Another October Flower

Fall blooming rhododendron

Here’s a photo of another flower blooming in the garden today. I don’t know if this rhododendron is confused, or if the warmer weather we’ve had here for two years now has encouraged an extra bloom time, but it is a repeat bloomer this year (and was last year, too!).

These rhododendrons are planted all around the house and are very pretty for about one week in the Spring, but they fade quickly after blooming. They’ve also struggled terribly with the lack of rain and our unusually hot summers, so the last two years have been very hard on them. But we’ve had cooler temperatures and some nice rain this week, and so here they are in bloom again!

Click on the informational links below to read about fall blooming rhododendrons:

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Trying a New Cover Crop

Last week we removed all the sunflowers from our “mini-field” (which we sometimes refer to as our whimsy garden) and tilled the ground. We then planted a cover crop for the winter in hopes of improving the soil for the Butterfly Garden we are planning to plant there next spring. Last year we planted Crimson Clover in this spot, and it was a successful cover crop and a fun gardening experience. Although it was our first experience with cover crops, it really seemed to enrich the soil–the sunflowers we planted there loved being put into that field afterwards. This year we chose a different cover crop: Austrian Winter Peas, and we’ll see what happens. We watched the weather closely and planted the seeds just before this weekend’s major rain storm. Hopefully the rain will give them a good start.

As part of my own education on the subject, I found the following helpful links about cover crops and about Austrian Winter Peas:

Austrian Winter Peas 1

Garden Reading: In the Land of the Blue Poppies

IntheLandoftheBluePoppies

Reading about gardens and gardening has become an enjoyable focus in my life as the days shorten and I spend less time outdoors in my own garden. While searching through the gardening section of Powell’s bookshop recently, I discovered a fascinating little book, In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-Hunting Writings of Frank Kingdon Ward. I brought it home and was immediately captured by the story of this passionate naturalist/explorer and his plant hunting expeditions in the Himalaya.

Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the early  20th century, and he was also a great explorer and adventurer…

Frank Kingdon Ward“.  .  . travel had bitten too deeply into my soul, and I soon began to feel restless again, so that when after four months of civilised life something better turned up, I accepted with alacrity.  This was none other than the chance of plant-collecting on the Tibetan border of Yunnan, and though I had extremely vague ideas about the country, and the method of procedure, I had mentally decided to undertake the mission before I had finished reading the letter in which the offer was set forth.”

He was the son of a botanist and trained as a botanist himself. When plant hunting became his career, he searched for the beautiful and unusual, and brought back from his travels many plants new to England that have become very familiar in gardens throughout the world today. This quote gives us a glimpse into his patient, methodical, dedicated working life as a plant hunter:

I wished to try and collect seeds of the dwarf Iris which I had failed to get at Modung. I soon satisfied myself that all the Iris capsules were empty. Nevertheless, I believed that with patience I might find the seeds scattered in the earth close to the plants, wherever they grew thickly. And so it proved. On bare dusty slopes facing south I managed to pickup a few hundred seeds. It was slow work, but by devoting two hours a day to it, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, lying full length and going through the dust and debris carefully, my efforts were crowned with success. Such is intensive seed collecting!

Although the Blue Poppy (Meconopsis speciosa) had already been discovered by another plant hunter shortly before his own discovery of that unique and beautiful flower, he is forever associated with it. Two other gorgeous and unique flowers he discovered and named were the Rhododendron wardii var. puralbum and a lily (Siroi lilium).

Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the time, but he was also a great explorer, sharing much of his experience and knowledge-gained about a remote part of the world by writing many books about his expeditions and his interactions with the people he met. I loved one particular story about his first experience at crossing over a deep gorge on a bamboo rope “zip-line” bridge. His description was thrilling to read, especially because I had read that he was afraid of heights!

“Let go!” and at the word I was whirled into space. Whiz! a rush of air, a catch of the breath, a smell of something burning–the rope gets very hot– the hum of the slider over the twisted strands, a snap-view of the muddy river foaming below, and I was slowing down where the rope sagged at the other end. It was all over in a moment, and pulling myself up the few remaining feet to the platform, I untied and stood up on the opposite bank. After that first experience there was nothing I enjoyed so much as a trip across a rope bridge..

This little book was a fascinating look into the life and work of one of the great horticulture explorers. It was a book that revealed one man’s passion for flowers and plants of all kinds, and for a life of discovery and excitement.

To learn more about Frank Kingdon Ward, visit the links below.

Learning to be Gardeners

Main House, Jenkins Estate

Main House, Jenkins Estate

My husband and I are learning to be gardeners. We’re already doing a lot in our yard, so I probably should say that we are gardeners, but there’s so much we don’t know yet, so much to learn, and so much to do, that I’m a little shy about claiming the title of “gardener”.

However, we’re not shy about learning, and so we are talking to people, visiting gardens of all kinds, reading books about gardening, and attending gardening classes around the area. Thanks to my friend, Bill, who told us about it, we’ve discovered the Washington County Master Gardener Association. This week we visited two of their “demonstration gardens.” Wonderful learning experiences! Great ideas and very helpful people!

