Posts Tagged ‘plants’

A Garden of Lights

Front Yard Lights

It seems we go a little crazy this time of year. I guess many people do. But what we do is decorate, decorate, decorate. We put up lights all over our garden and house. As you can see in this picture the plants that looked so serene in their winter stasis are now cloaked in the glory of Lights and more lights. We celebrate this as the Season of Lights in fact.

It’s the time of the Winter Solstice and here in the Northern Hemisphere that means that the days are becoming shorter each day and the darkness is coming on strong. Especially at a higher latitude like Seattle where it gets dark by 4:00 now. It’s Time to lighten things up!

In many northern countries there is a tradition of putting lights on trees at this Mid-Winter time of year. And also just to nurture the waning light and await the return of the light of the Solstice. It’s a time when people would get together and share what bounty they had over the winter months when things would become lean and lights did symbolize the belief and hopes that people had that light would indeed be coming back to prevent the dark from taking over the world. Superstition or reality? You decide. Those folks believed that their rituals actually brought back the light and whos’s to say it didn’t, for them anyway?

Plants Lighted

We like lots of color so we put different colors on the plants to emphasize their different natures. The “Sango-Kaku” maple, with its red stems, gets red lights, and the Oregon Green Pine gets green ones. On the left, where you can’t really see it, is a Colorado Blue Spruce and of course it’s got blue lights. The grey Pfitzer juniper is an anomaly since grey isn’t exactly a pretty color so we use yellow white on it, and on the Globe Arborvitae in the center, the Tree of Life, we use golden lights with a mellow glow.

The house is a whole different story of course. There we put up all colors of lights and do so all around the house, concentrating on the roof line and the windows. We get up on ladders and have h0oks up that we re-use every year to make it easy to put them up tho we still staple the others to the window frames.  We intend to put up hooks there too, so as we get older it’ll be safer for us to get on the ladders and put them up without danger of falling precipitously.

We went thru all our lights this year to pick out the good ones and decided that many had to be replaced, so we went to the store and bought a whole bunch of new strings. We’re thrifty so we used a lot of the half-dead strings to do the front. You can’t see them but across the whole front of the property there’s a double string of multi-colored lights on  the Nandina and Oregon Grapes, which look like holly,  and liven it up out there. In the dark it’s hard to tell that it isn’t holly and the sparkle of the leaves and the sinuous line of the lights draws people into the rest of the yard. We get a lot of people stopping by to look at the display even tho it’s really not as outrageous as many people do. But it suits us and gives us pleasure.

Nordman Spruce

Of course we have lights inside too on the Holiday Tree and we got some LED lights to do it this year. We got a Normand Spruce, a new tree to the holiday trade in the last 5 or 6 years we understand. It’s dense and has lots of branches and has a nice fragrance we enjoy getting close  to. We put it in warm water to start with with a touch of sugar and a hint of Chardonnay for good measure. It all helps…; ) We were sparing of the decorations this year and just put on a few to accentuate the lights and the shape of the tree.  I think more people will be using this tree in the years to come as it’s quite lovely and hardy and doesn’t lose it’s needles for a long time.

This may seem like foolishness and a waste of energy to some I’m sure. But it’s only once year and we are really pretty conservative as well as we can be the rest of the year, on electricity and water and everything else. We’re pretty frugal really. But we do splurge on the lights. After all it’s the Season for them, eh? A Beautiful Season of Lights and a Great Holiday to you all.

In Service to the Light,

Steve

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Preparing the Greenhouse

Interior of Greenhouse

As you can see by this shot I haven’t been paying much attention to my greenhouse lately. I’ve been too busy with other things and frankly it hasn’t been time. But it’s getting to be that way soon. As you can tell it’s time to do some clean up. The tomatoes that bore such nice fruit in the summer have faded almost entirely away and the hot peppers that produced such luscious spicy additions to our meals are starting to wane and they need eating soon or drying anyway. It’s time to spread the soil from the pots on the garden and clean up the benches. I need to wipe them down with a dilute bleach solution to make sure of killing any spores or diseases that might have come in during the growing season. Last year I had mold and I don’t want that again.

It’s time for me to start looking more seriously thru the endless piles of gardening and seed catalogues I get and order some things to grow next year. I know it’s too early to actually plant them but it’s going to be time soon enough. I’m still pretty new at this greenhouse business, having only had this one for less than 3 years and I’m still learning when to do what. I have my books to be sure and I do read up on when to plant things but I don’t have the innate knowledge of it that I do of the rest of my garden as a whole. I have so much to learn it overwhelms me. I want to do it right of course but this is one area where I have to be patient and to allow myself to make mistakes. At times it seems hopeless. But I love it.

I’m so happy to have this wonderful place to play and work in. Right now it’s not raining, for a change, but when it does I revel in just going out in the greenhouse and standing there and listening to the rain on the roof and hearing it rushing into the rain barrel outside. The barrel keeps the Greenhouse watered from the rains fine for most of the year until late summer when I have to fill it with the hose. I don’t have plumbing in this structure. So I use watering cans and they work swell. I haven’t had to water much lately because it’s so moist in there. In fact there’s a de-humidifier running now that helps keep the moisture down. It’s time to have the heat on too so that the tea plants and the other things that are still growing there have warmth on some of these nights when the fountains freeze over outside and there’s frost on the pumpkins when I get up in the mornings.

It’s time to get the starting bed ready too. To get it ready to turn on the wire heater that heats up the sand I have there that I set my seed flats on. Then I roll down the plastic covering and I have a mini seed starting bed right inside of the greenhouse. It’ll be time soon to do that. I don’t want to be too early but I don’t want to wait too late either. I believe in being prepared and it’s never too early to clean things up and make sure that all systems are functioning well and in good working order. That’s my task for now . Preparing things for later on when it’s time to plant. Because once things get going there’s not a lot of space for these sorts of things and you have to do them now when it’s empty. It gets full in here later on when things are in full growth.

