My Meadow

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Large-flowered collomia (Collomia grandiflora)

The little meadowscape test plot I seeded in February is blooming! I used a seed mix of specifically Willamette Valley native flowers and planted a few species from pots including Roemer’s fescue, Western milkweed, Douglas aster and meadow strawberry.

So far it has been incredibly low maintenance – though I did careful site preparation (hand weeded the area and topped the soil with a 2″ layer of weed-free planting mix) and did  precise weeding while the plants were in seeding stage. I have watered it just three times over 6 months. The plants that are thriving are the more drought tolerant species. For instance, Western buttercup germinated very well but the plants are still very small, while tarweeds, yarrow and the aster are huge.

Right now two species of tarweed (Madia), large flowered collomia (Collomia grandiflora), Lotus purshiana and Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) are flowering. Of the 15 species in the mix, 12 germinated and grew.

While it’s a small amount of land, just a strip along my driveway, it counts towards qualification in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. Indeed the habitat appears to be appreciated so far. It’s the only place in my yard I have seen a native butterfly at work (a skipper) and there are many bee species present including ground bees this spring that nested in the bare spaces between seedlings.

Seeding a wildflower mix is often considered a cheap and easy way to deal with bare ground. While it can be appropriate for some sites, as one of my clients commented, it’s really ‘advanced gardening’. The seed mix needs to be selected carefully (and beware, many so-called wildflower seed mixes are anything but – they contain exotic and even invasive plants) and require good plant identification skills to weed.

Succession will happen – the mix of plants will change over time as annuals die out, may or may not reseed and perennials mature. Plots of only wildflowers can look like hell in winter. In the Midwest, where I have done many tall-grass prairie eco-restorations, dried seed heads and grasses are considered excellent winter interest. In Portland, not so much. Maybe they will be more appreciated as more of us become aware of the value of native plant species in home gardens – that they are a tool in staving off the biodiversity collapse that is due. For now they may be an acquired taste but incorporating grasses, design elements like evergreen framing and of course educational signage helps. I especially like the Xerces Society’s ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.

Seed Mix:

 

Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Farewell to Spring Clarkia amoena
Blue-eyed Mary Collinsia grandiflora
Large flowered Collomia Collomia grandiflora
Wooly sunshine Eriophyllum lanatum
Biscuit root Lomatium nudicaule
Bird’s foot trefoil Lotus purshianus
Lupin Lupinus albicaulis
Common madia Madia elegans
Tarweed Madia gracilis
Cinquefoil Potentilla gracilis
Heal-all Prunella vulgaris ssp. lanceolata
Western buttercup Ranunculus occidentalis
Willow dock Rumex salicifolius
Prairie burnet Sanguisorba annua (S. occidentalis)

 

 

 

 

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Sustainable Overlook Garden Tour 2014

Saturday, June 28th
10 am to 3 pm

Suggested donation $5
Proceeds benefit the Pesticide Free Neighborhood Project
Details at sustainableoverlook.org.

This year I’m co-coordinating this inspiring event but taking a break from showing my own garden. I can recommend visiting all of the 10 gardens on the tour, though each one is so captivating you may not have time for all of them. I’ve been getting to know each of the gardeners and am amazed by the loving care that goes into their yards, and how willing they are to take risks, ask for help and in turn to open their garden to help others learn and be inspired.

The theme of this year’s tour is ‘Building community and resilience.’ Each garden has elements that express the theme, for instance benches and poetry boxes that invite neighbors to linger and mingle, edible landscaping that produces enough food to feed multiple families, rain storage systems that could provide water in an emergency, eco-lawns and green roofs that provide habitat as well as beauty and a host of other benefits.

One striking thing about this year’s tour is that half of the gardens are registered with the Portland Audubon Society and Columbia Land Trust’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program. In fact, we are lucky enough to have the co-manager of the program , Nikkie West, on the tour, showing her naturescaped yard and meadow parking strip planted with Willamette Valley natives.

Check back for previews of some of the gardens. See you on the tour!

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Meadowscaping tour

Here are images from last week’s tour of urban yards planted with Willamette Valley natives.

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A test plot seeded two years ago with ‘Tough and Tenacious’ mix, a low-growing mix of 15 Willamette Valley meadow species, plus a few potted bunch grasses added in.

A band of mown eco-lawn on the right allows people to get in and out of cars easily.

 

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Another parking strip with Wild lilac, red-flowering currant, Western columbine and fescues.

 

 

 

 

 

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Front yard meadowscape 

Lupin, potentilla and meadow flowers in front of a woodland border that has gone through various phases of succession and intervention over 20 years.

 

 

Wildness ensues in a meadow front yard full of Potentilla gracilis, lupin and sidalcea.