Here are some photos from the demonstration garden (called the “Washington County Master Gardeners Learning Garden“) at Jenkins Estate in Beaverton, Oregon.

Tomato Tasting

When asked what is my favorite food, I always answer: “Tomatoes!” Today, the Washington County Master Gardener Association held a tomato tasting event, with all kinds and sizes of tomatoes to sample, so, of course, Hubby and I went to check it all out.  I tasted almost every tomato sample and chose my two favorites. Bush Big Boy was my favorite of the larger tomatoes, and Orange Paruche was my favorite of the smaller tomatoes. And we enjoyed talking with many of the Master Gardeners, and also enjoyed going through the demonstration gardens there. What a nice morning!

Making Progress

My daughter and I are making progress on our “quick and easy” flower bed project started last week. After some lovely rain on the weekend, the dirt was slightly easier to dig in when we got back to the project yesterday. We used the tiller to grind up the dirt a little deeper (so rocky!), and then we added compost and some top soil so that it was all well-blended. Our next-door neighbor has been watching us work this project, and she came over and offered us some of the compost she had just picked up for her own garden. “Take as much as you like,” she said so generously! We were thrilled to add some of her excellent new compost to the bed, and then we planted the three Hebes we had chosen. I was delighted with how easy it was to plant in that bed now. All that very hard work was worth it!

Today, we are going to the nursery to pick up the rest of the flowers for the project. We’ll be so excited to have the project all planted!

A Celia Thaxter Morning

Celia Thaxter in her Garden, painting by Childe Hassam, 1882

“In the Garden” (Celia Thaxter in her Garden), by Childe Hassam, 1892

Good morning, friends! I am reading Celia Thaxter’s classic gardening book, An Island Garden, and am loving it, taking notes as I go because there’s so much to learn from her! She was a beautiful writer of both poetry and prose, and her other passion was gardening. I’ll be sharing more about her soon, but for this morning, here’s a passage that I particularly loved from this joyful book:

When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before any one is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy that fills me with infinite content; each gives me its color, its grace, its perfume, and enriches me with the consummation of its beauty. All the cares, perplexities, and griefs of existence, all the burdens of life slip from my shoulders and leave me with the heart of a little child that asks nothing beyond its present moment of innocent bliss. These myriad beaming faces turned to mine seem to look at me with blessing eyes. I feel the personality of each flower, and I find myself greeting them as if they were human. “Good-morning, beloved friends! Are all things well with you? And are you tranquil and bright? And are you happy and beautiful?” They stand in their peace and purity and lift themselves to my adoring gaze as if they knew my worship–so calm, so sweet, so delicately radiant, I lose myself in the tranquillity of their happiness.

~ Celia Thaxter (1835–1894), from An Island Garden

A New Project

My daughter and I started a new gardening project this week. Gardening is completely new to her, but she’s got a wonderful design sense and is excited about creating some new and beautiful garden spaces while she is living with us temporarily. We picked a “simple” and “quick” project to start with — putting in a small flower bed on one side of the walkway to the front porch. We could do it on our own, probably in one afternoon…just clear off the sod, dig down a bit, mix in some compost to enrich the soil, plant our beautiful new plant choices…

Well…it hasn’t turned out to be the quick and easy project we had hoped for! We were successful at removing the sod, thanks to our sweet little roto-tiller the husband bought last spring.

But then, when we started digging, we ran into some problems. First, it’s been such a dry hot summer (following a very dry winter/spring in this area) the soil was baked and compacted, making it very difficult force a shovel into it and turn it over. Second, the soil was full of rocks. Mostly little rocks, but big enough to make it very difficult to dig. Then, to add to our misery, we discovered a buried electrical system for some old lighting fixtures that once lined that walkway. That required the husband-who-has-electrical-experience to get involved.

Husband thought it would be a quick and easy fix. But when he tried to remove the electrical system, he discovered it had been installed in concrete, too much work to remove. So we decided to save it and install some new walkway lights there. That would be nice. Daughter and I rearranged the plans for where to place the different plants we chose, and went back to digging. We are very slowly making progress.

Isn’t this a typical gardening story, though? Gardening is always an adventure! I just keep saying to myself, and to my daughter, that we are going to be very proud of that little flower bed when we finally get it planted, and very proud of ourselves for accomplishing this “quick and easy” project.

Joy Creek Nursery

Learning...

Learning…

We’re back to our “Wandering Wednesdays” after weeks of too-hot days that interfered with our motivation to wander. This week, we took our daughter with us and visited a special garden nursery in Scappoose, Oregon (about 18 miles north of Portland), called Joy Creek Nursery. We’re planning some changes to certain areas of our garden, so this was an ‘educational field trip’ for us.

The nursery is aptly named, “Joy Creek,” because it was truly a joy to walk through and experience. The display gardens were inspiring, and the selection of plants was wonderful. What a lovely learning and wandering day!