated planters run along the west side of the space. Those are the backs of more benches rising above the concrete on one side. It’s early, I know, but this planting strikes me as lacking in imagination. With all the granite and the Fox tower looming overhead, my impression is of blindingly white, coldly impersonal space crying out for the softening influence of lush plantings. Architect friends disagree, and think it is just swell. I can’t wait to read your comments!

timberline lodge

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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If you saw The Shining, you have seen better shots of Timberline lodge from the outside than anything I can share with you, but the interior in that movie was, for some inexplicable reason, an insipid, uninteresting (oh, I get it: they didn’t want the surroundings to upstage the actors)…enough said.

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Coming through the front doors, one is greeted by this impressive stone fireplace. When I was growing up, we spent nearly every winter weekend in Government Camp. This room was open to the public for use as a kind of warming hut. A roaring fire was always blazing, chairs full of recovering skiers were arrayed around it, and the air was permeated with the aroma of wet wool, scorched mittens drying on the hearth and wood smoke. It was a magical refuge between ski runs between Timberline and Government Camp.

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The entire lodge was built as a WPA project during the depression, and is filled with the work of artists and artisans of the time. Just inside the entry, the drinking fountain is backed by this mosaic. You get some idea of the scale from the fountain in the foreground.

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Turn around, look up, and see this frieze decorating the massive beam over the doors. The exit sign is distracting here, but when one is in the space, the art and architecture overwhelm such petty incursions.

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Let’s go upstairs. Each newel post, throughout the building, is a full sized log, carved at the top with the image of an iconic northwest creature nestled down peacefully for a snooze. This one is a bear cub.

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Here’s a fawn.

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Love this owl.

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Nothing can truly prepare one for emerging into this magnificent space, anchored by the massive stone fireplace. It extends a full three stories. See the railings of the balcony? That is where our dinner was served, with a view out across the foothills, with Mt. Jefferson framed in the distance.

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Even more refined than the downstairs, every detail has been wrought by the hands of an accomplished artisan. Here I show you one of many light fixtures, and the warm, cozy glow it casts upon the timbered ceilings and walls, in contrast to the snow piled up outside the window. Remember that this is late March. In January, the snow would have covered the windows entirely. Paintings by C.S. Price hang on many of the walls.

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Seated in the Ram’s Head Lounge, we were closer to the heavily beamed ceiling, and spent considerable time speculating “How did they DO that?”

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The whole expedition to the mountain was prompted by a visit from San Francisco by daughter Hillary and her boyfriend Chris. When she emailed me about this as a desired destination, it surprised me, because as children, my two wanted nothing to do with the cold…both beating hasty retreats to warmer climes at the earliest opportunity. My attempts to propel them into nature were largely exercises in futility. Guess the seeds I planted years ago have finally decided to sprout. Thanks, Hillary, for instigating a visit to one of my favorite places on earth, right in our back yard.

always on the lookout

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Another Etsy find to pass along.

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I’m still fairly new to Etsy, and it never occurred to me to look for plants there. Then this photo showed up in one of the Showcases and, well, one thing led to another. The spiral aloe shown here sold out immediately (small wonder) but Horticopia has lots of other interesting stuff. Worth a gander, if you don’t mind being tempted.

here’s to the wearin’ o’ the green

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

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Happy St Patrick’s Day! This is one of my favorite holidays for a couple of reasons. First of all, I am three quarters Irish. My dad’s family was from County Cork, and my mom’s side had just enough of the auld sod thrown in to make up the other quarter. More importantly, my son, Din, was born on this day. Then of course there’s the greenness of it all. Any gardener would have to appreciate that! And the beer…but I’m getting carried away beyond my professed “couple” of reasons. I’ll just encourage you to enjoy yourselves on this whimsical holiday.

foliage has its day

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

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Who could fail to love the great, blowsy tissue-paper pompoms of peonies? Don’t let them blind you to the charms of the peony foliage. Here is a tree peony with the leaves still newborn pink, only the first in a parade of personae it will trot out over the seasons. The herbaceous peonies, meanwhile, are sending up brilliant deep red shoots all over the garden.

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Euphorbia ‘Excaliber’ will start looking like all the other Euphorbias eventually, but right now the emerging striped foliage on red stems displays the freshness of an enginue in the midst of the fuzzy little lambs’ ears.

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Hard to find any flowers to equal the blazing red new foliage on that old standby, the Photinia. These things grow like weeds in our neck of the woods, but that is no reason to take them for granted, or, worse, to look down our noses. Our local guru, Sean Hogan of Cistus even gave them the nod when I heard him speak at YGPS.

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Aren’t these candles on ‘Thunderhead’ just the loveliest? And they are harbingers of a new year’s growth, besides.

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Along the same lines, the chartreuse tips on last year’s Christmas tree announce its vigor. It made it into the ground yesterday, adding to my fantasy of an evergreen tapestry of plants leading to our house.

Please visit Pam at Digging to find links to other foliar treats.

a bloom day with…blooms

Monday, March 15th, 2010

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We’ll start off with a first timer: Rhododendron ‘Janet’. She has taken a couple of years to settle in, and now is leading the way as the first of the Rhody’s to bloom.

