September’s split personality

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’

We asked for rain, and it came down in buckets. Anything with big trusses, like this Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ was laid low.

Macleaya cordata

Some tall things, like the Macleaya cordata (plume poppy), met a similar fate.

Leonotis nepetifolia

Once standing proudly a good 8′ tall, Leonotis nepetifolia now crouches on the ground. Before I had a chance to get out there and stake them, the flowering tips began to bend upward to reach for the light. Note to self: next year, stake early and stake liberally (yeah, sure…like I’m about to do that).

Lion’s tail

See what I mean? At this point they would look mighty peculiar if I were to stake the bent stems.

Chasmantium latifolium

I actually did stake the Chasmantium latifolium because last year it dipped over into the pond. Live and learn: the stakes need to be taller, with at least two levels of bamboo poles strung between them.


Waterlogged zinnias were dead headed, the plants freshly tied up to existing stakes, and these little flower factories are already pumping out new product.

Hydrangea Preziosa
Hydrangea Preziosa

Hydrangea ‘Preziosa’ is turning many shades of dusky hues. Beaten down as it is by the rain, I needn’t hesitate to cut freely and hang the flower heads upside down to dry. I find all kinds of uses for them during the holidays.


The big mopheads fade to even more interesting colors.

Verbena bonariensis

I like the deep purple of the last throes of Verbena bonariensis, but most of them are finally flopping and must be cut back.

So the first week of September was soggy and it seemed that summer had ended with a flash of light and a clap of thunder. Hah! We are into the second week, characterized by temperatures in the 90’s. Our Texas friends laugh condescendingly, but we Oregonians (with a few notable exceptions) wilt and whine in such weather. I am circulating a petition for Indian summer: crisp, sunny days in the 70’s. Are you with me?

death & rebirth

We watch nature shows, so I’m well aware of the struggle for survival that goes on out there.

Pinus densiflora Oculus Draconis ‘Dragon’s Eye’

Once my pride and joy, this is all that’s left of Pinus densiflora oculus draconis ‘Dragon’s Eye’. It had been in place since ’06, but ailing and losing its variegation for a couple of years. Finally pronounced “just plain dead”, no digging was required to remove the 6′ carcass. Do you see any root? No, the poor thing had been gnawed clean off just below soil level. The culprits? Gophers. Every garden chat I have engaged in lately has devolved into plots to kill gophers. Know any hit men for hire? They would have an eager clientelle in our neighborhood.

leaning fig tree

Another case in point: a fig tree that has been limping along for years. We looked out one day to see it tilting at 90º. This time some digging revealed damage to some roots and a tunnel system. R dug a nice big hole, lined it with rocks and replanted the tree with amended soil and stakes to hold it upright.

new fig leaf

The tree is saying “Thanks” by putting out a few fresh leaves, so maybe Dr R has saved its life. Only time will tell.

Oxydendrum arboreum

Another cherished tree, Oxydendrum arboreum held special significance because it was a memorial to a beloved cat. It was doing well, then, with no warning at all, it up and died. Soon, lo and behold: new growth began to appear at the base. The deer noticed this right away and found it quite tasty. Up went a chicken wire barrier to foil the little deers.

Oxydendrum new growth

The new shoots shot right up, to the delight of the feasting fawns. R added another layer of chicken wire and I went out there with a spray bottle filled with a disgusting tasting (and smelling) mixture. I’m afraid our landscape is peppered with these makeshift eyesores. There is chicken wire caging around the trunks of the quaking aspen and birches to protect them from girdling by the sapsuckers and pileated woodpeckers. Stakes surround the Rhododendron sinogrande to facilitate a quick cover when temps drop. Several young trees are caged against the antler rubbing of male deer. But sometimes aesthetics must take a back seat to protective measures. Our hope is that eventually the trees will gain enough heft to stand up for themselves, the wraps will come off and all will be beautiful. Next, we will find a non-lethal way to drive out the gophers, our fortune will be made and we can turn our place into the paradise that exists in our imaginations.

Redbud reborn

I leave you with one last, hopeful example of rebirth. Like the sourwood, this redbud died for no apparent reason. Again like the sourwood, shoots came up around the base. The new growth is vigorous to a fault, and now stands taller than the original tree. All of this took place with no intervention whatsoever from us. What is the lesson here? I have no idea. Any thoughts? (see Sarah’s comment below. I think she got it right)

Google Reader going…what to do?

When I first learned about Google Reader from Loree I was thrilled. No longer would I waste time popping by sites I had bookmarked to see if they had posted anything new. I was never a big fan of the service: in the short time I’ve been using it, it has cut out on me, losing all of my data, at least three times that I can remember. Now it has announced that it will be shutting down in July. I figure “Why wait?”

