Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back in the garden

It seems like it has been months since I worked outside in the garden. In addition to work and the holidays, the weather has played a significant factor. It has been typical winter weather here - cold and rainy. I've always had an aversion to working in a wet garden but I am getting used to it and I know that there simply isn't an option. 

2016 is ending and I think the general consensus is "good riddance!" A terrible year overall but one big bright spot - it started out with us moving to Washington and beginning a new life. For all the bad things that have happened this year, that one event outshines all the bad. I discovered a long time ago that when life gets rough, the garden offers lots of mental and physical comfort. So, on to 2017...

I still have plants to go in the ground and I wanted to get some evergreens and trees established before next summer. I did manage to get the pots and tender plants in the basement. The new plantings have been pushed to the side until now. We have had a few frosts and next week we are set to experience several bone-chilling nights with temps in the teens. This is harsh according to local folks. I have been covering tender plants that are already in the ground with pots and plastic sheets. I do not know if that will be sufficient to save them but I will hope for the best.

I think planting a tree is one of the most rewarding gardening activities. Since our garden space is limited, it saddens me a bit that I cannot add more. There was really just one spot left for a wider-spreading tree. This is the sloping area in the back. I have ambitious plans for the little hillside. I can see the vision of it in my head and it involves two borders with a set of steps dividing them. It will be semi-terraced and perhaps have a water feature in there somewhere. Planting has already began on one side where there is a mature dogwood, the only large tree on the property when we moved in. The other border is still open and I wanted a semi-large tree to balance the dogwood on the other side. After much contemplation, I decided on a Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum).

The Katsura tree is popular here and it is very beautiful with small leaves that resemble that of the Redbud. The fall color is spectacular. Over time, it can become a rather large tree but it is supposedly a slow grower. When I finally made my decision, I found one at my local nursery but learned that it was a newer variety called "Red Fox" which has burgundy foliage. At first, I thought this would be a better choice since it grows narrower and isn't as large. But then, I convinced myself that I wanted the regular variety. I have enough burgundy colored action going on in the front garden.

So, here it is, newly planted! Very satisfying! This border is going to be widened a bit. The center section (the grassy spot to the right) is where I want the steps. I also want a set of smaller steps on the left side and hope that I can do that without ruining the symmetry. 

I also wanted some evergreens to flank the gate of the cringe-worthy fence that separates the back from the driveway. A plan for creating a facade on this fence or just rip it out entirely is always percolating in my thoughts. This will be a future project and one that might involve winning the lottery. 

But, back to the evergreens. I chose the 'Skyrocket' juniper and was a bit miffed when I got them home and saw that they are shaped differently - one is narrow, the other one not so much. I don't know how I overlooked that at the nursery, but I figure in time they will shape up nicely.

So, with the exception of a row of arborvitae that I plan to put in the narrow strip along the west side of the house, the large planting projects are finished. As Katherine White wrote "onward and upward"...

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday Vignette

This is Fernando, who has come inside for the winter months. He is currently sitting in a pot of String of Hearts in our little mini greenhouse over the kitchen sink. I think he is ready for summer to return.

Wednesday Vignette is hosted by Anna at Flutter and Hum.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Coffee and Walnut Cake

This month the Cake Slice Bakers group had four cakes to choose from - a Coconut Rum Cake, a hazelnut torte, gingerbread and this recipe - the Coffee and Walnut Cake. I confess I chose the simplest sounding one and the one that had readily available ingredients.

This turned out nicely and it was a breeze to make. The cake is very light in texture with a strong coffee flavor. It is a great breakfast cake.

Again, like the recipe from last month, this required baking in a springform pan (although I am sure it could be done in regular cake pans). So, this is the second time I have made a cake in a springform pan that was not a cheesecake!

Coffee and Walnut Cake
(from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey, Race Point Publishing, 2013)
  • 3/4 cup walnut halves
  • 3/4 (1 1/2 sticks) butter,softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. instant coffee powder mixed to a paste with water
  • 1 1/3 c. self-rising flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
For the Filling and topping:
  • 1 tbsp. boiling water
  • 1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • 1 c. mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1/3 c. confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 c. heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F., and grease and line an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toast walnuts in oven on a baking sheet for 6 minutes.
  3. Cool walnuts slightly and set aside nine most perfect halves to be used as decoration and chop the rest. (*I had purchased chopped walnuts so I omitted this step)
  4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the coffee paste.
  5. Slowly add the combined flour and baking powder mixture. Fold in the chopped nuts.
  6. Pour into the pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. 
  7. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, before turning out onto wire cooling rack. Carefully remove the parchment paper.
  8. To make the filling, make a paste with boiling hot water and instant coffee.
  9. Combine the softened mascarpone cheese with the powdered sugar. Add the heavy cream then the coffee paste and beat until mixed. This step can either be done with a mixer or by hand.
  10. When the cake has completely cooled, slice it in half horizontally. 
  11. Spread 1/3 of the filling on the bottom layer of the cake. Add the top layer and spread the remaining filling on top and along the sides. 
  12. If using the whole walnut halves, place them around the perimeter of the cake.
  13. The cake can be served chilled or at room temperature.
Check out what the other bakers created this month!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mt Hood weather comes to our house!

