Raised Beds Part Two

As New Years passes, my brain shifts into spring planning mode. Although premature, I just can’t wait to get back outside and into the soil. The first round of seed purchases are done. I let my 5 year old help pick out the varieties, so it should be interesting. But I need a place to plant this veg in the spring.

Despite having laid out basic thoughts in my first raised bed blog post, I will admit to looking, planning and rethinking several times. All of that extra work only to settle on the original plan of using Old Castle blocks with 2 by 6 boards.

Supplies:

  • Old Castle blocks #12
  • 8 foot 2 by 6 boards #6
  • Saw
  • Level
  • Pulaski or shovel

Cost:

The total cost was $90 per bed without soil costs. Certainly there are ways to source free or cheap lumber that could have reduced the cost. You could also fashion a raised bed without buying blocks, but for me the simplicity as well as ability to replace parts or move the whole thing made this design a good fit.

Assembly:

For ease of planning and building my beds are roughly 4 feet by 8 feet and two boards high. Online reviews indicated some trouble with longer boards bowing when filled with soil, so my plan included an extra block supporting the long side. This change made assembly simple, as all 8 foot boards were cut in half. The longest part of assembly was leveling the blocks and boards. The ground was fairly uneven and I found that using a Pulaski was helpful to make the small trenches for boards.

Final Thoughts

This is a good project for a novice or someone not wanting to put in a ton of extra effort. I finished 4 beds for this growing season and plan on putting in 4 more next year.

Pros

  • Simple design that made it easy to assemble
  • Limited need for tools and extras, especially if your boards are cut at the lumber shop
  • They look nice 🙂

Cons

  • Cost is prohibitive. You can plant direct or make unbordered beds without additional costs
  • The height is not sufficient to keep out bunnies etc. Although I could have built higher, it would have added cost in both materials and soil.

Clover yard Part 1

The day that my husband and I first visited the house at Shady Oaks Garden it was overcast and drizzling. We were impressed by the mature trees and the dark wood sided ranch home that blended in so well. The property had so much potential as well as heaps of mud. With four boys in this family, I feared it wouldn’t be long before the lower garden resembled a pig’s wallow.

The problem is multifactorial. Many parts of the yard are part shade or deep shade so grass doesn’t grow. The soil is clay, even heavy clay in places. The soil has been amended in the planting beds but the yard is just clay. Finally, the wet season in Oregon runs November through March and the soil is just saturated during those months.

Picking up yard debris was another prep needed before seeding.

While these are the practicalities of our site, I have other concerns with those large expanses of monoculture grass lawns. The maintenance to keep them beautiful, green, and weed free is in my opinion a waste of time and resources. My lawn wish list included:

  • Low water requirements. We are on a well and cannot afford to waste water on a lawn in the summer
  • Shade tolerant
  • Tolerant of a clay soil with bonus if it can improve the soil
  • Friendly to pollinators and wildlife
  • Low maintenance including low mowing requirements

It was time to convince my husband that we needed a different type of yard and to my surprise he agreed right away. Apparently he remembered the muddy mess when we first viewed the house in spring 2020. He came to the same conclusion that clover might be a good alternative for us. Luckily Oregon is a state where clover is grown commercially and my husband reached out to ask questions. In the end my husband settled on a blend of white clover and deep shade grass. His reasons were:

  • “I still had a bag of grass seed”
  • The clover seed is too small. It falls through the drop spreader by itself. He felt the combination had better coverage.
  • Solo clover might not be durable enough for our kids’s rough play

To prep the yard we raked the ground first. The main goal was to make the soil more friendly to planting, since it was hard and cracked from the dry summer. There really wasn’t much thatch to be removed. Then we used a drop spreader, be aware that a little clover goes a long way. Now we are three months in with mixed results so far. The clover has come up great in areas under the pines that were deep shade and pretty bare soil to start. It hasn’t come through as strongly in the areas where grass was already planted. This is where the soil was the firmest and the clover didn’t seem to germinate as well. If you look closely you can see it coming up, but it is competing with the grass that started growing again when the rain started falling. We will probably spread more seed in the spring to continue to increase coverage.

October 2020

The identification on this plant is not entirely clear. It may be the female plant of Ruscus aculeatus also known as butchers broom.

