Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sowing Seeds

I have never had much success with growing plants from seeds. Part of the problem is that I always end up a big wad of seedlings that are a nightmare to thin. I figured there had to be a way to spread seeds evenly so I went over to YouTube and did a search. I found a variety of interesting methods. One popular method that kept popping up involved using sand. I do not have any so then I came across a nifty little tool called a hopper. I don't have one of those either but it looks like something worth checking into. Then I came across a technique using tissue paper, something I did have on hand.

You spread a strip of tissue paper (if it is windy, you will have to place rocks or clumps of soil on it so that it will not blow away). Press it down evenly with your hands. 

You still have to be extremely careful when spreading your seeds but at least now you can see them. They want to roll together so this does involve some manual manipulation.
After you have broadcast the seeds, sprinkle soil lightly over the tissue. The tissue will eventually deteriorate and hopefully this will help you avoid over-seeding. At least I hope so - I will let you know how this turns out.

Here is what I have been planting this week:

Lettuce "Arctic King Butterhead" "Heirloom" "Rouge D'Hiver" and "Burpee Bibb"
Cabbage "Brunswick"
Mustard "Tendergreen"
Radish "Saxa II"
Carrot "Kuroda Long 8 Inch"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Are we really in the Pacific Northwest?

It would be hard to guess from the weather we have had this week. Blinding sunshine with nary a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the 60s. Whether it is a result of El Nino or climate change, it is pleasant and a bit disconcerting at the same time. Typically, we should be much colder (40s or 50s) and cloudier. 

I have been taking advantage of the nice weather and enjoying every minute of it.

My truck arrived from Alabama a few days ago and I have been putting it to good use.

I found a woman on Craigslist who made me these raised vegetable beds. Tomorrow I am planning to start some seeds of radishes, carrots, lettuce and other cool weather vegetables.

I have been transplanting a few plants that were already here. I think this is a barberry. It was growing in the shady area near the back of the yard so I moved it to the front fence in the sunshine.

The previous owner left some of the tags on the plants so I was very appreciative of that. This is an azalea. The tag says "Exbury Red".

I have bought a few new plants too. This is Mugo Pine "Aurea"

One of my later projects will be what to do with this hillside. Right now I have no idea.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, February 19, 2016

Planting the first rose

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shallot.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson 

The first rose (and the first plant) to be planted in our new garden is the David Austin rose The Lady of Shalot. Roses were my first love and I grew close to 100 varieties of mostly old garden roses in the previous garden. The David Austin roses became popular after the garden was established and there wasn't much room to add more. I did grow a few of the Austin roses but they were a bit of a challenge in Alabama. Reports on their performance sounds good here and I am anxious to try some. I love the color of this one and I think it would go well with the brick on our house.

I did not really know what to expect when I dug the first hole but I was pleased. The soil is a bit dense but easy to dig. The hardest part is removing the grass. I do not know what kind of grass this is but it is tough and hard to remove even though it is shallow rooted. I was also surprised to find that the ground was not soggy or wet even though we had some heavy rain earlier in the week.
I have yet to see any rocks in the soil. I saw several earthworms so I know that is a good sign.

You can see the soil comes out in clumps. It breaks apart very easily.

I added a generous amount of compost. This is called a "3-in-1 mix" and was recommended for using in raised beds as well as amending soil.

After incorporating the compost, I broke up the soil and mixed it well with the original soil.

After the rose was planted, I watered it well. It started raining after I finished the job. Regional expert Ann Lovejoy says to add as many ammendments as possible. I have just started a compost pile so right now, I must rely on commercial products.
I posted photos of the new fence on Facebook but forgot to show them here. The fence was completed last week and we are very pleased.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Yard n' Garden Land

I really should not be too surprised that there is a fantastic nursery close to our house. But to have one only six blocks away can only mean one thing - trouble.  I was aware of Yard n' Garden Land - the previous owner of our house had mentioned it and I had driven by the back of it on one of the numerous trips to one of our greatest Pacific Northwest discoveries - Burgerville. However, the back of Yard n' Garden Land, which faces 99th Street, is deceiving. There is a undistinguished sign and a mulch yard and that is about all you can see. To get to the entrance to the nursery, you have to turn onto a side street. 

After you enter the parking area which features an impressive array of pottery, you enter a spacious greenhouse filled with all kinds of goodies. Adjoining the greenhouse is a gift shop filled with everything a gardener could want. Outside the greenhouse are lots filled with trees, shrubs and conifers. 

Today was my third trip to Yard n' Garden Land. It was a beautiful day and I strolled though the entire place making notes on plants I like. I then go home and research them online and try to decide what I want the most. Our space is more limited so I want to make careful decisions. That is hard to do when you are impulsive and want everything. I wonder if there is a support group...

Roses! My first love and I have to confess, despite my yearning to grow plants that I could not grow in the South, I will not give up the roses. Yard n' Garden Land will be having a free seminar on rose growing this coming Saturday at 10am. I plan to be there.
Camellias are another favorite that I will not push aside. Michael and I were
astounded by the luscious red "Tom Knudsen."

