Friday, June 27, 2008

Lettuce Rest, I'm Feeling Beet.

Remember how my "Growing Challenge" plant for the year was mesclun lettuce (or, as I prefer to call it because I'm a substance abuse librarian, "mescaline lettuce," bah ha ha!)? Remember how I was all excited because everybody said lettuce was really easy to grow and did extremely well here in the Pacific Northwest? Remember how I said I'd tried some kind of head lettuce last year and it was bitter and didn't grow very well, but that I was sure I'd figured out what I'd done wrong and that this time, THIS TIME, it was going to be great?

Remember how Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Either I'm crazy, or lettuce actually HATES me. Frankly, I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

Because, LOOK AT MY LETTUCE! It bolted about three weeks ago (which is when I took the above photo), something every gardening web site I've looked at said it would only do if the weather got hot. Well, guess what else happened right about the time my lettuce bolted? The Seattle Times ran a headline that said, "Colder Than Siberia!" And not because it was HOT here, that's for sure!

Since it bolted, the leaves have pretty much stopped growing at all -- in fact, I think they are actually shrinking -- and the only part of the plant that's getting any bigger are the yellow flowers.

You know what? We're done. Me and lettuce. We are OVER. From now on, I'm sticking with the lettuce that comes prewashed in the plastic bags in the grocery store, e.coli and all. This garden ain't big enough for the both of us. Especially when one of us is totally MEAN. And SUCKS. And is a big STUPIDHEAD too. (Note: I'm referring to the lettuce.)

In happier news, my peas are utterly enormous and I'm going to have dozens and dozens of blueberries this year.

In even happier news, today's forecast predicts a high of about 88 or 90 in Seattle on Sunday. Omsk, Siberia, on the other hand, will be a chilly, wet 71. Take THAT, Former Soviet Union!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Spontaneity in the garden

I've always loved the casual, untamed look of an old-fashioned cottage garden, so I tend to let my plants kind of do what they want (OK, I let them do what they want because I'm too lazy to prune and deadhead, but I prefer to think of myself as having a "style" instead of just being a slacker). Every year, my garden brings surprises, this year moreso than usual. Let's take a look at some of the unintentional beauty bursting out of my beds:

Red poppy:
Red poppy in the front yard
I planted some mixed poppy seeds last year, which germinated well. In my usual lazy fashion, I let them go to seed, so this spring I had poppies popping up all over the place. I meant to move them around a little so they'd be positioned more artfully, but of course that happened. But when the blooms are this beautiful, who needs artful arrangement?

More benefits of not deadheading: I had tons of calendulas sprout up this spring. I did move those around, because they sprouted in my veggie beds. Last year I had calendulas in the corners of three beds. Now I have them in the corners and along the borders of almost all my beds. They're so bright and cheery, and they even last through the winter here. I guess I'll have to figure out what to do with all the seedlings next year, as I'm running out of room for them.

Peony in the front yard
A couple years ago, I forked over way too much money for a tree peony. We had one when I lived in California, and it was gorgeous. So of course I had to have one. Well... the graft lasted the one season and never came back. *Sigh* But the peony that made up the rootstock grew just fine. At first I was annoyed that my gorgeous, blood-red, double tree peony was gone, leaving this simple, single bloom in its place. But this year, I admired the elegant cups formed by the buds, and when they opened, I fell in love with the blush of pink in the petals and the purply things in the center, so the former-tree-peony is staying.

Foxgloves behind the vegetable garden
Sometime last winter, I acquired a pot of some unidentified plant. For some reason, I thought it was comfrey. Lo and behold, I trudged out to the vegetable garden, where I'd parked the mystery pot, and found these gorgeous foxgloves growing out of it! I plan to let them seed all over the place, so I'll never be without foxgloves again.

Potato blossoms:
Potato blossoms
These made the list for two reasons: 1) They are not the fancy Russian fingerling potatoes I ordered and lovingly planted. Those are doing great too, but these sprouted from where I'd dumped some homemade compost last fall. I guess the potatoes I tossed out didn't fully decompose, and here's the proof. Usually when I grow potatoes from something other than treated seed potatoes, they die of blight, so we'll see if these are still around in August. But for now, they're gorgeous--and thriving in part sun behind the compost bin. Go figure. 2) These have the prettiest flowers of any potato I've seen. I don't think anyone thinks of potatoes as ornamental, but these almost qualify.

So what's the point of all this rambling, besides my ego-driven need to show off some pretty pictures? Well, just this: For years I've beaten myself up for not keeping up with garden maintenance, not taking the time to design my beds properly, not planning, etc. I'm not going to do that anymore. These pictures prove that unintentional beauty is every bit as wonderful as the kind that requires a landscape architect. So if you can't afford a pro, and you're too lazy or busy to go to the trouble yourself, don't sweat it! Get yourself some inexpensive seeds, start a few things, and let Mother Nature take it from there. Your yard may not be featured on the next garden club tour, but it will be bursting with beautiful surprises all the same.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Garden update

I can't believe I haven't posted since April! I've been so busy gardening, I've had little time to write about it. Since it's been so long, an update is in order.

It finally feels like spring here in Portland, now that it's almost summer. Once the cold weather finally ended, my garden exploded--mostly with weeds, but there are a few nice plants in the overgrown mess too. Highlights now include:

Roses, including the red climbing rose on an arbor leading into the veggie garden:
Climbing rose up close

Climbing rose
That bare spot behind the arbor is my tomato patch. The tomatoes are just starting to take off.

I planted a few calendulas last year at the corners of my raised veggie beds, so I'd have a little color amid the veggies. Most of them wintered over, and they also seeded a bit. So now I have huge calendulas from last year, all in full bloom, plus some little ones that should be blooming soon. They're so bright and cheery! I highly recommend including flowers in the vegetable garden. They add beauty and attract bees. What's not to love?


More lettuce
I don't know what I was thinking, planting so much lettuce. We eat salad almost every night, but we aren't even making a dent in it. It's great to be able to wander outside and pick a salad, and I love all the different colors. We may be overrun with it now, but I'll really miss the lettuce when the summer heat makes it bolt.

Front of the house with blooming rhodies
I've never been a big fan of rhododendrons, but they are gorgeous when they bloom.

I should also mention the newest additions to our family, our chickens. We have five pullets, about 7 weeks old. Hubby is frantically trying to finish their coop before they outgrow the plastic tub they currently call home. Here's the coop as of about a week ago:
Chicken coop in progress

We let them out to wander around the yard for the first time last weekend. I hope to post some pictures of them foraging in the garden, probably in the next few days. We're really looking forward to a steady supply of fresh eggs and fertilizer--not to mention cheap entertainment. Chickens are hilarious.

I hope it won't take me a month to post again. There's lots happening in the garden these days, but it keeps me too busy and tired to have much left for writing. What's new in your neck of the woods?