my own private tulipomania

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crazy town, right?

There’s a lot of the traditional horticultural canon that can be grown well here at the moist Oregon Coast in zone 8b/9a that I’m skipping so far– hellebores, roses, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, hostas, maples, Oriental poppies, peonies, clematis to name a few. So you could say I’m not a true traditionalist. And yet I fall hard for tulips, one of the most common spring bulbs, culprits in the most garish displays, hawked from the cheapest wholesalers. Why is that? (Doesn’t everybody interrogate their garden choices?) I even grew a few pots of tulips in zone 10, when the bulbs had to be refrigerated before potting and then kept diligently watered if the winter was dry. Here in wet zone 8bish the bulbs are potted up in fall and placed out in the rain. Done.

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So out of all the worthy genera in the horticultural hall of fame, I fall for tulips. Why?

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What I Like About Tulips

  • Tulips are light catchers.
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  • Tulips are intensely architectural
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  • Tulips are agents of transformation, something true of all bulbs.
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  • Tulips are ephemeral. (Let’s hope the hybridizers never meddle with this sacred trait, which would drain all meaning from the experience.). They are the horticultural equivalent of a one-night stand, a spring bacchanal. No commitment required. An extravagant exclamation point after a long, rainy winter.
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  • Tulips are one of the few overly hybridized genera that I’m on board with. They are fantastical creatures to begin with, so it’s nearly impossible to take things too far.
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We were away for 12 days or so, just when the tulips in pots were coloring up. It was entertaining enough to order them, pot them, wait and watch for them to nose up, elongate and form that iconic shape. I consoled myself, if the blooms were done by the time we returned, no big deal. Sometimes the process is as satisfying as the result. But that practiced philosophical shrug was unnecessary. Cool, rainy weather prevailed to slow the blooms down just enough until our return.

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Fritillaria persica ‘Green Dreams’

I like tulips in pots, a concentrated, intense dose of the life force to light the match that ignites the garden in spring. I doubt I would plant them in the ground as part of a spring landscape even if I had the space. They would be completely out of character in my little garden, which is more textural, even bordering on austere. These fritillaries, on the other hand, I would totally plant in the garden for spring, if they weren’t so expensive and apparently unreliable as far as repeat bloom.

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I did check on the fritillaries I saw last year, and there are no flowers this year, just leaves, which apparently is common with this fritillary, so not a reliable repeat performance.
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Just a half dozen or so pots, but it’s my own private tulipomania.

Posted in Bulbs, Oregon garden, pots and containers | 3 Comments

Annual Manzanita Plant Sale April 21, 2024, 11 am – 1 pm

Not to add unnecessary drama to an already exciting event on the Oregon Coast, but judging by last year, the plants do leave the sales tables fast…very fast! Come early for the best selection! Support the greatest little garden on the North Oregon Coast and talk manzanitas and other cool plants with Wonder Garden experts.

Posted in plant sales | 5 Comments

new to me; Fritillaria persica and others

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Last spring a local nursery had planted whiskey barrels with Fritillaria persica. Which jarred me into the realization that I could too, that fritillaries were a green light on the Oregon coast.

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This March it is such a kick to see the Persian lily in bloom, even if it’s only the one (they’re expensive). Planted in a 20-gallon galvanized bin also holding a still dormant Salvia ‘Amante’, I can now affirm that its reputation for distinctive beauty was not exaggerated or a trick of photography. Liberated from books and magazines to become a tangible thing in my garden this spring, it’s one of those tiny watershed moments in a gardener’s life. This gardener’s life anyway.

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‘Miner’s Merlot’ euphorbia, also new to me, hits similar color notes. But unlike the fritillary, I know euphorbias fairly well and can mentally place them in a context that I just can’t for the fritillary. One is familiar, the other exotic. Technically, both are exotic, with ‘Miner’s Merlot’ a form of Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid native to France, and the fritillary native to southern Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern countries. But “exotic” does not only denote geography, it can mean a bracing unfamiliarity that stirs the imagination, as in this fritillary reminds me of an exotic treasure Marco Polo would have brought to dazzle the court of Kublai Khan.

