Wednesday, May 29, 2013


My freshly sodded backyard the day I bought the house. Pretty boring. 

When I moved to Portland and bought a house, I was no gardener. I suddenly had a backyard and a front yard. Now what? I ran to the nurseries and garden centers of the city and bought the things I'd always admired:  roses, peonies, dahlias, tulips, iris, daffodils and hydrangeas. And put them in the ground. No plan was organized, let alone thought through. I was a cook, so of course, I had to plant herbs. I didn't know that mint and oregano could be invasive. Who knew cilantro was so fussy? I discovered that I'm not very successful with the herb I used most often:  flat leaf Italian parsley. It always ends up going to seed. 

The brick patio has acquired this green mossy grown between many of the bricks and adds
some character to the walkways.  Archie enjoys sunbathing on it. 

There are people in my life who are natural gardeners.  My mother tried to make a gardener out of me, but aI resisted. Too dirty, too much weeding and it wasn't fun at all to this fifteen-year-old. My friend Dyanne, is a master gardener. She see the garden the way a famous decorator sees a Park Avenue co-op and knows just where everything belongs. Her Manhattan terrace has spectacular views, but on that 10 x 12-foot space, the view has to compete with her containers which bloom all summer and are an amazing retreat from the heat. My pal, Trish, has an amazing garden that she's arranged into a haven for exploring, dining and enjoying. She grows the most amazing rhubarb, and my garden has benefited from so many cuttings she has given me over these past four years. 

The previous owners were not gardeners either. In an effort to make the garden as pleasing to the eye as possible, they put down sod, covered all the flower beds, and the dog run. They planted ornamental grass in the front yard, which also had an ugly Cedar tree that I share with my next-door neighbor and a stunning Camellia tree that produces an early spring display of white blooms and is in need of a really good trimming. The driveway is bordered by heather in three colors. The back yard is dominated by a huge and very beautifully shaped Cedar tree which sheds. The other shrubs included a male Holly which was the mate of my neighbor's female Holly tree who's branches reached well into the side of my garden. Not much will grow under a cedar because of acidity, or so I'm told. So it's become home to a collection of hosta plants which I put in the first summer I moved into the house.

Maybe I was too ambitious my first year, and it was a hot and dry summer, which meant a lot of watering. It got so that I resented giving up an hour every day to the garden. I had a house to organize and maintain. The garden was a lot of work. It still is.

The pear and pluot trees (a little to close to each other) early this month. The grass was still
high and in need of a lawnmower.

The next season, except for the installation of a large brick patio, I didn't do much in the garden. Kyle installed the waist-high raised vegetable/herb bed and I failed miserably at growing tomatoes. I had a harvest of lovely French breakfast radishes and the lemon squash beat zucchini in its harvest and I ended up pickling jars and jars of the the stuff. Last summer I switched to cherry tomatoes, and the harvest was huge. Two tomato plants yielded lots of roasted tomato sauce and jars of tomato chutney, and garnished many a green salad. I planted pear, fig and pluot trees. And Deb, my last housemate tried to establish a path of chicks and hens alongside my driveway. Most of them didn't survive, though some have taken root and perhaps in another few years, it will fill in.

The shady side-yard, ready for entertaining. The umbrella was up but fell over
during a very windy day. I keep forgetting it is too early in the season. 

A long spring season this year may have induced me back into my garden, but I was encouraged by all the growth. The fig tree had fruit on it in April and when I returned from Paris, the blossoms on the pear and pluot trees had evolved into little pluots (green) and baby pears (green and red). The hostas have got to be dug up and broken up.  The roses went nuts with showy yellow and apricot displays. The Camellia generously bloomed such a pure white, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The iris are peaking now and the peonies are at their best. The patch of grass left in the backyard has been mowed every week. I've found myself going out to the garden every Sunday to plant something or clean or sweep, or weed the patio--I even took the shopvac in my garage and vacuumed the patio just in time for a big downpour to wash the bricks. And I finally stood up to the male holly bush and cut it down. It gives more light to the finished room in the basement, and the female holly is without a mate. Maybe she won't produce so many berries which fall on my patio and make it a mess to clean.

It's taken the iris three seasons to at least give off this many blooms. It should
be even better next season. They seem to be happy next to the liars. 

