Monday, February 26, 2007

Anigozanthos2. Portland Garden Show.

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Yesterday Ning & I went to the Portland Garden show. Lots of booths. Many of them (most?) of course, more about grills and hot tubs and decks than about gardening. Not really complaining - this is a business convention center and hippies in torn jeans are not going to finance a big garden show. It was fun to look at the booths. I did my part to support the venders, buying this Anigozanthos ("Kanga", burgundy) and a tuber for a hardy Ginger (Hedychium "Pink Flame", claiming to have the fragrance of apricot jam). I grew a hardy ginger a few years ago, but gave up after 3 years without a blossom. We'll see how this one does.

It's supposed to snow tonight. Will post if it does.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More Random Thoughts. Rambling on roses.

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In the previous entries on global warming, I commented about how gardening influences our attitudes about nature, and the importance of feeling connected to the rhythms of nature by gardening. The thoughts today will be about working with the local climate and growing conditions. The example will be roses (because that is where my rambling mind drifted).

When we first started gardening here, we planted a series of rose bushes in the front yard. The soil was compacted, rock-hard clay. The roses were big-box store Hybrid Teas. It was summer. We dug big holes, soaking the ground, digging, soaking, digging. We mixed compost into the clay and added it back around the roses. The roses were watered frequently, and given some rose-food granules. They grew rapidly. Blossoms, black-spot and aphids ensued.

More watering, more fertilizers, more aphids and black spot, more sprays. Not a lot of flowers, although some were big, classic Hybrid Tea blossoms. Ultimately, it didn't seem worth the trouble, and other gardening priorities took over.

I became uncomfortable with this methodology. First, it wasn't very rewarding. The blossoms were not that spectacular, not that many, and they faded quickly. Second, I wanted to grow more edible items, and the idea of eating rose-poisons in my tomatoes wasn't appealing. Third, it seemed too much like work, and not enough like fun.

The roses started to take then 'back burner' as the rest of the yard filled with kitchen-garden plants, trees, and shrubs. Other ornamentals were added. We experimented with David Austin roses and other varieties that were thought to be less chemical-intensive. We started cuttings from rose bushes that seemed to do well locally. We quit the chemicals, went organic, started mulcing and composting, and drastically cut back on the watering. Some varieties died and were not replaced. Others looked so bad, or performed so poorly, that I dug them up.

Others have persisted, and they actually looked better than they did with the fertilizers and chemicals. The blossoms were not as big, but they seemed to last longer. There was less black spot, and fewer aphids. They have been much less work.

I think, that what happened, was an evolution, both for the roses, and for me, in adapting to the local conditions and the inherent capablities of each plant. The ones that were better adapted to this climate and growing conditions, remained. They used less resources, including watering. They required no chemicals, because the chemical-requiring ones either died or were removed.

The result now is a less picture-perfect, but better adapted rose bed. There are still quite a few rose bushes, and I enjoy them more.

This entry is the result of rambling. The photo is a retaining wall, built from a pile of broken-up driveway down the street 2 years ago. I was going to write about reusing local materials, and using locally adapted plants, like the mosses on the stones. I rambled instead into the roses, but left the photo anyway.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More Fig Cuttings. Bulbs & seeds.

On the gardenweb fig forum, there are a couple of postings (and here)about starting fig cuttings by wrapping them in moist paper towels and placing them into a zip-lock bag. So I decided to try that, starting now, with the remaining Desert King cuttings.
After my "eloquent" discussion earlier today about the joys of "non-consumerist gardening", and how wonderful it is to grow plants from starts rather than purchasing them... Here are some purchases today from Portland Nursery. :) At least I don't claim to be "environmentalist fundamentalist" here. Posted by Picasa

Harbingers of Spring

Daffodils are twice as big as last week.
Ning's garlic sprouts are growing quickly.
Desert King Fig cuttings. Buds have formed. Roots take longer so they need special care.They are in a South window, inside a plastic zip-loc bag, partially open.
The radishes have germinated.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Thoughts on Gardening and Global Warming II.