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Euphorbia ‘Miner’s Merlot’
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Rumex sanguineus, the “bloody dock” or red-veined sorrel

Continuing the color theme somewhat, the bloody dock has unexpectedly had great presence all winter. I’ve read of but never grown this edible ornamental before — but who could forget a common name like “bloody dock”? Nice to put a name to a face. Loves moisture so is thriving here.

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Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue’

And there’s lots of what might be considered mundane that is new to me too, like the biennial lunaria, or money plant, famous for its translucent seedpods. Lunaria is out early, willing to cover cold ground, taking space away from weeds. (Weeds are prodigious here, with bright green bindweed seedlings emerging daily, something to tackle with the first cup of coffee.) ‘Corfu Blue’ is said to possibly be perennial. Along with ‘Corfu Blue,’ I’ve also sown the purple-leaved Lunaria ‘Chedglow.’ If all goes well, this year should bring my first encounter with those storied seedpods apart from admiring them in the dried flower stall at the Los Angeles Flower Market.

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Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’

What looks like straw in the above photo is a combination of grasses I’ve been cutting back since February. Early grasses like deschampsia were cut back first, as new growth at the base appeared. Just recently I’ve cut back the other grasses including miscanthus, so beautiful all winter, a favorite winter presence along with eryngiums and Digitalis ferruginea.

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“straw” comes from chopped remains of last summer’s grasses. Still feels like a magic trick to me, that a summer garden can rise up again

Deciduous grasses have been easier to deal with than evergreen grasses like sesleria, which need trimming, raking and grooming instead of a one-time buzzcut. I generally avoided cutting back perennials like penstemon and salvia until new basal growth was visible. Anecdotally, survival chances seem enhanced when the old top growth is left over winter, and hearing the garden rattled by birds seeking food and cover is another winter pleasure. So cutting back the garden for spring has been an ongoing activity depending on the plant, not a one-and-done event, and there’s still a few things to cut back. But the garden has definitely left its tall beige winter phase and entered the green stubble phase, which thankfully is short-lived.

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Carex ‘Everillo’ and the first to bloom Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

The various carex have been flawless all winter, including a carex lookalike grass from New Zealand, Chionochloa rubra, which I’d argue is more strawberry blonde than rubra. Very slow growing, with a long period of belonging to the exasperating club of “Is it alive or dead?” Now that it’s larger, other colors are emerging, greens and gold, and it’s taking on some personality.

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Chionochloa rubra from New Zealand aka Red Tussock Grass

I’m glad I stuck with the Red Tussock Grass, moving it to a more prominent position where its form can best be appreciated — a spot that always seems to be in the gravel intended for the broad walkway…

Posted in Bulbs, journal, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

March mixes it up

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Morina longifolia

The month of March, fittingly named for the god of war, here at the coast is a pitched battle between winter and spring. Winter battles for supremacy lobbing hail, snow, and night-time freezing temperatures, but it’s a dead-ender’s ploy. Spring confidently retaliates with brilliant blue skies and blinding sunshine. And then, unless it rains, which it hasn’t the past few days, we plummet into the 20sF again overnight. It’s a dizzying mix, a month that alternately snarls and beguiles. The brief appearance of snow came not in softly parachuting flakes rimmed in poetic sparkle, but in goofy wet blobs that melted on impact, leaving no trace. But unlike rain or hail, snow, even this wet snow, falls so soundlessly that it creates a different kind of thrill as it makes its descent in charged silence. The hail dumps precipitously in noisy buckets, and this is what’s piling up in roadside drifts, hail not snow. Billie particularly despises hail, which always provokes barking jags. But typical of her species, she can’t help attempting to catch and eat falling snow.

