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Gardening

September 11, 2014

Hats off to gardeners who grow a fall and winter vegetable garden from seed. You have to get started at the height of summer, when watering and harvesting are at their most demanding. Sowing in situ is often impractical, so starts must be raised under shade cloth or in some cool part of the garden not occupied by summers’s heat-loving crops. 

August 13, 2014

Are any of your rhododendrons looking pale? You may be bugged. If you see pale speckles all over rhododendron or azalea leaves, turn over an affected leaf. If there are smutty-looking, blackish spots on the underside, especially along the midrib, then you may be looking at the larvae and poop of azalea lace bugs. You may see adults, too. An adult lace bug is a small, slow-moving, fly-like creature about one eighth of an inch long, its transparent wings marked with a black and white pattern. Last year, Hendricks Park staff noticed damaged plants in the rhododendron garden.

June 26, 2014

I like farms and I like beer. What could be better, on a sunny evening in mid-May, than a visit to Agrarian Ales? Brothers Ben and Nate Tilley set up a brew house in an old dairy barn on the family’s organic farm, just west of the Coburg Hills. Ben senior and his wife Debbie grow chilis and sell them at the Corvallis and Lane County farmers markets. You’ll recognize the Crossroads Farm stand — it’s the one where, later in summer, peppers will be fragrantly roasting in a rotating drum. 

June 5, 2014

A recent trip to a hiking destination near Oakridge reminded me that early May is peak bloom time for camas lilies. Camas can bloom quite a bit earlier in some locations (on the west-facing grassy slope at the Masonic Cemetery, for instance, and the well-drained, sunny top of the Oak Knoll in Hendricks Park). 

April 24, 2014

“Until last August, this was disused horse pasture.” Forest Weaver, Sean Ferrigno and I are standing at one end of a rectangular field. It’s mostly rough grass, but snaking mounds of soil wind over the mid-section, ready for planting. One is already planted with blueberries, and nearby are grape vines and some young fruit trees.

March 20, 2014

Gardeners! Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at corn. We are not talking about sweet corn here, nor the notorious modern field corn that gives us corn syrup, ethanol and animal feed — and most of which is genetically modified. 

February 20, 2014

I made a date recently with arborist Alby Thoumsin to chat about how to choose trees. “I bet you called me now because it’s the best time to plant trees,” he volunteered when we met. “You can’t do better.” So which trees do you recommend, I asked. “It depends what people want. They should think about what purpose they want the tree to serve — privacy, shade, fruit, or a striking specimen.” 

January 9, 2014

It could have been worse. December’s sudden deep freeze did quite a bit of damage to gardens in our area, and probably more out of town than in. But the relatively short duration of sub-zero temperatures, combined with an insulating blanket of snow, meant that the soil didn’t freeze deeply, which limited the damage. Many shrubs blackened by frost will send up a flush of new stems from the roots or from their protected lower branches. Veggies that were small enough to hide beneath the snow already show signs of new growth. 

November 14, 2013

Walls can do amazing things for a garden. Here in Eugene we rarely see free-standing walls enclosing spaces, but retaining walls abound. I’ve visited many hillside gardens in Eugene that would be just about impossible to cultivate or enjoy without the transformative power of terracing and retaining walls. Materials vary. Poured concrete is practical and can also look great in certain settings. Railroad ties and treated lumber are relatively cheap. Concrete blocks of various kinds are popular, but to me they always look like an opportunity missed.

October 10, 2013

It’s time to plant garlic and shallots — and other kinds of bulbs, as well. It’s inspiring, tucking those little bulbs in the ground with thoughts of future good eating and so is tucking bulbs in the ground amidst visions of spring flowers. I’ve enjoyed the ritual of fall bulb planting as long as I can remember and look forward to it every year. If you are not in the habit, though, the window for buying and planting spring-flowering bulbs is easy to miss.

August 29, 2013

Hard to believe, but it’s already time to think about a fall and winter vegetable garden. If you grow your own starts from seed, it’s already a bit late for some crops, but happily there are people out there who are growing starts for us. 

July 18, 2013

Mmm-mmm, blueberries. Who doesn’t love them? When we can keep the birds from eating the fruit, this is surely one of the most rewarding edibles in the garden. They don’t take up a huge amount of space, and they are easy to grow in our area, given sun, acid soil and plenty of water. And the plants are beautiful, more or less year-round. To top it off, raw blueberries are among the most nutrient-rich plant foods available — low in calories and loaded with plant nutrients such as soluble fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

June 13, 2013

This time of year, an abundance of annual vines suddenly appears in garden stores. Annual vines are inexpensive to grow and fun to play with, and have the added virtue that they are at their best in August and September, when flower gardens can be in need of a lift. Plant them in the ground or in containers, and try something different every year. Vines are wonderful for softening blank house walls, concealing unsightly fences and adding instant height in young or temporary gardens.

