Best of the Garden 2020: A Year in Review

We are fortunate to live on this land. The garden has, in a turbulent year, given us peace of mind and a connection to the larger picture. This year has been one of suffering for millions and I hope that by sharing the best moments from the garden that we can embrace the fact that not all is lost; there is beauty in this world and we need now more than ever to celebrate. I say Hello 2021!, a new year, a new beginning, with expanded hope and reaffirmation that nature does indeed heal if you allow it. Here is a brief glimpse of what the garden gave us at Chickadee Gardens in 2020 with representative images of the spirit of each month.

JANUARY

In mid-January the perfect snow fell. It lasted a day then melted away.

And miracle flowers bloomed. Hamamelis ‘Jelena’

Even on sun-loving yuccas, the snow is beautiful.

Winter blooming Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’ is such a welcome sight in the middle of winter.

FEBRUARY

Many plants in the gravel garden look fresh on a cold February day when the sun made an appearance.

Colors are out there, even on the dreariest of days. Erica carnea ‘Rosalie’ in full bloom on the left, while Arctostaphylos ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Saint Helena’ also bloom. Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’s red stems stand out among all of the greens.

Bean poles awaiting their eventual placement in the vegetable garden. This to me is representative of hope for a new crop, new life, for food. Plus, the crows like to sit up top, surveying their garden and letting us know when they are hungry.

MARCH

A new-to-me anemone,
Anemone ‘Black and White’ from
Floret. This was one of the first flowers to bloom, for that alone I love this plant.

The vegetable garden in March, an amazing sight in that we were able to till the soil this early in the season. It was dry enough, so we took advantage while we could. The veggie garden went on to provide an abundance of food for us that we ate, canned, froze, gave away and dried. 

The edge of the labyrinth garden after the deciduous perennials were cleaned up. Evergreen plants can easily be seen at this stage, a good time to evaluate the garden, making decisions about what needs to go, what needs to be moved, what needs to be added.

Ribes sanguineum, our native flowering currant. A beautiful, multi-stemmed shrub that provides sustenance for pollinators early in the season. One of the earliest plants to bloom, it is the star of the show for a few weeks.

APRIL

Now we’re starting to rev up for full-swing spring season. Here a mix of groundcovers intermingle in the oldest part of the shade garden to a tapestry effect.

Flowering fruit trees in the distance on our neighbor’s property are a welcome sight. The native
Cornus nuttallii blooming in the center of the photo is a favorite for wild birds, and has particularly elegant flowers. We are lucky to have one growing here, they are notoriously difficult and frequently affected with
anthracnose, a potentially deadly disease caused by the nonnative fungus
Discula destructiva.

The berm garden is beginning to wake up, the iris have grown and Ceanothus ‘Blue Jeans’ is in full bloom on the right, center. In the distance flowering cherries (not planted by me) are blooming, as are the redbuds top left.

Maple trees beginning to form bright green leaves in the distance while Buddha sits in a field of blooming ajuga.

The Himalayan mounds, as we affectionately call them, have completely filled in. This is a scene from the edge of the mounds at the very outer edges of the garden. In full bloom is Berberis darwinii, Phlomis russeliana dried flowers in the center add a pop of fun while its basal foliage remains evergreen. In the background, Willamette Valley native Ceanothus cuneatus ‘Adair Village’ is the white flowering shrub on the left. 

Green tufts of ornamental grasses catch the light, as do leaves from deciduous trees. 

Looking west from the top of the deck one can’t help but feel optimistic for the day ahead.

MAY

Spring now firmly in full-swing with tufts of Carex comans ‘Frosty Curls’ intermingling with Limnanthes douglasii, our native annual wildflower Douglas’ meadowfoam, blooming. I have been sprinkling seeds of this charming wildflower in many corners of the garden and it’s paying off.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ in all its glory.

Blue green Festuca rubra ‘Patrick’s Point’ surrounds the fire pit area, catching the spring sun.

About the only time of the year this strip of “grass” (it’s really field grass and weeds and clover) looks good. We don’t irrigate the grass, but we allow it to remain on some of the property.