The month was mild and beautiful. Although we had our first cold nights you can’t tell by looking at the garden. We had just enough rain to keep the plants happy but not enough to force us indoors. There were many hours dedicated to playing outside despite the dwindling daylight. I lost several weekends to family visits for salmon fishing and hunting season so I got less done than I had hoped in the garden. And as always the garden managed just fine without me.

Daylight has been decreasing but that hasn’t stopped the plants from taking advantage of the lovely conditions. A number of them decided it was a good time to have a second flowering including Alstroemeria and Perovskia. My fuchsia is making a particularly good show now that the heat of the summer has died back. Even as I write this after the first frost at the end of the month it is still blooming cheerfully.

Autumn has also brought a bounty of berries and seed heads. The Iris Foetidissima has been particularly striking with its vibrant orange seed pods. The ground has been covered in leaves despite the continuous raking and mulching. Our leaf pile is a good seven feet tall and ten feet wide. My fingers are crossed for a good wind to get the rest of the leaves off the tree so I can be done with raking for the year.

Iris Foetidissima also known as Stinking Iris is usually planted for this bright orange fruit which is usually ignored by birds and often lasts until winter.

What I’m Up To This Month:

  • Dividing more irises (seriously there is a lot)
  • Planting daffodil bulbs
  • Trimming lavender and Russian sage
  • Raking so many leaves
  • Planting tulip bulbs
  • Pruning back yellowed and dead Hosta leaves
  • Trimming overgrown and ragged looking salvia (fall trimming is not always recommended but it is crowding a path)
  • Pulling all the baby oaks helpfully planted by the squirrels

This Month’s Featured Plant

This Fuchsia Megellanica is also known as Hardy Fuchia. It had stopped blooming during the heat and drought this summer but started again in October and looks stunning.

Fuchsias are some of my favorite plants because they are so showy. Their copious flowers are dramatic in both shape and color. My garden has a medium sized Fuchsia Megellanica. Its pendent flowers are long and tapered with bright red color. The flowers are smaller than some other fuchsia varieties but no less abundant.

My fuchsia had a difficult summer with heat between 90 and 100 for several weeks and no rainfall. Even with shade and watering, it suffered and had few blooms. But fast forward to October and this plant became a star. The entire shrub is covered in flowers and isn’t showing any signs of stopping as we roll into November. It sits pretty snuggly to the house and didn’t seem to mind the two freezes we had mid-October.

Fuchsia Megellanica is known as Hardy Fuchsia and can be grown from Hardiness Zones 6-10. It prefers partial sun and fertile, moist but well drained soil. That said it can tolerate the full gamut of sun conditions as well as soil types as long as the soil is fertile. Although more hardy than other fuchsias it likes protection from winter winds and a deep mulch to protect its roots. Fuchsias attract many pollinators including bees, butterflies and moths as well as hummingbirds which are a favorite of mine.

At this point Shady Oaks Garden only has one Fuchsia Megellanica which seems a pity because of the abundant shade. I think I will be trying to take some cuttings and spread this beautiful plant throughout the garden next year.

Bulb Planting

I love spring bulb flowers. I drag my husband and kids to nearby tulip festivals. I’ve planted bulbs at almost every garden I have owned. My last house had a great daffodil bed, that gave us three weeks of spring cheer when skies were still grey. Plus daffodils and tulips make pretty cut flowers in the house. I knew that I wanted a plethora of spring bulbs at the Oregon house and the time to start is now.

Visiting the tulip fields in 2013. I miss that adorable curly hair.

So far, I’ve mostly posted about the more organized beds in the back. However the majority of the yard would better be described as woodsy and shady. I have been watching the shadows throughout the day, trying to find where the bulbs might flourish best. I have almost zero full sun, but plenty of dappled shade and deep shade.

The second challenge is the wildlife. We have a mass of bunnies and squirrels at Shady Oaks Garden. I’m afraid to lose precious bulbs to their hungry tummies. The deer will probably be a challenge in the spring as well, although daffodils are more resistant.

As I’m planning out my garden, I have decided to embrace rather than fight the existing landscape. So shady woodland garden it is. Rather than formal plantings I am putting my bulbs in clusters around the bases of the existing trees and shrubs. I will be trying red pepper flakes to keep the critters at bay. This is a new tactic for me and I will have to keep you posted.

Looking good in my new coveralls! Ready to plant some bulbs. Please ignore the rust on my tools, I promise to clean them over the winter.

