Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Eye Candy

Despite the gardener's best intentions, Nature will improvise. 
~Michael P. Garafalo

I walk around my urban neighborhoods, alot. It is my favorite form of exercise, aside from gardening. Most of the photos in my posts, not of my garden, have come from those walks.

I have loved watching this tree slowly swallow up the fence over the years, and thought you might enjoy seeing it too.

In bloom in my garden today: Geranium Lily Lovell and the double white daisy are still eeking out a few blooms, but the pyracantha is the show stopper of the garden now.

Author's photo

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Eye Candy

Delicious autumn! 
My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird, 
I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
- George Eliot

The pyracantha berries are at their peak now in my garden. They are beautiful, bright, and full of goodness that the birds and squirrels are feasting on.

Plant pyracantha in full sun and prune before flowering in late winter or early, early spring and you and the birds will be rewarded year after year.

In bloom in my garden today: Cuphea vermillionaire, Double white daisy, Fuchsia, Hardy Geranium “Lily Lovell”, Knifophia, Lavender, Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria Formosa), Pachysandra axillaris 'Windcliff Fragrant', Salvia, Solanum crispum

Author’s photo

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Well Placed Rock

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.
~Benjamin Disraeli

If you know you have a special spot on which passing dogs frequently leave their calling card, instead of fighting the inevitable, I suggest you work with the situation. You’ll be much happier. 

When I was working at the nursery, I can’t begin to tell you how many people came to buy plants that were to replace one that died because dogs kept “leaving their mark” on it until in death did it depart.

As I walked them toward the statuary/rockery area, I told them there is no use in replacing a plant, since a new one will likely succumb to the same demise if planted in exactly the same spot. The scent is still in the ground surrounding the planting site and if it remains accessible to passing dogs it will be a target too.

Consider a different choice of target. I used to have a heath (Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’) where you see the rock now. As you can see it’s easy leg-lifting distance from the sidewalk so even a leashed dog can hit it easily. The plant was half dead when I moved it 3 feet further away from the sidewalk. In no time at all it recovered and quickly regrew to its original size. 

That bright rock may look a little stark to you but that’s kinda the point. Think “visible target”.

Prominently placed rocks are a natural and beautiful addition to any garden. Professional landscape architects use them all the time. When using a large rock, always partially bury it so it looks like it would in nature. Try not to just plunk it down right on top of the dirt surface. Make sure it’s big enough to attract attention so that IT will draw Fido’s eye, not the plants around it.

You could use garden statuary or something carved from natural stone, both should last a long time. I would not use anything made from raw concrete. I think the acidity would eventually degrade your investment. 

 In my garden, that rock has been there for years with no signs of decay, and I have witnessed it’s “popularity”. Sadly, it must also be considered that whatever you use could be a target for theft so in my urban garden a big rock is perfect.

Happy gardening!

In Bloom in my Garden Today: Alyssum, Aster, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocus, Cuphea vermillionaire, Cyclamen hederifolium, Daisy, Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Geum, Heuchera, Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘Echo Mango’, Lavender, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Phygelius, Salvia garanitica ‘black and blue’, Solanum crispum

Author’s photos

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Making of a Garden

As the garden grows, so grows the gardener."
- Unknown

It all began with a tree. A maple to be specific. A maple from a seed my husband picked up on a walk one day and planted in a pot when he got home. After about 10 years of growth, we liberated the small tree from its pot and planted it in the grass parking strip in front of our house.

Initially I was only going to have a small circular patch cleared of grass around the trunk. Mowing and edging grass too near a tree’s trunk can cause detrimental damage to the bark layer and shorten the life of the tree so it’s always good to have a safe zone of ground cleared of grass all the way around a tree’s trunk. To create the safe zone, I did the cover-to-smother* method since I refuse to dig out turf and I didn’t want to cause damage to the tree’s surface roots by trying to remove the existing turf.

So, in 2010 I laid cardboard over the grass around the tree trunk, covered it with a thin layer of mulch and let nature (moisture, worms and soil life) do its thing, decomposing the turf, cardboard and mulch into nice aerated soil.

