Dang, we had a long winter here in Oregon. Rain, cold, and dreary skies persisted for months my motivation plummeting with the temperature. Looking out at the first portion of my native plant garden I planted last year I fretted that many plants had perished over the winter leaving dreadful bare patches with their demise. Then bam- a few sunny days in the 70s and 80s last week changed all that. All around I spotted my little green friends emerging shyly from the depths of the earth.
I look to my garden for the understanding of life. We certainly don’t flourish in all conditions. I certainly have been in a period of dormancy due to inhospitable conditions in my life. But as my garden tells me, inspiration will return with better times.
Some plants are coming back stronger than ever. A few I thought I’d lost during the heat of last summer are returning in force. My expensive Trillium kurabayashii that failed to bloom last year is blooming and returned with it a friend. Then a few of my white trillium lost the battle with slugs. A little wood rush perished for good. Replant or try something new? Such it is with our creative children…
The muse has flipped her sign to “open.” It is over 60 degrees today. I think I shall go out and work in the garden.
The past two months of March and April have been busy ones for me. After a year of mulling around ideas, phase 2 of my native plant garden has manifested complete with a little gazebo for a writer’s nook.
Last year was phase one, largely a DIY project with a little help from friends. This year I signed on some professionals to get the effect I wanted. My vision is to provide (when the garden matures in a few years), a habitat for birds, invertebrates, pollinators, and myself to hang out in. This is akin to bringing nature to my front door. Later this summer a rock water feature will be added.
I was fortunate to find Marc & Josh of Amaranth Organic Gardening in Oregon City who were very enthusiastic about my vision and ready to go as soon as the gazebo was installed
I wanted a primitive look for the gazebo. My husband and I cut down alder poles which I debarked with a draw knife just like in the old days building a log cabin. The next step- not an easy one, was to find a carpenter willing to build with these primitive materials and a sense of adventure. I found Richard, just the man, on Craigslist.
After Richard finished, Marc and Josh got busy, and voila my garden! Now the fun starts watching the plants grow, a very slow process in this cold, wet spring we have been having in W. Oregon. In the meantime, I have been having fun furnishing the writer’s nook with primitive furniture, and placing bits of artwork around the garden.
As a garden is an ever-manifesting being I’m curous to see what is in store for me. I will be sharing as it unfolds from my writer’s nook.
Today I went out in the brisk sunny air to do some planting. First came the garlic that takes up an entire bed in my garden. Then it was on to plant Pacific NW native wildflower seeds that I ordered from Steele Acres. I marvel that some seeds need the harshness of winter to flower in the spring. Perhaps we do too.
Even seeds sown in winter
Bring forth flowers in the spring
While planting I noticed a some delightful tiny groves of mushrooms and a miniscule very late violet in the very right side of the last picture. You never know what you might find out in the garden…
It happens every year, I think the bloom show is over, and up pops the fall crocus. It seems like crocus herald the beginning and the end of the blooming season. Fall crocus have their vegetative phase in the spring. It’s a large corn lilly-looking plant that dies off when other bulbs are done blooming. For years I didn’t know that these plants were in my yard. I would pull them out until I saw the same mysterious plant displayed at a nursery labeled as fall crocus. I finally connected the dots that the crocus that appeared in the fall and these mysterious plants were the same. Now I let them be.
It turns out that these crocus and saffron crocus are very closely related. It’s a great plant. I ignore them and they return faithfully every year in greater numbers popping up in the yard in unexpected places. For more information on fall crocus go here.
Those few little seeds I planted several years ago bring me more and more morning glories every September. This year has been the best season ever. Even the UPS guy stopped in his tracks to ogle at their beauty. Mingled with scarlet roses it’s quite a show.
Morning glories light my path
as the day unfolds
Trumpets of majestic purple
and simmering pink
announce the end of summer
a surprising coda as the garden fades
a blessing to walk beneath
this arch of glowing flowers
It’s been a very cool spring – even by NW Oregon standards. April set a record for the wettest ever recorded so native plants planted in late February & Early March have been slow to emmerge. Still, it’s been thrilling to watch the ferns unfurl and various flowers to reveal themselves in my native plant garden. I’ve been adding some artistic touches with some old sculptures of mine scattered about the garden.
One great find at “Hortlandia” was a little table made of scrap wood for a top and legs of thick curly willow. I added two small benches cut from the stump of an old walnut tree that was taken out a few years ago. and sorely missed. Now I have benches to remember it by This area is my fairy tea spot.
Refuge- it’s personal where one feels a sense of peace and security. In the last few years, numerous of my natural refuges have been destroyed by wildfires, development, and clearing for agriculture. There is no stopping it. Climate change marches on despite my best efforts. I live lightly, donate money, and write letters without the satisfaction of seeing much change. Thus I’ve taken to the one thing I do have control over which is my own backyard. I mean that in a literal sense.
I’m starting to take one section of my yard at a time and rewilding it by putting it into a native plant garden. I really don’t know what I am doing but thus far determination and a boatload of good advice have been enough despite my fears. It was a big deal to have a dump truck arrive and deposit 5 yards of soil in the middle of my driveway then the following week spend over a thousand dollars on native plants. Vison is a strong force when you act on it.
This year’s garlic harvest is in. It‘s always a bit of magic when the spade brings to light the seed I planted in the fall. From singular cloves come beautiful heads of garlic ready to enhance my cooking and that of others. Trim the stalks and brush their smooth skins – a ritual I never tire of. Then off to the racks of our root cellar (actually a former darkroom) where they will cure on racks. Typically the harvest will last until mid spring if stored correctly.
We use garlic liberally, often pressing an entire bulb and storing it in a container for use during the week. When I was a young cook I used to follow recipes that called for a clove or two of garlic. I could never taste the difference. If you want some pizzazz to your cuisine, be generous 5 or 6 depending on the size of your cloves. Trust your taste buds.
Over many years none of our acquaintances- even my closest friends have ever complained to me of garlic breath. A good tooth brushing will take care of that!
This morning there was an event in my garden- the garlic scapes were ready for harvest. What is a garlic scape? It is the flowering stalk that appears about 2 weeks or so in June before the garlic is mature enough to dig. It’s always a bit of a miracle to see it mature since I planted it way back in November. We ran out of our garlic about two months ago so it is exciting to know that soon we will have fresh garlic to enjoy.
This is where it gets a bit complicated. There are 2 types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic is the only type that produces scapes. They have, as the name implies, a long hard neck or stem. they have fewer cloves but the cloves are huge. Softneck garlic has soft stems. They are the type you see in braids. Their bulbs can get huge with more cloves but they are not as big as those of the hardneck. Generally, they don’t store for as long as hardneck either. They are impressive and make great gifts
I grow both kinds, Susanville, a softneck variety, and Musica, a hardneck variety. Any type you grow at home puts the tiny store-bought garlic from China to shame in terms of flavor and size. (Why we import that inferior garlic from China is a mystery to me!)
Garlic scapes have a mild garlic flavor. Tonight I will brush them with olive oil and place them on the grill with other vegetables to serve as a side dish. This is my favorite way to serve them. I also sauté them and add them to everything from eggs to stirfry. Look for them now at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores for a special treat.
In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country. Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location. To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage. We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.
When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on. Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home? Most die. It’s all for human profit now. This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards. I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks. This was once verdant scenery. Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.
I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces. It’s about profit. There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism. We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise. I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations. This includes our own piece of ground.
So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon. I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice. That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Will this make a difference? Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference. All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered. If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.