Here is the second "installment" of somewhat random thoughts on gardening and global warming. Again, the issue of 'connectedness'.
I was thinking about the difference between BUYING a plant for the garden, and STARTING my own. And why it matters.
Somehow, in the 'consumerized' version, a tree, or shrub, just seems like an item that has been placed there in the yard, like furniture. Maybe, if it is purchased at a small size, a sense of nurturing takes over, and the plant seems to belong. This is especially true if it is planted and continues to develop over the years.
I have a different sense for a plant that I start myself. If started from a cutting or seed, it feels more like it is part of me. If started from a plant that was passed down from my family, or a gift from a friend, or a 'rescue' from the street, then even more, I feel like I am connected to this part of nature, and it is connected to me. It's not just something that I bought at a store.
The ginkgo tree in the back yard was grown from seeds that my Dad collected from Herman Degee's yard in Quincy Illinois. That was the ginkgo tree that I was taught was special, when I was 10 years old (special due to the primordial character of Ginkgo biloba). My dad has a seedling tree from that original source in his yard, and now I have one in my yard as well. I feel completely different about this tree, than any other item in the garden. I really WANT it to grow and flourish.
Less intense, but similar, is how I feel about the fig trees that I started from cuttings (mailed in exchange from garden web members, or rescued from a neglected tree on a vacant lot), and the forsythia that I grew from a small pruning (picked up on the street while walking the dogs), and the mint that I grew from a sprig seen in rescued yard waste that had been discarded in the dog park (and which turns out to be more flavorful - really - than the plants that I bought at a local nursery). Then there are the Chinese chives, grown from seeds from plants that were grown from seeds, 3 plant-generations from seeds that Ning brought here from China. This variety is more robust and stronger in flavor compared to the nursery-grown ones (probably because it was a local agricultural, not horticultural, variety). A separate set of Chinese chives came from my parent's yard, having grown there for 35 or 40 years as a weed. I don't know how they will taste yet. Others - roses, one started from a bouquet brought to work, another 'rustled' from an abandoned telephone-pole rose that is no longer there.
An additional step removed, are the vegetables and flowers grown annually from purchased seeds. I think that if I saved my own seeds (obviously, not from the hybrids), the connection would be stronger. But as it is, they are still a little more 'mine' than ones bought as plants at the store.
What does this have to do with global warming? Again, if we don't feel connected to nature, then it's difficult to be motivated to conserve out natural world. And that connectness is a lot stronger, for me, if it comes from the heart, instead of the wallet. If we could "un-consumerize" and "re-connect" to the life growing around us, we might feel more strongly about wanting to do something about it.
(photo above, a ginkgo on Mill Plain, source of more seeds that I planted for the past 2 years, and now I need to find homes for the seedling trees).
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thoughts On Global Warming. New (old) Worldview Needed.

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Here are my thoughts today about global warming.

The process of global warming is partly due to the alienation of humanity from nature.
In a culture that involves isolation of people from the rhythms and forces of nature (good and bad), there is little motivation to make change that will re-route global warming. In our current suburban and urban dominated, automotive-commuting, consumer-based system, people are not connected to the soil, the trees, the sun, rain, and snow, rivers and streams, birds, bees, frogs and turtles, and they are not able to see the connection of nature to their future and to their children's future.

There was a time when most people did experience the weather, the dirt, the smells of the farm and garden, the wealth of nature, the hazards of climate, and the rhythms of life. Some of that connection made life easier, providing income, food, and recreation. Some threatened life, or made it harder, with drought, storm, blizzard, tornado, or pestilence. In all cases, there was an intimate connection between humanity and nature, which is lost in the air-conditioned, seat-warmed, cup-holdered, surround-sound bumper-to-bumper SUV of the modern commuter.

One property of gardening is that it does connect us back to nature, if we let it.