So far I have planted about 60 bulbs of mixed daffodils and red and white tulips, picked out by my ten year old. The soil is has significant clay and some rocks that make digging a chore. I decided not to do any amendments in the soil as there appeared to be a fair amount of organic matter despite the clay. Time will tell if this was wise. I aimed to get them all at least 6 inches down, which was maybe still too shallow for some of the bigger bulbs. After all that work, 60 bulbs is really not all that much when spread about a yard. It will take several more years of fall bulb planting to have an abundance of flowers in the spring.

If I have any additional time and money this fall, I would like the chance to put in some snowdrops and crocuses in as well, but this is probably wishful thinking as October is half over already. If you are looking for more information about bulb planting, this article from OSU Extension is great! Heck, most articles from OSU Extension are great!

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/flowers-shrubs-trees/spring-flowering-bulbs

Raised Beds Part 1

Shady Oaks Garden currently does not have any raised beds. But IT DID! I can see the outlines of an old garden in my back yard, rectangular markings laid out in a grid. See above image maybe squint and you can see it. There were holes where fence posts were removed. We even heard through the grapevine that there used to be multiple green houses on sight. I feel like an archeologist putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

I can’t imaging taking out raised beds and removing greenhouses for blank lawn. I have some degree of frustration at their removal because I am putting those beds back. It’s my major goal of the winter. So I continue to look at options for raised beds trying to figure out what style and size I’m going for. My list of requirements are:

  • Not too expensive, ideally $50-ish a bed
  • Can be assembled by me alone. My husband, although helpful is not handy. So this is mostly on me.
  • Reasonable dimensions for easy weeding and harvesting
  • Tall enough to keep rabbits out
  • Bonus points if they can be altered to fit hoop frames

Anyone who has started planning their own raised bed garden, will know that the options and plans are endless. Every gardening blog and outdoor store has free plans. Currently I’m leaning towards something like this from Milkwithameal.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Dividing Irises

It is currently fall of year one and I have started in on the usual fall chores. This first year an important chore will be dividing the irises. In all of my previous gardens, there were little to no established plants. This means that I am a greenhorn in the plant division skill set. Well shady oaks garden is giving me no choice but to get better or live with some ugly specimens.

The garden has three smaller iris groupings and two larger iris beds, all of which are overgrown. The ground is a mass of rhizomes that have spread far and wide. They are growing on top of one another, stretching just to get their roots into the dirt. There are large sections of rhizome without any recent growth and the crowns that are visible are fairly sad.

Several weeks ago I started by just pulling all the wild carrot from the beds. Then I dug in further clearing leaves, sticks and more weeds before I could even get to the point of dividing these irises. Finally I….

  • Cut back the fans. Fans is a generous term here many had already died back and the remaining ones were pretty sparse.
  • Dug up the clumps. This was tricky as they were so crowded it was difficult to get a shovel or spade in anywhere.
  • Gently separated the rhizomes. I made three piles old/rotten/bug eaten, healthy and immature.
  • Loosened the soil, which appeared in surprisingly good shape.
  • Space and replant healthy and immature rhizomes. I gave the roots plenty of room to spread and left the tops of the rhizomes exposed to reduce the risk of rot and pest damage.

At the time of writing this, I have not finished separating all these irises. Although I cleaned up the main iris beds, I only got about half done with the actual separating. The amount of healthy and immature rhizomes amid all that mess led me to actually expand that bed and add some irises to another part of the garden. 1 week later and most look healthy. I have noticed that the squirrels have disturbed some either out of curiosity or when planting their nefarious acorns.

I’m hopeful that I can finish dividing my irises in the next month. Luckily the weather is mild and first frost is still far off…… knock on wood.

September 2020

Daphne shrub that grows outside my back door. There are more than 70 species making individual identification tricky. Did you know that Daphne’s are poisonous?

The heat and lack of rainfall set the stage for wildfires in Oregon this month. The smokey conditions kept us inside for more than a week following Labor Day and the plants themselves didn’t seem too happy about the poor air quality either. Many nearby communities were evacuated and I’m thankful for the firefighters who continue to work diligently to save lives and property. These yearly wildfires are an ongoing reminder about the need for personal action and public policy addressing climate change.

One of the challenges with inheriting a garden, is the mystery of the plants themselves. Since our family moved in August, we missed most of the flowering season making it tricky to identify what’s growing. I’m left with many green stems and bushes leaving the first question…. “Is it a weed or is it a flower?” One might think that would be an easy question, but with our move came a change of USDA plant hardiness zone. All my knowledge of pigweed, buttonweed, milk thistle and dandelions seems pretty useless in my current garden. Now I am meeting my new opponents wild carrot, blackberry vines and volunteer oak trees.