A site called lifehacker did a lot of the groundwork with a survey of alternatives. The most attractive choice to me was Feedly, but I was not alone. When I tried to access it, I ran out of patience before it managed to fully load. The next best thing, as far as I could tell, was The Old Reader. I signed in via Facebook with no problem. The protocol for adding sites is nearly identical to Google’s…in fact, the reason it was developed was that the original version of GR was much preferred by these developers after Google insisted upon “improving things”. We all know how that goes. Well, I was bombing right along: culling through bookmarks and adding my favorite blogs, when everything froze up on me. I haven’t exactly given up. I’ll give it a rest and try again later. But I am left unable to make any recommendations. How about you? Have you moved on to something that works like a charm?

While we’re at it, I have a couple of other technical glitches that have been bugging me lately. All of a sudden, certain words as I type away get turned into links with no help from me. Anybody know what’s up with that? And the ADS! I never had too much trouble ignoring them before, but now they seem to pop up, filled with wiggly attention-getters, at the top of every page and no way to turn them off. Don’t get me started on the buxom beauties in various stages of undress that appear, unbidden, on my timeline and elsewhere. I’m pretty tolerant, thinking “OK, everybody’s got to try to make a living”, but these things are driving me crazy-nutso! Your thoughts?

Euphorbia wulfenii gets a haircut

Euphorbia wulfenii in spring

When they are good, they are very, very good…

wulfenii at its worst

But when they are bad, they are horrid! I am something of a timid pruner, but when Euphorbia wulfenii reached the above state, I had nothing to lose. I cut it back hard, with the expectation that I was performing stage one of a removal project. Guess what? It bounced right back, looking bigger and better than ever this spring.

pile of E wulfenii prunings

So this year, when the blooming stalks began to discolor, I went right after it. The pile of debris with the wheelbarrow behind it for scale, is what was removed from the plant.

the core of E wulfenii after haircut

Each blooming stalk was cut back as close as I could get to the core of the plant, where a tangle of old wood can be seen.

E wulfenii trying to adjust

And here’s the wulf…reeling a bit and trying to adjust to his new look. I have confidence that he will snap out of it and start strutting his stuff in no time.

Fiskars and Lysol

At a Joy Creek pruning seminar, Mike emphasized the importance of keeping blades clean between cuts. The milky sap of Euphorbias leaves no doubt. In fact, I had to let a heavy spray of Lysol soak in for several minutes. then wipe and repeat three or more times. Finally, before putting them away, I gave them a good going over with an SOS pad and a spritz of WD-40. I have handled these plants before with no ill effects, but this time…despite long sleeves and gloves, I found myself with Popeye-proportioned forearms. Three days later, the itching and burning are epic still, but the swelling has subsided. I don’t know if it was the timing of the project, the scale of the operation or what, but I will never again scoff at cautionary tales. Next time (and yes, of course there will be a next time…I’m a gardener) heavy duty gloves and shirt fabric will come into play…Oh, and be sure to resist wiping your brow while engaged in this activity. I am not a pretty sight just now.

thank you

Little did I know, when I began blogging, that a world of cyberfriends awaited. I appreciate each and every one of you for you own interesting blogs, your helpful, funny and insightful comments and the feeling of connection to a larger world I get every time I log on. Here’s a little piece I wrote for for the Ventura County Reporter when my daughter was editor. It is a little snide, based upon an antipathy for turkey…but I hope it will give you a chuckle without detracting from your appreciation for the bird.


A Turkey by Any Other Name


I cried the first time it fell to me to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. My distress had nothing to do with feelings of culinary inadequacy. It was the naked vulnerability of the bird, stripped of its plumage, shivering in my sink. How could I possibly further assault the poor fowl by stuffing its cavities with however delectable a mixture of bread cubes, herbs, etc., augmented by a fine dice of its own organs? Worse than that, my recipe called for inserting a puree of other tasty ingredients beneath its skin. It would require a couple of glasses of sherry to stiffen my resolve. Even then, it was only the prospect of a house full of people expecting traditional fare and a festive mood that spurred me to action. The occasion, by all accounts, was a success, right down to my children dressed as pilgrims. Fortunately, it was a large gathering. In the spirit of reciprocity, it would be years before I need face a repeat of the ordeal.

Now, with the burgeoning of specialty groceries and deli’s, a squeamish cook has options undreamed of even a few years ago. Tofurkey has been around for some time, but its appeal is more to the politically motivated menu planners amongst us. I don’t care for the real thing all that much, even when it is served up pre-carved with a side of cranberry relish. Still, the holiday spirit seems ill served by a fake bird fashioned from soybean curd.

