Thursday, April 9, 2009

Misplaced Summer

Since my last post, Summer came and went in Oregon.....and it's only April! It just shows how fickle the month can be. With temperatures above 70 degrees for a few days, it appeared that everyone was out digging in the garden or visiting the garden centers and nurseries. I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to move my Lemon tree out into the courtyard where it could be washed down and renewed after a Winter inside. Still holding on to about a half dozen lemons, it seemed to welcome the change. My resident frogs appeared to croak louder in a chorus of agreement, and the bugs seemed to multiply and dance around the property in droves. Nature was celebrating! With the ground not quite so soggy and the plants perking up, I spent the first day of 'Summer' just walking around taking stock of what was actually reappearing after our nasty Winter. The standouts this year are my Hellebores, which have increased in quantity and seem fuller than usual . A new favorite is 'Pink Beauty'.....just one of the many hybrids that have been appearing. They sure do brighten up the Winter landscape, with the fading flowers lasting all the way into early Summer, not to mention the large clumps of decorative leaves that are renewed each Spring. On the East side of our house a large clump of Helleborus foetidus has massed itself with Forget-me-nots and Carex. I love the fresh green flowers tinged with red edges! One note....the deer don't seem to like them, which around here is an added bonus. They do like the large leaves of Bergenia though....mine were all eaten down to nothing over the Winter and are now trying to grow both flower stalks AND new leaves!

It's been a busy month ( the reason why I haven't posted as often as I would like to) I've started teaching my Landscape Illustration course for Spring term at Portland Community College, and also have a Workshop planned for May at Cloudrest. (see my website) that will concentrate on colored pencil ) We've also been busy in the vineyard and garden. All the Winter pruning is complete and the grapevines are tied and ready to break bud later this month. The deer fencing will be going back up during the next few weeks and Round-Up will be sprayed in the rows before the tender new shoots appear. I have lots of new vegetable seedlings coming up in the greenhouse and have started cleanup of the flower beds and our enclosed 100 x 30 foot vegie garden. Our Winter snows and cold temps did more damage than I had realized. Mexican Orange (Choisya ternata) is one plant that suffered and had to be cut back....but from past experience, I know that it will recover nicely with new growth.

Over our warm weekend I finished a fun project which left me aching and sore ( the curse of being afflicted with severe osteoarthritis) ....but it was well worth it for the satisfaction involved. I created a 'dry streambed' running along a section of our South-facing foundation that gently slopes into an aggregate patio below the house. This space is shaded by both a large Dawn Redwood tree and a Walnut tree. A 30 year old Viburnum davidi had been pruned back and opened up to allow light into a basement window. This left some empty ground space for new low-growing plants, but also exposed dry dirt and cement along the foundation. After carving beds out of this property for over 30 years, it's not often that I have new space to deal with, so I saw this as a great opportunity. A trip to the 'rock store' brought back 4 large rocks and about a dozen buckets of river rock ( in three different sizes). After the ground was contoured with a slight swale, landscape fabric was pinned in place and the rocks were strategically placed. ( throwing them seemed to work best since I wasn't able to even lift the buckets!) My husband helped by bringing all the buckets down to my work area. It's amazing how hard it is to imitate nature. The trick is to make the 'stream' both narrow and wide in places and not to line it with the largest rocks. Over the years we have hiked in the NW Cascades and I've taken many pictures of real streams. Studying those helped me to see how the flow of water moves stones into certain pockets and channels. Once the stream was in place, an assortment of fern, Hellebore, Carex and Heuchera were planted. It will take awhile for the plants to knit together but the tapestry of color and texture that they create should really compliment the space. I can't wait for our real Summer, when steamer chairs occupy the patio and we can gaze upon the new garden. But is raining again and the temperatures are once again in the 50's!