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Morina longifolia in flower last July

Some more plant portraits this morning:

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Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’
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Euphorbia x martinii
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the cardoon
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house leeks

Some blog housekeeping that might provide some diverting reading in March. A hack at one point knocked out content mid-posts, and occasionally I stumble on the problems and restore what I can. Restored posts include Western Hills, Worldwide Exotics Nursery and San Marcos Celebrates 40 Years, links provided. Those posts and other longish ones can be found at the header under “Long Form.” Now to get Billie out for a walk while blue skies and sunshine are winning!

Posted in blog, climate, Oregon garden | 7 Comments

orange in the garden

It’s February. How about another color study, this time in orange? Color theory has orange as vital, energetic, happy, but on this cold windy day I’m appreciating its warmth. I’ve promised Billie a walk but am procrastinating heading out into the wind and instead have been rubbing my hands together over digital embers of orange. Included are calceolaria, iris, lots of aloes, glaucium, poppies, ranunculus, isoplexis, kniphofia of course, gerbera, lilies, tithonia, arctotis, leucospermum, fritillaria, ornithogalum, oil drums, senecio, eschscholzia, leonotis, canna (so think of matching name to photo as a kind of game). For the Oregon garden, I’m counting the days til sowing seeds six weeks before the last frost, a moving and slippery target, especially if snow does a reprise of 2023 and makes an appearance in late April again. Daydreaming orange is great for steadying the when-to-sow-stuff nerves and impatiently waiting for plants and seeds to arrive on the porch. Stay warm!

Posted in clippings | 6 Comments

studies in scarlet

For this February 14th holiday that takes a circuitous route from honoring a 3rd century martyr to exchanging tiny messages on candy hearts to ask: who do you love? And not a red rose in the bunch, just some photos I stumbled on in a disused photo hosting site to mix some red into a rainy Wednesday. Happy Valentine’s Day!

absolutely inedible (ricinus!)
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Posted in cut flowers | 4 Comments

Oregon Coast garden in February

I apologize up front for the contrasty results of my point-and-shoot on this brilliantly sunny morning, but it will be too dark for photos within the hour under these temperamental skies. (This is as far as the working collaboration with my camera goes in difficult light conditions. I was very gratified to learn that Patti Smith once confessed she had no idea what she was doing with a camera either.). But I think the general sense of how the garden coped with the ice storm is conveyed, and that’s good enough for my own recordkeeping. To wit, in the photo below, everything in this stock tank seems fine: Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ (still holding onto and opening flowers), restio Chondropetalum tectorum, and golden blur in the background Cassinia leptophylla. Shrub in the ground to the right is Hebe ‘Western Hills.’ Clockwise from the hebe is Eryngium agavifolium, with bottom center an asphodel bought local, mostly likely A. lutea. I thought the freeze would cull out the zillions of Omphalodes linifolia seedlings, but no, they all still appear to be there, needing thinning by me.

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I haven’t planted much that can’t take a zone 8 winter unprotected, but saturated soil combined with the unusual ice conditions had me worried not so much about plant losses, but ugliness issues. And on that score, it could’ve been worse. The only outright death was a Lavandula ‘Goodwin Creek Gray,’ nothing to cry about.

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one of the Windcliff phlomis, P. ‘La Sud’ surrounded by evergreen Morina longifolia and sisyrinchium
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My small-sized Yucca rostrata are fine, even the distant one under the planter which was moved in the fall. At the planter’s base is an Arctostaphylos ‘Pajaro’ planted in 2023 retaining good color and no die-off. (And in the bowl of the planter, surprisingly a small Echeveria agavoides survived! Reputedly hardy to 14F, and we did not achieve that low here.)

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A tarp was thrown over this container of Echeveria agavoides tucked under a metal utility cart up against the house
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A few of the aristea’s leaves did brown, but not many

The most detailed protections were made for this beschorneria and the strappy aristea. The prospect of waiting for them to outgrow severely blemished leaves was incentive enough to build a cardboard tent, which worked well. The leaves are mostly pristine.