Phlomis russeliana flowers in yellow. This is one tough plant and has year-round appeal. ‘Alba’ California poppies in the foreground, Ceanothus ‘Italian Skies’ in the background right.

Festuca glauca and Heuchera ‘Northern Lights’ (or is it ‘Firefly’?) in a rather hot and dry location.

Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Profusion’ fills in between Hebe pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’, Erica x darleyensis and Heuchera ‘Old la Rochette’. A self-sown madrone tree, Arbutus menziesii on the right.

Papaver rhoeas, common Flanders poppy, is a sweet reminder of travels in the past. Seeds were purchased at Kew Botanical Gardens in 2018 and I will always think of that lovely trip when I see these annual poppies.

The edge of the meadow with more Papaver rhoeas in the distance, our native Eschscholzia californica or California poppy in the foreground.

A mown path leads to a sweet spot to rest under a mature Oregon oak tree on the edge of the orchard.

Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’ cascades down a slope at the top of the driveway. Acaena ‘Purple Haze’ in the background. This whole slope is low water and basically full sun with a southern aspect. It was originally planted with lots of rock garden type plants tucked into the rock wall I created, but many of them have been taken over by the most vigorous plants. That is ok, it’s survival of the fittest.

JUNE

In the labyrinth, an explosion of flowers in the form of Phlomis russeliana, Digitalis lutea, Eriophyllum lanatum (native Oregon sunshine, foreground right), Ceanothus ‘Marie Simon’ (pink flowers center) and Diplacus aurantiacus (syn. Mimulus aurantiacus, peach flowers lower left).

The berm garden looking fresh in shades of spring green, yellow, white and blue.

In the “dry streambed”, an area in the gravel garden, many tough grasses add movement in the case of Nassella tenuissima while Hebe ‘Karo Golden Esk’ anchors this area.

My boys. Hobbes was totally purring and having a great time rolling around on the warm stones even though he looks as if he’s being tortured.

Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californicum) on the left. This area of the gravel garden has filled in completely with sedum, salvia and other dry loving plants.

A love affair gone wrong. Gandy the hen says “huh?” to Sweet Pea’s very innocent advances. In all honesty, though, the hens and Sweet Pea the turkey have been a source of love and fun for us, but sadly we lost three hens this year. There was a bit of old age involved but also some illness – we have since revamped the hen’s feeding and water situation as an extra precaution. FM constructed a raised buffet trough to keep food off the ground and covered it all with metal siding to keep it dry. We have a small stock tank, also raised, for water. These measures help keep birdie bottoms out of the food. The trouble with feeding them on the ground is all kinds of birds come to visit and peck at seeds, also leaving poop all about. Wild birds especially. Now everyone is healthy and happy and we also added two hens, so the flock is all settled once more.

The farther out you get from the house the hotter the color scheme. Here at the edge of the labyrinth, hot pinks and oranges dominate. The phormium is new as of last autumn and has filled in nicely. It replaced rather frothy buff colored perennials, now anchoring this area along with the Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ in the center.

The fire pit surrounded by Festuca rubra ‘Patrick’s Point’, Muhlenbergia rigens and a couple self-sown Nicotiana ‘Hot Chocolate’.

JULY

Diascia ‘My Darling Tangerine’ and Carex flacca.

Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Lemon Queen’ with Sedum album at its feet.

Calendula ‘Radio’ blossoms drying in my shed for use in salves, tinctures and other goodies. I made a sincere effort to actually harvest herbs and flowers that are useful, to dry them properly and make something to give as gifts. It is enjoyable to read and learn about the healing qualities of plants – a new dimension to the garden for me and one I hope to pursue further.

This one is for you, butterflies. Asclepias speciosa, showy milkweed, a host plant for monarch butterflies and beloved by a plethora of pollinators. The Echinacea purpurea is also a favorite of pollinators with that large, flat, open center. Double flowers are not as good for pollinators, by the way. Think simple, large centers. Oh, did I mention that the milkweed has a lovely scent?

