When inspiration strikes
The last two weekends have been busy ones in my garden. The weather has been unexpectedly dry (despite the showers), allowing me to plant at a time of year I usually stay inside out of the rain. Why this frenzy of garden productivity? I finally found the inspiration I needed for the large, dry, sunny area of the garden. And planting now, while I can still expect about two more months of rain, should help to reduce stress when summer arrives. Once, I would have expected rain lasting through May and even a little into June, but the last two years the rains mostly stopped some time in April.
Years went by, and non-native field grasses and perennial weeds reclaimed the area, with no trees planted, save for a Ginkgo biloba that struggled from an insect infestation and subsequent woodpecker cleaning of the bark, in a site too dry even for this resilient tree. Two years ago, I thought it was finally recovering and gaining steam, but last year it looked parched all summer and dropped its leaves early, hardly having grown at all. I just couldn't keep up with watering it. At this point it's too large to easily move. I'm close to cutting it down, but I'm weak. One more year, I think. One last chance. Several years ago, my parents added an Acer rubrum. I wish they had chosen something more drought-tolerant, but it's here now, so we'll deal with it. Other members of the sparse plantings include a Cedrus deodara and some poorly-placed rhododendrons that previously grew on the shaded southern end of the house. More on the rhododendrons later. On the right edge of the photo above, you can see part of a raised bed build between several stumps left over from the logging, where an Acer griseum and several other plants are still waiting for the rest of the bed to be filled in with plants around them.
|The Park as of two weeks ago. Dark patches mark newly planted trees.|
|And this past weekend. Several more trees and two new beds. Hard to tell, with everything so small and far away, but it's starting to take shape.|
The vision that arose from the confluence of these various sources of inspiration was of an open oak woodland; twisted, architectural trunks and branches supporting a canopy of mostly evergreen foliage that casts dappled shade over an understory of primarily shrubs and evergreen ground covers. West coast natives would feature heavily throughout, with plenty of other drought-tolerant plants from similar climates. Plants would be sited to take advantage of the minor microclimates in the area, the regions where the lawn stays green longer in summer and grows more lushly, and places closer to the new faucets, reserved for plants that need more water, moving quickly to drier zones all the way to zones where no water need be applied in summer. Trees like Quercus mexicana, that don't need but may benefit from some supplemental water in summer, are perfect to tie together the space, as I can plant them in the wetter zones with more exotic plants as well as in the drier zones that will be planted primarily with west coast natives that can actually be harmed by summer irrigation.
|Past the two beds in the foreground of the last picture, looking left. I plan to gradually expand the mulched areas and sow them with my native seed mix.|
Getting back to the meadow, I did a ton of research (I am just a tad obsessive) to find seed sources. I was especially looking for a seed mix composed of native bunch grasses and wildflowers, preferably one that would adapt to dappled shade over the years as the trees grew. A tall order, even without that last requirement. I wasn't interested in the "wildflower" mixes you generally see on seed racks, which are a mix of a few actual natives, usually overwhelmed by "natives" in a looser sense (as in North American, like Echinacea), and by non-native pests like chicory and bachelor buttons. I wanted the genuine article. A real, native meadow. First I had to figure out what grasses were actually native to the PNW, particularly west of the Cascades. Go figure, in a region dominated by forests, there isn't a whole lot of information on grasses. The majority of "native" grasses that come up in internet searches originate in the tall grass prairies of the midwest. This is definitely not what I was looking for. Bunch grasses for the interior west are fairly easy to find, but generally suffer in the relatively mild, wet winters west of the Cascades. I tried searching for lists of plants that grow in Garry oak savannas, but inevitably wound up with a paltry and incomplete list of the more prominent or showy species, the popular kids, while the more boring, nerdy (but often more ecologically significant) grasses and forbs were left out. After a couple weeks of research, I had a pretty good idea of the kinds of plants I was looking for. I finally stumbled upon a company called Silver Falls Seed, located in Silverton, OR, and their range of seed mixes composed of ACTUAL, NATIVE grasses and forbs. They have native seed mixes for everything from wetlands to dry meadows. I finally settled on their Northwest Woodland Economy Mix, composed of plants that will grow in full sun, but will also adapt to shadier conditions. What do you know? Exactly what I was looking for! I checked the lists of species, all native, all apparently adaptable to my conditions. So I ordered a pound of that mix, to start.
|And looking right.|
|Formerly 6 cubic yards of organic plus on the left, and 4 cubic yards of compost on the right.|
|I forgot to mention earlier the staghorn sumac and Dasiphora floribunda (or whatever the name is currently) planted in The Park near the road.|
|The same area now.|
|When I planted the first round of Quercus mexicana two weekends ago, I also put in a trio of Acer sempervirens.|
|Some of the trees I planted are in close groups like these two. Only about a foot apart, I'm hoping these two will duke it out, leaning away from each other a bit and taking on more picturesque forms.|
|Remember, gardens are all about change. I moved a Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' about 4 feet to the left in this photo. I know, huge difference, right? OCD? What's that?|
|The tallest of the three cork oaks, and the only thing I've planted so far that's already taller than I am.|
|Already forming its fissured, corky bark!|