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Tackle the garden with clear mind

Garden Muse

Last week, I wrote about getting into a clear calm state by raking. Once I'm breathing deeply, feeling tranquil, I reflect on how I can change the garden to make it even more beautiful and manageable.

Recently, in that peaceful mood, I noticed that the cluttered space beneath the old apple tree could become a grove of ferns. I've learned from experience that if I take my time, working step by step, the process will be much more pleasant than if I rush.

First, I'll remove many of the Mrs. Robb's spurges that have colonized there over time. Next, I'll dig up daylilies that no longer get enough sun to bloom. Then I'll mulch the ground with a thick blanket of leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips - by next spring it will be ready to plant. Fortunately, I also found some ferns already growing in my garden that need new homes.

Plant mediator

Plants don't walk, but they certainly travel. Underground by root and rhizome, on the wind by seed, they move along, sometimes invading each other's territories. One of my most beautiful ferns had been overtaken by a hellebore that had seeded down so close beside it that the poor fern was as crowded as a passenger in the middle seat of an airplane.

With the ground so damp, it was easy to dig up the two jumbled up plants and separate them. I could almost hear the fern whispering, Oh, the sweet relief! I replanted the hellebore in the same place, as there were already drifts of them growing there, and rescued the fern for a place of its own. It was pretty robust, and could even be separated into several divisions.

With just a little effort I pried and teased apart three separate ferns. I potted them up and moved them to the greenhouse where they'll grow over winter until it's time to move them under the apple tree.

A second fern was struggling to grow where Solomon's seal had crept too close for comfort. I dug down with a deep spade, lifting the fern along with the Solomon's seal. Then carefully, I separated the fern from the thick white roots of Solomon's seal, and potted it up to join its sister fern in the greenhouse. This fern also was easy to divide into three parts, so now six ferns await their new homes.

Solomon's seal's root system is so strong it can grow just about anywhere. Next spring I'll transplant it underneath the big old plum tree where the ground dries out every summer.

Thank goodness for birds

With fewer flowers to enjoy, I appreciate the birds more. A pair of binoculars sits on my desk along with a copy of Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds. This morning, an unfamiliar bird came along, as exciting as a dahlia - it had orange eye stripes, orange wing bars and a striking black band across its russet breast. Wow! Hopping across the lawn, bobbing for worms, especially where leaves had gathered at the edges of beds, it was a beautiful sight. Pretty soon a second bird scuffled with it for the best worm stash. Flipping through Western Birds, I learned that they were varied thrushes.

Robins are still feasting on the last of the Concord grapes, while chickadees scramble up and down the sweet gum trunk, hunting for insects. I wonder who else will show up to feed on the garden's bugs and fruit. When I put out feeders, rodents come calling, so now I rely on the garden's natural gifts to feed the flocks. Judging from the number of visiting birds, there's plenty for everyone.

Better rake makes life easier

This looks like the year when we'll be raking for quite a long time. Friends and neighbors have mentioned that leaves are not falling according to past schedules. It's not just the sweet gum trees that are holding on - many deciduous trees are slow to release this fall.

Raking has always been a pleasure for me, but up until recently I could never get my metal rakes to pick up the sweet gum fruit. The spiny green balls would get caught in the tines, or left behind, stuck in the lawn. Now my new Fiskars rake does the job. It's 24 inches across, a good width for gathering up plenty of leaves. The long, lightweight aluminum handle gives me a substantial reach, and the curved poly tines grab the sweet gum fruit without clogging.

Raking has become more satisfying than ever with the right tool.


Coming events

Winter Structure in the Garden, 1 p.m., Dec 11, Al's Garden Center, 7505 S.E. Hogan Road, Gresham. Free event, open to the public. For more information, call Patty Howe, 503-726-1162.