May 9, 2013

On April 28, the European Commission (the governing body of the European Union) voted to impose a two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on food crops attractive to bees and other pollinators. Neonicotinoids, now the most widely used pesticide class in the world, are suspected of contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees, and their use is already restricted in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia.

April 11, 2013

Every year, Oregon’s April just hammers me. I’ll toddle briskly through winter’s months, savoring the rains, blissfully indulging an interior life, inside our house and inside my own skull. I revel in the rains, regard them as profound blessings, in their various forms, from the feathermist, so light it won’t dimple the meniscus on a pond but will leave a walker soaked, to the guttergusher that floods fields and leaps river banks. I fret when, as recently, we enter a dry spell.

April 11, 2013

It’s annoying when a newly planted shrub or perennial dies on you, but unless it was a gift or it’s rare and hard to replace, it isn’t all that serious. Trees are another matter. Young trees can be expensive, and it takes quite a bit of effort to plant one. Most importantly, if the failing tree takes several years to die, there’s precious time lost in achieving the purpose for which you planted it, whether for fruit, shade, a focal point, screening or just a nice, imposing plant companion. 

February 14, 2013

The numbers are in, says The New York Times: 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous U.S. 2012 also turned out to be the second-worst on record for climate extremes, amassing 11 weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion in costs, including tornadoes, freak storms, floods and catastrophic drought. Globally, the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record. Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures that fell below the 20th century average, because the last such month was February 1985. Welcome to a warmer world. 

January 10, 2013

Studies show that native plants attract a wider variety of pollinating insects than standard garden ornamentals do, and pollinators need all the help they can get these days. That’s just one more reason to include native plants in your landscape. This top 10 list of showy, well-behaved native shrubs reaches a bit beyond the boundaries of the Willamette Valley, but all will tolerate conventional garden conditions, including summer irrigation.

Vine maple (Acer circinatum)

October 3, 2012

One of the smallest and nicest farm stands in Eugene can be found in the courtyard of the Excelsior Inn on 13th Avenue. It is operated each Friday, July through October, by Angela Andre, manager of Excelsior Farm. When Andre’s garlic caught my eye, it was the first I’d heard of Excelsior Farm. In the fall of 2009, the owner of the Excelsior Inn and Restorante, Maurizio Paparo, turned a 5-acre pasture on his property into a farm to supply the restaurant with fresh organic eggs and produce. He hired Andre, a veteran organic farmer, to set up and manage the farm.

September 19, 2012

So you think the gardening year is winding down? Think again. We are entering the best all-around planting season of the year. Let’s start with vegetables. Depending on the weather, you can still get fall and winter harvests from sowings of lettuce, mache, arugula and other leafy greens, with or without protection from cloches or row covers. Carrots too. Kale, mustard and beets, planted now as starts, can yield from late fall through early spring. Enrich the beds for overwintering crops with compost before you plant, but don’t add too much fertilizer.

July 25, 2012

To all the people who grow and sell vegetable starts, thank you! Those little trays of baby plants, locally grown and ready to go, are well worth the money for a casual gardener like me. I love eating out of the garden, but there are only two of us. I don’t need to grow a heap of food, and I don’t have a lot of time to harvest and put food by. Besides, I like to support the local farmers, who grow many things far better than I can.

May 17, 2012

May is a good month for planting perennials. In milder, drier springs, April is even better, but I suspect a lot of gardens were unfit this year for April planting. Plants are abundant at nurseries and garden centers and should still be in good shape, bursting with growth potential. Some perennials are available in both 4-inch pots and gallons. Four-inch plants are cheaper and they tend to take off fast, sometimes making up the size difference in a matter of weeks. 

April 11, 2012

When the great March snowfall struck the Willamette Valley, I was basking in unseasonably warm New York sunshine. As we landed in Eugene a few days later, piles of grayish snow at the airport were still evident. But by far the more powerful testimony was the carnage we saw among the trees. The streets were mostly cleared but broken branches were piled everywhere, in front yards, medians and park strips. The first thing we noticed was that most of the destruction seemed to involve purple leafed plums, which had been in full, ravishing pink bloom when the snow fell. 

February 9, 2012