We can learn the soil, and see the transformation that occurs with organic enrichment of an abused ground. Last week, I dug an extra foot around the tomato bed, discovering light brown sticky muck under the lawn, while a few inches away the tomato bed was friable and black, easily turned and earthy in aroma. The difference was 2 years of compost and mulch. Seeing this change, I am more able to appreciate the reverse transformation as well, when land is abused by poor farming practices.

I have learned to watch for frost that might damage tender buds or seedlings. I watch the rain, and worry about whether there is enough, or too much. There have been many mornings when I brought seedlings indoors for protection, and fussed over protection for tender tomato plants. I wander around the yard now, looking for buds on the aprium and peach trees, hoping to see the daffodils welcome the Spring rain, searching for unpruned fig branches that could use just a little more grooming. Observing these changes, I do feel connected to the weather and forces of nature, in a way that I never felt when living in the city.

In the Spring, happy to see the bees pollinating the fruit trees and berry brambles (or in the case above, the Chinese Chives). I'm annoyhed by the aphids, and it still surprises me to see that an organic spray can wash them away and leave a healthy crop for dumplings. Frogs have moved into the compost bins, with welcome frog-songs telling me that they are not extinct, yet. Hummingbirds visit their favorites as well, and a pair of robins built a nest in the roses last year. Watching this relatively small suburban yard fill with life, where there was little to speak of in the former clean lawn, taught me some differences between working with nature, as opposed to against nature.

I think that if more people gardened, then not only would they be better off for their health (better foods, less sedentary live, less passive, and more contemplative) and their peace of mind; it would also change how they feel about what happens to the earth's natural rhythms. That change is needed if our society is to have a will to survive and make the changes that are necessary to conserve a climate and nurturing world for future generations.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Progress notes, Sunday puttering.

Today was a day of rest - in other words, some puttering.

This is the opuntia rufida that I alluded to in an earlier ramblimg.

Pruned about 15 rose bushes, to about 18 inches. Removed old canes, tried to direct new growth outwards. Aim was also toward renewal - remove older, decrepit canes and small, weak-appearing canes, and leave the stout, younger canes. Despite some of the garden books now directing us to leave them taller, I think that too much blackspot can overwinter on older canes.

Looked at a couple of rose books. There is some temptation, now, to add a coujple of English (David Austin) roses, such as Shakespeaare or Fair Bianca. Must restrain myself - not much place to put them. Maybe if I bought them as small, cutting-grown plants from Heirloom Roses, they will take a few years to reach a good size, then be move to replace a poor performer? On the other hand, some of the David Austin Roses have not performed well in my garden (and some have been very gratifying) - maybe I should restrain myself. In this garden: Tamora (excellent), Symphony (OK), Galmis Castle (poor, few, small, not so fragrant blossoms), Jayne Austin (OK, very fragrant, sparse small flowers on large bush), Evelyn (OK, slow to get started, still quite small after 2 years, beautiful large fragrant flowers), Bibi Maizoon (poor, after 2 years, only a few flowers, those balled up and became moldy), Happy Child (good, slow to get started - cutting grown- but the blossoms are beautiful, not much problem with disease, and very fragrant).

Anigozanthos, looking frail but has survived the shortest Winter days, and now might make it to Spring in the South Window. It tells me when it needs water, by wilting, then I give it some and it revivies. The goal is survival, not gfrowth, so it is watered minimally. So far this experiment with overwintering Anigozanthos is proceeding OK.

Notable garden news: honeybee disaster. Without them to pollinate, the fruit crops may decline. Hopefully the Orchard Mason bees will not be affected and will fill in, in commercial orchards and in the home garden.

Dreary Mid February. Rhubarb emerging. Pruned roses. Helleborus.

Ning likes to plant garlic cloves close together and shallow, and let the leaves grow to about 6 inches. He harvests the leaves to use as a vegetable. The cloves can support several crops of leaves. The Chinese word for this is "suan miao" which means "garlic sprouts".

Tamora is one mean rose - the thorniest in the garden. I sustained multiple lacerations while pruning this shrub.

According to Celtic legend, Tamara was a protective goddess of the river Tamar. She must have been a spiteful goddess.

