Mar 26, 2010

Yet another festive spring day

So much for my plans today for pruning my apple trees

root-pruning my raspberries

uncovering my artichokes

or working on my rock border

Honestly, what's a person to do with a weather forecast like this?

a) notice there is no mention of snow
b) notice it's predicted to be 61 tomorrow. This will probably happen. It is a nutty climate we have here.
All I can say is, it's a good thing I watered last weekend.

Mar 18, 2010

Goodbye to the Three Sisters

No, not The Three Sisters, the familiar mountains seen on our evening skyline about 20 miles west of town. They are still there, in all their snowy winter whiteness.

The Three Sisters I refer to are -- or were -- three tall white birch trees that we inherited with the rest of the plantings, when we moved into this house 32 years ago. We loved them, with their graceful, pendant branches of bright green leaves that turned a glowing yellow in the fall; their white papery bark that contrasted with summer grass and shone silver on sunny winter days.

European white birch, Betula pendula, was a popular landscaping choice in Bend gardens in the first half of the 20th Century. The previous owner of our house probably planted these three, nicely clumped together in the middle of the lawn, in the early 1960's, right after our house was built. Birches are not long-lived trees at best, and have their character flaws. As we discovered soon enough.

After our initial oohings and aaaahings over our beautiful trees, we discovered that birch trees are messy and brittle! They drop a continuous litter of twigs, branchlets and alas -- aphid rain. Better known as honeydew. I think it's really aphid pee. This falls as a continuous light spray on anything and everything (and everybody) standing within range of the branch canopy. It creates a clear coating of sticky stuff which then turns black. Charming.

Still, as a true laissez faire (ie fairly lazy) gardener, I learned that if I just waited a month or so, the local ladybugs would crank up on laying eggs, babies would hatch and soon devour most of the aphids by summer's end. Plus, the honeydew is basically sugar, so it rinses off with a stream of water from a hose.

And so the seasons came and went, all of us happy here in the forests of Northern Russia. I mean, here in the desert of Central Oregon. Hmmm -- what's wrong with this picture? Let's see, how are those two climates similar? Siberia: long, cold winters with cool, wet summers vs Bend: not-so-long, dry winters, with hot, dry summers.......

The trees did ok for a long while, but a few years ago they began to get The Dwindles. Branches started turning black and dying, every year a few more. Our tree guy, Andy, came out to prune off the dead branches (before they fell on us) and look for causes. No bugs, no obvious diseases.

Year by year the branches died, and then the tops starting dying. Bronze birch borers struck the county hard, and countless huge, mature birch trees around town died practically overnight and were cut down. Andy looked and looked but couldn't find any borers in our trees. The mystery deepened.

Finally this year I had had enough of the increasingly pathetic-looking trees. All three tops were dead and their demise seemed inevitable.

We concluded that the trees had suffered stress over the past 10 years, following a careful, but apparently not quite careful enough, house expansion which put the walls within 10 feet of the tree trunks. They looked lovely through the living room window. But alas, the trees were not happy.

So we called in the tree wizard and his crew (Andy's Gang) and they arrived bright and early yesterday morning to take down the Three Sisters. One last shot of the trees, from garden level:

Then the lads put tires and plywood sheeting over the garden and windows.

One down, two to go

It was quite exciting to watch. Mark, up in the tree, tied each section to a rope before cutting, then lowered it, using a pulley attached to the other tree, to Steve, the catcher, below.

It was messy

a giant pile of pick-up-sticks?

Steve cut up the logs into rounds

stacked them for firewood

and hauled the branchlets to the chipper (aptly named 'Tornado' brand)

Not everyone was pleased with the events of the day. The Brave Rupert hid under the bed. Alex went under too, to see what was happening.

Andy (our hero), still looking unsuccessfully for birch borers

The results? Here are some Before and After photos for comparison.





The verdict? I LOVE the new look! Lots of light, lots of space, and hmm, a new place to play.

Mar 1, 2010

Glovey..... oh, Glovey......

I started gardening by accident, and it didn't take long for me to realize I had to do something about my poor hands. My mom was the gardener in the family when I was a kid, and my unconscious role model. She never wore gloves that I remember.

I am a pianist. And while I am not the least bit vain about my hands in the conventional sense (fingernails as short as possible, no paint) I find gardening is probably not the ideal sport in terms of presentation and preservation of my physical apparatus. And while I love the feel of mud squidging through my fingers -- I then want it off my hands ASAP.

So. Gloves seemed like the answer. I started with el cheapo green and yellow canvas gloves from the hardware store. In my first garden, in the perennially wet clay soil of the redwood forest, gloves were soaked through within a minute. Being a bit slow to grasp the possibilities of owning multiple pairs of gloves, I philosophically gardened with my single pair of wet gloves.

When we moved to Bend, my garden soil changed to dry, abrasive, volcanic sand. Canvas gloves now stayed dry but the fingers wore through in a week or less. Thinking leather gloves would be sturdier, I visited the small local glove company ('Hunters: we'll buy your deerskins!') and bought a delightful pair. They lasted no longer than the canvas ones. I tried heavier leather, but I couldn't grab things and after they got wet, they dried stiff as boards

Through the years I tried various kinds of other gloves, some suggested by friends,

constantly trying slight variations on the basic two kinds, but never really satisfied.

It wasn't until about 10 years ago, during a house renovation, that I spotted the gloves of my dreams. The builder boys all had these great-looking work gloves: knitted backs and rubber-coated palms. "Do they come in size Small?" I asked and found that they did. All those years, the perfect gardening gloves had been hiding in the building supply store!

At this same time I had a secondary revelation: I could own more than one pair of gloves at a time! Think of it: wear one pair until they get filthy, then pull a new pair out of the drawer and wash the first. I felt like quite the spendthrift, heading to the checkstand at the hardware store holding 3 (three!) pairs of new gloves at a time. (Can you tell I'm not much of a shopper?)

A few years later I was given a free pair of nitrile-coated garden gloves at a garden show. Same tough-as-nails palm and finger coating, but light, flexible and thin enough to almost forget I was wearing gloves. Eureka!

I continue to adore my Atlas gloves, while occasionally using something warmer for cold weather garden tasks that don't involve actual contact with the soil

There's one slight issue I haven't fully resolved. Can you spot the problem in this photo?

Due to my being right-handed, I guess, I tend to wear out right gloves at about twice the rate of left gloves. What to do with the orphans? I have yet to find a use. But I can't bring myself to throw away these perfectly good gloves.

Yesterday I received a new pair of gloves to try. I won them in a contest on one of my favorite garden blogs

They boast 'Toughtek-reinforced palm and fingertips ..... a carabiner hook ...... ventilation panels that wick moisture'. Made by a company called Womanswork ('custom fit for women'). I'll give them a try and keep you posted!