A garden gate

Time for a few garden updates before we return to the Mexico series. At work, I was pleasantly surprised to walk into the greenhouse and smell something wonderful and floral. Following my nose, I found one of this hoya blooming.

One of my Cryptanthus was also blooming. The flowers aren’t that showy, but it’s the leaves that count. They remind me of the pattern on moth wings.

Back at home, water returned to the creek on August 25th, just five days after it had dried up. This was the first time that our creek had gone completely dry in our 15 years of living here, so it was a bit scary. A few weeks later, I heard something odd a few feet upstream on the neighboring property. Someone was quietly digging a hole in the creek bed and lining it with plastic tarp. I have a feeling the two events are connected.

Around the same time period, we caught this on our trailcam. A bobcat kitten! The neighbor’s dachshund disappeared a few weeks earlier and the rabbit damage in the garden had mysteriously stopped, so there was a definite predator effect in our neighborhood. But then, one day, I noticed there was a whole bunch of new herbivore activity going on in the back rock garden. Entire plants had been nipped off and the top part had completely disappeared – very different than rabbits, which tend to be sloppy eaters. There were also some suspicious looking holes being dug everywhere …uh oh. Problem solved a few days later when this ground squirrel got relocated.

Around the yard, things continued to be very, very dry for most of September. Even though I watered as much as I could, I couldn’t keep up and things fried in the heat. My new golden chinkapin (Chrysolepis chrysopylla) was one of the many casualties towards the end of a harsh summer.

For some reason, the top two thirds of our Kalopanax pictus also suddenly wilted and died. It is planted close to the creek, so I doubt it was drought related. I haven’t had the heart to investigate further and suspect it was either some sort of disease or insect. There are a few living leaves still down at the bottom, so I’ll leave it in place for now to see how it does next year.

This strategy of leaving things alone for a while seems to have worked for the poor Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’ that fried back in July. The cambium was still slightly moist and green underneath the bark, so I kept watering it. Here is my reward – a few healthy new shoots just in time for fall. The overall plant still looks pretty sad though. I guess I will see how much of an actual recovery it makes next spring and decide then whether it is worth saving or not.

New shoots
Sad tree

Back in June, when I was feeling a little poorly about progress in the garden, I set myself a goal of three projects to accomplish by the end of the year. Those were:

  1. Finish upgrading the deer fence in the back yard, including building and installing three gates.
  2. Install five fence panels in the front yard.
  3. Make progress on replacing weedy gravel paths with pavers. This year’s goal was to complete the area between the raised beds and the rock garden next to the house.
I’m happy to say that all three are done. Here’s the first gate that went at the top of our wooded lot. It’s not visible from the garden, so I didn’t put in a lot of effort. It just needed to be functional.
The new gate before it was hung

For the second gate, which is visible out our dining room window, I put in some effort to make it more aesthetically pleasing. One morning I was hit with inspiration for how I could use the old wine barrel rings I had lying around. I built a quick frame with some reclaimed wood and started laying things out.

The beginnings of an idea to use a ring as a "window" towards the woods beyond

I attached the ring with some short tree branches and screws, and then filled in the bottom part of the frame with lichen encrusted hazelnut branches.

It's all about the rustic look around here.

For the barrel ring, I kept thinking back to my childhood spirograph and my long-standing fascination with spiderwebs. So, I drilled a few holes around the perimeter and used some garden twine to come up with this woven, sunburst effect.

There it is, all finished just behind and to the right of our large grand fir (Abies grandis). Someday, there will be a winding path leading back to that point and the woods beyond.

Here is the view out our dining room window the following morning, with the newish rock garden in the foreground and the gate (hard to see) in the background. The gate is not really as far away as it looks.

The angle at which the gate sets hides a terrible flaw that will drive some people absolutely bonkers.

Looking at it head-on, you can see the post on the right isn’t parallel to the left post on which the gate is hung. This creates an annoying angled gap between the gate itself on the right post. I decided it wasn’t annoying enough, nor did I have the energy, to dig up the post and set it again, so I added a little bit of extra scrap wood on the right hand side of the gate to fill in the gap. It’s not perfect, but I still like the overall design.

Rustic, functional, and flawed.

I don’t know how long the twine will last, but I am hoping at least 2-3 years since there isn’t that much tension on each thread. Someone on social media mentioned that I should use galvanized or aluminum wire, which would hold up longer. I did try, but man, was that an exercise in frustration. I didn’t get nearly enough tension on each wire to keep them as straight as I wanted. So each wire ended up warped, making the design look sloppy. L didn’t think it looked  too bad, but I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped. So, twine it is for now.

Finally, on the last day of August we got an inch of rain! The previous “significant” rainfall occurred back on May 6th, when we got 3/10th of an inch. A full 116 days without rain, or almost 4 months.

A wet gate. Look at those lichens!

All of the rain made the moles active again. They wasted no time pushing up mounds of soil up into my new rock garden, covering up a lot of the rocks that I had spent some time placing by hand. This looked worse in person. Sigh. I knew this would happen.

I tried pushing the soil back into the hole and washing the residue away, but it didn’t work. I ended up taking the easy route and tossed more basalt gravel on top of the mess. I figure over time the gravel will work its way down and hopefully make it more difficult for the moles to work in this area. We’ll see. It is an experiment after all.