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The hebe in the foreground is ‘New Zealand Gold.’ Astelia chathamica looks none the worse for wear in its pipe.

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Phlomis monocephala grows up against the concrete patio, slightly under the overhang, and seems to have come through the ice fine, as have all the phlomis. Silvery shrub is Cassinia x ozothamnus.

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Also protected in this area was the sideritis, with an overturned bucket. I lost all top growth in the April 2023 snowstorm and was hoping to hang on to this growth, if possible. Looks good so far.

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Just forward of the sideritis, hardiness of Calluna ‘Skyline Barcelona’ was not really in doubt, but it still surprises me that it looks this fresh after the ice ordeal.

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Looking east between stock tanks and the garden. Rhodocoma capensis’ icy performance was interesting to observe but thankfully not damaging. (The third stock tank unseen behind the restio holds mostly winter dormant plants.)

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The tetrapanax had already lost its leaves pre-ice storm, some of which I piled on dahlias and Canna ‘Cleopatra’ for extra protection
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The garden-side planting in front of the middle stock tank (with the beschorneria). No losses in the ground here. Rosette is Kniphofia hirsuta, to zone 6.

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Not much seems to faze Euphorbia characias, a very welcome sight in early February
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I don’t know how euphorbias do it — maybe the milky sap acts as antifreeze?
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Phormium ‘Pink Blush’ splayed out under the ice but seems to have recovered
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incredibly hardy little shrublets, sweetly scented, Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’
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After the ice storm, Euphorbia stygiana is probably as shabby as I’ve seen it in two winters, but alive. Many of the branches were bent, but I’ve left them to die in place to protect the new growth at the base. Confoundedly, they aren’t dying at all but greening up. 70F last Monday and the bent stems still did not wilt but remained firm. I checked this same euphorbia at the Wonder Garden in Manzanita a couple days ago and it’s in much worse shape, probably from stronger winds, even though it’s technically a warmer spot.

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Melianthus was stripped of all leaves except at the tips
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the unprotected baby Metapanax delavayi seems fine
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as does the Sinopanax formosanus sited under a shop stool to protect from paws and feet. The surrounding stock tanks may have helped protect it from the blasts from the east
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Hebe parviflora angustifolia is sited just in front of the shop stool, and the east winds knocked it back hard. A lush, willowy evergreen, 3X2′ is now a thready mix of green and brown. Apart from losing a lot of leaves, no real damage is visible.

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Tender perennial Senecio candicans a little beat up but still pushing out new leaves
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A few big Cerinthe major purpurascens seedlings were blackened, with smaller seedlings like the above unscathed.
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bedraggled but still blooming. I saw a bee on the flowers today.

Anisodontea, the Two-Face Shrub. The east side was blackened, and for several days the patio was strewn with fallen black leaves resembling slimy spinach. New growth has already started. The west side of the shrub showed little damage and has started flowering again.

Posted in climate, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

rainy day thoughts on fences

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approx 5-foot section of fence to the left of the gabion planter is the wobbly portion. it picks up strength again heading into the corner

Having inherited a boundary fence in the back garden, I think about it quite a bit. It’s been an insistent presence since we moved in, devoid as the space was of anything but fence, grass and bark mulch. Fences in front yards are not standard in this coastal Oregon neighborhood — though I want one in the front too, maybe a low cattle panel fence for Billie, who is irrepressibly social. Coming from LA, front and back fences are a given (unless you’re in an HOA, I suppose.) Children, pets, fast cars, security were all practical considerations for the front and back fences in LA.

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The backyard fence in LA was promoted to powder-coated metal several years ago. We worked on it with the adjoining neighbor, and everyone loves it. No rotting, no painting!