Since so many of my herbaceous and woody plants have already flowered I can only identify them in generic terms: like iris, daisy, clematis and daylily. Next years garden will be an interesting color surprise. The identification problem has led to some challenges with planning my garden care and leading to me falling back on my more general garden knowledge about pruning and feeding.

This iris bed by the back gate is overrun with wild carrot and grass.

What I’m Up To This Month:

  • Cutting back dead and dying herbaceous perennials
  • Weed, weed, weed
  • Deadhead the last of the roses
  • Pick apples and pears
  • Attack invasive blackberries
  • Planting a clover and grass mix in the yard
  • Pick up sticks (this is a serious and ongoing endeavor)
  • Dividing irises.
  • Dividing sedum.
  • Raking so many leaves. Really, how can there be so many so soon?

This Month’s Featured Plant

The first blooms on my Symphyotrichum. It was popular with bees and butterflies. Regular deadheading will bring on blooms for longer.

At the start of the month I was pleasantly surprised when one of my border plants started flowering. It had been looking raggedy and I assumed it had already bloomed and was dying back. Then one day, the bright pink flowers caught my attention. It was a happy introduction to Symphyotrichum, which had been hiding in my borders near other dying daisies. There are a number of former names related to this plant including Michaelmas Daisy or New England Aster. And let’s be honest Aster is sooo much easier to say.

I enjoy the freshness that its color brings to my autumn garden. It complements the other pinks of Hylotelephium spectabile (formerly Sedum spectabile) that is spotted throughout the border. This Aster has really been the star of my September garden and very popular with the pollinators to boot.

Symphyotrichum prefer full sun to part shade conditions. People without a million oak trees on their property should avoid planting asters in locations that get too hot in the midday summer sun. They require moderate amounts of water, otherwise the bottom leaves get brown like mine. Their mature height can vary by species and next year I will be looking to stake them in July or August. I missed the opportunity to take cuttings (between April and August) but will probably try to divide them in the spring to spread the cheeriness.

Distance Learning Week 1

Our new school is starting 100% remote, which is a big change for our crew. In spring, our last school gave packets….. and that was about it. Truthfully very little learning was facilitated by that school and I was mega frustrated.

1st Grade Art Class

I’m really happy with the engagement of our new school in Oregon. The teachers are finding new and interesting ways to use technology to teach students. For example, my 6th grader is getting to use the Garage Band App in his music class which he thinks is amazing.

Each kid is set up in a different room with me bouncing from room to room troubleshooting and my preschooler trailing behind. Although kids quickly pick up how these apps work, they are slower to problem-solve when things don’t go as planned. There have been meltdowns, mostly by the kids. And they have needed extra hugs, praise and encouragement for their efforts. In turn my husband has been pretty great about praising and recognizing my efforts too, which has felt nice.

Welcome to Oregon

Not long after my initial posts my husband and I had a heart to heart about our life and goals. With this soul searching, we came to a strong conclusion that we needed to make a big change. So rewind…

5 years ago, following my residency training, we moved back to our childhood hometown. We bought an old Victorian home and dug into life. We had big plans and expectations regarding our families, community involvement, and friends. Our small town was certainly eager to have a young family move in and the responsibilities piled on… and on… and on. Our schedule became one giant to-do list without the balance of friendships and family support.

Although we hemmed and hawed about it, there was probably no doubt that we would end back in Oregon. COVID changed the timeline and trajectory of our move, but here we are 6 months later settling into the Willamette Valley. Our new home is smaller but the yard and garden are bigger. I look forward to sharing our new adventures.

Seed Catalogue

This year Santa got me a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalogue for Christmas. Since then I’ve gone overboard with my seed dreaming. I have started following their Instagram (@bakercreekseeds) which has led me down a rabbit hole of amazing heirloom seed companies.

I’m starting my plant list and garden plan. My reading is being taken over by my garden dreaming. But in all this fantasizing, I wish that I had done a garden journal last year. I don’t remember the type of beans I planted that took over my garden. I don’t remember exactly where my cucumbers were planted so that I can rotate. And the list goes on.

I would love to commit to a garden journal this year, but I know my tendency to leave giant journalling gaps. My perfectionist self says that maybe it’s better to not start.