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More like an azalea, this unnamed variety from the big box store is blooming in its first year in the ground.

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Several clumps of grape hyacinths have sprung up, unbidden, here and there. I like them so much that…

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…they were included in fall’s bulb order.

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Forsythia can turn into a big yellow blob in the landscape, but I like it now, when it is still trying to gain a foothold and is flowering sparsely and delicately.

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A sprinkling of Anemones covers the ground.

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Much as I love all the exotic new plant material, the old-fashioned bleeding hearts capture my heart every spring.

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While others have been admiring their Hellebores for some time, mine are just coming into their own.

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All of the Euphorbias are putting out their acid green bracts just in time for St. Patrick’s Day bouquets. I hope ‘Blackbird’ is not reverting to green. It seems to have more green than its trademark dark foliage and butchery would be required to get back to only the desired color (not sure I’m up to it).

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E wulfenii always puts on a good show. I usually go for close-ups, but this way you get an idea of the size.

I’m going to leave it at that this time. As the season unfolds we must be more selective or risk boring our audience…not like the last few months, when we had to scrounge around to find anything resembling a bloom, inside or out. The whole world seems to be bursting out in blossoms nowadays. If you would like to soak up some of that, scoot on over to May Dreams Gardens for the magic portal to world-wide gardening.

back to the back forty

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

A few posts ago, we went for a walk in our woods. This time, we’re trying to locate the markers that tell us where our property ends. Machete in hand, Richard leads the way.

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The first thing to stop me in my tracks were these trilliums. A smattering of them were sprinkled across the forest floor, with many more just emerging. I will have to go back in a week or so. You can see how here at the forest’s edge they are pushing through a carpet of English ivy. We have been hacking away at the ivy, with the help of neighbors, but it is persistent stuff, and has nearly strangled some magnificent trees.

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As we dive deeper into the woods, the ivy and blackberries give way to natives like these fiddleheads. They are said to be a culinary delicacy, but the one time I ordered them in a restaurant they were a feast for the eyes, but just so so on the tongue. I would rather leave them in the woods where they arguably belong.

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Patches of oxalis are just beginning to produce flowers, not that they depend on floral display for their charm.

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Working our way to the bottom of the ravine, things begin to get boggy. This was one of only two skunk cabbage to come early to the party, but already our noses alerted us to their presence. There will be lots of them later on, so stand back.

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Here is one of three itty bitty streams (or are they creeks?) that converge at the bottom and then empty into a small lake out by the main road. The whole area is boggy now. I jumped across the creek and went in to my knees…glad there was a hiking buddy to pull me out.

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Love these patches of native Mahonia.

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I leave you with the oddity of the day: a tree growing out of the stump of one of its ancestors. Can you see the roots embracing the sides of the stump? Always something new to see out there. Thanks for coming along.

joy-ful pruning

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Every Sunday at one pm, the folks at Joy Creek put on an educational seminar. They always sound interesting, but tearing oneself away from gardening at home on a Sunday afternoon is a big order. Last Sunday, the subject was pruning. That got our attention. We have a running controversy around here. On one side is the liberal lopper, on the other, one dedicated to chaos theory (that would be me, as if you hadn’t guessed). I figured if I could drag Richard to this seminar, I would get some help in taming the rampaging beast. I figured wrong.

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After a short introduction, during which it was impressed upon us the importance of caring for our tools (I was already behind the eight ball with that one, how about you?), we decamped to a Japanese maple. It looked quite beautiful to me…kind of an umbrella effect with a complete lacework canopy of branchlets. The picture above was taken about two thirds of the way through the process. It was brutal. It was, however, highly informative, as we were taken through the complete process, with our guide thinking out loud and conveying his strategy for each and every cut. First, he cut out all the dead wood. With that out of the way, it became easier to see the structure. Where branches rubbed against one another, decisions had to be made: which one would go? Sometimes the choice was surprising, until we learned of how it fit into the overall vision for the tree. In the end, the volume was taken back by about half. I began to see it less as butchery and more as a slow and careful artistic endeavor: the sculptor revealing the essence of the artwork. This particular tree is valued at around $3000.00 (insert Antiques Roadshow-ish gasp of disbelief here)

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We had spent nearly an hour on the maple, so the rest of the session consisted of a walk around the grounds with questions and answers. A memorable stop along the route was this juniper, left to its own devices.

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And its once identical twin after a haircut. The tonsured twin is less likely to lose limbs in extreme weather, and clean cuts have replaced any damaged areas where disease would be likely to gain a foothold. This guy has a windswept, coastal persona that is appealing, but I am still partial to his shaggier sibling (just a matter of taste: Jeff Bridges over Alec Baldwin any time).

I guess there will still be the push-pull of different perspectives in our garden. I may have lost all credibility in my quest for the “natural” look, but I can hardly complain. Most of our property is untouched deep woods. Tomorrow I will take you on another walk on the wild side.

lemonade from lemons…so to speak

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Learning to live with, and even appreciate, the thuggish plants in the garden is sometimes merely a matter of shifting focus. Let me illustrate by telling you a little story about an unassuming, shy plant that surreptitiously overran the garden and then seduced the gardener.