 

 

 

Woodland meets meadow.

 

 

 

 

 

Bracken fern and Roemer’s fescue around a bird bath.

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Work in Progress

This is week two of ‘going back to work’. I’ve kept my landscape design practice going at a low simmer while taking care of my little one for the past two years. Working during nap times and after bedtimes and during the whole four hours a week I had a sitter has been challenging at times but now I have this sweet little business to attend to and evolve. My toddler has his beloved papa to spend more time with and I’m getting used to not having him by my side every moment.

So..how is it going do far? It’s been an exciting week! Three projects I designed were being installed last week. (See photos below!) It is really exciting to see them come to life. It feels fantastic to be focused (I’m designing homestead and habitat gardens) and I am learning so much every day.

One of the neat things I’ve been involved in lately is the professional development series associated with the backyard habitat certification program. A group of landscapers ( designers, installers and maintenance folks) are on their landscaper directory and a nice community is developing. I’ve been very interested in understanding how Willamette Valley natives can be used effectively in urban areas and I’ve been able to make some great connections to learn about meadowscaping. Stay tuned for an update on my pollinator meadow test plot!

Thanks for all the love and support as we start this new chapter!

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Virtual Spring Garden Tour

This is my garden in April. Some plants are just starting to wake up while others are in lush growth. It’s time for spring bulbs, the first asparagus, fruit tree blossoms and planting seeds. The weather alternates between showers, sudden hail and warm sunshine. Come on a little virtual tour of my organic garden.

20140418-002414.jpgGreenhouse

Having even a small green house makes year-round gardening easier, and it’s nice to have a space to overwinter tender plants like Citrus, lemon verbena and lemongrass. The 6′ x 9′ greenhouse was designed and built by my partner Michael and is constructed of a concrete foundation, gravel floor with worm bin vault (an idea I stole from fellow permaculturist Walker Leiser,) and a mix of new cedar and reclaimed lumber. The windows are all recycled; the large divided lights were Salvaged from the old Lincoln highschool. The roof is clear corrugated polycarbonate.

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Perennial edibles

There are over 60 varieties of perennial food plant in the yard, like these ‘Blue Crop’ blueberries. Edibles that come back each year require less embodied energy and are better for providing habitat and building healthy soil ecology. I think of my garden as a ‘food forest’ with tree, shrub, vine, herb, ground cover and root layers of food bearing plants. Perennial crops also help extend the harvest season. In very early spring greens like nettles and miner’s lettuce are a welcome treat and tonic, and soon rhubarb and asparagus are ready to pick. In the fall after the leaves have dropped, persimmons are the last sweet. Read about some of the perennial edibles I grow here:

Sea kale

Food Forest tart

Persimmon

Seaberry

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 The Raised Garden

About a third of the back yard is a raised bed that was conceived in out design phase when we decided we wanted an elevation change to add interest to the blank-slate back yard, and that we were going to have a LOT of soil left over from excavating around the house to create positive grade to solve a drainage problem. The concrete wall with its layers of natural lime wash is the only element in the garden we hired a contractor for. It is the right height for sitting on. This view shows a ‘Van Deman’ quince arbor that produces 20 pounds of fruit each year.

20140418-002924.jpg Utility Area

This zone combines compost bins, a coop for small poultry, a potting bench and a tool shed. The roof of the structure will hold a green roof.

 

 

 

 

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 Rain harvesting

These two 55 gallon barrels collect rain water from our roof to hand water veggies and new plants.

 

 

 

 

 

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Space for every one

This scene shows how our compact back yard has areas for everyone in the family. The eco-lawn with a pen for our rabbits is also a place to kick balls and have dinner outside. Michael’s fire place chimney is on our patio that doubles as a gravel pit for our kid to dig in. When we want to have drinks at the little table there we just do a quick sweep. Pots add extra space for quick spring crops like lettuce and arugula.

 

 

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The Shade Garden

The cool bed on the North side of our house is planted with tea camellia, ostrich ferns (that have edible fiddleheads) and a variety of shade loving species including many Oregon natives.

 

 

 

 

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Front Yard

A dwarf box hedge makes a neat border for a collection of minor spring bulbs and Willamette Valley native meadow plants like Chocolate lily and Roemer’s fescue.

We’re working towards certification with the Backyard Habitat Certification Program that involved planting over 5% of your property in local natives and enhancing habitat value and land stewardship such as  managing rain water on site. You can see the ‘Certification in Progress’ sign here.

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Pollinator Garden 

This winter we planted a narrow bed next to our driveway with Willamette valley native meadow seed mix and planted Western milkweed, Douglas aster and  wild strawberry. The plants are still tiny, but ground bees are using the bare soil as a nesting site!

