Monday, November 18, 2013

On Water, a new backyard "stream"

Finished "stream"
 As the year ends and we all begin to think of the highlights from our garden this past year, I must reflect of one single element alone … water.  Who in their right mind would install a water feature in their back yard shortly after our late summer monsoons and flooding??  Yes, there were surging creek waters a mile down from my house, but I was determined this was an addition I was going to make to my property.  Besides. living on a hillside near an old growth stand of pines that had stood firm against the rains gave me courage to sail on!

Beginning the project
Taking shape
I’ve had a longing to do this for years.   A renewed desire came from visiting surrounding gardens earlier in the summer where birds and butterflies were happily making themselves at home in lush gardens with the gurgling of close-by water.  What can I say – I was hooked and actually convinced myself to take it off the potential projects list and put it on the priority list instead.  This piece is not meant as a step by step outline on installing water features in your back yard; other than making sure you do your homework on site locations, design, pump specifics, linings and surrounding garden plantings and features.  Instead, I’d like to share what pleasures the finished work has provided to me as well as the surrounding wildlife.

Within a few hours of the stream bed flowing in daylight operation, there were two hummingbirds that came to investigate the small water falls in the small upper & lower pools, plus the water running through the actual stone-filled bed connecting the two pools.  I’d read that they were drawn to moving water and now I can attest, as I watched them tip-toe into the water take a ‘big-bird style’ bath and come out shaking the excess water off like a dog! Shortly after this happened, a big red tail hawk appeared in an adjacent pine and started watching for activity.  However, within 2 days he realized there were no fish to be had, so he moved on.  About this time, I also discovered I’d made my own big butterfly puddle as well. I had two late summer fritillaries that came to enjoy the sun & water one afternoon. The blooming flowers were at a premium, so it was fun to see them at the edge of the stones, drinking and soaking up the sun on their wings.  The elk have had their turn drinking from the streambed and recently a migrating flock of robins enjoyed the stream and pools for their afternoon community swim. 

I’ve rediscovered the peace and tranquility that gentle running water offers … especially outside in a natural setting. (May I also add the effect is not the same when the sounds may come from below a kitchen sink or a laundry room??)  Even a small scale fountain from your local garden center on a back deck or sunroom can provide hours of quiet and thoughtful times … just ask me how many chores are getting done while I wait to refill this feature for returning birds next Spring.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Potato Experiment - Greenhouse vs. Outdoors by Trudy Hodges

This spring I planted potatoes. I had more potatoes than I could easily plant in the
greenhouse, so I planted some of them outside in a new bed. I thought it would be a
fun experiment to see how each group fared and how much they produced. My initial
prediction was that the greenhouse group would do better since it is in a warmer and
more protected environment.
The greenhouse crop was buried about 6-8 inches deep and filled in as the top plant
grew. The plants grew nice and tall, with bushy green foliage. The plants died back in
late August and the greens were cut. I left the potatoes in the ground for 10-12 days
before digging to let them toughen up. I harvested about 4 pounds of small to medium
sized potatoes.
Greenhouse crop
The outdoor potatoes were buried about 6-8 inches deep and filled in as the top plant
grew. They didn’t get quite as much attention as the greenhouse potatoes and were
much slower to sprout. They were certainly not as bushy and full as the indoor
potatoes, but did eventually grow.

In September the plants died back and the chickens began to scratch and peck in the
planting bed. The weather was also changing, with a cold spell in the forecast, so I
decided it was time to dig. WOW what a difference! I harvested just over 10 pounds of
medium and large potatoes (size relative to the others that I had dug).
Outdoor crop
Next year all of the potatoes will go outside, leaving more room for tender plants in the greenhouse.

Monday, November 4, 2013

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants - A Book Review by Elaine Lockey

In my search for plant ideas to help in my heavily deer-foraged garden, I came across the book 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen.  The premise of the book is that “you can still have a lush, thriving garden by making smart plant choices. Many stunning plants are unpalatable to deer because of their poisonous compounds, fuzzy or aromatic leaves, tough, spiny or bristly textures, and for a variety of less obvious reasons.”
The author stresses that there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant.  During times when deer are hungriest they will try to eat most anything. You might also notice that one group of deer leave your asters alone while another group or individual browses it any chance she gets. Plants that are considered “deer candy” and not recommended are hostas, lilies, daylilies, tulips and roses (except Rosa rugosa which deer leave alone).  Clausen offers a more complete list of these favorites to avoid. But she lists in depth many more plants that you can happily grow without feeling you need to keep watch over your garden.
How do you know if the damage you have is from a deer? Deer do not have upper incisor teeth so the damage will look very raggedly torn. Rabbits tend to cut off stems very cleanly. You’ll also notice shrubs that are practically bare of leaves until about 5’ high. That’s about the chewing height of a deer. Clausen reminds us, “Imagine if you had to deal with browsing giraffes!”
The book rates plants based on the extent that a plant species will be desired (aka nibbled on).  It then goes into good detail on how to successfully grow that species.  A healthy plant that is occasionally nibbled may be able to withstand more deer attacks.
So what can you plant? Here’s a very short summary. You can do an impressive bulb array using Narcissus, Galanthus, Chionodoxa, and Scilla sibirica. A sunny garden would do well with Geranium, Agastache, Echinops, Artemisia, Salvia, Nepeta and Coreopsis. Other perennials include Iris, Monarda (Bee Balm), hellebores, ferns, and ornamental grasses. Shrub choices include Mahonia  (Oregon Grape Holly), Caryopteris (Blue Mist Spirea), Boxwood,  Potentilla, and Japanese Spirea.  And there’s much more: Russian sage, lavender, yarrow, catmint, Gaillardia, and Aconitum. Clausen also includes some herbs and annuals in her book. 
It’s great to see a list of plants that DO work with deer instead of the depressing “don’t plant these” lists.  Maybe I can start reducing the use of my gag-reflex-inducing rotten egg/urine spray that sends the family into the house and closing windows.