LAST FRONTIER GARDEN
an Alaskan gardener's perspective
Sunday, May 27, 2018
A May update, Alaska style
The snow is gone, the moose are giving birth (and charging people who get too close to mom/baby), the pollen and dust are in the air: must be summer. A note to new visitors, we Alaskans call summer the season when the snow is gone, whether it’s technically summer or not.
This year looks to be a doozy with dry, cold, windy weather. But I won’t complain because:
1. the species tulips are blooming
2. the planted trees are breaking wood (the native birches are ahead of the garden game and leafing out now)
3. I have removed approximately 1/2 of the billion spruce cones littered around the yard. Yay for progress. I have a particular spruce tree I dump them all under as a sort of funky ground cover. My children have been recruited for many years now to fill a bucket with cones from the lawn every spring and dump it in their special place. Some years I pay.
4. The deck has been re-stained and will be ready for pots of plants and the old teak furniture set as soon as it is dry. I keep having to go over it “one more time” with the espresso colored stain every year. It beats the awful orange color and cheap look it used to have. Now it looks terrific (from a distance) and we don’t have to contemplate a new deck quite as soon as we thought.
5. I haven’t had to mow the lawn yet.
6. Being without a potting table for 8 years has been a trial. But no longer, court adjourned! My table is nothing grand, but it does the trick. It has the admirable characteristic of showing off just how many rusty garden hand tools I own. Too many. Where did they all come from? Now I can pot up those cute little things growing in the gravel walkway: a fern, a few Elymus magellanicus, and a Penstemon pinifolius.
What’s on your May to-do list?
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Hare-pocalypse and other calamities of spring
Ah, springtime, when a gardener’s fancy turns to 10 ways to trap snowshoe hares, or Best Crockpot Ideas for Rabbit. For Alaskans it’s often the moose that cause carnage, busted trees, trampled shrubs, and a gaping hole where that $25 perennial was planted. But 2018 seems to be the year of Peter Rabbit. I suppose that makes me Mr. MacGregor.
But Christine, you’re wondering, how could you tell that this spring was the year to beat all for bunnies? Well, I’d say, it all started with the daily sightings of Mr. Bun. Then advanced to his two or three best chums hanging out on the snowy lawn. Now we’ve reached the point that the poor 6-foot tall blue spruce in the back yard has been grazed from the ground up to the height of, I’ve got it…a bunny’s reach! My rugosa roses (nothing is in leaf yet in my yard) have been nibbled back to their 5 stoutest stems. And I really lost my temper as I drove up my driveway recently and observed Mr. Bun calmly chewing the bark from the trunk of my ($27) crabapple ‘Prairiefire’ that I took great care to encase in moose-high fencing, but neglected to encase in rabbit-low fencing. Drat!
If the hares aren’t horrible enough, I’ve had the remnants of the long winter’s nap of a goodly portion of the vole kingdom to deal with. They must have sent out favorable word after the winter of 2016-2017 (wherein I saw evidence of a few nests) so that by the winter of 2017-2018, a veritable horde did a long term air bnb in all (I repeat, all) of my Deschampsia. Which was no small feat, I have around 30 specimens of a few different types. They left the Calamagrostis and Festuca alone. I guess those grasses must have had bad reviews.
Now I have no problem with the vole squatting situation, but for the unfortunate tendency to chomp back the grasses a wee too short over the winter. After exhausting this supply, they raid the next door pantry (via vole trails under the snow, see pic above) and on and on through the garden. The grasses seem to be bouncing back after this rough treatment, but the neighboring Penstemon pinifolius was grazed a little too low and has died.
I’ve determined by the end of the summer, my yard is going to resemble a maximum security prison with multiple rows of fencing if I hope to save my favorites. That, or if my wild game hunting spouse has his way, we will be having a five star recipe I found for rabbit stew with mushrooms. Quick math question: three rabbits in the spring means how many rabbits by the summer? I dread the answer to this.
I can only hope this pair of bald eagles will visit my yard again soon and take Peter and Company with them.
What eats your garden?
Sunday, February 18, 2018
February is not my favorite month
Not least because I am on a very restrictive diet per my doctor’s orders. (Something about a strict diet makes me grouchy.) No sweets on Valentine’s Day was a blow, and no chocolate on my anniversary in a few days will be tough. And every morning looking at the bread and bagels and muffins and turning away…let’s say I’m getting rather sick of grapes and nuts and water for breakfast. No, February is brutal because it is cold and dark.
This year seems especially cold. I wear a coat and sometimes a hat in my house. This is in addition to the sweater and slippers and wool socks. With that kind of indoor getup, I feel like I should be chopping wood, hollering at the kids to put the kettle on, and calling my husband “Pa.”
We have chickens, so going outside is mandatory, especially on those really cold mornings to check on their water to make sure it’s not frozen, heated waterer notwithstanding. In 6 degrees, it’s no joke to pull gloves off to collect eggs and chisel ice off the chicken water. I’m very happy to run back to the heated house after that, in fact, in my haste once or twice, I have fallen.
I really wanted to attend the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle this month for a dose of green sights and smells (and heat), but that didn’t happen. So I’ve had to settle for green fantasies on the internet. Googling “new American prairie” or my favorite nurseries has become a lifeline. Also, making a to-do list has helped distract me. Nothing like a long list of chores to dispel gloomy thoughts…hmm, maybe not.
So here we go. My list of things to do this spring (if spring ever does come to this forsaken wilderness that is Alaska):
1. Get a potting table built by the resident engineer. He has assured me this is possible, but demands dimensions. I say “about this big by this big” (gesturing with my hands) but that is not (I report from years of experience) the way an engineer’s brain works. Exact dimensions for computer-aided rendering are required. I suck on my teeth and muse whether a chalk outline on the driveway will be sufficient.
2. Pot up all that rubbish growing in the gravel walkway through the garden. I’m looking at you Deschampsia seedlings. And you too, precious, wonderful Elymus magellanicus sprouts. I think I have some Penstemon that has seeded around I could pot up as well. Which justifies all those black plastic pots I have stacked up, I guess.
3. Sod ripping. I regret to say this is on the list. I am tired of trying to mow the turf up a tricky steep patch in the front lawn. No more, it’s coming out. For a run down from the last sod ripping debacle, see here. I wish I could say “been there, done that” with finality, but it seems we will be doing that again. Big sigh and mental note to remember to wear back belt for support this time. This is a task that helps a gardener remember their advancing age. Phooey.
4. Attract as many hummingbirds as possible. I have become the crazy garden lady with a fetish. I think I’ve gotten the same hummer stopping by the last day or two of July and first few days of August for the last two years. I figure it’s filling up the tank before starting on the big migration back southward to Arizona or Mexico or wherever it hangs out most of the year. Step one, plant a bunch of things hummers like. Check. Step two, hang a sugar water feeder, check. Step three, for this summer, plant even more things hummingbirds like. Which aligns nicely with number 5.
5. Buy more plants. I know I don’t have to explain this to most gardeners. On the list, a rose (request from my daughter, who asked for a “real rose,” not the rugosa types I have planted now. Explaining the realities of moose a ’munching hasn’t convinced her that this request is unreasonable), more Penstemon (I can never have too many), another try at Monarda (while uttering a prayer to banish mildew), and maybe a blue poppy (Meconopsis).
I wonder how many of these items I will accomplish and how many will be banished/procrastinated to another year or season. I still have many weeks to think about it. Spring arrives late here: April in a good year. So here’s to internet garden dreams and doodling on a sketch pad until then.
Got any black plastic nursery pots stacked up in a corner? What’s on your spring to-do list?