That sense of impending doom

I don’t know about you all, but this has been a pretty tumultuous few years. Between the ugly political climate, our Earth’s climate, the pandemic, etc., it has all just been a bit too chaotic and overwhelming. I wish we could just catch a break and have some stability for a while.

Smoky skies in the foothills of the Oregon Coastal Mountains in September 2020
Smoke filled skies, September 2020

That said, April through August 2020 (near the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic) was one of the most peaceful, happy times that I can remember in a long while. I was able to dump about half of my workload at work and focus more on the projects that I found personally fulfilling. And, because of stay-at-home orders, I was able to spend more time in my garden. It was wonderful.

Flowers in the front rock garden in June 2022
The front rock garden in June 2020

Now, however, I find myself becoming overwhelmed again. I’ve over-committed at work (a constant battle) and home life became a bit chaotic due to a massive, stalled construction project that we didn’t want, but was necessary. There are too many things on my list of things to do again (weeding, continue building the deer fence, weeding, make garden gates, weeding, planting, weeding and mulching, install concrete pathways to reduce maintenance and WEEDING!, etc., etc…) and there has been so much instability. That makes it hard for me to find the space and solitude that I need to rejuvenate and puts everything on a constant edge when I can’t get away even at home.

Construction chaos on the home front
Construction chaos on the home front

I know that the best place to find peace is from within, but sometimes it is also the hardest place to find it. Last week, as I found myself struggling with everything, I sort of just gave in and made a few rules to help me refocus. There will always be more stuff to do than I am going to be able to get to (both at work and at home) AND some things are just going to be outside of my control (ARGH!).

Red poppies in the garden
Papaver somniferum - Maybe some opium would help?

Maxim #1: It’s okay to toss plants.

I am a plant propagator. I am also a plant collector. This means that I usually have more little plants in pots than I have time to take care of. Most of them are waiting to be planted in the ground. But, I need time to find and prepare the right place for them. Once there, they still have to be weeded, protected from rabbits, and watered for the first year. Even more work. Meanwhile, as they sit in the pots, some plants will inevitably look worse for the wear. Some will dry up because I didn’t water them in time. Others limp along. Then, I feel guilty for having spent money or effort on acquiring them and then seeing them slowly fade away (or suddenly die in a late June heat wave). Maybe they can be saved with more effort? Maybe somebody else would want them? But, they look so crappy, maybe I should rejuvenate them first? Damn! More work!

Tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) seedlings
Notholithocarpus seedlings
Cuttings and seedlings
Cuttings and seedlings awaiting their fate

It therefore came as an immense relief the other day when I decided to just toss some of them. I told myself that it was okay, I can propagate more. Or, maybe I can find some of them again at a nursery someday. Honestly, this was a huge relief, just letting go and dumping them in the compost pile. I got rid of leggy ones, half dead ones, fried ones, all of those that would just take too much valuable time and effort to salvage. This left me with a somewhat smaller number of better looking specimens to focus on rather than trying and failing to save everything. It was better for the psyche too.

Composted plants
Composted plants

Maxim #2: It’s okay to let some areas go.

This year’s long rainy spring meant that there were waaaaaaay more weeds than I could handle. Ya’ll city folks don’t know jack about weed pressure. More weed seeds sprouted this year than ever, they grew faster than I could weed them, they grew larger than usual, and there wasn’t a lot of time that I actually wanted to be in the garden this spring because of how cold and wet it was. Then, I went on a few trips. I just wasn’t able to keep up. Now, I have this sense of impending doom as these giant weedy sinkpiles of vegetation lurk in the recesses of my mind while I toil away at more important areas. I can sense some of the little ones that I planted last year being smothered underneath a tidal wave of weeds. The worst offender of all is great horsetail. It never dies. Ever. And this year it is 4-5 feet tall and it E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. Oh, the things I wish I had known about living next to a creek when I bought the place years ago.

Nevertheless, I finally accepted that it was okay to let some areas go. I can get back to them later in the summer once things slow down or I can always weedwhack them down and start over. I decided to focus most of my effort on those areas that are most important to me, which are primarily the gardens immediately next to the house.

A weedy mess of horsetail in our garden
Equisetum telmateia var. braunii. There are garden plants in there somewhere.

