Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taking on the Parking Strips: Part 1

Parking Strips Header 1 copy
Why is it that I always seem to wait to do posts on my big projects until the following year? Perhaps, it's because I like the drama of the big reveal, rather than spreading it out over a year. Regardless, I finally decided to do a few posts on our front parking strip, which we tore up and planted last spring.

Like pretty much every American house, ours has these strips of grass between the street and sidewalk. Affectionately dubbed "hell strips" and "parking strips", they are usually left mostly to their own devices, largely ignored by most homeowners. Here in Portland, like everywhere else, they are usually weedy grass, weedy gravel, or weedy rocks (do you see a common link?)

Of course, like most gardeners, I can't leave any amount of ground bare for long...and as I've filled up the rest of our tiny plot with plants, it was only a matter of time before the parking strips fell under my ravening gaze.

front parking strip feb 12 2012  1230
So, beginning last winter (in January or February) I started, bit by bit, digging up the hard, compacted sod from the strip. Every weekend, I'd go out and dig up 3 square feet of sod, break it up and cart it to the "holding area" in the back.

front parking strip feb 12 2012  1232
By the end of February or beginning of March, I had dug up almost the entire thing! While the soil in the strip wasn't great, it was still far better than the horrible, heavy clay that makes up the front garden...not fair!

front parking strip feb 12 2012  1233
So close to being done with the digging!

front strip partial  3222
Once I had the sod removed from the entire strip, we framed out the borders, using the same method we'd used for the rest of the garden, using hinge joints and 2x6 pressure-treated boards. No, it's not going to last forever, but hopefully by the time they wear out, I'll be able to afford something a bit more long-term...or I'll have moved to my country estate ;-)

irrigation  1588
The nice thing about having the entire area dug up at once was that we could lay our irrigation hoses underneath the new paver pathway, linking the two beds. I can't tell you how nice it is to just attach a hose and let it run for an hour, knowing that everything is getting watered...and none of that water is going to waste.

paver center  1585
Here is the new paver path, and the irrigation hose, which is buried underneath.

Grassy Parking Strip
Now, all that winter, I had spent hours and hours coming up with plans for the parking strips...literally. Dozens and dozens of ideas...whenever I was bored, I'd turn my attention to the design. Of course, when it was time for planting, the plant went out the window, to a degree. Still, I stuck to my planned palette of plants, except for a few impulse purchases last spring (we all have to wedge those in, right)? For the most part, I knew I wanted to have mostly grasses, punctuated with perennials that are tough and drought-tolerant. I didn't want the parking strips to just be "better than lawn", I wanted them to feel like a real extension of the rest of the garden.

gordon glee  1589
Gordon looks pretty delighted at the work.

boots approves  1587
Boots also shows his approval.

front strip partial  3231
Here the strip is, mostly planted up except for a few plants I hadn't managed to procure at that moment (that's what the beautiful bamboo stakes represent).

front strip partial  3226
And here it is from the other direction. You can see in this shot the narrow paver "path" we left along the curb side of the garden...hoping it was enough to allow people to get in and our of their cars...and avoid trampling the garden, if possible. One thing is for sure, parking strip gardens are TOTALLY at the mercy of your neighbors (and their pets).

front strip partial  3232
Even though I still plan on editing the strip (well, and the rest of the garden), it makes the whole garden feel more "together" somehow, now that that ridiculous strip of ratty grass is gone!

Front Parking Strip From South 2
Here the garden is last Memorial Day, in the next post, I'll show you how it progressed throughout the rest of the year :-) Sadly, this was the last BIG PROJECT we had on the slate...and now it's mostly editing. What about y' you have any big projects you are planning for this year?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Periodical Inspiration

periodical header
Where do we gardeners get our inspiration, our motivation, our information? Of course, there are many sources; designers, books, other gardeners (and, of course, bloggers).