I am excited about growing more conifers. Maybe it is in my Southern roots, but I really like pine trees. This jewel is Pinus contorta "Chief Joseph" and I want it badly. It is very expensive though. I believe the price tag was $130! I saw this growing at The Oregon Garden.

A weeping Blue Atlas Cedar

Another one for the wish list - Sumac "Tiger Eyes". Michael really likes this. I am not sure about it yet. I have read that it tends to sucker so the jury is still out.

I really like Japanese Skimmia (Skimmia japonica). I saw some
beautiful specimens when we were staying in Portland.
Ranunculus was one of the first plants I tried to grow (unsuccessfully) in Alabama. 

Beautiful geraniums

Euphorbias are very popular here.

Pansies and primroses

I think I like him.

So, my truck is supposed to be on the way tomorrow from Alabama and I hope to have it next week. Just in time! :)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Taking inventory

I've been looking around at our property and trying to identify the plants that are already here. The front yard is all grass with a few foundation plants. There is a Japanese Maple "Bloodgood" in the middle and a dwarf variety "Murasaki kiyohime" by the front steps. There is also another Japanese Maple (the previous owner loved them) by the foundation. There is not a tag for it and I hope to get the name from him eventually.

There is not much of a side garden due to the driveway but there is a long narrow space next to an enormous English Laurel hedge. A chain link fence separates the driveway area from the back yard. I think this is a wisteria growing on it. I dislike chain-link fences intensely but it will have to suffice for a while. I can envision a wall built here with a door leading to the back garden. Maybe if we win the lottery. You will notice on the opposite side of the fence that I have already started a compost pile. :)

The back yard is spacious and also an empty slate with the exception of tall screening shrubs planted along the back fence. We are very grateful to these! I have not identified all of them yet but I know there is a cherry laurel and I believe the majority may be Red Tip Photina. Out from the hedge border is a small tree. I think it is a dogwood.

There is an old apple tree sticking out of the Cherry Laurel shrub. I think it probably needs to be removed. The neighbor told me that the apples were always rotten. I am not sure yet. I may wait until it leafs out to decide.

Over in the corner is a deciduous mystery tree. Our neighbor says that it drops seeds that grow form leafy green plants all over the ground. They remind me of Italian arum but the plants just consist of a single leaf on the surface of the ground. Part of the tree is split and hangs over. I think this definitely needs to go plus I would like to screen off the house behind us.

There is an attractive bamboo in font of the mystery tree. The previous owner told Michael that he had cut it back from 10 feet last summer. He said that it is not the invasive type of bamboo. I am looking to identify it. I do like it. The only bamboo I grew in Alabama was in a pot. I was always afraid of it.

The back yard is spacious and also an empty slate with the exception of tall screening shrubs planted along the back fence. We are very grateful to these!

We like our neighborhood. It is very quiet and the neighbors that we have met have been wonderful. A lot of retirees seem to live on this street. We have been busy with purchasing some new furniture, getting drapes up and working on the floors. Our furniture and belonging from Alabama have not arrived yet. We are coming up on week 3. I am trying not to stress out about it. I keep telling myself it is traveling across the country! 

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Settling in...

We are finally in our new home in Vancouver, Washington. I had to return to Alabama to finalize my retirement plans and arrange to have our belongings moved cross-country. Those two weeks felt like an eternity. Michael got the keys to the house shortly after I left so he spent that time painting and pulling up carpet. He has done a fantastic job. I returned to Washington a few days ago. The furniture has not arrived yet but we have purchased new living room furniture and a dining table that is to be delivered tomorrow. 

Everything is new to me and it is all quite exciting. I find myself exhausted every night. I think I am still functioning on Central Time or maybe it is just unwinding from the stress of dealing with the moving company. Tonight we had our first "real" dinner - some Southern food (pintos, collards, cornbread) generously donated by our friend Rebecca. Since we have virtually no dishes yet, we can't do much in the kitchen.

Today I finally ventured outside to putter. It was a glorious day - 60 degrees and sunny. Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer. A guy is coming tomorrow to give me a quote on building a fence around the perimeter of the front yard. Before I have that, I will not plant anything. In the back yard, I contemplated the location of the future vegetable garden. I think my brain is still fogged though and I did not make much progress. New growth is emerging in some of the exciting beds - I have recognized tulips and a few daffodils. There are some perennials that need to be moved but good heavens, I don't even have my shovel!

The photo above is of a little atrium that extends outside our kitchen window. Michael bought primroses and has been lovingly caring for them. I did not see many primroses for sale in Alabama but they are everywhere here. They look artificial to me but they do provide winter cheer.

This whole journey seems unreal. We were saying today that it feels like a vacation. A sense of permanence has not set in yet. And the whole retirement thing is totally foreign but I must say I am loving it.

To be continued...
Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy