Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas - 2011

Our cat, Gordon...she kind of worships the Christmas Tree.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you out there...I hope you have a safe and happy one :-)

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Visit From Jack Frost

Midwinter Heuchera Marmalade
Frosty Heuchera 'Marmalade'
I know I'm a day late, but Happy Midwinter, everyone! You know what this means...going forward, our days will start to lengthen again! Granted, the coldest part of the year is still ahead of us (which luckily, for Portland, is not very cold). As a little Midwinter gift, we finally got a "hard-ish" frost the other night (I can only dream of one of those amazing Hoar Frosts that you see so often in gardening books). I only had a few minutes between the sun coming up and having to dash to work, so didn't get as many pics as I'd like. The above Heuchera looks better than it has in a's too bad they seem to struggle through summer, yet looks so nice during the winter.

Midwinter Rudbeckia
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
I'm never sure here in Portland when our technical first frost should be...but I'm guessing that it's later than usual this year. However, we've had almost no rain for weeks, which means its actually colder than usual (due to lack of cloud cover).

Midwinter Eutrochium Amsonia Muhlenbergia
Euthrochium 'Little Joe', Muhlenbergia capillaris, Amsonia hubrichtii, Artemisia 'Powis Castle', Persicaria 'Lance Corporal'
I know, there isn't really any visible frost in this shot, but I was struck by how nice all the different colors seemed to really come together in this area this year...finally! Can you believe the Muhlenbergia blooms are still so colorful? I seem to remember last year they were more straw-colored by this time. I'm also REALLY liking the warm burnt sienna color of the Persicaria's really striking. Oh, and of course, everyone stop to admire the retina-searing green recycling bin in the background.

Midwinter Monarda
Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
While I'm endlessly fascinated by the strange seed heads of this Monarda, they are super-difficult to get a good picture of in my garden, being located halfway up the slope in the dead center of the garden. I carefully straddled a few other plants to get this picture...but ended up almost biting it when I tried to get down...I really must work on my dismount.

Midwinter Geranium Ann Folkard 1
Geranium 'Ann Folkard'
Amazingly, the Hardy Geraniums are still pretty much green...which pairs nicely with the leaves that have turned red. Love how the frost accentuates all the textures of the leaves. One of the 'Ann Folkards' best assets, it's rich, red stems, are more evident now that the plants have started to collapse a bit...such a great contrast to the leaves.

As we count down to Christmas, I hope everyone has a good Holiday travels and good times :-)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gardening in Four Dimensions

Through the Seasons Tripytych
No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden.
~Hugh Johnson

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite aspects of gardening is the excitement of its continual change...its progress and evolution from day to day, season to season, and, of course, year to year. The constant change of a garden is one of the most intriguing...and challenging, parts of planning a garden. It's not enough to just plant something that looks good right at that very moment...because it will (generally) never be that way again. From the moment you plant a garden it starts to change and evolve. In essence, a garden is not a just the static, 3-dimensional thing it appears to be at any one moment, it is also product of time. Come along with me, then, and let's look at my garden as it progresses through the course of a single growing season.

Front Border Spring Summer H
Front (East) Border in Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
As the photos above show (and as we all know), just a few months can make a huge difference between a sparse border and a packed-to-the-gills one! I'm always amazed by just how much growth plants can accomplish in such a short time. For example, even though only a few months elapse between the photos, the Sumac goes from being practically invisible to becoming the focal point of the garden. It's amazing how the empty space in an early-spring garden seems so vast…it's so tempting to keep filling it in…only to realize later the plants are all jostling for space. I find I constantly under-estimate the eventual, mature size of plants.

North Border Spring 2 Summer 4D
Side (North) Border in Late Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
As the year wears on, the garden can change dramatically in mood. Above, the cool freshness of the late spring garden soon transitions to the rich, warm hues of summer. During the growing season, I find myself in the garden every day...constantly checking on things. My neighbors must seem it fairly odd, especially in early spring, when the garden is little more than sticks and mud. I find that while I enjoy the garden in the moment, I am always thinking forward to the next "stage" of the season. During the Tulips' reign, I look forward to the Echinacea...when the Echinacea bloom, I pine for the Agastaches. The anticipation is sweet, like the days leading up to Christmas when you're a kid!