Moving on to the veggie garden, the artichokes were epic this year. I had a lot to give away with 6 mature plants.

Our favorite cabbage, if not for its beauty alone, is Kalibos. FM makes sauerkraut from these.

I like this shot because it illustrates the slope of the property and why I take 4 ibuprofen every day. Seriously though, the growth of plants, namely shrubs, is evident as it is obscuring our home from view – adding a bit of mystery. When we moved here it was simply grass the whole way up to the house, nothing to obstruct it. Oh, wait, there was a labyrinth:

The before shot from 2015, the first day we laid eyes on this property. While lovely, we are gardeners and imagined green things growing. That rock in the center of the labyrinth, by the way, is still in its original spot, honoring the spirit of this cool creation.

In the heart and heat of it all, Oscar sits among friends in the dwindling evening light of summer.

Revisiting the “hot-colored” section of the labyrinth garden, Penstemon kunthii absolutely gives a one-two punch while Coreopsis ‘Sienna Sunset’ and Sedum spurium flowers on the right are its supporting team.

The path that runs through the center of the labyrinth garden. The Salix in the center is exactly the center of the labyrinth, planted next to the centering rock seen in the earlier photograph.

AUGUST

Now we are getting into the food-production months. The orchard is in full swing, the veggies are growing like crazy and we try to keep up.

Kale, bok choy, beans and corn – just a sample of the food we grew this year.

This view is from the base of the deck, the gravel garden, looking east towards my blue shed. There are lots of sedum species and Salvia o. ‘Berggarten’ as well as three Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’ in this area. This is the same yucca pictured covered in snow in January.

Plums, silvers and greens in this edge of the labyrinth garden. Most of this area was not planned, save for the color scheme. I had bits and bobs of throw away sedums and dianthus, and magically it has become one of my favorite areas, purely by accident. That’s the way of creating, though – just getting out there and doing it without being overly concerned with the end product – the pure joy of gardening takes over and you become engrossed in the doing. That’s when magic often comes through, when you let go a little and trust your instincts.

It was the month to pickle beets. Hooray! This will hold me through the winter. 

SEPTEMBER

Wildfires raged across the West Coast in September, displacing thousands of Oregonians and destroying over 4,000 homes and over one million acres of forest and land. Hot dry winds fueled the fires. They were much too close for comfort and air quality was at an all time high (in a bad way) for poor air quality. We couldn’t open the windows for weeks at a time. We were lucky, though, no one here had any damage and Columbia County Fairgrounds was humbly the site for evacuees and their livestock. We came together as a community, a silver lining in all of this.

It just feels like harvest days – the quality of the light, the slight turning to golds, the grasses falling and birds feasting on seeds, the grapes ripening. A magic that is especially evident in the orchard and veggie garden.

My favorite aster, Aster ericoides ‘First Snow’ is a flurry of tiny white stars that attract the honey bees. It’s a little later bloomer than some asters and is a low, wide one so good for the front of the border.

 

Oh my gosh we grew loofah gourds! I had tried and failed the past two years but this was the year we did it. While they typically prefer a hotter climate than what we can offer, we were able to grow them all the same – we simply had to harvest them while they were still very much green and peel and clean them before the first frost of the season. While it’s more challenging to do this than letting them simply dry on the vine and then peel them, the end result is the same. Try it if you want natural, biodegradable sponges. 

As the sun comes up on a late September morning, smoke still lingers in the air from many weeks of forest fires. This is actually looking out of our windows, much of the garden view obscured by Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’. 

OCTOBER

Rosa glauca hips are a symbolically autumnal plant for me. I’m pleased to have enough room in the garden to grow this species rose.

One of three Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ in the garden early in the month before it turned more vibrant golden shades.

Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, the only one of three to survive, looks stunning and is a very late bloomer – appreciated by the hummingbirds. Behind it is Hebe ‘Western Hills’.