But a fence alone is not enough for garden makers. We are inclined to obscure boundaries and fences to increase the sensation of being in a boundless world apart. I did this in Zone 10 and came to bitterly regret the root intrusion, excessive debris and loss of sun for the plants that needed it, like agaves.

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Here in Oregon I painted the fence black and considered the job done. A “double blind” screening approach — a fence for security and privacy and then strategic planting to hide the fence — wasn’t a priority. This choice still puzzles me slightly. Neighboring houses loom over the fence from the south and east. Have my privacy requirements changed over the years? Possibly. (I do know that as an “older” woman, I don’t feel the insistent intrusion of prying eyes anymore, a huge relief.) Not knowing this climate zone well was another reason for resisting the urge to plant large, permanent stuff to hide the fence. Time and space were also considerations. I’m feeling the pressure of time and the garden definitely feels the pressure of space. And I see a lot more sky and flying geese overhead in this stripped-down approach.

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For the moment, I like the austerity of the stark fence, and the boom-and-bust cycle of the garden that grows within it.

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I’ve really enjoyed becoming acquainted with herbaceous plants like Pycnanthemum muticum in the Oregon garden

During the ice storm, after watching the fence uncharacteristically sway in the wind, I reflexively began to “test” the fence, like the raptors in Jurassic Park, though not to escape but for strength. Sure enough, a short stretch of the back fence has become dangerously wobbly. I grab it daily now and give it a gentle tug to check on durability vs. potential calamity. Shouldn’t we do something rather than wait for it to fall down? I asked Marty this morning. Sure, let’s sink a post when the ground dries…and in this temperate rain forest, we’re talking maybe June.

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mountain mint and joe-pye weed

One of the byproducts of eliminating from consideration woody plants for concealment and structure is the freedom to focus on all the herbaceous, moisture-loving plants I couldn’t grow in zone 10. And so far these herbaceous plants seem able to withstand whatever the weather throws at them — and the weather has been so inventive the past couple years, hasn’t it?

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Hesperis in spring is something I look forward to seeing again in 2024

But if that small portion of wobbly fence fails, I know that will be psychologically alarming. And dangerous for Billie. So maybe we can get a supportive post up in the coming weeks, notwithstanding very wet ground and a couple more atmospheric rivers heading this way. And I know that fence will continue to be on my mind until it either fails or is mended.

Posted in climate, design, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

ice storm aftermath

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I moved most pots into the garden shed but a few with tulip bulbs took their chances outside

Some quick notes on the recent ice storm, that for us on the Oregon coast descended on Saturday, January 13. A fine icy mist encrusted everything — houses were entombed in ice, including doors, roofs and siding, a very peculiar sensation for inhabitants! Daytime temps after the event on the 13th began warming up over freezing, but nighttime temps stayed below freezing, keeping the icy status quo outside and all of us off the streets, whether by foot or car. Warming daytime temps caused ice to crash down off trees, buildings and utility wires during the day, but freezing night temps kept the roads and sidewalks unsafe for travel. Once the daytime thaw started, watching ice bombs crash down became a macabre form of entertainment (see video below). The clatter and crash of ice was a hopeful if also slightly scary sound.

I think it was on Monday, the 15th, that I took a hammer to the walkways around our house in the backyard, breaking up slabs 1/2 inch to an inch thick and throwing it on the gravel areas, a cathartic and satisfying activity! Even though nighttime temps didn’t rise above freezing until Wednesday with return of rain, with the icy paths bludgeoned we were able to walk to the garage for supplies, make sure the generator was working if needed (it wasn’t), and just generally feel in charge again. On Monday, with dry patches cropping up on still icy pavement, I slipped heavy socks over my rain boots, and we gingerly made our way outside to the school across the street to give Billie a short outing, which we continued every afternoon until the rain brought a full thaw on Wednesday. (This idea of slipping socks over shoes to improve traction kept popping up on social media, and I can definitely say that it improves chances of not falling.) Once outdoors, Billie initially seemed confused which inclined her to stand still on the icy ground — not a good idea! — but eventually got the idea to keep moving and enjoy the fresh air. In the video you can see how close the school is to our house; nevertheless, it felt like a drama-packed expedition to arrive there safely, picking our way very very carefully.