Goose conjures up images of Ingmar Bergman in his nostalgically extravagant phase. The romance of the idea of goose as a main course quickly fades as the subject shrinks before your eyes, while the roasting pan fills with grease (more Eraserhead than Franny and Alexander). Only Babbette could pull off this Feast. But wait. Here is where the new-age markets come in. Staffed by Babbette Wannabe’s, they have cooked up all kinds of exotic alternatives to the same old meal. What kind of magic they work behind the scenes remains a mystery, but somehow the goose is picture-perfect.

Or you might opt for quail: de-boned, stuffed and rearranged into a tidy little package with a sprig of sage for garnish. It will take two of them, even with all the side dishes from the family archives, to satisfy a normal appetite. Capons might be a better choice for hearty eaters…or even game hens.

The heights of gourmet inventiveness are scaled with the advent of the “turducken” (careful how you parse that word). It sounds like a feat of genetic engineering, but instead owes its creation to the splicing skills of the meat department’s own Dr Frankenstein. What, exactly, is it?  Here again, a lot of de-boning is involved: first a chicken is placed inside a duck, inside a turkey. The turkey is allowed to keep its legs and wings, so the final product looks pretty much like the real McCoy. Since there are no bones to contend with, you needn’t have a skilled carver in the crowd. Just slice crossways, and each serving yields a cross section of all three meats. To be sure that all meat involved is organic and free-range, you can order one from Whole Foods. Cajun versions with cornbread or seafood jambalaya stuffing are available over the Internet for $78.

Be forewarned that the cooking time for such a concoction is about 8 hours. I am told that the typical turducken will serve 12 to 14 people, but that is allowing each diner a one to one and a half pound portion. I don’t personally know anyone who can down that much protein in a sitting, but the meat coordinator at Whole Foods (yes, there really is such a person) apparently travels in heftier circles. If you are committed to the do-it-yourself approach and are skilled at wielding a hammer (Paul Prudhomme’s recipe on the web required the use of this unusual kitchen tool for the de-boning process) you can log on and pull up recipes. Hats off to you for your courage and dedication.

But what is the fascination with winged creatures? Give me a nice crown roast any day. It makes a perfect crater to fill with stuffing (isn’t that what the Thanksgiving meal is all about?). Once you pull it from the oven and trim it with those frilly little paper cuffs, what could be more celebratory? What I like best about it is its complete lack of resemblance to the beast from which it came, sparing the need for endless glasses of sherry if I happen to be the cook.

tarp tour

This one’s for you, Grace. Follow the link to see Grace’s collection of tarps and her very special humor at work. But first, take a walk with me around my neighborhood. My special pet peeve used to be the collection of cars that seem to build up in residents’ driveways, often spilling onto surrounding fields. At one point, the top prize went to one property sporting no less than 18 vehicles. Lately, this blot on the neighborhood has been dwindling. Not that I had anything to do with that, but perhaps if I turn my psychic energy towards the proliferation of tarps, they, too, will begin to disappear. Dare we hope?


Here we have a veritable village of tarps, cars, railroad cars (Lord knows what is stored in there), facing directly onto the road for our viewing pleasure.


Slummy though this may be, at least it is tucked out of sight behind some roadside shrubbery.


I do understand the need to keep wood dry, but do you see all those massive outbuildings in the background? What do you suppose those are for?


Another example of “why the tarp?” when a brand new 3 car garage stands empty right behind it. Not sure if you can see the several tarped lumps at the back of the picture.


In some cases, the tarp may be the only thing holding the building together. Right next door to this lovely abode is…


this decidedly tarpless, neat-as-a-pin home. No wonder the first thing the young man who built it did was plant a fast-growing, dense hedge on all sides.


Then there are the antique tarps. This one looks to have been here almost as long as the building.


This lovely collection (7 by my count) is directly across the road from us. There were large trees running down that side of the road, shielding us from this view. Two weekends ago, down came the trees. It is up to us now to plant as many fast-growing trees and shrubs in our mixed hedgerow as we can muster, cuz I don’t think the tarp infestation will be cured any time soon.


made it into The Sunday Oregonian‘s ‘Short Takes’ column with this little ditty:

No, no, no! Do not give the nod to Winkin’ and Blinkin’.

prompted by annoyance at being constantly winked at by both McCain and Palin.

Richard’s comment: Does anyone in this day and age even ‘get’ the reference? I had to admit to not being able to call up the complete nursery rhyme, Winken Blinken and Nod. Anyone?

