Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions Aren’t Written in Snow!

DD Two

Whew! There’s nothing like working off holiday food stuffs by digging yourself out of the New Year snow drifts brought to us annually by the comedy team at Mother Nature. Is that a run-on sentence? Who cares? I’m still trying to get my breath back and think straight after tossing chunks of concrete disguised as snow off my driveway. Actually, half of my driveway is now a legal road. So, it’s about a tenth of a mile long. Get my drift?

The end of the year has a way of highlighting all of our flaws and fears. You know, like, ‘I need to lose about 20 pounds!’ and ‘I really need to get to the gym more often’ and ‘I hope I can get in shape for gardening next spring.’ Yeah, the usual backsliding whining about stuff we should be doing on a regular basis, but, find a myriad of excuses not to do. We really ought to be resolving to have more actual resolve in the new year. So, even though I really loathe those seasonally correct garden columns about what we’re all going to resolve to do next year, I took a look to see what I lectured our dear readers to do last year.

Make a compost heap. Heck, I didn’t even have time to turn mine, let alone use it! I just kept piling on the waste. True compost takes time. It needs to age. Keep telling yourself that and you can live with it till spring.

Keep a garden journal. That’s an easy one. ‘Get my husband to do more weeding, raise the lawn mower higher, get him a nice luxury style kneeling pad.’ I kept my journal up to snuff with little or no problems.

Take photos of the garden all year long. Hmm. I didn’t do so well on that one. It’s kind of hard to take pictures in a driving rain in June, July, and August. Did we actually have a gardening season this year?

Buy Alaska Grown nursery plants. Did you see those dead hanging baskets at the big boxes last May? Do you ever see plants like that at your neighborhood nursery? Of course not! Can you ask intelligent questions and get an intelligent answer from your local nursery? Do their plants usually survive the winter better than those beaters you buy at Mall Mart? Just say ‘Yes!’ and we’ll let you off the hook.

I guess I have to keep these on my list of New Year’s resolutions for 2007 again. But, I know I’ll be encouraging gardeners to add the following resolutions as well:

Get in better physical shape! Boy, is your back ever your friend? You betcha! If you can’t see your belt buckle or your knees when you look south, you will pay dearly come spring. Those muscles that hold up your back are holding up that front end as well. Extra weight puts a lot of stress on your knees, hips, and lower back and increases the risk of osteoarthritis while wearing away the cartilage that protects these joints. So, get those boots on and get out the door and walk, talk, walk, and shovel snow or something. Join a gym if you can because it’s awful hard to fake a workout while others are watching! Nobody goes to the gym and quits after fifteen minutes. So, work out with a buddy or a group of friends. Your gardening will be less of a chore and you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor without laboring to bend over. You’ll live longer and be happier as well. I know my back feels a lot better when I work out regularly. Now, if I could just stop eating. . . .

Go to the Alaska Botanical Gardens Fair in June. You’ll see lots’ of folks from the Valley there and you’ll have a good time and see beautiful plants, art, hear great music, eat, buy plants, eat, walk through the woods, eat. (Is it lunch time yet?)

Go to the Blue Poppy Garden Walk, Les Brake’s Coyote Garden Tour, and the 3rd annual Art and Garden Festival at the fair grounds in July. Keep an eye out for the garden calendars or check our blog for the dates on these Valley fairs. There are so many beautiful plants, art, and things to eat at these events that you won’t want to miss them!

So, are we resolved enough for next year? I for one, resolve to eat lunch now and shovel snow later. Happy New Year!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Musings from the Outhouse Garden

DD One

There’s nothing like the cold shock of that first contact with an outhouse toilet seat at twenty below to make one’s mind turn to gardening! The thing is, if your mind is not in its ‘happy place’ it could be a different experience altogether.

I don’t suppose one should admit that they use an outdoor privy, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. We live in my grandmother’s home – it is small, with plumbing designed for one little old lady. The septic moans and protests on a regular basis as it struggles to keep up with four times its designed load. The result is a periodic revolt, usually in the middle of the winter when the temperatures are the least outhouse friendly. It is during these times that we are blessed with the walk to the outhouse.

The facility is located on a ridge behind the house, and the walk takes several minutes. The path goes up a small hill, across a little clearing and into a small forest. Here it winds a bit as it dips down then up another small incline to its final goal. This miniature forest is my favorite spot on our property. The trees are tall and well spaced, the under story lovely. It’s not a man-made garden, but a garden none-the-less - naturescaping at its best.

Mixed with the Birch (Betula papyrifera Var.humilis) and Spruce (Picea glauca) are two members of the Populus family: White Poplar (Populus balsamifera) and Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). From the privy door the odd Mt. Ash (Sorbus sitchensis) can be seen, though their berries have long been striped by Grosbeaks and marauding Bohemian Waxwings. Under the heavy snow fall I can just make out various shrubs: High Bush Cranberry (Vivernum edule), Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum), Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis) and an occational Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Out of my view, just over the edge of the hill I know there is a beautiful stand of Devils Club (Echinopanax horridus). It is magnificent in the spring as the giant leaf buds pop out of the bare prickly stems, changing them from gruesome into something glorious almost overnight. Later when the thicket has become impermeable, the red berries glow against the huge leaves, contrasting with the rest of the woods in their tropical beauty.

Although I can’t see them, I know the snow conceals Red Currant (Ribes triste) and a pallet of mosses, lichens and evergreen Lingenberry (Vaccinium vitis idaea). Further down, dormant now beneath the ground, are perennial plants such as Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis), Monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium), Bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), Alaskan Violet (Viola langsdorfi), Cranesbill (Geranium erianthum), Baneberry (Actaea rubra), Angelica (Angelica genuflexa), Creeping Bedstraw (Galium triflorum), Ground Dogwood (Cornus Canadensis), Watermelon Berry (Streptopus amplexifolius), Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) and the semi-evergreen Timberberry (Geocaulon lividum) and Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia).

The path just outside the door follows downward through a thick patch of Club Moss (Lycopdium annotinum) as it works its way between trees, its bright arms poking out here and there as a reminder of its evergreen tenacity.

Why all this outhouse drivel? I receive frequent questions about Naturescaping. "How do you design natural plantings, how do you choose your plants, how do you know what likes to grow where, what wants tending, what doesn’t?” The answer is simple. I visit the outhouse.

The answer is also complex. To get it right you need to study the directions of the sun, the wind, the snow buildup, the drainage, and the moss growing on the trees. You need to notice when things bloom, when they fruit, when mushrooms emerge and when they melt into piles of slime filling the woods with their own distinctive musky odor. You need to be aware of details such as what grows next to what, which moss is happy on decayed wood and which is happy on stone. What embraces traffic and what shrinks from it? Observe through an entire year of seasons; take notes, and photos. And if you’re really serious about a natural garden, give me a call. I’ll let you visit the little house. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget to check out the Outhouse Garden photos in the album to the right! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Applesauce! Oh Applesauce!

For me, winters are incomplete with out fresh apple sauce. Actually, we make it all year round. It goes without saying that made in the fall out of fresh apples plucked from our trees, gives us the tastiest brew. If fact, if the harvest is good, I can usually make the season last till Christmas by freezing those that do not store. For the rest of the year, organic apples from the store make a fine substitute. The recipe below is for an even mixture of red and green apples, but I prefer to mix several varieties together. We grow five varieties that bear well, which thrown together, produce spectacular flavor. The joy is not just in the tasting, but in the making of this delicious treat. The smell of apples and spices floating on the air is an aphrodisiac to the senses. Served hot or cold it satisfies the appetite for festive fare and is as easy to make as it is to eat. Here is Christmas Eve dinner with applesauce taking its rightfull place of honor in the foreground.

Winter Apple Sauce (or fall or spring or summer)

Core unpealed apples and chop into bit-sized pieces - not too small. Use half red apples and half tart green apples. DO NOT use red or golden delicious. These are nice to look at, but are nasty to eat. They lack the flavor, vitality and body that it takes to make a good apple for sauce (not to mention anything else! They are just sort of nasty all the way around...) Put the apples in a sauce pan on low heat; add some sugar and a mixture of mulling spices. Put the spices in a cloth bag so they can be removed after a couple of hours or the sauce will become bitter. Simmer until the red apples are beginning to fall apart. DON'T FORGET TO REMOVE THE SPICE BAG AFTER TWO HOURS! The green apples should still be firm, but cooked. What you are looking for is a sauce that is half chunky and half soft. You now have the perfect food! This is not a soft, mushy sauce like that which comes in a can, but rather a full bodied, real food.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Beginnings Born from Loss


For Readers: an apology.

What’s been keeping us offline? Michael finally lost his battle with skin cancer on Dec. 14. (See posting on Nov. 12 “Gardeners Take Care of Their Own”). He was a fun, funny, cantankerous Welshman and is painfully missed. Some of his ashes have gone home to Wales to be cast upon the mountains he loved. The remainder will be spread here in his adopted home with the family he wished not to leave. Michael was more than a fellow gardener to me, he was also my brother-in-law and his death has left a deep void in my extended family. We have been compensating with lots of days and nights spent together knitting, crocheting, playing games and visiting.

From loss is often born new beginnings, even from the most devastating loss. In a strange way, Michael’s death has birthed one such beginning. My sister and her girls, myself, my Mother and my son have started to felt. We call ourselves the Fat Felters, comically suggested by my Mother and immediately pounced upon by the rest of us. In the photo above I am in the forefront, my sister, Hally, in the back. You can see why we loved this handle! It will be our winter passion, our therapy, our healing hands. It will lend in pulling us through this difficult year of transition and help bring us out the other side whole again. It is a wonderfully comforting thing to do when one’s heart is sad, there is three feet of snow outside and the temperatures are in the negative teens.