According to Wikipedia, Tamara also translates to Sanskrit as "spice", which does describe the scent.

Spelled differently (with entirely different meaning?) Tamora was Shakespeare's queen of the Goths, who was taken prisoner by the Emperor Titus, Titus had her son killed in sacrifice for victory. In this review, Tamora had "menacing femininity" - she becomes the lover of the next Emperor of Rome, Saturnius, and arranges for a brutal revenge.

It may be too early, but the back rose bed is now pruned. Last year I pruned even earlier, and the buds emerged, then were frosted by a laste frost. However, the buds were emerging anyway, so I don't know if it matters. In a couple of weeks, the surface of the mulch will be cleaned, a layer of compost added, and the bark mulch added. Then it's ready for the year.

This is my favorite rose, for it's color, spicy scent, disease resistance, and rugged persistance.

OK, I cheated. I planted this 3 weeks ago. The other helleborus around the yard have buds but are not blooming yet.

It's nice to have something blooming in the gloom and grime. The slugs dont seem to bother these either, so far. Here is a website devoted to helleborus.

Emerging from the mulch (looking more like the muck currently). See prior entry for rhubarb to see what this looked like last summer. Here is another reference with some rubarb history and traditional medicinal properties (yum, the root - not the leaf stem - was used to induce vomiting).

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January 2007 Weather Statistics

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I don't know how it happened - this graph suddenly appeared in my Picassa files - after trying for about an hour to put it there and failing!

Total precip = 4.5 inches
High = 53 degrees
Low = 17 degrees.

There were 14 days with low below freezing.
There were no days with high below freezing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

In the veggie garden

Who is this lady? Early 1900s, probably about 1910. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Today was a chance to putter around the growing greener yard. Nice, chilly late winter morning.

- After debating for a day, I checked the weather-channel predictions, and planted this Hardy Chicago fig. It was grown from a cutting last Winter. Reading the tag, I started the cutting 1/10/06, from a 2-node cutting (similar to the ones that I started about one week ago). I did add some home made compost to the hole, along with eggshells and soil from a more improved part of the garden, mixing with the soil in the hole. It's mulched with some leaves, but later in the Spring I intend to add some more compost plus a top layer of bark mulch. The top bud is pruned off to encourage branching. I hope that the buds havent swelled to a vulnerable point yet. I'll have to watch the predictions and cover it if a hard freeze is anticipated.

- some of the perrenial tops are pruned and chopped for the composter. The yard looks a bit cleaner. There are more that need trimming.

- 3 more bags of Starbucks grounds are added to the tomato bed.

-Lettuce is "winter sown" in an outdoor container. The lettuce seeds are about 1 year old. They should still be viable (according to one site, lettuce seeds can survive 5 years if stored properly); not much lost if they are not. The container is left exposed on the back (southern exposure) deck. Onion seeds, apparently, last only one year. I threw in some bunching onion seeds which, if they grow, great, but since they are from 1995, they may not. Later, I also winter sowed some radishes and spinach, also 1-2 years old.

At last, a day with a little 'life' to balance 'work'. It's been a hard few months, and I worked without a complete day off for the past 2 weeks straight through, so I took the weekend off. No homework done this weekend either.
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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Global warming and the gardener

Some random thoughts about Global Warming, and Gardening.

First, everyone has a role in this issue. As the top of the blog states, "Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads 'not guilty'." Gardener or not, each person has a role in trying to reduce carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestering, and compensate or prepare for change.

To reduce carbon emissions, we can grow shade (reduce air conditioning requirement), grow food crops (reduce shipping costs), grow organically (avoid unnecessary use of petrochemicals). We can share starts from favorite, well-adapted plants (reduce shipping costs, use locally adapted plants with improved chances of success).

My favorite shade project is the grape arbor on the south side of the house, which cools a bedroom in the summer, provides a shady place to sit, allows warm sunlight in the winter (because the grapes are deciduious), and provides many pounds of really tasty grapes in the Summer.

