Friday, June 8, 2012

Black Velvet Is A Four-Season Fabric

Photo courtesy Flickr

I’m not quite ready to wear black velvet on the street in July, but over the last several years I’ve seen more than a few pieces in public during our so-called hot months. Let’s face it: synthetic velvet is fake fur and a practical, comforting layer in the cool and damp dawn of a local summer morning. It ain't bad in the cool gray humidity of an August cocktail hour, either.
For several months I’ve nibbled at internet images of a down sweater on offer from the Deep South America outdoor clothing company. I feared buying one would be indulgent and redundant, until I tried one on during a short tour of the Great Big Hiking Co-op down the hill.
I heat the house as little as health permits, substituting clothing for carbon dioxide. It’s cost-effective and fun, sort of, a survival exercise and an affirmation of historic local culture. Like the English houses that influenced the Oregon Territory, pioneers found sixty degrees to be a perfectly adequate interior temperature no matter how prosperous the family.
The trick to layering clothing is to keep the armcye unencumbered where it meets the torso. The down sweater is an elegant solution, and I haven’t taken mine off since I brought it home. The co-op is consistently two or three years ahead of the fashion curve. The things they offer have as low a cost-per-wearing as anything I buy.
President Kennedy dominated the polls with his image of youth and vigor. One of the secrets of that image was to dodge the bulky wool overcoat of the time by layering beneath his suit with cashmere underwear. Layering from beneath simplifies many aspects of dressing. Back in the day, women wore many layers of petticoats under their long outer skirts. I find it useful to emphasize warmth on the bottom. A generous muffler is nearly as warm as a disquieting fur neckpiece, more flexible, and easier to store. A simple, high-quality knit angora beret from the benchmark English hat maker warms, works under hoods and as a night cap, and is easy to store in a side bag.
This is a good time of year to plan the winter’s wardrobe. Things you buy to enjoy in the field can work all year round under the roof.
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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Photo courtesy Flickr

English garden writer Vita Sackville-West remarked on the accidental combinations that pop up in a landscape, how they surprise and entertain in ways that cannot be predicted. Native plants dominate the garden. My general intention is to recreate the sense of a roadside bank of flowers by the sidewalk and a period homestead landscape inside the fence. The scheme is not totalitarian, though. Oregano, of all plants, like a stray cat has declared that it likes it here and intends to stay.
The oregano stepped across the sidewalk onto the front lawn and happily established itself along with yarrow and clover. This spring that area of the front sward is knee-deep in oregano punctuated by forget-me-knot blossoms and the unexpectedly appealing yellow flowers of buttercup, number one plant on my hit list. Now and then at the end of the season I groom the area with the mower, and the yard smells like pizza.
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More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sculpting the Landscape

Photo courtesy Flickr

When we moved into this, our second house, I was besotted with rhododendrons. Pulp and glossy catalogues from Oregon nurseries made me a worthy magpie competitor of a neighbor who wrote about gardening for a living. The Weyerhaeuser corporation had donated land for an international species bank of the rhododendron, and we made our way to headquarters one spring morning to check out the new garden.
It was so new that most of the acreage was covered in deep piles of fresh sawdust waiting to decompose into planting soil. Second-growth firs and a gaggle of understory plants offered shade, and a magnificent garter snake sunned its iridescent blue belly on the bank of the pond.
Some years later we had a huge hemlock tree in the back yard taken down. Planted as a 1926 souvenir seedling from Lake Crescent, it had become a safety hazard. We salvaged the firewood and turned the branches into a pile of sawdust that buried part of the back yard. In a couple of years, that sawdust decayed into wonderfully giving soil.
A sad excuse for lumber, hemlock is the golden retriever of conifers, and I realized that hemlock sawdust might be the key to the maintenance mint here in Nagle’s Addition. I’d been avoiding the suburban bark chip syndrome, but broke down and started emptying bags of Alpine Magic mulch on the sections of the garden that were most difficult to control.
I maintain perennial beds with the lawn mower, simply mowing and mulching in place at the end of the growing season. Using the mower as a drawing tool, I defined convenient areas of lawn and mulched the rest of the site with shredded bark. Over several seasons, the lawn has shrunk to a patch where I mow weeds: the rest of the front border is now a grassy path through a simple meadow of yarrow, clover, and herbs.
Next year the garden will be transformed by the shadow of a new apartment building. It will be a small matter to improvise a response to the change with native plants that are strong in their preferences and independent in their behavior.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Garden That Cares for Itself

Photo courtesy Flickr

Well, nearly. It looks as if this season I’ll be able to get away with spending just an hour or two on Saturday mornings.
The title of this post is lifted from Tam Mossman’s book by (almost) the same title. Gardener emeritus at Yale University, Mr. Mossman laid out a scheme that slashed maintenance for the home gardener. I have not followed all of his advice, but the basic notion of gardening to reduce maintenance has informed most of my decisions for the last twenty years.
Weekend soil conditions were perfect for weeding. I found that I could pull on the fragile tip of a length of vetch and extract a root ball two feet away. Timing is everything in these matters: a few days after heavy rain, the soil is light enough to be workable and damp enough to give up weeds with little struggle.
A group of friends could give a splendid housewarming present by volunteering one gnat’s eyelash hands and knees weeding of every inch of a property. Mulch keeps weeds at bay, and organic practice fosters the worms that till protected soil.
I got my garden under control before the organic community developed the sophisticated weed control products that are on the market, so I my experience is with traditional management. It takes just one pass through an area in the spring and a clean-up session at summer’s end to keep the place looking properly tended. I toss weeds and prunings onto the lawn and mow them at the end of a grooming session. Aside from kitchen waste, all the composting is sheet composting.
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Monday, June 4, 2012

Wildlings

Photo courtesy Flickr
This is a lovely time in the garden, when spring growth has matured and things are not yet dry. The native yellow iris is in bloom behind a native shrub rose, and the combination of clear, bright pink and sharp, clear yellow lights up that small aspect of the landscape.
As I communed with the plants on Saturday afternoon, I realized that they are antiquities as surely as any jade mask in a museum of the tribes. The accidental beauties of this small, pure, self-replicating landscape are far more rewarding than any of the labored efforts of my early years in the garden.

Photo courtesy Flickr
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More after the jump.