 

 

 

20140418-003047.jpgFairy Garden

This container planting is a place our kid likes to play and is lower maintenance than annual flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pesticide Free Zone

We use natural gardening methods, not products, to keep a healthy balance in our garden. This means planting flowers for beneficial insects, mulching to discourage weeds and choosing the right plants for the site.

You’ll see a lot of these lady bug signs around my neighborhood. We’re doing a project to become the first Pesticide Free Neighborhood to make our area safer for kids, pets, wildlife, pollinators and everyone.

 

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Rain Garden

Water from winter rains is routed off our roof into rain barrels to store it for irrigation. The excess is managed on-site in this rain garden planted with native rushes, sedges, camas and other wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

20140418-003148.jpgWater Storage

This 250 gallon tank is hidden by grape vines and flowering quince. The water is used to irrigate annual vegetables during our dry summers. From June to September, expected rain fall is 0-4″. This amount of water lasts a couple weeks and we hope to increase storage capacity at some point with additional tanks or a cistern.

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Inspired!

Thank you to everyone who visited Overlook Neighborhood on the National Pesticide Forum tour! It was an honor and pleasure to meet so many amazing people. Some of my heros were in my garden and I’m still feeling giddy! I only wish we could have had more time to talk together. Luckily we got to have some great conversations at the forum and hear many talks and panel discussions, which will be available to view at Beyond Pesticide.org. If you missed the tour, I will post a virtual tour of my garden here on my blog. And be sure to mark your calendar for the 3rd annual Overlook Garden Tour on June 28 when 10 pesticide free gardens will be open!

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2014 National Pesticide Forum April 11-12

2014 National Pesticide Forum Coming to Portland
Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, Pollinators & Practices

The 32nd National Pesticide Forum, will be held April 11-12, 2014 at the University Place Hotel and Conference Center at Portland State University.

Register now for this incredible conference! Sustainable Overlook will be giving a neighborhood tour on Friday April 11 and Pesticide Free Overlook coordinator Mulysa Melco will be speaking at the Organic Land Management workshop on April 12.
Keynote presentations, workshops, and plenary panels will focus on solutions to the decline of pollinators and other beneficials; strengthening organic agriculture; improving farmworker protection and agricultural justice; and creating healthy buildings, schools and homes. By working with a range environmental, health, consumer, and farm organizations, we expect to bring together a diverse crowd in order to share our efforts to build local, state and national strategies for strength, growth and health—in line with our conference theme, Advancing Sustainable Communities.For more information and to register, go to www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.In addition to the program, people, science, sharing and strategizing, you won’t want to miss the food! Organic food and beverages will be served for breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday, and we will have organic hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine for receptions on Friday and Saturday night.Click here for the speaker lineup

Register online today or call 202-543-5450 to register by phone.

We encourage you to register in advance to ensure your space and food, but walk-ins are welcome as long as space is available.

This Forum is being convened by NCAP and

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Tomatoes 2014

The snow days were a nice time for spring garden planning and I’ve got my list of tomatoes ready! These varieties will be available in limited quantities by advance order – email me or leave a comment by April 15th to reserve yours for pick-up 0r delivery in the Portland area. Sturdy starts in 4″ pots are  lovingly and organically grown in my homemade compost. $2.75 each.

‘Sun Gold’ – 65 days – Hybrid – Sweet gold cherry type – the best! Grow in the ground or in a large pot. Productive. Great for snacking right off the vine.

Amana Orange’ – 70-90 days – Amish Heirloom. A meaty, orange, beefsteak-type. One plant produced about a dozen enormous, dense-fleshed, dark-yellow fruits last year.

Japanese Black Trifele’ – 80 days – Large, pear-shaped black fruits with green shoulders. Potato leaf plant. Actually from Russia apparently. Very pretty and great flavor.

‘Glacier’ – 50 days – Considered an extra-early variety with small (2 1/2″) red-orange fruit with a slightly pointed end. It’s supposed to be sweet and have great flavor for an early variety. Determinate habit but said to produce for a long time. Good in containers. I wasn’t impressed by the productivity of this one last year but I am giving it another try.

‘Italian Red Cherry’ – about 60 days — Heirloom. A very productive, early cherry-type on a small determinate vine. This is an unusual cherry tomato because it’s open-pollinated and compact. I think of it as a mini-paste tomato: rich flavor, dense texture, great for drying.

‘Chocolate Cherry’ – 70 days – Large, dark cherry type with great flavor. Very productive. Mix these with red and orange cherry tomatoes for a rainbow salad!

‘Green Zebra’ – 75 days – I just love these tangy, pretty fruits. Medium size with green and yellow stripes. You’ll know they are ripe when the background color turns warm gold, the flesh gives slightly when squeezed and they come off the vine easily.