When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a dozen or so back issues of Horticulture and Organic Gardening. I can't tell you how many hours I spent looking through those magazines...imagining a time when I'd have a place (and garden) of my own. In short, they were a huge source of inspiration for a budding young gardener. Oh, and yes, I still have them ;-)

mag collection
Over the past few years, I've sort of settled into buying 3 gardening magazines fairly regularly; Gardens Illustrated, The English Garden and Fine Gardening. Each serves is own purpose, and rarely do I feel let down by their content. I've dabbled in the past with other Mags (Horticulture, Organic Gardening, etc), but never felt I got much out of them...and Garden Design (which recently closed down) always left me cold.

First up is what I consider the "Gold Standard" of gardening magazines, Gardens Illustrated. It seems only fitting that it's a British publication, after all, the Brits seems to live and breathe gardens. GI is always beautiful to behold. It's slightly oversized and always feels luxurious. When I pick one up, I feel like I'm treating myself to something special.

gardens illustrated plant picks
One of the regular sections that I look forward to each month is the "plant picks" section. One or several gardeners/garden designers picks around a dozen or so plants that they think are particularly worthy...and they are usually appropriate for whatever month the magazine is published in. So, in February, you can all but guarantee they will gush over Snowdrops...and in June there will likely be at least one Rose. Still, they usually feature new (or slightly unusual) varieties of whatever plant they are promoting. I doubt a month goes by that I don't add at least one of their recommendations to my wish list. I especially love when they add a few old-fashioned plants to the often, gardeners seem to focus on the newer, bigger, more unusual, and we forget about older varieties, which are often supremely garden-worthy.

gardens illustrated garden profile
Of course, the "meat" of gardening magazines will always be the garden profiles...and GI rarely disappoints. I can almost always guarantee that I'll spend a while gazing at the gorgeous photos of amazing gardens. In this way, GI is equal parts aspiration and inspiration.

gardens illustrated breakdown
Over the past year or so, GI has started featuring a spread of various vignettes within the featured garden, breaking them down. I love this new approach, as before, sometimes I had a hard time guessing exactly which variety of Allium a certain garden was using. Also, while few of us could hope to replicate the grand estates that are regularly featured, we can easily take these smaller designs and modify them to fit our gardens.

gardens illustrated plant profile
Another regular feature in GI is the plant profile, wherein a single plant family is explored. Even when they feature a plant I don't care much about, I usually read these, since the person who is writing about them is usually quite passionate, and I'm fascinated by the things that attract people to certain plants.

GardensIllustrated_25 to visit
Of course, the biggest drawback to reading a British magazine is that they mention a lot of "Must-See" things that are in England. It can be a bit frustrating when they mention they are holding a seminar with Tom Stuart-Smith or Noel Kingsbury in hurry and sign up...sigh.

Next up in my magazine love-fest is Fine Gardening. FG is a great hybrid of the flash and glamor of Gardens Illustrated, and the more practically-minded Organic Gardening.

fine gardening - allee
Fine Gardening's strength is the mix of these two qualities. Yes, they are going to show some beautifully designed gardens...but they'll help you realize those ideas yourself too. Above, was a cool feature they did on creating an allee using Oakleaf Hydrangeas...sign me up!

fine gardening - instrucx
The article has fairly detailed instructions on how a regular gardener, with a little know-how and elbow grease, can pull off the look on their own. They also dedicate a portion of the article to maintenance, something which is obviously necessary, but often overlooked.

Another feature of FG that I look forward to each month is their "Regional Picks" feature. I love it any time someone has ideas that are sensitive to the regions we live in...especially since America is such a vast country...with far more climatic differences that England...we have a vastly different array of conditions we must take into account.

Of course, it wouldn't be a gardening magazine without some serious eye-candy.

FineGardening_Planting Guide
Luckily, with Fine Gardening, again, we get a breakdown of exactly what plants are helpful, especially for novice gardeners.

English Garden Cover
Rounding out this trio, we have The English Garden. Now, while I enjoy it quite a bit, I have to say, at least to me, it's probably the weakest of the bunch. It doesn't have quite the polish of Gardens Illustrated, nor the practicality of Fine Gardening. What it does have, without fail, are tours of gorgeous gardens. This is pure garden porn...and I really think of it as visual stimulus. Especially in those dark days before Pinterest, it was a source of inspirational images.

english garden profile
The English Garden's specialty is, well, features on various gardens...again, I think it's great for getting ideas for different plants to try, interesting combinations, and just general inspiration.