Weeds are everywhere in the gravel path in front of the perennial bed. You can’t even hardly tell where the weeds end and the garden begins. Normally this is weed free by this time of year.

Maxim #3: Take a break when it gets overwhelming.

Sometimes when I am out in the yard and I see everything that I think I need to do, it just becomes overwhelming and stressful instead of peaceful and relaxing. Sometimes it helps to take a small break to interrupt my chain of thought and redirect. Go inside, drink a glass of water, have a snack, think about something else for a moment, and then go back. It can also help to go somewhere else altogether and completely break out of my routine. For example, heading to Lost Lake, Oregon for a long weekend in mid-June.

Lost Lake and Mount Hood in Oregon
Lost Lake and Mount Hood in northern Oregon

Maxim #4: Don’t compare.

Sometimes it’s disheartening to see how beautiful other people’s gardens appear compared to mine. There are no weeds, everything is perfectly coiffed. Why can’t mine look like that? But, I forget that I can’t really compare my garden to theirs. On social media, of course, most people will post their best garden photos. They don’t generally show the ugly side of things. In addition, other people may have more time (retirees or part-time employment versus me being full time), more people to help with the work (employees or family members whereas I do most of the gardening myself), different weed and pest pressure (city versus country), plus, in my garden I tend to focus more on what needs to be done or on the negative side of things, while in other people’s gardens, I mainly see the positives. Again, reframing is important.

Eremurus blooms at Dancing Oaks Nursery in Summer 2008
The dry garden at Dancing Oaks Nursery waaaay back in 2008. Why doesn't my garden look like this?

Maxim #5: Take time to reflect and enjoy.

This is a tough one for me. As I wander around the garden, I see more and more things to add to my list of things to do. And, as the day is winding down and I am tired, I keep seeing just one more thing to do before I go in for the night. Plus, I no longer have the energy to just keep gardening from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm like I did a few years ago.

I’m now trying to take a few moments during the day and at the end of the day to relax, let go of the to-do’s, and observe the things in the garden that make me happy. Speaking of that, here are a bunch of photos of what made me happy back in June.

The flower buds of this long-spurred columbine (Aquilegia longissima ‘Long-spurred’), from Xera Plants up in Portland.

Yellow flower bud of Aquilegia longisiima 'Long-spurred'
Aquilegia longissima 'Long-spurred'

Not sure why I have never grown this next plant before now, but I should have. This is a Moroccan sea holly (Eryngium variifolium), a perfect, variegated, spiky specimen. Those leaves are stiff, sharp, and painful, but oh so beautiful. Now I want more. But, the dead leaves are going to be difficult to get rid of at the end of the year. Not something I want to put in the compost to only find later with my bare hand!

OMG those beautiful, symmetrical, variegated, spiky leaves of Moroccan sea holly, Eryngium variifolium
Eryngium variifolium

Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) identified with the help of the website PNW Moths. This moth was introduced to help control the noxious weed, tansy ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris). Note how the specific epithet on the moth’s scientific name (T. jacobaeae) matches the genus name of the plant it feeds on, (Jacobaea). Taxonomy that satisfies my sense of order in the world…

Black and red cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaeae
Tyria jacobaeae

This plant is lovely, but the name change from Chiastophyllum oppositifolium to Umbilicus oppositifolius is annoying. Apparently an irresistible treat for rabbits too, as they have gone through and snipped off almost every flower this year as well as last year. But, I got this one good photo before they did!

Yellow chains of flowers on Umbilicus oppositifolius
Umbilicus oppositifolius

Burgundy-colored leaves have always been a favorite of mine and I particularly like this combination of the burgundy leaves and pink flowers of Summer Wine ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’) with the silvery gray leaves of lamb’s ears (background, Stachys byzantina).

Pink flowers against dark burgundy leaves on Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine'
Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine'

The front rock garden still looks good. Not much has changed here in the two years since 2020 (above) except the 10-year-0ld, seven-foot-tall Fabiana imbricata died during the winter of 2020 (exposing the corner of the deck) and there is an uncountable number of weeds in the driveway this year (foreground).