New gravel on top of the mole mound. Problem solved?

The holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) I chopped back to the ground earlier in the year has already made a rapid recovery, growing back with about 2 feet of new growth.

Over on the woodshed, the new trellis system installed over spring break has worked out nicely.

I was disappointed that this seed-grown clematis was not the species that it was supposed to be, and instead produced these pale yellow flowers. Perhaps a form of Clematis tangutica? I’ve already got a more vibrant yellow form of C. tangutica on the center part of the shed – you can see the white, fluffy seed heads of that in the photo above. The pale yellow one will probably get replaced with something more interesting at some point in the future.

While I was photographing the clematis flowers, I kept getting buzzed by yellow jackets. They were swarming the vines, so I took a cautious closer look.

The seed pods of the California pipevine (Aristolochia californica) were opening up and the wasps were busy inside eating the flesh and carrying away the seeds. Just another way that insects are a part of the biology of this interesting western native (pollination biology here). The green pulp along the inner ridges had a vaguely unpleasant, spermatic scent that seemed to attract the wasps.

I snagged a few unopened fruit to ripen inside so I could collect the seeds. Luckily, the smell didn’t travel indoors.

More wildlife in the front yard. This was the third praying mantis that I’ve seen this year.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ blooming for the first time. I wish the leaves would stay purple all summer long.

The subtle, tiny flowers of the wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris).

One of our native asters transplanted from a commercial clearcut. I need to key it out one of these days.

Couldn’t be happier with this manzanita from Xera Plants, Arctostaphylos canescens var. sonomensis. It’s one of their favorite manzanitas and it’s easy to see why.

And, my very favorite, low-growing, tidy form of zauschneria, Epilobium septentrionalis ‘Select Mattole’ from Dancing Oaks Nursery.

Lastly, we adopted this little three month old tabby kitten at the end of July. He’s grown so much since then. Meet Linnaeus Jupiter Oslo the First. Yes, Linnaeus is named after the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus.

That’s it for now. I’m working next on an October Bloom Day post and the next in the series on Mexican nurseries. See you soon.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. CS

    Is that clematis from seed outside HC?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      No, the seed was from the North American Rock Garden society and was labeled as a completely different species.

  2. S.

    Adorable kitten, love the gate wine barrel ring idea. I will probably steal it. Although I’m one of the people who would be driven crazy by the gate. 😆
    I think if it was evenly crooked it would be fine, though. Can you deliberately hang it parallel/ crooked/visually out of square?
    If your uphill neighbor is blocking off the creek for a pond do you have any recourse?

    Very much enjoying your posts, looking forward to more.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Hmm, I haven’t thought of deliberately hanging it so it was out of square with both posts. That’s a really interesting idea. I may have to go out and stare at it for a while to figure out how to adjust the hinges to do so. Happily, the third gate I just finished is parallel to both posts and turned out really well.

      There really isn’t any recourse regarding the creek situation and we don’t know for certain what is happening anyway. It’s just a weird set of circumstances.

  3. Kris P

    Well, you’ve been busy! I love your artistic rustic gate. Your trellis looks great to me too, and I think you are a brave soul to get that close to yellow jackets! I loved the video of the bobcat kitten – maybe he’ll grow up to rid your garden of moles. (I have gophers but, from what I’ve heard, moles are worse.) Linnaeus is absolutely adorable.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It has been a busy year and it feels nice to have made some progress. The zoom function makes all the difference with yellow jackets, although I have already been stung three times this year while working around the garden. They nest in the ground and I don’t always see where they are until it’s too late. I’ve given up on trying to control the moles. We tried trapping, and smoking with sulfur, etc. Just decided they are part of the fauna here. Most of the management relies on trying to keep watering to a minimum during summer so that they aren’t attracted to areas where I don’t want them. We are so happy to have a cat again, though he has reached that stage where it is nonstop action. I forgot how much work a kitten can be!

  4. danger garden

    Lots to love in this post, including the bobcat kitten (and Linnaeus!). I think your gate is fantastic, very creative and I love the fact it will change with the seasons (lichen). I also enjoyed the expanded views of the garden, such as the rock garden from the house. So what do you think the neighbor digging in the creek bed was up to?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It has been fun getting things accomplished in the garden. Regarding the creek, I suspect they were either taking water out or maybe creating a pool for personal use. It’s not clear.

  5. Scott O.

    Loving the gates! Who knew you were so crafty!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Thanks Scott!

  6. Linda Brazill

    Wow, that is a lot of work accomplished. Love the web gate. My husband made two gates in our garden; one more artistic than the other but I love them both. I’ll never complain about home/hand made. I won a Eucomis at a garden event late last summer; overwintered it and loved its bloom this year. I am planning on getting ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ this coming season. Agree that it is frustrating that the leaves don’t stay that lovely burgundy.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Having something handmade at least gave me something to do and certainly adds character to the garden. Eucomis are such interesting plants. I remember finding one in the dumpster when I lived in upstate NY and was thrilled to have it bloom in the pot, though I lost it while trying to overwinter the bulb inside one winter.

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