English Garden Carol Klein
Aside from the tours, there are also a slew of regular (and sporadic) this article by Carol Klein (who I absolutely adore...if you have a chance, look for her Life In a Cottage Garden on's fabulous).

So, there you have it, a trio of magazines I always look forward to each month. Do you have any favorite gardneing mags...if so, you have any recommendations, have I been missing out on any great ones?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Odds & Ends

Well...I was a bit of a slacker last week, and totally missed both Bloom Day AND Foliage Follow-up. Oh well...there really isn't much blooming to speak of, at the moment. Honestly, I didn't think there was anything blooming...especially since my Parrotia decided not to bloom this year. I'm not sure if it was our protracted summer heat...or lack of winter chill that's to blame...or if it's just a fluke.

Surprisingly, as I was starting to clean up the garden this weekend, I noticed that the Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' is STILL flowering. I think it flowered continuously, all year long, this year. I guess it likes its new spot.

For the most part, however, it's all about things ABOUT to bloom right now. The Daffodils are all forming buds (although they all seem really short this year). I removed the Euonymus that grew along our front walkway last summer, and, apparently, there were dozens of Daffodils growing under it, which never saw the light of day. Well, they are rejoicing in their new-found place in the sun this year.

On the foliage front, I give you Arctostaphylos 'Greensphere'. Generally, I don't really care much for evergreen plants...but the Manzanitas have found a spot in my cold little heart...and this one fits perfectly in my small garden. To that end, it has the distinction of being the only evergreen shrub in my garden (well, that I planted, anyway).

eryngium yuccifolium
While I was cleaning out the debris from last year in the front parking strip, I came upon these fat, happy little buds of Eryngium yuccifolium...which has the awesome common name 'Rattlesnake Master'. I'm pretty excited to see this one clump up over the next few years.

Sedum Angelina
While they are eclipsed by other plants during most of the year, the small, prostrate Sedums, like 'Angelina', above, offer a splash of color during winter. It's common as dirt, but I still love it.

Sedum Blue Spruce
Another short, spreading Sedum, 'Blue Spruce'. I love it's contrasting form...while 'Angelina' is almost pendulous, and hugs the ground, 'Blue Spruce' raises it's little arms to the sky.

sedum rupestre
As for color, however, this un-named variety of Sedum rupestre I got at a plant sale last spring, beats all. When the weather gets colder, the foliage flushes with bright red. It never really got that cold this winter, so, unfortunately, the color isn't as bright as it could be.

sedum matrona
Of course, the upright Sedums are waking up too. Sedum 'Matrona' is a mainstay of my garden...and the cheerful buds are already jostling for their place in the sun.

sedum heb gray
This is one Sedum I planted last year, 'Hab Gray'. My luck with the upright Sedums is spotty, so was thrilled that this one seems to have pulled through winter just fine.

sedyn red cauli
Sedum 'Red Cauli' was one of the more temperamental Sedums I tried last year. Of the 3 that I planted in various places around the garden, only one made it. Stragely, it wasn't winter that posed a problem, but our long, hot summer. I always imagine that Sedums didn't flinch at heat and sun, but 2 of the 3 'Red Cauli' plants just crisped and died within a few days after planting...even with regular water. I think, in the future, if I plant more of these, I'll try to do it in the spring, rather than the heat of summer.

sedum october daphne copy
While I had similar bad luck with Sedums 'Vera Jameson' and 'Bertram Anderson', luckily, 'October Daphne' was a tough old bird. She bloomed beautifully and had gorgeous fall foliage color. I'm glad to see them return.

So, that's a little bit of random goings-on from my garden this past weekend...I hope all of you are having a decent run of weather (we had great "working-in-the-garden" weather this weekend). I'm hoping to make it up to the NW Flower & Garden Show this weekend...and it seems like Spring is well and truly underway :-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Visit to the Yard, Garden & Patio Show

ygp opener copy
Ahhh, it's garden show season once more, and kicking things off, as usual, is the Portland Yard, Garden & Patio Show. I have to admit, I was REALLY tired (and maybe even a little cranky) at the I probably missed a lot of details.

Right at the entrance to the show was a small display featuring this cool sculpture made of old gears. I don't know what it is I love so much about such things...I guess it's the contrast such things have when placed in a garden of soft, green plants.

autumn oasis
All of the display gardens are named...but I usually don't pay any attention. I wasn't entirely sure what made this garden "autumnal".

grill fountain 1
Of course, it's not a garden show without some silly (and some downright dubious) design elements. Even if just inspiration...the grill fountain seems silly.

Grill Fountain 2
I did, however, like the swing in the background...although you'd need a pretty big yard for it to not seem overwhelming in scale.

While not something I'd be tempted to replicate, the tapestry of plants here is very effective.

dna fountain garden
While I generally try to be open-minded, I couldn't help but feel pretty pessimistic about this garden, in particular. One of the weakness of these shows is that plants take a back-seat to the design/hardscape. No where was it more evident than here.

dna fountain closeup
While I kept thinking I should like this fountain...I think the material wasn't quite looked sort of cheap (which I'm sure it wasn't)!

metal sculpture 1
This sculpture, in person, was cool up-close, but from a distance, looked a bit awkward...and unstable...especially since it spun on it's base like a demented ballerina.

lights on trees
Plain trees are such a really need color-changing LED lights to make them bearable.

blue treepompeii victim
I thought this tree was lit with blue light...but it turns out, it was painted this color...what the what!?! As we left this particular garden, I noticed this figure...which, honestly, reminds me of the photos you see of the people buried in ash at Pompeii.

stock tank pond
I think it would be so cool to have a stock-tank pond...but I don't know why they didn't have any water plants in seemed very barren.

wood wall 1
This was apparently the year of the wood wall...they showed up in various incarnations at a few displays.

wood wall window
I really loved the effect this one gave, of the window into the garden. Again, I know this is really just meant to be inspirational...but this seemed especially wouldn't take long for the wood to start settling, and/or breaking down...and then would look kinda sad, right?

ribbon garden
I just called this one the ribbon wasn't bad, a little plain...but had some nice elements.

flaming flower
It's not a garden show if there aren't flames leaping out from every possible object!

Metal Sculpture
I couldn't figure out if this sculpture was part of any particular display, but I kind of loved it!

7 dees garden
While I think the 7 Dees people have done basically the same design for the past few years I've gone to this show, it's always very well done...and I'm kind of a sucker for the red-stemmed Dogwoods and Maples. Also, it's the only display garden that feels like it could actually be part of a real (albeit very expensive) garden.

kitchen garden
I thought this particular garden (the Urban Edibles Garden) has some of the best ideas for gardeners to take away and use.

I kind of loved this shed!

kitchen garden raised bed
I was totally digging these raised beds (as long as I get to change the plants, of course).

crocus centerpiece
I can't imagine ever replicating this, but it did look cool.

pocket wall
I have to admit, I sort of find the whole vertical wall gardens a bit of a gimmick...but I loved this iteration of the concept. I keep trying to figure out where I could do something like this. A bonus, it's nice to see people using something other than just succulents for once (although, admittedly, with such a small amount of soil...they would be the most likely to survive in such a setting).

gambion wllpavers
Here we see yet another wood-wall...and I love the pavers on the right.

There were a few nurseries on site selling plants...I didn't see anything tempting. Ok...the Alliums were tempting...but I planted about a million of them last I should probably see what comes up before adding more!

metal spheres
Since most of the plants didn't trip my trigger, I decided to get another piece of metal art for the leaving empty-handed would have seemed a bit sad. Luckily, I actually really like this piece...and here it is, already in my garden.

I hope you enjoyed our little romp around the YGP show...if you were in the Portland Area, did you go...what were your most/least favorite aspects of the show? Most importantly, what did I miss (or wrongly dismiss) in my report???