Monday, March 23, 2015

A Weed Ecosystem - Palm Style

While plant shopping this weekend, I stumbled upon a lovely palm tree.  I'm not real good with palms, so I couldn't tell you which one it was. Probably one of the marginally hard ones for here in Portland.  

It was obvious it had been there a little while.

What intrigued me the most was the cast of characters that had made themselves at home in the palm and this was only the plant life.

Getting a little closer you could see the ferns, Himalayan blackberry and the dandelions growing out of the trunk. 

I guess it isn't the kind of trunk that's very amenable to just sticking your hand in to pull out a weed.

It's a little world of weeds.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Told You It Was Too Early!

The last two nights have been in the high 20's/low 30's and I have woken to frost.

I haven't had to scrape my car windows for a very long time, but I've had too the past few days.

Isn't that terrible?!? I'm surprised Portland's "Frost-pocalypse 2015" hasn't been all over the news?

I feel a little awful whining about that (two days of frost), especially when the entire East Coast has had such a brutal winter.

But most concerning to me were the sad tree peonies, that told me weeks ago that Spring was over, which were now drooping their heads. I told you it was too early! I told you to go back to bed for awhile!

They will be fine however, they are tough! 

I should probably also not rub in the fact that our daytime temps have been in the high 50's/low 60's and the forecast for this Saturday is 67 degrees.

While I'm toiling away on my patio project, I might have to take my shirt off, so I don't get overwhelmed with heat exhaustion.

Sorry East Coast! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Patio Project - Part One

One of the first things I did when I bought my home in 2006 was to dig out the sad grass and the Concord grape vine behind the house and make a vegetable garden.

It was my own private "victory garden" and I was "King of the Veggies" and rewarded for all my labors. 

Every summer since, I have bought seeds and starts and planted way too much, way too close together. For some reason, I always thought I needed three rows of beans, five kinds of squash, red, yellow and purple carrots and fifteen different tomato plants. I'll admit that I have too many favorite tomatoes to choose only a few. Narrowing my list down to four or five is going to be hard.

I was growing far more than I could ever use, or give away. At a certain point in the summer, you can no longer give away zucchini. NOBODY wants them! Amazing heirloom tomatoes are much easier to give away however.

What I found out about planting so much - it's a lot of work, time, and water!

More importantly, I need to take it easier in the future.Which brings me to my patio plan!

Since my yard doesn't have a deck or patio, I have been using the driveway for this purpose. It's not ideal or very private, but it has worked.

Fourth of July bbq-ing and eating dinner on your driveway feels a little odd at times. Especially when you have "bad" neighbors, like the one we unaffectionately call "Hell Harpy".

Driveway dining - the view of the water lilies is good! Hi Mom!
This year, I decided to stop feeding the world and turn the existing veggie garden into a patio area. The location behind the house makes it more private and quiet.
The estimates I asked for from different landscape companies came in anywhere from $2,200 to $10,000 depending on the materials used. One of them had to include a line item for fixing the lawn after they ran  over the grass with a backhoe. I didn't like the sound of that.

So, I decided to try to do it myself. While I'm not very skilled at most things, I figured I could shlep gravel and sand and rake it level. I'm doing this project on a budget, so it won't be perfect, but it will be my handiwork.

While I have been thinking of doing this for a while, the first step was heading to my local big box store and picking out some pavers. I didn't want them to be too cheap or too expensive and they had to look decent. I preferred a larger size for the bulk of the patio, but having a mix of sizes in the pattern was a plus. The pavers are a concrete mix, sized 8"x16", 16"x16" and 32"x16". Since they are from the big box store I can easily buy a few more if expansion is needed or if I break one. The overall size is approximately 10'x18' so far.

I began with a trunk load of pavers and started to throw them over the bare dirt to get a feel for them and what I could do with the design. A total of five trips over a few weekends was needed to get everything I needed.

Laying out the pattern over existing bare dirt.


I'll admit that buying and transporting them myself was a bit of a b!@#h.One of the trips, I had to go all the way to Sherwood, as that location was the only store in the entire Portland metro area had the small paver I selected. It's hard to lay out your pattern with only 2 of the 3 sizes needed. So off to Sherwood I went.

Some of the area next to the patio will be new flowerbeds, continuing the theme of the rest of the garden. At the north end will be an area that I will bark over and move some of the "ponds" from the front yard. The area I created last year to accommodate new water lilies will then be available for more peonies!!! Since I love sitting and watching the fish, this will be perfect.

I had to move the table to see how it would fit and get a sense of the scale.
Water lilies in the front left dirt patch, tomatoes in the back. The pile of wood is going.
Part of doing this project myself is so that I can also afford to replace the sad aluminum shed. So just imagine a lovely new shed painted white with green trim to match the house.
Next to the shed will be enough area for me to plant a few tomatoes and a few hot peppers. This layout also allowed me to save the asparagus I planted seven years ago. I know it was silly to try to save it, but just had to. This layout also meant that I didn't have to remove the "L" shaped sod. I just love removing sod!

The next step is to buy gravel and sand and have it delivered to lay the pavers properly. I'll carefully remove and stack the pavers to make them easier to lay down when ready.

I'll wait a few weeks for some warmer, dry weather. 

I'm looking forward to many summer nights on the new patio. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Peonies Say "Winter's Over!"

 The general consensus seems to think that Winter in Portland is OVER.

Based on what's happening outside - the plants seem to be saying Winter is over too!  Our ten-day forecast calls for mostly sunny days and temps in the 50's with even a day reaching 61 degrees.

To me, it feels like many of the flowers are right on target for their proper bloom time.

The Daphne odora, Edgeworthia chrysantha, Helleborus and Galanthus are in bloom. 

Helleborus x hybridus 'Black Diamond'  

Daphne odora 'Zuiko Nishiki' and Noid Hellebore
Galanthus (Snowdrops)
Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper Bush) in the back
The Hyacinthus, Daffodils, Crocus and other early bulbs are all popping up out of the ground. Several of the Crocus are blooming, but getting pummeled by the recent rains.    

Crocus 'Blue Pearl'
The most surprising to me are the Tree Peonies. There are several in the yard that are full on in bud and leafing out like crazy.

I generally know I don't have to worry about the Peonies - they are pretty tough, but I always worry anyway. 

Their delicate stems leafing out in February is a little more than my "Nervous Nelly" Peony stomach can handle, especially this early in the season. Just one snowstorm could snap all those delicate new growths.

My really early species, Paeonia mascula has bloomed the first week of April. But I haven't even seen this plant pop out of the ground yet. It may be more insulated in its mulched bed and still sound asleep. 

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Yin Hong Qiao Dui 银红巧对' (Silver Red Tree Peony) with buds
Paeonia suffruticosa 'Lu Xiang Qiu 綠香球'
Paeonia suffruticosa and Daphne odora 'Zuiko Nishiki'

I generally see Tree Peony flowers the end of April/beginning of May with the Herbaceous Peonies following suit. February is way too early to see buds this big!

I suppose our warm air temperatures are convincing the stems that it is warm enough to jump start growth.

Not to be left out on the early action, the new baby Tree Peonies planted last year are showing signs of life too. 

I'm sure all will go well weather-wise and I will just have to untwist my knickers this early Spring.

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Houki ' and Sedum 'Angelina'
Paeonia suffruticosa 'Chojuraku 长寿乐' - Small but alive!
Better early than dead... Everybody cross your fingers!