Last week I spent over $120 at the nursery giving the side and shaded garden a fuller look of plants and shrubs. I have studiously avoided annuals because I can't stand the idea of spending money on things that won't last more than one season. The slugs are out in big numbers, and I've attacked them with Sluggo. Still they have chewed their way through the leaves of my hostas and emerging dahlias. The roses have been fed and treated for black spot and other scary rose diseases.

This was the first rose from my rose tree this year. It produces the most gorgeous blooms.

I left my fountain out all winter-long and it required emptying, cleaning and fixing the spigot so it would drop water as it was designed to do. A currant plant that my friend, Trish had given me was in real need of planting, having spent two seasons in a pot, so I planted it. I moved an azalea to the back of the garden, where it would get more sun. In its place, I put a purple climatis which I'm going to try to coax up the support of my balcony.

The peonies were better than ever this spring.

An aerial view of the fruit trees and the unruly Euphorbia
(to the left of the side garage door). The fig tree is at the top
of the photo right on the corner of the garage. See how scruffy
the grass is now?

A container rose busy and a Japanese maple, the second of 
two in my garden. 

The herb garden. That's mint in the pot on the corner of the raised bed.
There's oregano, fennel, red/green sage, garlic chives, rosemary, and a new thyme
plant that has since been repotted. The bay leaf, basil, and other rosemary are in pots and 
other areas in the garden where I can control their unruly growth.

There are still lots and lots of chores to do.  After the season is over, I'm going to move my pluot because it is too close to the pear tree. The dog run is now overrun with weeds and I have to grade the dirt away from the house to avoid basement leaks. It's time to find something interesting to do with that empty useless space. A gorgeous red rose tree is planted in the back of the yard, behind the blueberries, and it's nearly forgotten. It needs a place where the eye will delight in its gorgeous blooms. All, or most of the ornamental grass in the front yard has got to go. It's not very interesting to look at in batches---it's uniformly low in height and brown. I'd like to plant lavender, which isn't fussy, produces pretty flowers and smells divine. I'll plant other things around it, but I need to think more about it before I do (Oh--how about poppies?  I've seen them in deep purple--that would look great with lavender). I have been putting out seasonal plants, such as coleus on my doorstep, and I have a boxwood shrub that needs to go in the ground. When I opened my disastrous medical supply store, Jean-Francois sent me a gardenia plant for good luck. I had already killed a gardenia John Baker brought me in a gorgeous terra cotta pot for a house-warming present. I brought the gardenia home when I closed the store and put it on the doorstep, where its been for two seasons. It blooms, and thrives with very little help from me.

A vase-full of camellias. 

This apricot Old English Rose is from a bush I bought and planted 
three years ago. It always produces blooms, week after week, and is
acting like a climber. So I am urging it to climb up to my balcony.

I bought two miniature rose bushes on sale and planted them together
for this beautiful table centerpiece.

On the eve of summer, I think I've finally become something of a gardener. I walk out into my backyard, and start planning projects. I've got the watering thing down to a science. It takes me about 20 minutes on hot days. I no longer water my roses every day because my neighbor who has an amazing rose garden once told me she almost never waters her roses. Good enough for me. I've also stopped watering the grass. It's a waste of good water, and doesn't bother me in the least to have a yellow-brown lawn. Besides with the brick patio, I've cut out more than half the lawn. I weed more, even though I had the work of it more. I still don't think of myself as a gardener and when I post photos of blooming plants and thriving shrubs and fruit-bearing trees (speaking of fruit, the strawberries are just about ripe), I'm not bragging. It's more like astonishment that these things grow at all. Portland's damp weather makes it easier. Everything is also so green here. I don't consult garden books very often (if I did, I wouldn't plant poisonous things like Monk's Hood or Euphorbia--thank god my dogs show no interest in plant life other than grass). I find if I'm willing to put in some minimal effort, the results are really remarkable. I still hate to garden, only less so.

Archie got his own swimming pool this year, though he's shown 
little interest in it. Those plants by the large tree trunk are all
hostas. The large one on the left is huge and out of control and 
needs to be split. Another chore.

My white peonies (along with a tall "peace" rose). So beautiful.

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