Some days I feel overwhelmed by my garden, especially in early spring when everything cries out to be done all at once.
Cress explodes, shouting 'Catch me if you can!' Rose canes swell, whispering 'Prune me, shape me.' Blackened hebes with cracked trunks beg to be yanked, while dead wood on the elderberries waits for the saw. Seeds must be sown, perennials divided, pots are ready to be hauled out of the greenhouse.
Now in late winter, just thinking about all this makes me anxious. So I take a deep breath and consider the wisdom of a maintenance calendar. In the quiet days of the dormant season, getting organized can save you from a meltdown. Planning ahead gives you a little more control over the runaway garden.
A monthly wall calendar lets you see what's coming up a few weeks at a time, while a yearly wall calendar gives you an even bigger picture. Some folks enjoy a weekly desk calendar. Since I'm not a techie, I can't advise you about an electronic calendar, but I'm sure many keep track that way. My techie husband says it's even easier, as you can carry tasks over from year to year.
If you keep a gardening journal, last year's notes will help you plan this year's tasks. If not, check out the comprehensive 'Twelve-Month Gardening Calendar' in Part 2 of The Timber Press Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Or follow the format of the OSU Monthly Garden Calendar http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/calendar as a template, copying its headings: Planning; Maintenance and Clean Up; Planting and Propagation; Pest Monitoring and Management.
I would add 'Appreciation' to the list - a reminder to spend at least a few minutes at the end of a frenzied day in the garden to enjoy what I've accomplished and take a fresh look at the improved garden. Pausing to do this fills me up with gratitude for the abundant garden and for being able to tend it.
As last-minute reminders, I stick post-it notes on the side door leading to the garden. Urgent orders such as 'Propagate 'Mutabilis' rose,' 'Move hosta into deeper shade' and 'Fill hummingbird feeder' keep me on track.
Calendar of Color
I loved making my own calendar of color. Credit goes to my first horticulture teacher Herb Orange, who recommended we keep a list of plants as they bloom by the month. I wrote in a tiny notebook that fit in my purse, and sometimes even picked a stem of flowers for Herb to identify in class.
Scribbling notes helped me stay focused on what was blooming. This was especially true early in the season, when I most hungered for color, and late in autumn, when I was reluctant to let the garden go. Writing down plant names also helped me remember them, as I'm a visual learner. When someone declaimed Epimedium or Campanula, the words evaporated. But when I wrote them down, the printed words remained etched in my memory.
At the end of that first year, I organized each month's Calendar of Color into Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Bulbs, Annuals and Vines. That way, if I wanted to design a vignette in my garden with a tree, some shrubs and a few perennials and bulbs that flowered at the same time, it was easy to select a cluster from one of the months.
For example, the February listing shows me that winter daphne (Daphne odora), with fragrant pink blossoms, opens at about the same time as blue lungwort (Pulmonaria), white snowdrops and hellebore hybrids in an assortment of pink, wine, pale green, yellow and white. White-flowering sweet box, with dark green glossy leaves and white flowers, also blooms in February and matches up well with these same companions.
Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), bearing yellow flowers on bare branches, is another winter treat. The aroma of honey leads you to this shrub, especially on a sunny day. Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) with pale green flowers at the tips of deep green foliage is a good companion - both plants prefer dappled shade.
'Dawn' viburnum blooms on and off from autumn through winter, with bright pink, clove-scented flowers studding the bare branches. My neighbor Laura Forbes grows hers on the the corner of Southwest Brentwood and 78th Avenue for passersby to enjoy. If I had one, I'd underplant it with white hellebores and snowdrops for a pleasing picture. A little planning ahead will make next year's garden an even greater pleasure.
• Washington County Small Woodlands Association Oregon Native Plant Sale, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., March 13, 2010, Bales Thriftway, 17675 S.W. Farmington Road, Aloha; 70 varieties of native plants, trees and shrubs that require less water and fertilizer, and attract wildlife. Pre-order selected plants online beginning Feb. 15 at: www.wcswa.org. All profits are used for educational purposes. For more information, call Bonnie Shumaker at 503-324-7825
• Ninth Annual Nerd Night, hosted by KXL's Mike Darcy, 7 p.m. March 5 (doors open 6 p.m. and people line up at 5:30 p.m., seating available on a first-come, first-served basis), Our Savior's Lutheran Church, 2000 Country Club Road (across from Lake Oswego High School), Lake Oswego. Plant sale, lectures and slide shows by specialty nurseries.