Sometime later in 2011(below), I decided to enlarge the area around the tree and fill it with perennials thereby reducing the amount of grass overall and so a new garden began to take shape. The bricks you see were holding down some wire panels from an old compost bin, intended to keep neighborhood animals from digging into the mulch and exposing the cardboard.

Small in its infancy, as gardens often do, it expanded over the years to come. By 2013 (below) my plants needed more room. So, I gathered more cardboard and widened the edges,

…and covered the cardboard with more mulch.

In the next photo you can see those same bricks used from the first photo to hold down the edge of the cardboard and give a neater looking delineation between the mulch and grass.

Then that same winter, I decide we need a walkway from the side walk across to the street. Yep, I lay more cardboard and topped it with 18-inch square pavers and side dressed the balance with more mulch and left it alone for the winter. It really couldn’t be easier. I didn’t try to level the pavers at this point. The next summer, once it was all decomposed underneath them, I did any leveling adjustments as needed, which were few.

In 2014 I needed more room again. As the plants grow or I add more plants, I just expand the edges to accommodate. It may be slow, but I think this is the easiest way to carve away grass footage and gain garden space and beauty. It does take some months for it to become a plant-able soil, so think in advance of buying the plants or making divisions of your own holdings. Do the smothering 6 months or more before you want to plant. Your microclimate and weather conditions will determine how fast the decomposition takes to become plant-able.

This time I used more bricks to hold down an edge. It looked better and once it was all decomposed, I removed them.

Now it’s Autumn of 2019 and I decide to get rid of this last remaining strip of grass between the garden and the sidewalk seen below. It is a nuisance to trim and the plants need more room. I could of course cut back the plants but I’d rather have less grass.

When working against a concrete edge like this sidewalk, it is important to get the cardboard tucked down an inch or so between the concrete and soil. Use a flat blade from a spade or edger to pry the turf away from the concrete edge to make it easier to tuck the cardboard in.

The goal is to completely cover the grass. If it has any light peeking through any edge it will find it and keep growing.

It is also important to overlap each piece by a few inches for the same reason. Every bit of grass must be covered so no light can get through.

I marked the locations of our underground sprinkler heads with rocks, so in the summer when it’s time to start watering again I can easily find them and carefully dig to expose them. By then the grass and cardboard should be completely or mostly decomposed and easy to poke around in.

In some of the earlier photos above you will notice the cardboard is dry. I soaked it after laying it, but before covering it with mulch. Now I prefer to soak it before laying. I soak it in a big plastic tub, but if you can’t, then you can let a sprinkler spray it for a while to wet it. I think wet card board is easier to lay and conform to the ground undulations. Wind doesn’t tend to shift wet cardboard around either before you can get a heavy mulch on top of it. But be careful not to get it too wet. Sopping wet cardboard tears easily and can be harder to get it from the tub to where you want it.

That is a large size concrete mixing tub. It held all the cardboard I needed to do this strip. I let it soak for about an hour while I gathered the tools I needed for the project. A wheelbarrow would be a great choice too.

I like to put mulch over wet cardboard rather than dry. I don’t want the dry cardboard to pull moisture from the mulch. The key here is everything needs to stay completely covered and moist, so your rainy season is good to take advantage of when timing your project.

The mulch you use can be bag-bought or your own home-made compost. I have used both, whichever I have on hand. It just needs a fairly thick layer on the cardboard so it all stays wet. You could also use wood chip. Mulch, compost, wood chip…it doesn’t really matter. Just use whatever you want the end result to be.

That thin edge of cardboard will remain showing for the winter and possibly into late winter/spring, until it falls apart. It may not look completed or beautiful for those months but it’s a tradeoff I am willing to take rather than dig turf. I could try to cover it with mulch but it will just roll off onto the sidewalk and I don’t want to have to keep sweeping it, and if I still had all those bricks, I would use them to make a nicer looking edge until it is all decomposed.