I so enjoy the growing season. I’ve gotten really good at transplanting seedlings from the flats to larger containers and I love working with the tiny things and seeing them grow as they put out new roots into the soil. It’s so exciting and I’m thrilled to think that this cycle will all be beginning again soon. But not yet. First comes the cleanup and then rearranging things and getting ready for planting. So I have awhile. But it’s time to get serious about it all and I will soon. It just takes getting started and once I get into it I’ll have the whole place ship shape in no time and it’ll be ready for those little seeds to be placed gently in their flats and start the whole process over again. I love gardening and having a greenhouse extends what I can do so much. I feel so lucky to have this beautiful place that functions so well for me. It gave a lot of joy to many people the last couple of years. I think it’ll do the same this year. After I get it Prepared.

Happy greenhouse gardening,

Steve

Caring for the Birds

I’ve talked here a bit about the fact that this is a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary as registered with the WA State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. It’s something taken seriously here. This is a picture of my partner Louie feeding the birds, something he does at least twice every single day and sometimes more. He uses a Wild Bird Seed Mix which he’s putting into the feeder in this picture tho you can’t see the feeder. Next to him on his left is a High Energy Suet mix we put out in the cold times of the year and sometimes other times. We have feeders in the front and in the back as well and also have a Hummingbird feeder that even now has hummers out seeking its sweet juices.

We have a large assortment of birds here. Some of them we know of are the BlackCap and Chestnut Backed Chickadees, the Northern Flickers, Bluejays and  Stellar’s Jays, Rufous Hummers and other kinds I don’t know the names of, Finches including a  golden colored one, American Robins, Downe Woodpeckers, Starlings, Red Breasted Nuthatchs, Bushtits, Song Sparrows, Wrens and of course the Pigeons, Crows and Seagulls.

We may have others as well but I’m not a bird person so I don’t know the species of birds as well as the plants. We sometimes are visited by a Northern Harrier Hawk as well and we have pictures of it sitting in this apple tree just waiting for its next meal. We don’t begrudge it of course. It has to eat too and a pigeon or two now and then is a small price to pay for seeing such a magnificent bird. We also glimpse Bald Eagles overhead on many occasions but none have ever graced the garden and I doubt they will as we have no tall trees for them to sit in.

In addition to feeding the birds with feeders we feed them with plants too. I have so many bird and insect friendly plants I’ll mention only a few. There’s the Bee Balm of course that the Hummers love and so do the bees of all sorts. The Oregon Grape with it’s blue berries on the plants now and the Mahonia Charity which is blooming now in November with its bright yellow flowers and following blue berries are both favorites. The Choke Cherry is covered with fruit now and so is the Huckleberry. The Nandinas have bright red fruit that draws some birds as do the Pines with their cones. The Wintergreen and Salal have berries that they love as does the Manzanita uva ursi or BearBerry. It seems many of the Ericaceous plants are bird and insect friendly. Of course the Queen Anne Cherries overhead and the Italian Plum are favorites when they come into fruit and we don’t even get many cherries due to the crows and other birds but that’s ok. And the Apple in front is eaten exclusively by the birds as it has insipid fruit we don’t even like to make sauce of.

And besides food there is the issue of cover and forage for them to hang out in and be safe from predators like the hawk. There are many plants here that fill that role, principally the conifers and the bushy large shrubs that line the back of the property and the large front hedge of Arborvitae.  The side hedge of mixed deciduous plants is always full of little birds calling and tweeting and making a delightful chorus of sound and rustling noises. It’s so wonderful to walk out in the yard and hear them at their play and work getting seeds and berries to eat and singing to one another. And even the dwarf plants I’ve put around here and there are sources of cover for the birds to hide in and stay low to the ground where they’re safe.

We also have water easily available to them and you can just see the birdbath in this picture next to Louie. We try to keep it full at all times tho of course now the rains do that. In the back yard we have a large fountain that proves a wonderful place for the birds to clean themselves and especially when it’s running they love to play in the water and get clean and make a mess of the bowl but who cares? It’s some work to keep it clean but it’s worth it as are the other aspects of having a bird sanctuary. The birds also love to play in the water when I water the garden, especially the Hummers who dance around in the spray and seem enthralled with the water as it falls and tumbles to the earth.

We also have squirrels of course and an occasional raccoon, and the feral cats who keep the rat population down quite well. We’re grateful for them but they don’t let us get close tho we sometimes give them some tuna to show our appreciation for their essential work. We don’t have a dog tho Louie would like to have a couple and someday when we don’t travel as much as we do now perhaps we’ll have some. I have my trepidations but I know dogs can be a fine addition to a garden and home if they’re not digging up my favorite plants which they certainly won’t be doing. Animals are a nice part of all this and I love even the silly antics of the squirrels as they eat the bird food and play around with each other.

Plants and Birds are such a natural combination we couldn’t imagine living without the two together. We’ve made a big point of welcoming them to our garden and it’s so worth it to be able to enjoy their beauty and hear their songs I can’t envision a garden without them. I encourage anyone who loves birds to consider getting a bird feeder or two and setting them up in your garden, and to try to find plants that have fruits and berries and nuts and seeds that birds can forage and live on in your garden so that they’ll stay around all year. We have many transitory birds and see different ones at different times of the year of course but there are always birds in our yard. It takes work to be sure but it wouldn’t be complete without them. Go for it. You’ll find it so rewarding I’m sure you’ll be happy you did. And so will the birds.

Happy Birding,

Steve

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