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I didn’t capture any dramatic icy images of plants because I couldn’t safely step into the garden…

There was never any snow, though it was predicted for the weekend of the ice storm. The local utility worked nonstop for two days to restore power outages mostly caused by icy wires, though downed trees were a huge problem in Manzanita, where I volunteer at the Wonder Garden. The heroic utility/People’s Utility District announced a well-earned short sleep break Monday evening. We never lost power at home, but there are still sporadic power outages cropping up, with an outage announced this morning in the west end of our town. Overall, the coast had an easier time with this arctic blast than Portland, which has experienced serial ice storms and more days and nights under freezing temps, thus slower to thaw. Damage in my admittedly young garden here looks minimal, but it’s way too soon to tell. The only real obvious casualty is the gorgeous Hebe parviflora angustifolia, which probably just took a hit to its good looks and may recover, albeit at a much smaller size. Tentative reports place the cause of this dangerous and rare weather event on warming temps weakening the polar vortex plus effects from El Nino — whatever the cause, it’s another one for the history books!

Posted in climate, Occasional Daily Weather Report, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

weather report 1/13/24

Today is the day we’ve been dreading all week, when daytime temps at the Oregon coast hover around 30F and “icy rain” arrives. The week’s weather has been typically tumultuous and no undue cause for concern — just the usual rain, lots of hail, sporadic bouts of clear skies for walking Billie, more rain, all against a backdrop of daytime temps mostly in the upper 40s/low 50s and nighttime temps well above freezing. No recent frosty mornings. Very much in keeping with our recent upgrade by the USDA into zone 9a.

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New Year’s Day 2024 at the beach, the glory of the Oregon coast. To push back against privatization of beach access, in 1913 Oregon beaches were cleverly deemed “public highways” and thus open to all

In early January it felt balmy enough that we were still taking Hannah and Billie to the beach.

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no walkies for Billie today in the icy rain

And then this week rumblings started of what the Arctic blast might unleash at the coast. Shifting but portentous forecasts began to coalesce into solid predictions of “icy rain” for this weekend, particularly Saturday — I had no idea what that would look or feel like. (I covered some plants for the first time, feeling very smug and practical for doing so. But I think the uncovered Phormium ‘Pink Blush’ is toast and probably much else.)

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east window looks like a frosted shower door. And note the tiny icicles! Schefflera very happy to be indoors looking out at the icy world. Houses are amazingly insulated here, unlike our drafty bungalow in Long Beach, with its historically mandated single-pane windows

Several hours into the day-long event, I have some observations to offer. Icy rain appears to be a very thin mist that barely registers to the eye as rainfall. It is neither sleet nor hail. Wind is picking up by the afternoon, but overall the event isn’t too scary. But try taking a step out of the house, and you’ll face the full slip-and-fall horror of the phenomenon. Nobody, not even foolhardy kids with delusions of immortality, are braving the sidewalks. The utility wires are accumulating dangerous loads of ice, and there’s already power outages reported in Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Netarts and Oceanside. Marty optimistically bakes oatmeal cookies — whether they see a warm oven before the power gives up is the game now. Fluffy snow, like we had last winter, is vastly preferable to this ice sheet that’s descended.

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a small room with north and east windows is easily kept warm and where I mostly hang out, hence the mess on the table. Note my hydrangea wreath, the first of several I’ve made!
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Aloe ‘Tangerine,’ Long Beach garden December 18ish, 2023

A quick visit south for the holidays revealed aloes about to bloom. More to say about new plans for the southern garden, the intricacies of local weather, wrapping faucets when ice threatens, our boundless love of the pellet stove, but I’ll post this while the power holds. Take care!

Posted in Oregon garden | 7 Comments