Another round of snow came yesterday. I am not sure exactly how much we got but I am estimating around 2". It is beautiful and reminds me of my recent trip to Mt. Hood. 

I really dodged a bullet yesterday when I got home from work around 3pm. This was right at the time traffic started to bog down and by the time I got home, the news stations were showing tangled traffic on the interstates. I think if I had left work thirty minutes later, it would have taken me much longer to travel those 5 miles. It was a traffic nightmare last night with some people taking up to 6 hours to get home. 

Today is a day to stay inside - maybe do some baking or catching up on my reading (the new biography of Bram Stoker is quite good!). I am happy to be at home. I took a brief stroll around the garden. It is cold and the hummingbird feeders froze last night. "Van" (Michael named our hummer) was probably mighty miffed this morning but I took the feeders in and de-thawed them.


This bamboo is normally about 6 feet tall but it is weighted down by the snow. This happened last week when we got some snow and ice but it quickly rebounded after the thaw.


Euphorbia in the snow

Blue Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo 'Glauca')

Rose 'Kardinal Kolorscape' was still blooming just a few days ago.

The view down the street.

The English Laurel hedge

Lavender and Barberry



Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wednesday Vignette

Hydrangea quercifolia leaves covered in frost

Hydrangea quercifolia leaves covered with frost - this photo was taken last week after our first frost on December 8.

Wednesday Vignette is hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, December 9, 2016

Snow & Ice

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16) 
It started snowing yesterday around 1pm and continued for the remainder of the afternoon. Sleet and rain followed and is still lingering today. We did not have too many travel problems - I actually made it into work in Portland yesterday. My ice-encased vehicle was the most frustrating problem. It took forever to dethaw. 

Although temperatures hovered around the freezing mark, it felt much colder. The wind was just ferocious. Someone previously told me that it is the wind that is more detrimental to plants than cold temperatures. I covered a few tender plants with pots and I put a plastic sheet over my new camellia with all the buds. It will be interesting to see how everything copes.

These are some photos I took this morning.

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Snow & Ice, Vancouver, WA (12/9/16)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Vignette

My first participation in Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.

Scabiosa covered with frost this morning -

ScabiosaText and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Getting ready for the first freeze

Salvia chiapensis

Attempting to understand the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has been a challenge. You can watch several local weather channels or consult various websites and get wide fluctuations, especially when it comes to temperature predictions. Part of this is because the geographic range is so variable. Forecasters generally give their predictions for the coast, the Columbia River Gorge and the Willamette Valley which will have different conditions. Even the Wilamette Valley forecast isn't necessarily a reliable prediction for us in Vancouver, because it is often colder here (and technically speaking, we are not in the Willamette Valley). And of course, there are micro-climates...

Several gardening friends have recommended Weather Underground as a good source and one that is better tuned for specific regions. So, Weather Underground predicts our low tonight at 26. Regardless of a freeze or not, most of the weather experts do predict that we are in for SNOW and perhaps some freezing precipitation on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. 

In anticipation of the first frost, I have been busy covering plants with pots and plastic and spreading buckets of extra mulch. I looked over my plant inventory and the following plants cause me the most concern:

California Lilac (Ceonothus)
Himalayan Whorlflower (Morina longifolia)
Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana)
Sweet Pea Shrub (Polygala fruiticosa)
Salvia Chiapensis
Calla Lily (Zantedechia)

Our garden is new and open at the moment and has not developed any protection from neighboring plants. A few of the plants on the above list are in the front garden which faces north but some are in the back which is better sheltered. Whatever the outcome, this will be a learning experience. I think everything will be okay, especially if the cold temperatures are short-lived. Whatever happens, it is going to be interesting and exciting! Bring it on!

I am sure the Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) will be toast as it never survived our Alabama winters. I have always treated it as an annual.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cannon Beach


We had precious little time to get to Cannon Beach but we were determined to make it before sunset. Cannon Beach is about a 30 minute drive from Astoria. These photos were taken at Ecola State Park and the place is simply breathtaking. I am afraid my photos do not do it justice. I had little light and no tripod so they are a bit soft and grainy. I will have to make a trip back again.

We braved the elements and a risky pathway to get to this cliff but it was worth it. Paul & Cindy enjoying the spectacular view.

The first thing we saw upon entering the park were elk.






Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy