after the party


This is the scene that greeted us as we sat over brunch. It is pretty representative of the rolling hills where winemaking rules.


All of the outbuildings on this property are handsome and color-coordinated (not a tarp in sight).


Even the chicken coop, home of the hens responsible for saffron hued yolks we had just dined upon, carries out the architectural theme.


In the garden of an artist, you are likely to find installations like this totem tucked in with the plant compositions.


As well as pots containing interesting plant life and artifacts.


The first time I came here, I was asked if I had visited “the tree”. Uh…how will I know it when I see it? Answer: you’ll know. Yeah, sure. I wandered out back, spotted a really big tree, and thought OK, this must be it. Then I looked a little further, and Oh My God!


This thing is gimungous! I can’t even begin to imagine how old it must be.


Leaning against it is something like communicating with your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother.

And now… for the strangeness I promised you yesterday.


Driving to the party, this was what made us think “whaaa…? We have to check this out on the way home.


So we pulled over and took this picture, even though the light was totally wrong. See the house back there behind the trees?


There was a wide gravel driveway along the side of the house, and I noticed a man and a boy back there working a wheelbarrow. I asked if they minded if I walked back there a ways to photograph their trees (ever notice how much one can get away with holding a camera?). The man was not real talkative, but said “sure”. I commented that the pruning made these fir trees look a bit like palms, and that got him going. Turns out that they wanted to be able to see the rolling hills and the groves of oaks across the road from their house. They must have gotten the idea from a neighbor down the road a piece. Similar pruning had taken place there (not quite as extreme), and the trees seem to have recovered.

lets party


Around the same time we left downtown Portland for our bit of ground on the outskirts, our good friends Susan and Gilbert made an even greater leap of faith. They moved to Carlton, OR, in the heart of wine country, where Gilbert opened Cuvee, a restaurant where he can ply his considerable skills as a French chef (yes, those are banners by Ricki bracketing the facade).

Susan, meanwhile, as soon as she recovered from the shock of rural life, located, and bonded with, every creative person in the vicinity. One of these artist friends has a birthday in late April. She and Susan put their heads together and devised an annual event, a Birthday Party built around a theme (different each year) requiring costumes, elaborate invitations, favors, awards…these babes pull out all the stops. This year we were to come as our 9-year-old selves. The invitations arrived in envelopes apparently addressed in a fourth grader’s best block printing. Inside was a lined sheet torn from a spiral notebook with a class photo and all the pertinent info.


Hopscotch, anyone?


Kid-pleasing vignettes met the eye in every direction. I was so taken with the bear that I failed to notice my pillows on the couch until I looked at the shot later.


Here’s our birthday girl, Lorrie, leaning into little (it’s a state of mind) Ashley. There must have been 25 to 30 women, ranging in age from 20’s to 80’s, and all blending into a harmonious whole…if you can imagine such a thing.


Mousketeer Nancy was adept with hula hoop and yoyo, performing with great dash and confidence some tricks I had never seen before. Annie in pigtails had just “fallen out of a tree”, and broken branches were sticking out of her tomboy duds every which way. Evonne came as the 9-year-old she always wanted to be, right down to the ankle strap shoes she didn’t get the first time around. That’s me on the right. Something about pulling hair into two pony tails, one on each side of the head, makes me feel like a kid again.


Footwear played a big part in our regressions. Marilyn’s white knee sox show off her Mary Janes, while Ellie’s zany patterned version hints that her mastery of combining colors and patterns started early.


Tracy threw herself into her role by ramping up her already high energy level to that of a hyper kid on a sugar high. With her is our co-hostess, Susan, who always could pull a look together.


Hank, at one year old, must have gotten his directions turned around. He arrived looking much older than his year.


Here’s Elna, showing off her certificate for “student of the year” and her lunch box prize filled with twinkies, bubble gum Crackerjacks, etc. You can see the refreshment bar to the side, well stocked with KoolAid, Tang…oh joy!


Having feasted on delicacies like grilled cheese, pbj, mac ‘n cheese, jello molds and the like, a fire drill booted us out to the fire pit for some singing and storytelling and visiting.


Everyone had come a considerable distance on winding country roads (plus that Tang was laced with a little something) so of course it was a sleepover. We had developed grown-up tastes overnight and brunch on the terrace was magnificent.


People were having a hard time tearing themselves away. As I wandered around taking pictures, I kept dropping into little groups having all sorts of interesting conversations. Tomorrow, I will take you on a walk around this wonderful property and then show you the strange sight that we earmarked for pictures on the way here.

tarp tour

This one’s for you, Grace. Follow the link to see Grace’s collection of tarps and her very special humor at work. But first, take a walk with me around my neighborhood. My special pet peeve used to be the collection of cars that seem to build up in residents’ driveways, often spilling onto surrounding fields. At one point, the top prize went to one property sporting no less than 18 vehicles. Lately, this blot on the neighborhood has been dwindling. Not that I had anything to do with that, but perhaps if I turn my psychic energy towards the proliferation of tarps, they, too, will begin to disappear. Dare we hope?


Here we have a veritable village of tarps, cars, railroad cars (Lord knows what is stored in there), facing directly onto the road for our viewing pleasure.


Slummy though this may be, at least it is tucked out of sight behind some roadside shrubbery.


I do understand the need to keep wood dry, but do you see all those massive outbuildings in the background? What do you suppose those are for?


Another example of “why the tarp?” when a brand new 3 car garage stands empty right behind it. Not sure if you can see the several tarped lumps at the back of the picture.


In some cases, the tarp may be the only thing holding the building together. Right next door to this lovely abode is…


this decidedly tarpless, neat-as-a-pin home. No wonder the first thing the young man who built it did was plant a fast-growing, dense hedge on all sides.


Then there are the antique tarps. This one looks to have been here almost as long as the building.


This lovely collection (7 by my count) is directly across the road from us. There were large trees running down that side of the road, shielding us from this view. Two weekends ago, down came the trees. It is up to us now to plant as many fast-growing trees and shrubs in our mixed hedgerow as we can muster, cuz I don’t think the tarp infestation will be cured any time soon.

hpso spring sale


On the hunt for the unusual, the exotic, the hard-to-find? The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon has a plant sale each spring and fall, where every specialty nursery worth its salt displays its most special merchandise. If the activity at the Expo Center last Saturday is any indication, the economy is on a decided upswing. I had never seen such an active sale, with it often hard to jockey one’s way to the front of the crowd massed around the display tables. I arrived in the vicinity at about 11:30 (the sale ran from 10 to 3 Saturday and Sunday). Bumper to bumper traffic crawled at a snail’s pace, and there were signs telling us that the Expo parking lot was full: we should take light rail. I couldn’t imagine schlepping plants on public transportation, so, like many others, I ignored the warnings. Indeed, cars were being admitted to the parking lot, but much circling and an embarrassing willingness to scoot into an open space in front of someone quite possibly with a prior claim yielded a space as far from the exhibition hall as one could get.


Can you see that building way off in the distance? That is where the sale was being held. As I approached, I could see a long line of cars lined up to pick up their plants. Only if I were to find the plant of my dreams would I be willing to run that gauntlet.


Plenty of shoppers were up to the challenge. This lady was pulling her filled cart into the pick-up area. Boy, did I feel like a wimp.


I had decided to follow the common advice to browse the whole show before committing to purchases. I’m here to say that that is the stupidest advice ever. I was already suffering from sensory overload by the time I made it through half of the displays. I had stumbled upon Romneya coulteri, which had been on my wish list ever since my first open garden visit several years ago. As I looked it over, along came a delightful woman who assured me that it was a fabulous plant and that I needed to get myself a box and snatch it up RIGHT NOW. Well, I know good advice when I hear it, and I had already forgotten which plants I had earmarked for return visits. It was time to commit, and to get the heck out of there while I still had some modicum of equilibrium. So my take, I am sorry to say, is anything but impressive: the aforementioned California poppy, a new Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Contoneaster horizontalis ‘Cheney’ (sorry about that, but it is a cool plant), Calluna vulgaris ‘Spring Torch’, a chocolate cosmos for my daughter-in-law (tiny, so I will need to baby it along a while before giving it to her), and a tomato plant for Richard.

foliage rules


The little plugs of moss purchased from Home Depot are beginning to have “presence” as they spread to form plush cushions.