When my tree leaves begin to fall, I will cover it with them too, adding to the layers, keeping it all moist underneath.

 This is my version of working smarter not harder.
So if you’ve got grass you want to replace with a garden, consider rummaging around in cardboard recycling bins or saving your home delivery boxes. A new garden is only limited by the imagination.

*Cover-to-smother…a super important side note:
When creating a garden close to existing trees, it is critical to use compost or mulch NOT dirt or bagged soil. Dirt and soil will build up the ground level and suffocate the surface roots. Surface roots breath and absorb moisture from the ground surface. When they get buried deeply, they try to regain surface. They can circle the tree trunk and as the trunk continues to grow in circumference, it will be strangled by the root that is circling it. That is called girdling. Girdling will kill any tree. As the trunk is girdled the bark gets compressed closer and tighter to the heartwood. The cells between the heartwood and bark are how nutrients and water get transported up to the canopy and leaves. Once the bark is compressed so tightly to the heartwood, nutrients and sap cannot flow. A thin layer of cardboard, compost or mulch will decompose, keeping the soil level that the tree is used to constant. Additionally, never pile more than an inch of compost/mulch over the top of the cardboard. I see folks all around my local neighborhoods piling up bark mulch or wood chip or compost or soil in huge deep piles way high up against the trunks of their trees. See the two examples following below. This will eventually kill the tree. 

 Please never do this (see above) to any tree. Ever. When planting a potted tree, always plant it at the soil level it is in the pot. Dig your planting hole 3 times the width of the pot but no deeper than the soil level in the pot. When adding mulch never pile up more than an inch deep close to the trunk or within the drip zone. A drip zone is the circumference below the tree’s canopy marked by rain dripping off the edges of the branches, straight down.

Tree trunks have a natural flair at the base. Tree flair must be maintained for a healthy tree (above). Some trees exhibit more flair than others.

I know this is a longer post than is my usual and I am grateful you read it to the end. A few of my previous posts in this blog touch on this method of grass removal, but I have been photo-documenting the making of this garden over the years to make a more complete account. I hope this is understandable and encouraging for you to create more garden space easily. No grub hoe needed.

Any questions? Please comment below.

Thanks for reading. Cheers!

In Bloom in my Garden Today: Alyssum, Aster, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocus, Cuphea vermillionaire, Cyclamen hederifolium, Daisy, Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Geum, Heuchera, Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘Echo Mango’, Lavender, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Phygelius, Salvia garanitica ‘black and blue’, Solanum crispum
Author’s photos

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A New Toy

You know you’re a real gardener when you think compost is a fascinating subject. ~Author unknown
I love dirt! I love making beautiful, sweetly aromatic compost and spreading it around the garden. I love raking Autumn leaves onto the garden beds, knowing they will protect roots from winter’s cold and keep spring’s weeds from growing. I love composting my garden trimmings, recycling them back into my soil. I love making my own ‘fertilizer’ since compost feeds the soil which in turn feeds plants. Making my own compost with trimmings (selectively of course) from my own garden protects me from buying chemicals, pathogens or weed seeds that can come with bagged store-bought compost. From piles on the ground to enclosed tumblers (which discourage rodents from living in the warmth of a compost pile) there are many ways to make and contain your pile of trimmings as it breaks down.

The healthiest gardens have dirt that is living. Living dirt is supportive of and alive with the organisms (worms, centipedes, pillbugs, earwigs, microbes, fungi and yes… even slugs) that breakdown organic matter (leaves, sticks, twigs, flower petals) making nutrients available to plants roots. If your garden can match what goes on naturally in the woods, it will be healthier. In the forest the soil is never bare. It is always covered, year-round by the decomposing debris that falls from the trees. Fallen branches, leaves and needles cover the earth and begin to decay. Decaying stumps are important too. Here in my Pacific Northwest timberlands there is a native species of huckleberry that prefers decaying stumps in which to germinate its seeds and take root.