‘Isis Candy’ – 75 days – A sweet cherry tomato, red with orange blotches. My friend Hannah introduced it to me in Minnesota and it always reminds me of the year her mom grew hundreds of tomatoes in colorful plastic cups for our farmer’s market stand.

*‘Cherokee Purple’ – 80 days – Heirloom. Large, beefsteak-type. Dark burgundy fruit with green shoulders and amazing, rich flavor.

‘Oregon Slicer’ – 52-85 days – An early red slicing tomato that does fine in cool springs and wet weather. Prolific, with classic tomato flavor. Uniform size for canning.

‘Principe Borghese’ – 80 days (or less)– Heirloom. Small, dense fruits (2″) are excellent for drying and store well. Very productive with long trusses of fruits. Determinate. From Tuscany.

*‘Pineapple’ – 90 days –Heirloom. Large, yellow with red streaks. Fruits up to 1 pound each.

‘Sweet 100’ – 70 days – Hybrid. Classic red cherry with great flavor. Very productive.

Note that seed from the ‘heirloom’ and ‘open pollinated’ varieties can be saved for future crops. The hybrid types, on the other hand, won’t come true from seed.

*New to me this year so the description is based on catalogs and word-of-mouth. The others I can vouch for!

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Build Habitat in Your Own Backyard

Here’s an article I wrote for the spring issue of Overlook Views, my neighborhood newsletter. Nikkie West of the Audubon Society of Portland contributed.

Every yard matters. What is yours doing for urban wildlife? With spring planting season just around the corner, now is a great time to think about incorporating native species into your landscape and to learn about supporting birds, butterflies and bees as a way to make your home more sustainable.

There are great organizations in Portland working to protect natural areas and set aside green space. Residential areas, however, constitute an average of 40% of urban land. Therefore, the efforts of individual homeowners and renters to help connect these fragments of habitat are incredibly valuable. Our region has historically been immensely biodiverse. We live at the confluence of two rivers and on the Pacific Flyway – a major bird migration route. Our many native bird, pollinator and wildlife species depend on locally native plants to survive.

One program that helps people restore habitat on their own property is the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, a partnership between the Audubon Society of Portland and Columbia Land Trust. The certification process begins with a home visit from a Habitat Technician to help identify invasive weed species and select native plants and other habitat enhancements that will compliment your yard and neighborhood. As a program participant, you’ll get this one-hour site assessment, a follow-up site report, discounted native plants as well as educational resources, coupons, encouragement, and recognition.

BHCP program co-manager Nikkie West, a resident of Overlook neighborhood, notes that a yard doesn’t need to have 100% native plants to be certified.  “Most people start with few to no native plants – and we work from there. For certification, only 5% of your yard needs to be naturescaped with natives. That leaves 95% for your dahlias, veggies, and other ornamental favorites.”

This past summer I signed up for the program myself. As a gardener, I wanted to incorporate more native plants, and as a sustainable landscape designer, I wanted to better help my clients who are asking for landscape that fit the BHCP criteria. I’ve gathered a lot of new information about creating urban habitat and the small steps I’ve taken in my yard have already been worthwhile.

Just adding a few dozen more natives, putting up some bird feeders and keeping our birdbath full of fresh water has brought new species to our small lot. My toddler watches the birds every morning and we’ve been delighted to spot flocks of adorable bushtits, bright Townsend’s warblers, and overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds.

Research by Audubon and PSU is showing that community-based restoration efforts are indeed having a positive effect on the native food-web: “yards having native plant habitat, especially those which are close to naturally maintained greenspaces, have higher species richness of flying insects, moths and birds compared to yards without native plant habitats.”

It’s exciting stuff and you can be part of it. Habitat can be a component of any style of landscape, from rather wild to well-groomed. If you’ve already gone pesticide-free in your yard, or are on your way, creating habitat by incorporating native plants is a great next step to making a sustainable home.

Join the momentum! There are currently over 1,900 Backyard Habitat Sites within the City of Portland and Lake Oswego. Help connect Backyard Habitats across the city.  Learn more and sign-up for the Backyard Habitat Certification Program today. 

 

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Ice is slowly melting..

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The ice storm left a heavy coating on the seed heads of this Morning Light maiden grass and every other thing. It dripped off during the afternoon but more freezing rain is expected. I hope our urban canopy isn’t badly damaged. In my own yard the eucalyptus, bamboo and many shrubs are bowed low.

The birds were frantic as the storm started on Thursday and we’ve been bringing out seed a few times a day. The hummingbirds are hanging in there and we even spotted a new visitor today – a showy Varied Thrush. That brings our species count for the week up to 18.

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