To increase carbon sequestering we should plant more trees where-ever practical. Trees remove CO2 from the air, and sequester it in their wood. My yard is small, but I have planted a ginkgo seedling in the back yard (now about 8 feet tall) which will also shade the house (it is on the south side) and two ginkgo seedlings in the front yard. Ginkgos are versatile, adapted to a wide variety of climates and conditions, and long-lived. Many other varieties of shade tree will do, this is just a favorite for me. A nut-producing shade tree might also be a good option, and will also provide food. I've seen figs large enough to provide shade, but not many people want such large fig trees.

My yard is not large, however, so I don't know how many more trees I can add. Now if I could just some neighbors to add trees... some of their yards look so barren. By having trees in my yard, I also provide an example. Woody shrubs and trees may also help (less lawn, and some carbon sequestered in the wood, although not nearly as much as a shade tree). I do have lots of those, in the form of dwarf fruits, and shrubs. (After writing this, I think that I have just decided to let the Eucalyptus - which I was going to pollard near the ground and grow as a shrub - grow as a tree instead. It's north of the house, near the street, so won't shade the garden.)

To prepare for change, we need to think about what will grow in our changed local climates. Some traditional or native species and varieties will be stressed with the changes, and won't flourish. Meanwhile, others that would not have grown before, will do well. Some gardeners (myself included) like to push their "zonal envelope" (derided by others as "zone denial"). A few degrees might make a difference in whether tender varieties of figs survive and fruit, or peaches. Or Eucalyptus as noted above (I know, these are a problem in California. But if the native trees can't adapt, then "invasive" might mean "successful" and a "detriment" turns into a "benefit").

Even though climate change is generally considered global warming, there will be some areas that are cooler, and some areas with more chaotic weather patterns. Most likely, some areas will be much more dry. Dry tolerant plants become more desirable. Maybe some hardy cacti - time to learn to cook nopales (Oh no, not more about opuntias! By the way, I did buy another small one at Fred Meyer. Probably an Opuntia rufida which looks like this or this. But it's not very hardy so is overwintering indoors.) Some stream of consciousness here. Not quite 'word salad' but getting close.

Other thoughts:

-maybe offer to rake the neighbor's leaves, so they are less likely to cut down their trees? Then take the leaves home and compost them.

-maybe I should go out today and plant some lettuce. That way it doesn't have to be shipped from california. I wonder if those old lettuce seeds will germinate?

-mulch mulch mulch. makes the garden easier to maintain, improves the soil, allowing for deeper roots, making garden plants more resilient, reduces plant disease by preventing splash back from the soil, reduces weeds and water requirements, makes use of the leaves mentioned above.

-it really is time to give up on the idea of a golf-course-like lawn as the neighborhood ideal. Let's see more productive kitchen-garden yards, or low-maintenance forested tree-filled yards, or ornamental flower and shrub filled yards, but not energy-intense, chemical filled lawns.

That's about it for random thoughts today. Time to go out and plant those lettuce seeds. It's light outside now.
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Friday, February 02, 2007

353 year old fig tree in Brittany (1610-1987)

From a post on the gardenweb fig forum, this fig tree was planted in the Brittany region of France at the religious order of the Capuchin (a Franciscan order) and apparently survived until the community needed a parking structure (ouch!).

The automatic translation from the French is difficult to read but here is a link.

Apparently, it wasn't a delicious fig although the author may have been biased ("Herbaceous and little sweetened savour these fruits, made us find them hateful by comparing them with our excellent figs South") .

From the photos, it looks like it was grown on a massive arbor. The Winkler Mission Grape vine at Davis California is a similar, but much, much younger, grape version of the same concept (covering a 60 X 60 foot arbor)

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(Some comments on using old photos. I am not a lawyer, but I did look up copyright law in Wikipedia. According to that source, works published before 1923 are all in the public domain. In addition, in most countries, if the author has been dead more than 70 years, the work is in the public domain. All works created by the US government are in the public domain. So these photos should be OK to post.)