The front rock garden in spring 2022
The front rock garden in spring 2022

Revisiting this planter that I put together last year, I can’t believe how much the silvery Sedum spathulifolium grew! It also bloomed for the first time. Meanwhile, the mini mockorange in the center (Philadelphus coronarius ‘Illumina Tiny Tower’) remains about the same size. I tend to buy a lot of shrubs/bushes, but then don’t have room to let them grow to full size in our yard. So, when I saw this miniature one at Secret Garden Growers, I grabbed it right away. This one isn’t going to get out of hand anytime soon.

Planter
2021
Planter with silver Sedum spathulifolium and minitature mockorange
2022

Another thing to be grateful for. Although it feels like progress has been painfully slow, taking a look back at September 2021 shows me how much I have accomplished in 9 months in the new rock garden.

New area to be gardened
September 2021
Back rock garden in progress
June 2022

The view of the perennial bed to the south of the new rock garden. It needs help, but I am ignoring it for now.

The view of the back garden
The view towards the other side of the back rock garden - no set theme

Common as dust, but I do like the flowers of common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) that have naturalized around here. I like imagining that the bees feel like they are in a mini, psychedelic disco ballroom when they go in to pollinate these things.

Pink flowers of common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis purpurea
Close-up of the spots in a pink foxglove flower
Flower close-up

One of our native roses is in bloom (Nootka rose, Rosa nutkana). Simple. Fragrant. Blink, and it’s done blooming until next year.

Pink fragrant flowers of nutka rose, Rosa nutkana
Rosa nutkana

Even some of the weeds in the messy parts of the yard can be worth a closer look, such as this hairy vetch (Vicia villosa).

Purple flowers of hairy vetch, Vicia villosa

Persian onion or star of Persia (Allium christophii).

Purple flowers of Allium christophii
Allium christophii

Dark Red bottlebrush (Callistemon subulatus ‘Dark Red’), also from Xera Plants. The flowers really are a nice, dark red, especially when not directly lit by sun. Compare the flower below when in the sun (left) and towards evening (right).

Red bottlebrush flowers of Callistemon subulatus 'Dark Red'
Callistemon subulatus 'Dark Red' in the sun
Red bottlebrush flowers of Callistemon subulatus 'Dark Red'
Callistemon subulatus 'Dark Red' in the shade

Purple form of the nodding onion from Dancing Oaks Nursery. Does really well in the rock garden.

Purple flower buds on the nodding onion, Allium cernuum

Unplanned floral combo that I actually sort of like, the red and yellow flowers of our native western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and the blue-purple flowers of Asian bluestar (Rhazya orientalis).

Blue flowers of Asian bluestar and red/yellow flowers of western columbine

I wish the flowers lasted longer, but the lemon-scented seed pods of the gas plant (Dictamnus albus) last a long time. I’ve never lit mine on fire, but I’ve seen it done at other people’s gardens.

Pink, flammable flowers of the gas plant, Dictamnus albus
Dictamnus albus var. purpureus

Seemed like everyone was posting pictures of their dragon lily (Dranunculus vulgaris) on Faceboop (intentionally misspelled) this year. Despite being easily the largest flower in my garden at 2-feet-long, I didn’t notice mine was in bloom until I smelled the distinctly unpleasant odor of a rotting carcass. I went to take a look and it was already covered in flies and carrion beetles, which are its main pollinators.

Two-foot-long, stinky, maroon flower of the dragon lily, Dranunculus vulgaris

Our native white Triteleia hyacinthina. I was glad to find this at Hortlandia one year and I also got a few to start from seed.

White flowers of Triteleia hyacinthina

Ok, that’s it for this time. One little heat wave a few weekends ago and I heard another one is coming up tomorrow.

6/12/2022 to 7/10/2022: Lowest temperature for period = 47°F, highest = 103°F.  2.18 inches of rain.

Notes: House wrens have fledged and left. No longer singing as of a few weeks ago. Our dry period has hit. Everything is drying out and the clay is beginning to crack open. Hummingbirds are busy squabbling all the time, but there are abundant flowers to keep them occupied. Saw a western tanager today. Slugs are still out and about. Powdery mildew is already bad on columbines, flowering is about 2 weeks behind. Grass pollen season usually ends by 2nd week of June, but is just winding down now.

Garden chores accomplished: Weeding, mowing, potting up cuttings and composting old stuff, watering, some planting.

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