North Border Spring Summer H 2
Side (North) Border in Late Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
The same part of the garden as above, from the other direction. Again, I love how plants come into the spotlight during one season only to fade away as another group of plants asserts themselves. Planning for this succession of interest is one of the most challenging aspects of gardening, indeed, there are whole book written about it!

Rudbeckia 4d
Grouping A:
Geranium 'Rozanne', Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', Agastache 'Desert Sunrise' and Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Of course, this constant evolution takes place throughout the entire garden, but it can be fun to focus on small vignettes as well. Take the above example…while in summer the focus is on colorful blooms with their contrasting colors, shapes and sizes, as they fade, it's their shape and form that creates visual interest. As fall moves into winter, most of the plant material will fall away, leaving only bare branches.

Echinacea 4D
Grouping B:
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus', Pennisetum 'Hameln', Agastache 'Golden Jubilee', Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Above is another small grouping that whose progress I enjoyed throughout the seasons. In spring, bulbs such as Tulips and Alliums dominate. In summer, the above plants have completely overgrown the fading bulb foliage. While colorful and vibrant in summer, as these plants fade, the scene becomes more monochromatic and structure again becomes the key to the scene's interest.

North Border H Triptych
Side (North) Border in Spring, Summer, Fall
Above is the North Border during almost the entirety of a growing season. Missing, granted, is a shot of it in late Winter, right after I cut all the previous years growth back…at which time it's pretty much just mulch and dirt! I love seeing the constant parade of plants, continuously changing. Again, I'm always intrigued at how each group of plants passes on the baton to the next group as the season progresses. I'll be the first to admit that although my garden has lots of "winter interest", it's probably being generous to say it's "pretty"!

North Border V Triptych
Side (North) Border in Spring, Summer, Fall
Above is the North Border again, from the opposite direction. Again, love how we move from the (somewhat bare) spring display into the full, verdant glory of summer into the more melancholic decline of the garden in autumn. Winter, luckily, is quite short here in the often feels as if we skip it entirely. Nevertheless, I think winter is as important as the other seasons in the garden, if for no other reason than it makes us appreciate summer all the more.

Front Garden Hor Triptych
Front (East) Border in Spring, Summer and Fall
The front border again from the beginning to the end of the growing season. This part of the garden is one that I've continually struggled with to get right. If it were a larger space, I might plant a few shrubs to provide a bit more structure…but I hate to block any of the already limited light to the rest of the garden. I've re-worked parts of the garden each year…working in more structural plants (mostly grasses) to help define the space more. At the height of summer, the lack of structure is inconsequential…but during other parts of the year, its absence is a definite drawback. As the years pass, and some plants start to attain their mature size, I'm having to re-evaluate the space as well…as these large plants block light from smaller plants around them. It's a constant balancing act, adding, subtracting and re-arranging. It's true what they say, a garden is never really "done".

North Border H 4D
NE Corner section of garden in Late Summer (Aug 29) and Mid-Autumn (Nov. 11)
The two scenes above are just a little more that two months apart. It's amazing how much can change over the course of such a (relatively) short amount of time. In Portland, I usually think of August as "High Summer" when the garden is really in full swing. It's always hard to believe at that point that the slow slip into autumn is just around the corner. This is one part of the garden that has quite a bit of structure. I love, however, that even these very structural elements (The Miscanthus, Eutrochium and Saccarum especially) are in a constant state of change…never static. Even while they anchor this portion of the garden, they are, like everything else, completely transient.

Of course, every one of these photos, if I were to try to re-create them next year, would look very different, there is always that little bit of mystery and unpredictability. Also, no matter how much control I think I have over the garden, there are factors (like the vagaries of the weather) that are beyond my power to control...or even predict! They do say the only constant in life is change…but isn't that what makes us get out of bed each day…the "what if"? Similarly, isn't that at least part of what makes gardening such a fun, challenging (and sometimes frustrating) endeavor…the "I'll put these plants here, here and here…and see what happens!?!?"

Sometimes, in spite of all our planning, it seems that we gardeners merely set things in motion and then go along for the ride...but what a ride it is!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - December 15, 2011

Persicaria inverleith  1117
Persicaria 'Inverleith'
I'll be honest...I didn't really expect to have anything to show for this GBBD post...I kind of assumed I'd be opting out of this one! Our weather here in PDX has been pretty mild for the most part. We've gotten frost for the past week or so, but apparently not enough of one to really put the nail in the gardens coffin. The above Persicaria looks pretty ratty for the most part, but is still blooming and hasn't crumpled from frost yet.

