Featured Stories

Thinking ahead — way ahead — in the garden

Garden Muse • To-do lists and sticky notes are helping for now
by: Barbara Blossom Ashmun, “Party Array” daylily is part of a new planting for next summer's improved border.

When I first started gardening, I made 'To Do' lists on little notepads, and kept track of what needed to be accomplished each week.

Commands such as 'plant dahlias, mulch hydrangeas, fertilize fuchsias,' kept me on track, and I took pleasure in crossing out the tasks as they were completed.

My friend Marian told me that her mother, a champion list maker, enjoyed crossing out items on her list so much that she would even add something to the list at the end of the day - something extra she'd done that wasn't in the plan - for the joy of putting a line through it!

I still like to keep track of tasks, but now I use chartreuse sticky notes. I plant the most urgent ones on the kitchen countertop: 'Water hydrangeas! Put out yellow jacket traps!' I paste less critical ones to the door: 'Divide red and yellow daylilies. Propagate 'Mutabilis' rose. Move golden hosta getting too much sun and swap it with 'Bowles Golden' sedge.'

Now, instead of the pleasure of crossing out finished jobs, there's the joy of crumpling up sticky notes and pitching them in the recycling basket. The only trouble is the house is beginning to look like a sticky note patchwork. I'm seeing the wisdom of my husband Tom's electronic lists, but I'm not ready to switch.

Planting tools

Out in the garden I have other ways to remind me of where I've left off so I don't lose track of the process. Especially when I'll be away from the garden for a day or more, I leave place markers that are easy to spot. I stick a spade in the soil if I'm in the middle of planting. I lean the rake up against a tree close to the bed where I'm smoothing out newly turned earth. When I'm pruning or deadheading, I park the wheelbarrow right where I need to continue.

Killing my plants to save my back

Lately I'm removing plants that need frequent dividing, deadheading or pruning, or simply spread too much. In years past I would have recycled these to other gardeners, but now I know better - I would just be passing along the headache to some unsuspecting novice. So out they come and off they go to the big compost pile, to be turned into black gold, or to the yard debris bin if they're too woody to decompose.

Out come Siberian irises and fall-flowering asters that seed around endlessly in muddy shades of blue and lilac, hogging the borders and threatening to produce yet more progeny. Sometimes I have to heave the mattock to get all the roots out, then renew the soil with fresh compost before replanting. It's a good workout, and gives me quiet time to consider how to redesign the bed for easier care.

While I'm digging I remember how these very same plants were once invaluable in covering ground and keeping weeds at bay. Now, to me, they've become weeds. How things change in the garden and in my mind! Still, keeping them for sentimental reasons won't work. So I keep digging and thank them for their years of service. I'm working hard now to make life easier when I'm 70.

Time for a change

Sometimes we get stuck, doing things the same way out of habit, for comfort, or for tradition. Eventually the turning point comes, when frustration or even physical pain asks us to change, to meet a new phase of life creatively, to overcome a problem that's been staring us in the face and now demands a solution.

Recently I was shocked to learn that a friend was selling her home and garden to move to a high-rise condominium. 'How can she do that? How can she give up her beautiful old house and tranquil garden?' I asked.

'She must need something else at this stage of life,' my husband Tom replied. 'Maybe she's done all that, and now she needs something new.'

'I can't imagine ever being without a garden!' I said.

'I can't imagine that either,' Tom said.

'Well the day might come, and that's why I'm growing all those plants in big pots,' I admitted.

My collection of trees growing in large tall ceramic pots, including 'Gold Ghost' pine, and two favorite Japanese incense cedars, 'Sekkan Sugi' and 'Black Dragon,' are preparation for that day. Meanwhile, I'm changing out irises for eye-catching shrubs and colorful ground covers so that I can continue to enjoy my garden without being enslaved.

You can reach Barbara This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Coming events

• Green on Green Garden Tour, fundraiser for Portland Reading Foundation, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 26, a self-guided tour of five North and Northeast Portland gardens. Tickets $20. For tickets and full information contact www.PortlandReading.org .

• Northwest Hosta and Shade Gardening Society presents Diana Reeck of Collectors Nursery in Battleground, Washington, speaking on "A Breeder's View of Epimediums,' 7 p.m., Sept. 28, at the Smile Station in Sellwood, 8210 S.E. 13th Ave. Free Event. Contact 503-643-2387 for more information.