Let’s talk soon about record keeping. I failed to make note of this Oxalis, but isn’t it a delight? Here’s an update. I just returned from the HPSO sale, where most questions can be answered. It is O adenophylla, and my advise to you, if you like it, is to order bulbs. You will receive 10 or so bulbs for about the cost of one little plant in a 4″ container.


Another plant traveling incognito, this sedum looks its best right now. I will pinch it back about the end of May to keep it like this for as long as possible. It keeps insisting on producing insipid flowers, the silly thing.


In the constant search for viable ground covers, I was so pleased with this Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’ that I promptly purchased three more, which just as promptly up and died. This first one is happy and spreading nicely, so I guess it’s worth another try.


Color and texture provided by Sambucus negra ‘Eva’ casting her shadow across a carpet of Creeping Jenny and Hydrangea quercifolia just leafing out.


More new leaves here. Hamamelis intermedia ‘Diane’ in the foreground, joining the remains of her recent flowering (surely someone can tell me the proper terminology-Jo?), looking very like tiny flowers themselves. Close to the ground, the deeply pleated leaves of Allium karativiense ‘Ivory Queen’ cradle the beginnings of future flowers. Like all babies, they are as cute as they will ever be.


The peony foliage has come a long way since last month. Pretty soon the flowers will upstage it, but right now it is the star.

Pam, over at Digging will show you a whole different palette of foliage in her Texas garden, and provide links to a world of foliar fun.

let the blooming begin


Barberries were foliage plants as far as I was concerned. The B thunbergii purpurea serve that purpose well, but now I am getting dainty little flowers as a bonus.


A trip to Dancing Oaks Nursery opened my eyes to new possibilities, and I came away with two new barberries. B replicata has narrow, reddish-purple leaves, and is, at present, festooned with many clusters of golden-to-orange blossoms. Plus, it is evergreen and thorny enough that the deer won’t touch it. My other newbie is still working up to blooming, so maybe next time.


Forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioedes is just getting started. I tend to like most things best in these early stages. The blue haze these will become later on is pretty spectacular though.


The first of the iris to bloom are these short ones. I divided them and moved some into beds closer to the house, but the only ones blooming are these out by the fence line.


Don’t you just love it when volunteers place themselves right where you would choose to have them? I think we will eventually have almost a grove of Ribes.


The flowers on Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ frost the seriously thorny bush before it leafs out.


And finally, my tulip bed is looking much better…but that is a story for another day. I will just leave you with this image of ‘Fire Queen’, and encourage you to mosey on over to May Dreams Gardens to browse through the world’s April blooms.

Loree, over at Danger Garden just asked if I would recommend taking the trek to Dancing Oaks. My answer is an enthusiastic yes. Here is my account of our last trip. Come to think of it, I think it is about time to plan another expedition.

how do you weed?


That’s my weeding gear. My new favorite weeder has that loop behind the forked part, which serves dual purposes. It acts as a fulcrum to lever out stubborn weeds, and has a sharp edge on one side of the loop to oust swathes of itty bitty baby weeds with a scraping motion. I never could get the hang of hoes, mostly because my weeding is a fairly delicate operation.


Note the grassy foliage on those Ipheon. Up close is the only way to differentiate between the grass trying to invade this bed and the desirable foliage of the ‘Wisley’s Blue’. Besides, I like to spend the early part of a gardening day doing the physically challenging chores like hauling around wheelbarrows full of stuff. Winding down involves scooting around on my butt, chasing obnoxious invaders. Our rains have been keeping the ground nice and spongy, but also wet…and cold. That’s what the two Trader Joe’s reusable grocery bags are about. I’ve tried spongy kneeling pads, but one of anything just won’t do and my knees get grumpy. These are cheap, they’re waterproof and as I scoot along I can grab the one left behind to put in front…perfect. The blue bucket comes along because it never gets too heavy to drag, and getting up and down to haul these small amounts to the nearby wheelbarrow is good exercise. The color-coordination of this set-up is purely coincidental.