(later in the day) Googled it, and here it is in its quaint entirety:

Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod, one night Sailed off in a wooden shoe;
Sailed on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going and what do you wish?” the old moon asked the three.
“We’ve come to fish for the herring fish that live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we” said Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

The old moon laughed and he sang a song as they rocked in the wooden shoe.
And the wind that sped them all night long ruffled the waves of dew.
Now the little stars are the herring fish that live in that beautiful sea;
“Cast your nets wherever you wish never afeared are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three – Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

So all night long their nets they threw to the stars in the twinkling foam.
Then downward came the wooden shoe bringing the fishermen home.
Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed as if it could not be.
And some folks say twas a dream they dreamed of sailing that misty sea.
But I shall name you the fishermen three – Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

Now Winkin’ and Blinkin’ are two little eyes and Nod is a little head.
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies is a wee ones trundle bed.
So close your eyes while mother sings of the wonderful sights that be.
And you shall see those beautiful things as you sail on the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three – Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

and there you have it…ain’t the internet grand?

independence day!!!


I made the red, white and blue spinnakers for a friend with a shop with a French theme. I got them back when Lulu went into temporary hibernation. These are not colors that I am normally drawn to, but what fun to trot them out for the Fourth of July and Bastille Day.

We will be going to my ex-husband and his wife’s condo on the river for BBQ and fireworks. Din (son) will be there, and Nancy (son’s wife)’s dad, who just moved to Portland…yet a new twist to the malleable family we enjoy. When I first met the “in-laws”, lo these many years ago, they were all staunch Republicans (understandably, in the age of Tom McCall, and talk of politics was off the table if we were to get along at all. Over the years, and especially the last seven +, they have come around. Tonight, it will be safe to mention that I have high hopes, this Independence Day, for a new direction for our country.

so pretty … so bad

Just like the female star in an old Robert Mitchum movie, the flower you see here may be lovely to look at, but oh, so dangerous to love. I’m not even sure where it came from…probably a division from a friend who thought she was doing me a favor… as indeed she was, because I was ever so happy to get it. You can easily see why. In fact, this is one of the few specimens that mere acquaintances would beg me to pass on to them. It likes wet feet, so the first several years it was well-behaved (as in not all that happy). As soon as the watering system went in, it’s demeanor changed radically. Before I really cottoned on to its wily ways, it had commandeered every open space and was elbowing its way into Melianthus major‘s territory.

Still, who was I to complain? The spiky foliage created exciting exclamation points throughout the landscape. Then Amy visited, and we took a little tour through the garden. “You do know,” said she, in her tactful way, “that those are on the noxious weed list, because they are choking out native species in boggy areas and near streams.” Funny how a little knowledge peels the scales from one’s eyes. I suddenly saw how these heretofore cherished iris were threatening to overtake the burgundy Japanese maple in the background of the above picture. My first battle was with that clump…I broke two sturdy shovels before Richard came to the rescue with a crowbar and a sledgehammer.

Through the following late spring and summer, I patrolled the remaining clumps and whacked off any stalks with seed heads that were spotted. Any such mission is destined to fail, just because there will always be the odd pod that escapes scrutiny, to spew its progeny far and wide. The new intruders were not that difficult to pluck from the ground, but their ancestors were another story. Out came the crowbar and sledgehammer, and the chain gang got to work. The root systems of these mature clumps had become one with the earth. We soon (well, not that soon, had a mountain of debris. We determined that, should we haul it to the dump, we would probably need to take out a second mortgage to pay the freight. It wound up under a tarp of unsightly black plastic, where we hope it will decompose into something resembling harmless compost.

As fall closes in, thoughts turn to replacements that can take over the sentinal-like, upright, spiky presence vacated by the iris. I’m thinking maybe phormium. By all means, if you have inside information that casts ominous shadows over my new choice, please…please email me immediately and set me straight.

cerbeaut.jpgWho could resist falling for a plant as lovely as this? Cerinthe was all the rage a few years back. Of course I had to have one. I brought it home, tenderly tucked it in and watered it. It promptly turned up its toes and I thought that’s that and went on about my business. Not so fast! The following spring, a bevy of these beauties appeared. With nary a thought of the implications of their sudden appearance, I thought OK!

I guess you are way ahead of me here. Yes, that’s right: I have been doing battle ever since with oceans of seedlings from that first failed plant. No wonder we seldom hear mention of Cerinthe any more, though I feel sure, if you listen carefully, it may be being muttered under the breath of the occasional beleaguered gardener on hands and knees.

ceramok.jpgJust lookie here. This is a patch of ground from which all traces of the dreaded plant were eradicated just three short weeks ago. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you happen to fall for this pretty face.