Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

It's snowing outside.  If 2010 brings familiar seasons, we won't see spring for a couple more months, and most of the garden sleeps.  Yet, tucked back into the understory there now occurs an elegant bloom.  Jelena (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'), a Witch Hazel with coppery-red twisted, papery flowers, is awake.  You can smell the crisp, spicy scent before you see the lady herself.  Witch Hazels rely heavily on scent to attract the few pollinators that are about this time of year.  They're small of stature (10-15' tall x wide) and grow with an open habit.  The crinkled, papery leaves turn a brilliant orange-scarlet in Fall.  Organic gardeners will appreciate their relative lack of pests and diseases.  The ladies are tolerant of full sun, but if you can provide a half day (of dappled or direct), you'll find they make an excellent addition to the small urban garden, and to organic gardens of all sizes.     

Pear Tree in the Night Snow

After pruning and in the dark the trunk is barely visible, giving the impression that what exists is not in fact a rooted tree, but an autonomous configuration of floating branches...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Pond Cleaning


We lucked out.  The weather held, and now our little pond is winterized - empty and clean.  We call it the pond; it's a constructed stainless steel cattle trough that's sold in a range of sizes.  The smallest of them can easily accomodate a balcony garden.  Ours is laid out on a brick patio near the back porch, where over the summer it held Elephant Ears, Canna Lilies, hardy water lilies, Fairy Moss, and a prize Lotus.  Before the season brought a hard freeze, these were removed and prepared for an indoors over-wintering.  All that was really left in the pond were leaves that fell from nearby Pear and Maples trees, and some fertilizer that had leached from the planted containers into the pond water.  We used a regular pond pump with an attached hose adaptor to pump the water out onto our grass.  It took only 15 minutes for the pump to remove all the water.  After that, all I had to do was rinse out the inside & dump out the leaves.  The leafy debris went into the compost pile and nothing was wasted.  The trough will sit empty until spring.    

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas Wow

Garden-wise, was really that Portland had 3 days of clear, bright skies.  But I'll admit it wasn't until today that we got out into the yard to take advantage of one.  In winter, as we're bringing the gardening indoors with seasonal decorations of evergreen boughs, ferns, berries, forced bulbs, and our marginal specimens, it's easy to put the outdoors maintenance out of mind.  Our small pond clean-up and winter tree pruning chores were on hold.  So today we went out and pruned our Bartlett Pear.  The tree had been pruned twice prior to our ownership of the property, each time in a way that resulted in irreparable structural disadvantages.  The first pruning was a topping that resulted in 8-10' tall water sprouts.  The second one was a uniform "haircut" that caused the tree to send out even more of them.  The weak branching returned in density, to the delight of neighborhood Finches and BlueJays alike.  When leafed out, this tree structure provides lots of cover for the birds.  We love the birds so we don't mind the aesthetics much, but with our Northwest winter winds, we anticipate some limbs will fall.  There's no recovering the tree from this growth habit now, so we just went in for some damage control, removing several feet from the tops of the thickest of the water sprouts; thinning out smaller sprouts, crossed & dead branches and relieving the weaker branches from some top weight.  The final cut looks a little rough, but come spring it'll fill in nicely.  The cut branches are stacked in the yard, waiting for me to go out and cut them up for next summer's kindling.  Here's hoping that the sun holds for one more day...  

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sugar Pumpkins

My fascination with small things is contagious.  By that I mean that it's not partial to people, places, or events.  It extends to most other objects, living or non-.  And it especially extends towards plants.  This is the first year I've grown the Cucurbit family's admirably compact 6-inch pumpkins; each one affectionately called "Small Sugar".  I gently trained them onto a tomato trellis, in part to keep the giant foliage aerated and dry.  A not-so-sneaky, not-so-effective effort to ward off the infamous powdery mildew.  Well, I lost the aesthetic battle (this was neither heartbreaking nor a surprise), but the plant fruited nicely, having grown a proud display of it's own autumn bounty.  We severed the vines and set the pumpkins out for All Hallow's Eve, piled as high as they'd allow.  And in that spot they patiently waited out the moon.  Thanksgiving arrived.  It was then I brought them in and washed them up, made a soup and served them.  But not before saying aloud, "Thanks, Sugar".  

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November Garden

Intermittent soakers of the present, in combination with previous summer heat spikes, appear to have primed Portland's trees, understory, and stand-alone shrubs for great display of autumn leaf change.   Each next one I see is my new favorite.  It's tough deciding between the scarlet Tupelos, Sunset Maples, the various Japanese Maples, golden Elms, Gingkos and more.  At home in the garden, away from these fantastic trees, we've been experiencing some noteworthy change as well.  Our little Jersey blueberry (still a youth) turned a shocking, beautiful red.  And our Fothergilla, oh the Fothergilla, a warm sort of orangey-yellow I could look at all day.  On our own small scale, we're building the patchwork of colors fondly remembered from North Carolina autumns of childhood.  As youths, my siblings and I climbed Hanging Rock as a family to view them.  Here in Portland, we'll be putting out our arborist ladder and leaning it on the garage for us and our visitors to get our bird's-eye view.  Until I've got those pictures, here are a few from the ground.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

So I finally like pears...

  Perhaps you were wondering what to do with all those plump, ripe pears in early September, rather than now.  This year an abundance of Bartletts spilled from our aged and natty backyard tree.  The tree came with the house and, if not for its fantastic explosions of spring blossoms, or its regular gatherings of chatty finches, it would have existed with charms unappreciated.  I won't say unnoticed, because there is no ignoring the routine swarm of fruit flies appearing out of nowhere, every autumn.  Pears have never been a favorite fruit of mine, but this tree has been able to change my point of view.  Previously we composted our pears or passed them on to neighbors.  But this year they simply looked different, and tempted me.  And I brought them inside and cooked them.  
  The following recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1992.  Those cohabitating with a sweet tooth will be interested in quadrupling the sugar to meet the original intended outcome.  Pear butter is easily canned for future use by water bath.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall is here at last!

  Not that I wish the summer over by any means.  It's just that fall is my favorite time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  The various maples are in the dressing room, changing coats from green to yellows, oranges, reds.  The spiders have grown round in recent weeks, and hang in their webs like grapes at harvest time, full of sugar and ready to pop.  We're relishing the last of the late-bearing fruit harvest as intensely as we did the early sets.  But it's the change of light that speaks first, and loudest - though the entry is usually soft.  Sometime in early September, the heat-washed, pale intensity of summer light just up and left, leaving no competition for the deep, warm shadowed hues of Autumn.  
  This is the light that means the most to grasses.  At least for the favors it shows them, I would assume.  Many species still hold flower stalks ripe with seed for next year's production - or proliferation, whatever the mode of existence.  And it's this richly buttered light that, when draped among the stalks, affects a captivating glow.  Here, the flower stalks of 'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass, in such a light.