The veggie garden on the left is pretty much finished for the year, although there are still beets and celeriac in the ground and lettuces and herbs are in raised beds out of shot. The view across the neighboring road to our great neighbor Chris’ gigantic pumpkin was a welcome, fun one this year. He estimated that pumpkin weighed in at 500 pounds.

Chrysanthemum ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’ is the latest blooming flower-floozie kind of plant in my garden. It keeps going right through November and is the softest peachy-pink.

A second Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ in the garden later in the month. This one surrounded by Muhlenbergia rigens, our native deer grass. 

Berberis jamesiana starts out with greenish berries, they then morph over the months into deeper and deeper shades of red salmon.

Mix of textures in a section of the gravel garden with a Callistemon sieberi under the suet feeder and a young Yucca rostrata underneath it. During much of the year this is a full sun area, but this late in the day in autumn it looks rather shady.

The best fall perennial flower out there, Helianthus angustifolius blooms towards the end of the month, continuing on through November. It is tall at around 5′ tall, very floriferous and easy. It adds such cheer this time of year when really not much is in bloom.

NOVEMBER

The edge of the garden as seen from the driveway. Amsonia hubrichtii are the golden perennials at the base of the Acer palmatum

One of three flowering cherry trees which were here when we bought the property. 

Grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cabaret’ turn subtle shades of gold and even pinks at the margins. The leaf covered paths this time of the year are a constant chore for me but I don’t mind as it gets me outside. The soft green tree leaves of spring are now showing up as golds and yellows in the distance. This morphing of color, the crescendo of autumn, gives me pause to see the garden. I rarely notice the trees when they are green but like this, I see them from a distance and it makes me appreciate the whole picture a little bit more.

The vegetable garden is a surprising source for fall color. Here asparagus turns golden shades while dried artichoke heads add punctuation and fun. The new artichoke foliage is a silvery color which comes on in early autumn.

Squash are a vegetable group I can eat (I have some food intolerances), so I make sure and grow plenty. Butternut squash and Winter Luxury pie pumpkins are favorites, as well as Baby Boat Delicata, not pictured here. The green pumpkin on the left is one of several Musquee de Provence which will morph into a rich brownish color when ripe. 

DECEMBER

Grevillea ‘Neil Bell’, an introduction from
Xera Plants, is finally large enough to produce a decent amount of flowers. How wonderful to have these colors on a grim December day.

Oscar the agave looks the same no matter what time of the year. This edge of the labyrinth garden with many evergreen shrubs tends to only change with flower color and lighting – the bulk of it remains intact.

Near the edge of the shade garden. I realize I haven’t represented the shade garden much in this post. But you can see here a good portion of the length of it on the left (the fence is the northern edge of our property) with the top of the berm garden on the right, a field grass area separating the two. I have edged these areas which makes a huge difference in how I perceive the garden. During the early years of gardening here, I planted plants with the notion of getting them in the ground as the priority. As they grew and matured, you could tell something was missing. That was the definition of garden beds, hence the edging. Digging out a little bit at a time, it has taken me a couple of years to take care of it all. But now as plants fill in and spill into one another, it all makes sense and edging helps to define it all.

My years-long effort to make paths through the shade garden and keep them weeded so moss can flourish is showing signs of effectiveness.

A parting shot of a wider view of the garden with hints of lingering autumn color in the brief morning light.

There were challenging days in the garden as well as ones to celebrate. The wildfire smoke challenged us in ways I never imagined. The loss of three hens was heartbreaking. The addition of two more is a joy. Life flows on, another year gone, a better one to come we hope. In many ways it was a fantastic year in that we were grounded, at home, right where we want to be in the first place. It was fantastic that so many people discovered or rediscovered gardening. The nursery was busier than ever, online orders flooded in. People were home and wanting to experience a bit more nature in their own gardens. That is a definite silver lining. I hope the trend continues for we need gardens now more than ever so on that happy note, I bid 2020 adieu.

That’s a wrap for this week and this year at Chickadee Gardens. To all of you who tune in regularly, we thank you and appreciate you. Happy New Year, here’s to even more gardening and awareness of nature in 2021.