If You Can’t Kill Them, Claim Them as Your Garden

Vines on fenceI spent a lot of the Fourth of July weekend in hand to vine combat with wild berries. I believe in letting wild things grow, but when they attack my house and make it difficult to walk through the yard, I have to attack back. My garden pretty much consists of plants that planted themselves. Invasive plants, the rest of the world calls them, plants that grow wherever they want and keep expanding their territory. Blackberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries. Salal, sword ferns, foxglove, poppies, ivy. And honeysuckle. Just when I learn what those flowers are and start thinking I’m lucky to have them, I discover that they too are invasive plants. Looking more closely, I see that they’re already battling for space with the berries out front.

ThimbleberriesReal gardeners would get in here with a chain saw or a tractor and cut all this stuff out so we could plant something pretty that knows its place in the garden. But why cut out plants that are hardy and attractive just because we don’t think they should be there? Okay, I’m a little angry at the berries that are choking my big hydrangea plant to death. But in most of the yard, I have neither the time nor energy to clear, plant and tend a garden, so why not let Mother Nature take care of it? What gives a human being the right to clear a rectangle in the forest and kill anything that threatens to come in? If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em grow, right?

However, just like they’re choking the hydrangea, the berries were also threatening to overwhelm me and my house. They were pushing against the fence and the deck to the point where I had to fight back so that I could walk the path to my gate without thorny branches grabbing my hair and my clothes. I suffered endless thorn pricks to my hands as I cut and cut, trying to take back my one-third acre of land. I cut enough to fill the 96-gallon compost cart and more, yet it’s hard to tell I did anything because there is so much plant life.

Foxglove and berriesBack in California, they’re suffering from the drought. Only the hardiest plants will survive. My father’s planted berry vines have dried into brown strings with a few berries shriveled up like raisins. We’re short on rain here in Oregon, too. Numerous counties have declared drought emergencies. But on the coast, even after a month with no measurable rain, everything is blooming, growing, and threatening to break down the fences.

Salmonberry shootWith my little clippers, my loppers and my yellow wheelbarrow, I fight to protect my space by cutting a little here and there and claiming the rest as my bountiful garden. As for the sore muscles and the bloody cuts where the thorns got me, I consider them badges of honor. I held the enemy off again.

Meanwhile, my dog Annie is already eating blackberries on our hikes. To her, the world is one big smorgasbord. Who’s to say she isn’t smarter than we are?

Look what God grew in my garden

DSCN3955It’s a weed. Yank it out. No, wait!

What is a weed anyway? It’s a plant we didn’t put there, something that grows up on its own, seeded by birds or wind or bulbs hidden underground. Some, like Bermuda grass, are just annoying. And some get out of hand, like our wild berries that take over the garden. But many so-called weeds, especially here in our Oregon coastal forest, are a lot prettier than anything I could plant. Healthier, too, because they’re perfectly adapted to the growing conditions here. I didn’t plant any of the “weeds” pictured here.

The star of the show this year is Foxglove, technically digitalis purpurea. The name gives you a hint that it’s the source of digitalis, used medicinally for heart patients. It turns out to be toxic to animals, so if Annie could reach it or if she showed any interest in eating it, that weed would be gone, but so far, she and I just stare at it.

It started as a clump of leaves next to my deck. Feeling lazy, I decided to let it go a while and see what developed. Then I went away for 11 days. When I returned, wow! It was taller than I am and loaded with pink flowers. Two companion plants had sprouted up nearby. According to Coastal Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Elizabeth L. Horn, the Foxglove takes two years to produce flowers. The first year, all you get is leaves while it gears up for its spectacular show.

Botanical.com says the name Fox Glove started as Folk’s Glove and came from the fact that the flowers looked like little finger gloves.

When the flowers fall off, I plan to pull out the Foxgloves near my deck. It’s not a good location, and there are plenty of others growing up along the edges of my property, but for now, I’m enjoying the show.

DSCN3967The Foxglove is not the only flower putting on a show these days. Out front, the poppies are going crazy, the salal is at its peak, and we have honeysuckle, wild roses, daisies and buttercups along the street. The blackberries and thimbleberries have flowers now but will soon bear fruit, and the tops of the salmonberries are already showing some bright yellow berries. Soon my yard will be full of drunken robins.

I love to garden, but God is a lot better at it than I am. This spring, I’m going to go easy on the weeds and see what else develops.

A Tale of Two Hydrangeas or Mother Nature is a Better Gardener than I Am

HydranfallB You may or may not know that I call my publishing company Blue Hydrangea Productions (check out my website and buy a book, okay?). I love blue hydrangeas, especially the kind popularly known as “mopheads.” They’re in my blood. My mother had them growing next to our front porch in San Jose. My grandfather had some along the side of his house in Seacliff, California. When Fred and I bought our house in South Beach, Oregon, a luscious blue plant bloomed by the front door. Clearly we were meant to live here.

The Azores Islands from which my mother’s ancestors came are covered with blue hydrangeas. Miles and miles of them, often used as fences. When we toured Faial years ago, our bus driver gave each of the women hydrangea flowers. I started sneezing, since I’m allergic to almost everything with leaves, fur or feathers,IMG_20150504_112806116[1]IMG_20150504_112844203[1] but that did not stop me from loving them.

Now, alas, something is wrong with my big hydrangea. A smaller plant nearby is loaded with leaves and just starting to bloom. But the big one, my company namesake, is mostly sticks with a few wan leaves. What’s up? I treated them both the same. I didn’t prune either plant last fall because I was in California taking care of my dad after he broke his hip, but that doesn’t explain the difference. Was it the snow and ice in Dec. 2013 that killed my hebes? Was it not enough rain in 2014? Have the blackberry vines that poke up through the branches choked the life out of the hydrangea? Is it the fact that I don’t mulch, fertilize or feed any of my plants? If nothing happens, I’m going to prune it down to nothing next fall and start fresh. Maybe I’ll even water it, which seems redundant on the rainy Oregon coast.

Meanwhile, my rhododendron is in full bloom, a gorgeous wash of magenta that will last a couple more weeks. And the weeds, oh, they’re doing well, some of them, like the one below, so spectacular I don’t have the heart to pull them out. I don’t know what they are, but who am I to argue with what comeIMG_20150504_112708379[1]s up naturally in the middle of the coastal forest?

Visitors to my house will see rhodies in bloom, English ivy going crazy, blackberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry plants growing several inches every day, wild poppies, sword ferns, mystery weeds, and gigantic stick sculptures that used to be hebes and hydrangeas

For those fans who seem to think I’m good at everything, I’m not. Here’s proof. Welcome to my stick garden.

For information about hydrangeas, visit these sites:

Hydrangeasplus.com

http://www.waysidegardens.com/wg-hydrangea-guide/a/324/

https://plantcaretoday.com/hydrangea-care.html

http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/