Go oaks!

My last few weeks have been focused on Oregon white oak, Quercus garryana. Did you know that much of the Willamette Valley, including Portland, and the Columbia River Gorge were once home to oak savannah and oak woodland? These incredibly beautiful, long-lived trees were an important part of the ecosystem for people and animals and had their own unique understory plant communities. They have been under threat for the last 200 years from logging, development, fire suppression, invasive species and now climate change. I’ve been learning as much as I can about them to help protect and rebuild these habitats. My next few posts will be about the projects and oak adventures I’ve been involved in.

Here are opportunities to learn about white oak and get involved in restoration:

October Free Skills Share: Acorn Processing Workshop with Rewild Portland
Tomorrow, Saturday October 25. Learn about oak ecology and get hands-on experience processing acorns into flour.

Friends of Overlook Bluff: Get involved to help preserve a heritage oak and create a nature trail along the Willamette Bluff in North Portland.

Friends of Baltimore Woods: Further North, this group is also working to restore and connect oak fragments along the bluff.

Backyard Habitat Certification Program: Boost the efforts of conservation and restoration groups by creating habitat in your own yard. It’s easy to get started!

Thinking about creating an urban or rural meadow or oak planting? I can help with design, planning and plant/seed sourcing. Contact Resilience Design. 

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White oak at the Atlan Center near White Salmon, WA

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A managed oak savannah near The Dalles, OR

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The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, a place to learn about oak ecology and see oaks and their plant associates.

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Sarah of Rewild Portland at the Managing Oak Woodlands workshop in The Dalles, WA this week.

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Farming with Friends

A couple years ago I helped my friends Kjell and Kim get started gardening in their back yard in Northeast Portland. They were enthusiastic and had a great first year, but life intervened the next season and it got away from them. Surveying the jungle this spring, Kjell had the idea of getting friends together to get the garden up and running again and making it an excuse to come together for a meal every week or so. Thus the garden would get the attention it deserved and we could spend time together regularly… Mallory Farm was born.

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Every Monday night this season we’ve planted, weeded, watered and harvested with a rotating group of families and neighbors. The garden has undergone an amazing transformation, lots of new skills have been learned by doing and many great meals (spearheaded by Kim, thank you!) have been eaten at the picnic table. We’ve pickled beets, dried tomatoes and had cocktails made with garden produce. The season will start to wind down soon but the garden is getting prepared for winter with cold weather crops like cabbage, kale and brussels sprouts. We’re planting mustard greens, cilantro, spinach and fall lettuce varieties. Maybe in the next few weeks we’ll make some simple cloches for greens.

There has been fine tuning along the way, as there always is with organic processes like building community and growing vegetables. We’re created a little more structure (rsvp, please!), jimmied with the drip irrigation, called a few crops a loss and tried a lot of new recipes.

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We’re had some unexpected successes too, like an excellent carrot patch and a bumper crop of large heirloom tomatoes (it’s a pretty rare year in Portland when that happens!) The French pumpkin start I impulsively purchased in June has become a monster vine with several huge, gorgeous fruits ripening on it.

Over the course of the last few months the little kids involved have participated in all sorts of ways, tasting, weeding, planting. Last night my toddler used a little clipper for the first time to help cut down the mint patch. It was a little nerve wracking for me but he was so proud of himself. We garden at home most days but there is something special about gardening with friends. Sometimes I get caught up in the list of things to do and making sure everyone has a job. The kids help me remember to enjoy the process.IMG_4744.JPG

Tbird made bloody marys with tomato juice and pickled beets from the garden.
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The kids planting garlic and checking the pumpkins.

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Harvesting

 

 

This time of year, a few times a week I do a big harvest of ripe veggies for canning, drying and freezing, and then the pick greens and herbs we need for meals daily. I realized the beautiful heap of edibles laid out on the back steps on harvest nights deserved to be documented. Here are photos of the abundance of the last few weeks.

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IMG_3730.JPGAll images copyright mulysa.org 2014

 

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Pickled Beets

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It’s time to harvest beets and make sweet beet pickles! They are a pretty addition to an appetizer tray, are great in salads with blue cheese and walnuts or just for snacking. I use the 1967 Ball Blue Book recipe, modified slightly. My dad uses equal parts by volume sugar and vinegar which is a great recipe if you like them sweeter.

This year I grew  ’Early Wonder Tall Top’ variety from Carol Deppe Seeds. They were the best beets I have ever grown. All the seeds I got from her were fantastic which I have never said about a seed house before. Carol Deppe is growing in the Willamette Valley for the regional climate and has also written great gardening books.

Harvest the beets, shake off soil and trim tail to 2″ long. Cut off the leaves and save them for braising or soups. Rinse the beets outdoors and then boil them whole for 10-20 minutes, depending on the size. Transfer them to a bowl of cold water and the skins will rub off easily.

Slice the beets or cut them into chunks. Small ones can be left whole. I like to cut them with a ridged cutter – it’s pretty.

Make brine (for every 3 quarts of prepared beets)

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. salt

2 T. pickling spice

1 1/2 cups water

2 1/2 cups vinegar

Combine in a sauce pan and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash your jars and have them standing ready in hot water. Simmer new lids for 5 minutes to sterilize and soften the rubber ring and let stand in hot water. Have your water bath canner ready with boiling water, with wire basket and your utensils at the ready. Obviously it helps to work on this with a few friends.

Pack beets into hot jars and cover with hot brine, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Screw band on finger-tip tight. Lower filled jars into water bath canner and process at a full boil for 30 minutes. If you have an outdoor burner to do this on so you don’t heat up your house, that is ideal. Do not burn yourself or others.

Remove gently from canning kettle and place on a towel. The jars will continue to form a vacuum as they cool and you will hear that lovely ping as they seal. Let them cool over night before moving them.

Admire, share with friends, store them away for winter and enjoy!

 

 

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Flowers for fall

My little friend Florence asked what flowers she can plant now to make fall flower arrangements for her cottage industry. Sounds way cooler than a lemonade stand, right?

From seed, there are a few quick-growing annuals that germinate in warm soil and would bloom in September. These all make good cut flowers. Keep the seed bed moist so while they germinate and then water regularly. Feed with organic fertilizer too.

Buckwheat

Calendula

Zinnia

Dwarf sunflower varieties

Lacy phacelia

Cleome

There might still be starts of these and other annual at garden centers or New Seasons. Be sure to get organic plants so they are free of neonicotinoid pesticides that harm bees. Garden centers that are aware of this issue include Garden Fever in Northeast and Birds and Bees in South East.

Potted perennials that could be planted now to bloom this fall are hyssop (Agastasche), Chrysanthemum, Asters, Golden rod and Japanese anemone.

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Douglas aster

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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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Gathering Season

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The June rain has made all the herbs lush and it is time to harvest. Today I picked hundreds of just-opening calendula blossoms to dry for use in herbal bath mixes. I’ve cut Moroccan mint, my favorite for tea, and lots of Greek oregano.

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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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