Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter's Pleasures

"Hummingbird alert!" I cried, and Tom looked up. Out the window a redheaded hummer was probing the frozen feeder. It was actually kitty Webster’s clacking jaws that tipped me off to the hummingbird’s presence. "I think he’s licking the feeder like a popsicle,” Tom said. And considering how many times the tiny bird returned to dip into the feeder, I think Tom was exactly right. The one feeder that hangs in view of the dining room window is visited often by the tiny birds, and the pleasure of seeing their iridescent feathers and their whirring wings is worth the effort of keeping the feeder from freezing.  Most nights I remember to bring it inside to stay warm, and take it back out in the morning, but sometimes, in the flurry of activities, I forget. So soon after the popsicle incident, I purchased one more feeder so that I can more easily rotate them when the temperatures plummet. It’s the least I can do for these brave little birds who stay here through our iffy winters. Aside from the feeder, the hummingbirds are in love with Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies,’ which is loaded with upright spikes of yellow flowers. It’s about the only nectar source in this December’s garden and if I’d known what a cold winter we’d be facing I’d have planted two more. No matter, this plant is at least ten years old and stands eight feet tall and five feet wide with enough blossoms for a hundred hummers. This year the evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) produced a bumper crop, and fortunately for the foraging sparrows, most of the tiny, tart berries are still on the branches in December. Like the hummingbird feeder, the huckleberry bush stands right in front of the dining room window, a perfect place for Webster to ogle the birds and clack his jaws some more. For His Majesty’s comfort (he is quite regal, with fur as soft as angora) I’ve placed a bench by the window, with pillows on it, where he can dream of hunting without doing any damage.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November's Chyrsanthemum Display and Talk at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Over 500 chrysanthemums light up Lan Su Chinese Garden (corner of NW 3rd and Everett) this month. On Saturday November 9, at 11 a.m., expert Ray Gray of King’s Mums in Oregon City will speak about his favorite flowers. Even if you don’t grow them yourself, the scent and beauty of chrysanthemums will bring you autumn cheer. I recently visited his nursery and plan to order mums this spring! www.lansugarden.org/mumvember for details.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall's Pleasures

As the first frost hits I say a sorry goodbye to the blackened dahlias and look around for the next wave of beauty. I don’t have to look far—Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ has turned brilliant red and Ginkgo ‘Autumn Gold’ is true to its name. Viburnum xanthocarpum is filled with orange berries that gleam in autumn’s light, while long chains of burgundy fruit dangle from the branches of Leycesteria formosana. What fun to see trees and shrubs that have been standing quietly by, suddenly shouting, “Look at me!” I love the slower pace of autumn, when very little is urgent. That’s when I take a leisurely look at the garden. What do I still love, and what no longer pleases me in my little kingdom? What will live and what will die is totally up to me and my faithful spade. Lately I’ve been digging up masses of redtwig dogwood. Once a lifesaving filler on this acre of wetland, it’s colonized way too far, and is now occupying what my gardening buddy Doug calls “prime real estate.” Over the winter I’ll build up the soil by composting on site, and this spring there will be fertile ground ready for containers of Viburnum, Physocarpus and Loropetalum waiting to put their feet in the ground. Always looking forward to the next season, to the next new plants, to the next pleasures—a gardener’s life is a year-round delight.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter Pleasures Hummingbirds perch on the metal gridded arbor, waiting their turn to sip from the yellow flowers of Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies.’ One little guy sits patiently at the top of the cutleaf alder, flashing his red head as the sun glints off his tiny feathers. This winter the flowers on ‘Arthur Menzies’ are more splendid and full than ever before. I count a dozen spikes of yellow flowers at the ends of one stem, and at least as many flowering stems, so that the whole shrub, standing eight feet tall, is a brilliant beacon. Never mind that the leaves are leathery and spiny, so that pruning this shrub is as dangerous as handling agaves, the winter bloom that begins in December when the buds swell and begin to show color and continues for weeks and weeks, is worth the occasional pain. Had I known how spectacular this plant would become I would certainly have bought half a dozen and plunked them all around the garden for more winter color. Right now in January I want to rip out the mock orange that looks like a bundle of twigs and replace it with another Mahonia—I still don’t have ‘Charity,’ ‘Lionel Fortescue,’ ‘Winter Sun,’ or ‘Underway.’ Hmmm. Come to think of it, there are several mock oranges that only bloom for a short period of time, and have ho hum leaves, while Mahonias with their jagged leaves and long-blooming flowers would be much more interesting, for so much longer.