Moving into a different house, most will agree, can be a daunting task. More so, if the house is a remodeling project in a borderline area (it would be a stretch to call it a “neighborhood”, surrounded as it was by warehouses and freeways). In my first act of gardening, I brought home a shovelful of common violets (Viola odorata) from my mom’s and slipped them into an unobtrusive spot by the front porch. Truth be known, all spots were pretty unobtrusive at the time, but that’s another story. My intent was fuzzy, just some knee-jerk reaction to a nesting instinct. My ignorance was vast. I had never heard of such a thing as an invasive plant. Over time, more and more of the rubble-strewn lot gave way to cultivation. At weeding time, I would find errant violets popping up in each and every bed, duly yanking them out and casting them aside with some annoyance. The violets had other ideas. In late February, I ventured into the waterlogged garden to admire the daffodils at close range. Confronted by a carpet of fragrant purple, punctuated here and there by the nodding yellow and white blossoms of the daffys, it became clear that the violets had it right after all.

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Then I remembered a failed baking project from some years back. It was a birthday cake. It fell. There was no time to bake another, but this sorry-looking brown lump with the crater in the middle simply would not do. Filling the crater with lemon curd helped some, but embellishment of some kind was definitely in order. Off I went to the gourmet deli for some candied violets. Yikes! Semi-precious gems fall roughly into the same price range! I would have to make do with a few primroses dusted with sugar and some sprigs of ivy. The cake was lovely in the end.

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The yen for candied violets resurfaced with vigor when I saw before me the raw materials in ridiculous abundance. After some trial and error, here is the process I devised. Pick about 2 cups of violets with stems attached. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Dump in the violets and swish them around to eliminate mud and/or critters, then pat them dry with paper towels. Whisk two egg whites in a bowl until barely frothy. Mound granulated sugar in a pie pan. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Have handy a teaspoon, a pair of scissors and a damp sponge. Hold a violet by its stem, swish it around in the egg white, tap it against the side of the bowl to remove excess, then lay it in the sugar and use the spoon to fill all of the little crevices. Shake off extra sugar, lay the sugarcoated violet onto the parchment and use the scissors to cut off the stem. The sugar will puddle a little, so the best effect will be achieved if you place the flower face up. The damp sponge comes in handy to wipe sticky fingers and scissors from time to time. My two cups of violets filled a large baking sheet with no two violets touching. Drying time, I found, is critical. In a few hours they are dry enough to use for decorating, but for storage, a few days is more like it. My first batch seemed perfectly dry the next day, so I put them in little jars on a shelf, where I could admire them. Oops! They congealed into a solid ball. It was possible to pry them apart, but not without causing considerable damage (broken bits make a lovely flavoring for homemade ice cream, scones or biscotti). I used superfine sugar for the second batch. The color comes through a little better and they are more delicate, but drying time is even longer.

In the end, what is there to show for the considerable effort? The deep purple of the flower is filtered through the sugary, translucent crust to become a pale, shimmering lilac with just a glimpse of the orange eye showing through. The taste is hauntingly unexpected and elusive: as if your senses got all mixed up and you are suddenly tasting with your olfactory glands.

This is no quickie project. My love discovered me amidst the violets and proclaimed me certifiably insane. Unable to argue with such an astute assessment of my mental state, I simply turned the music up a notch and continued dipping and snipping and dreaming of extraordinary concoctions to come.

be kind to your tools

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, and this phrase jumped off the page: “The finger has hundreds of sensors per square centimeter. There is nothing in science or technology that has even come close to the sensitivity of the human finger with respect to the range of stimuli it can pick up. It’s a brilliant instrument.” He happens to be quoting Mark Goldstein, a sensory psychophysicist, talking about the superiority of well trained digits as diagnostic tools over the ubiquitous mammogram. We gardeners know what he’s talking about. No hoe, trowel or fancy weeding device can telegraph to our brains that gentle tug/release our fingers feel when the dandelion taproot gives up the fight and yields to our superior strength. Major digging may not be advised while the soil is still damp, for fear of turning it to a good imitation of concrete…but there is no better time to go after those pesky perennial weeds.

I mostly wear gloves, but when it comes to delicate weeding chores, nothing beats a bare-fisted, probing fingers approach. The garden ends up looking great, but don’t look at my favorite gardening tools too closely.

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Enter Bag Balm, in the distinctive green tin with the cow’s head wreathed in flowers on the lid, and a discreet illustration of an udder and teats on the side. It is almost pure lanolin, and sticky feeling when you first slather it on. It absorbs fairly quickly, but even so, I only use it at bedtime to avoid mucking up anything I might touch. Having tried dozens of products over the years, I will say that this is the only one that really works. I buy it at our local feed and seed, but recently spotted it on the shelves of a one stop shopping center in town. Guess the word is getting out. Rest assured that no cows bribed me to write this post. I do so as a public service to fellow sufferers of cracked cuticles and callused paws.