Geranium Rozanne December  1114
Geranium 'Rozanne'
'Rozanne' seems almost indestructible this still has quite a few blooms on it, in spite of our recent frosts and shows no sign of giving up.

knautia macedonica december  1115
Knautia macedonica
Another plant that doesn't seem to have gotten the memo that winter is just around the corner. Granted, the ones in the more-protected back yard are much fuller and have far more blooms than the ones in the exposed parking strip.

agastache purple haze  1118
Agastache 'Purple Haze'
Another plant in the back yard that continues to bloom, even after getting partially flattened by our recent shed construction antics!

So, there it is...the last GBBD post of 2012! I can't imagine I'll have anything to show in January, but February is pretty much the start of spring here in PDX, so you never know. How about all you out you have any blooms this month?!?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sumptuous Seedheads

echinacea purpurea seed head  1026
“A plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it is dead.”
– Piet Oudolf, Dutch garden designer

Oudolf's famous quote above, while probably partly in jest, points to a key principle of his design ethic, that worthwhile plants are those that provide long-lasting, variable, interest in the garden, while eschewing the use of plants that have little interest except when in bloom. Interestingly, Oudolf also avoids plants that are un-changing and "static", preferring the drama of constant change.

Well, I have a ways to go before I'm anywhere as adept as Oudolf at staging such amazing seasonal spectacles! Even so, while the garden looks, admittedly, rather sad at the moment, there are still lots of things to just have to look a little closer.

Seed heads, in particular, are many different forms and structures...all designed for the same purpose, to distribute seeds for the next generation of plants. Let's take a tour of some of my favorite seed heads in the garden today!

monarda seedhead  688
Monarda 'Aquarius'

panicum shenandoah  1062
Panicum 'Shenandoah'

bent rudbeckia seed head  1062
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'

echinacea  1108
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

persicaria lance corporal seed head  1080
Persicaria 'Lance Corporal'

malva  1076
Malva moschata

agastache golden jubilee  1111
Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

pennisetum  1104
Pennisetum 'Hameln'

agastache and scizachyrium  1060
Agastche 'Golden Jubilee' with Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'

echinacea purpurea  1102rucbeckia  1100
Echinacea purpureaRudbeckia

calamagrostis december  1063
Calamagtrostis 'Karl Foerster'

north border  1096
North Border with Pennisetum, Panicum, Schizachryium, Rudbeckia

schizachyrium scoparium  1090
Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'

eutrochium little joe  1071Rudbeckia seed heads v
Eutrochium dubium 'Little Joe'Rudbeckia

pennisetum macrourum  1086
Pennisetum macrourum

eupatorium rugosum  1083
Eutrochium rugosum 'Chocolate'

agastache desert sunrise seed head  1018crocosmia  1036
Agastache 'Desert Sunrise'Crocosmia

miscanthus malepartus seed head  1027
Miscanthus 'Malepartus'

clematis tibetana seed head  1025
Clematis tibetana

veronicastrum  1082
Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'

rudbeckia and panicum  1045
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Panicum 'Shenandoah'

sunny monarda  1113
Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'

winter sun  1113
Winter sun shining through Agastache, Pennisetum and Monarda
Are you enjoying seed heads in your garden right now...or do you have other forms of "winter interest" that you rely on to get you through until spring?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shed Construction Update - Slow and Steady!

shed  1074

What have I been up to in the garden lately...well...honestly, the only thing we're working on, at the moment, is the shed! We've made a fair bit of progress over the past few weekends. Luckily, it hasn't been raining too much over the last few weeks, which makes working outside much more pleasant. The frame for the roof is up for the most part and we have the layers of waterpfoofing and the root barrier on. Now we have to install the grid for the planting medium onto the roof and figure out a way to install mini-gutters for excess moisture.

I'm pretty pleased with how it's going so far, however, I'm thinking it's WAY too tall...when finished, it's gonna be around 8' tall! I honestly wouldn't care one way or the other, normally, but I'm afraid it will shade the plants along the foundation. Oh well...whatcha gonna do. Now, I'm sort of holding off plans for the front parking strips until this summer, when I should have a better idea of the impact the shed will have on the light in that area.

I can't wait to be able to stow away all those gardening implements that currently litter our driveway...including the wheelbarrow! Now, if only I can convince the city of Portland that our recycling/yard waste bins don't NEED to be the most eye-searing colors known to man ;-)