Healthy dirt makes gardening easier and more rewarding. Healthy dirt produces healthy plants. That’s a win/win in my book, so it’s no surprise that I attended a seminar on soil science recently. While much of it I already practice, there is always something new to learn, right?

There was lot of valuable information in this seminar but my biggest take away was this, the value of wood chip as a mulch. Wood chip is not the same as beauty bark, which is just bark. Wood chip contains all parts of the tree or shrub and makes a valuable coarse mulch rich in nutrition.  


Coarse mulches allow water and air to move through it so as not to smother the soil or its living organisms below. I always knew wood chip was a good thing. Even better that arborists look for gardeners to give it away free to but a 20-yard pile of wood chip is more than I can use on my little 5000 square foot piece of property in a single season. But if you can use 20 yards or can share with neighbors and friends, a great source is chipdrop.com. Be sure to read all the information including the “expectations” page. It is a free service to recipients but understand that the arborists pay for the service so a nominal payment to reimburse the arborist is only fair. After all, $20 USD for a huge load of wood chip is nothing compared to buying bagged mulch and they deliver it right to your designated location.

At the end of the seminar one of the speakers briefly mentioned as a side note that she has a chipper, a small electric chipper. I’ve wanted a chipper for several years but I don’t have much room to store one out of the weather, nor do I want to fiddle with a gas-powered engine. So, my woody trimmings, too thick to chop up by hand, go into the collection bin that the city picks up. Did she say “small electric chipper”? Hmmm. It would sure be nice to have one. Now I am really interested! When I got home, I started looking online for used sources and found 5 right away! All the same type that is no longer being manufactured and in varying degrees of condition from looks-kinda-rusty to looks-pretty-darn-good.

Soooo….fast forward a week. I am now the delighted owner of my very own electric, 14-amp, 120 volt, 3300 rpm, capable of chipping 1½” diameter branches McCulloch garden shredder! Woohoo!! I’ve been gardening since I was about 5 years old. How is it I’ve never had one of these yet?
Turns out there much to learn about my new toy. McCulloch was made in the USA however, this chipper is no longer manufactured, and similar designs are now made overseas so finding replacement parts may be a challenge. I did discover a great source of info on http://www.robsplants.com/chippy.php. Read down through the comments section of his blog post…it covers conversations by owners of this chipper (affectionately named Chippy) as they navigate the replacement parts journey. Turns out parts are becoming available but they are made in China of possibly poorer quality materials so may wear out more often.

Since I bought it used, I figured the blades would need sharpening. There are four blades to keep sharp. Two comprise the upright one-piece “V” blade and then there are two individual horizontal blades which are reversible, extending their life two-fold. I read several opinions about sharpening vs. replacing blades on Rob’s site above but I decided to try sharpening. I just did a light job of it with a couple of files. It cut through my pile almost like butter. I had a lot of green material so the exit chute plugged once. Then twice I pushed dry material through too hard and fast so it jammed. Clearing a jam requires unplugging it and exposing the blades which is not difficult but takes time away from the work so I think a good rule of thumb is every time I have the cover off, I will also give it a quick sharpening. Sharp blades do the work so I don’t have to and most professional gardeners sharpen the blades of what ever they are using after every job or throughout the job. With more practice I hopefully won’t get a blade jam or plugged chute too often.

 There is so much to learn about composting, soil science and the right and wrong way to apply mulch. I’ve long advocated for naturally feeding the soil with compost and protecting the bio diversity of soil life by not using chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, or beauty bark. In the archives, under the compost label on this blog you can find 5 more articles that I’ve written on the subject. If you find compost, mulch and dirt as interesting as I do, I hope you will enjoy my other articles. I have provided additional resources below so you can educate yourself to your own degree of interest. These links provide answers to questions and debunk myths that circle around the use of woody mulch. I encourage you to read through them.

Thanks for reading!

For more information see…

Another great source for all things garden is…
gardenprofessors .com and 
The Garden Professors page on Facebook is a collaboration of Horticultural Professors from around the USA

In bloom in my garden today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa, Viola,

Author’s photos