If you have any weeding tricks we should know about, please share them as a comment. The bane of many a gardener, I find weeding contemplative, as well as a way to get intimate with my plants. How do you feel about it?

watts towers

brochure photo watts towers

Both of our kids used to live in LA, so trips south were on the agenda every once in a while. When we ran out of museums, I finally talked everyone into a trip to Watts. Have you heard of the towers? They are the work of one man, a day laborer who spent every minute off the job, and every cent he earned at it, constructing these amazing structures in his back yard. The armatures are rebar. Aside from that and the cement covering it, everything is done with scrounged materials.

close-up watts towers

In the close-up, you can see some of the detail. Every surface is covered with mosaics made of broken crockery, glass, shells, tiles, etc. The fence around the perimeter of the property has old bed springs as its base. Newel posts are topped with finials of teapots. Simon Rodea spent every available waking hour either foraging for materials or scrambling up his structures by means of a window washer’s belt and buckle. When dark fell, he rigged up lighting so he could continue his work. He made no drawings and used only the simplest of tools.

the towers in Watts

The tallest of the towers is 99.5′. Rodea’s comment on his magnificent art work was typically humble: “I had in mind to do something big and I did it.” His obsession had cost him his wife, but upon completion he deeded the property to a neighbor and moved away to be close to family. He was 75. The place fell into neglect. School children used the finials for target practice. The city declared it a hazard and prepared to raze it to the ground. A group of artists and actors, led, I seem to remember, by Vincent Price, were successful in saving them, in no small part by way of an engineering test that included a truck with a winch attempting to pull them down. Buckminster Fuller, no less, proclaimed them marvels of engineering.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they are protected and maintained. For a small fee, you can take a tour, hear the remarkable story, and best of all, sit a spell and soak up the extraordinary atmosphere.

neighborhood lovelies


Remember the big blowup bunny? Between that and the chain link fence, you might think this yard was a lost cause, but you would be wrong. I aimed my camera over the fence to capture only a small section of this large drift of daffodils.


Talk about lucky grandkids! Right in front of the daffodil border sits this playhouse.


Hanging on the gate, nearly enough to make one forget the chain-linkiness of it, is a charming welcome sign cut from metal and allowed to accumulate a lovely patina of rust.


Peeking through the fence up the road, you can see a plowed garden plot big enough to feed the entire neighborhood. They don’t, but they do leave a hedge of blackberries along the fence line for the express purpose of letting neighbors pick them.


The folks with the Seussian arborvitae suffered a setback when the winter wiped out new landscaping heavily dependent upon flax, but some of the older, heartier shrubs survived.


Meanwhile, in the land of the lollipop shrubs, this line of weeping cherries more than makes up for any surrounding silliness, as I hope this tour kind of makes up for earlier snarkiness (not that I pledge to give up snarkiness on anything like a permanent basis).

the daffodils are drowning

The rain has been coming down so hard that every morning, when I go out to get the newspaper (yes, we are still hooked on that arcane habit), a few more daffys are lying down in the mud. I planted them for the cheerful splashes of color around the yard, but picking them is the only sensible thing to do, under the circumstances.


On the advice of Food Dude, I spent some time tracking down “Q” tonic for R’s birthday gin and tonics. At $7.00 for a four-pack, the best thing I have to say about it is that the cute little bottles make nice containers when the goal is to feature individual flowers. The big yellow at the top is Narcissus ‘Colossal’. I have a batch of these right by the entrance to our lane and another along the fence. They are so big and bold that we can enjoy them even from a distance. Below it is Mt. Hood, the largest of the whites. The itty bitty guys on the right are N. hawera. They are so dainty that their best use might be in pots on the deck where they could be enjoyed at close quarters. The yellow on the bottom left is ‘Quail’. I have these mixed in with the ‘Colossal’, where they hold their own by virtue of their intensity of color… not a color I would choose under any other conditions. In the center is ‘Thalia’, perhaps my favorite, with two or more flowers to a stem. Bottom right, N triandrus ‘Lemon Drops’ comes in a close second. The tiny tete a tete is the first to bloom (over and done with) and ‘Salome’ is yet to come…making for a long season of cheer. In deer and gopher territory, you gotta love daffodils and alliums, and I do.

I don’t do much mail order, because we have so many excellent sources nearby. Bulbs are the exception. John Scheepers puts out a catalog with a very good selection of hard-to-find varieties: everything from oddball alliums to every weird fritillary. I try to add something new (preferably strange) every year. For the less exotic choices, Breck’s is hard to beat.