Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Winter Garden & Happy New Year!

Good morning gardening friends,

The 2018 year is nearing the end and like most years it was filled with both the lovely and the challenging. As demonstrated in nature, life is after all a dance of balance. Thank you for sharing the gardening year with me by attending my classes, reading my blog, subscribing to my newsletter, and hiring me for your garden design and consultations.

And, wow, the last month of 2018 triumphantly concludes with a prosperous bang of handmade wreath sales, wreath making classes, and wreath making private parties. I am grateful for the many ways you all have supported my small business and the work I am truly passionate about. Thank you for sharing the gardening life with me!

For me January marks the beginning of "garden dreaming." During the cold, wet, and sometimes frozen winter months of January and February I am pouring over seed catalogs and itching to get outside into the garden. However, this start to winter doesn't really feel like a Portland winter to me. Autumn was truly magnificent with the range of exquisite colors bursting from trees and shrubs. Due to the almost complete lack of rain I was able to enjoy daily walks in nature. The unfortunate trade-off is that most of Oregon remains in a severe drought. This morning I observed Multnomah County was downgraded from a severe to moderate drought.

And as the winter begins and the year draws to a close, we have yet to have our first frost in Portland. The closest we've got is a light frost with a low temperature hovering around 34-36 degrees. Frost occurs at 32 degrees. For as long as I could remember our average first frost in Portland was October 15. A few years ago I noticed the disturbing pattern of frost not arriving until later in November and December. Upon research I noted several online sources now citing Portland's average first frost date anywhere between November 15-December 15. Well folks, it hasn't happened yet this year. When it finally arrives, I wager we've broken a record for latest frost date.

Due to this late warm weather I was harvesting lettuce through Thanksgiving. Several of my summer annuals are still blooming: cup and saucer vine, fuchsia, geranium, nasturtium, and purple bell vine. Typically a hard frost would have killed down my pineapple sage in December. It is still in glorious stunning red bloom, happily feeding our resident hummingbirds.

Maybe you have noticed these sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic shifts in our seasons and climate. Without "catastrophizing," I must say it does concern me quite a bit. As we transition into a new year and a time of making resolutions, perhaps as gardeners and stewards of our mother earth we can consider new ways to reduce our impact on the planet.

Usually at this time of year I begin writing about seasonal affective disorder, an inevitable side effect of living in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Sometimes we gardeners humorously like to call it seed acquisition disorder. A few years ago, a funny drawing by Joseph Tychonievich of Green Sparrow Gardens was floating around the Internet. He says, "The short dark winter days cause me to suffer from S.A.D.--Seed Acquisition Disorder.”

Portland gardening friends, I’m sure you can all relate to this! Maybe not so much this autumn and start of winter when the weather remains so mild and sunny. I think back especially to the winter of 2015-2016 when it rained so much enormous trees toppled over because their roots were no longer stable in the constantly saturated soil. And the winter of 2016-2017 when we had four snow/ice events by the second week of January.

After the autumn leaf raking frenzy and during the intensity of the holiday season we are mostly happy to have a respite from our gardens. At the beginning of every year the new seed catalogs arrive in my mailbox. In fact, in December I've already received catalogs from Seed Saver's Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I spend hours excitedly pouring over each catalog, wrapped in a blanket, drinking pots of my favorite tea and devouring every detail of the new and old favorite varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Most years, come January and February I find myself in pajamas and rain boots, clipboard in hand patrolling my puddle-filled, mostly dormant garden. I gaze at the lush fall-sown cover crops and I ponder what worked and didn't work last year. List after list of garden plans are creatively drafted. Dreaming and fantasizing about peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, and lilies I mark up my seed catalogs and make online wish lists. I eat, drink, breath all the endless potential and promise my garden holds in the coming year. My unchecked gardening enthusiasm for heirlooms can also promise the emptying of my bank account if I do not practice some restraint.

Heirloom seeds offer a diversity of old-fashioned quality, and are rich in taste, color and history. Heirlooms are commonly defined as open-pollinated varieties that have resulted from natural selection rather than a controlled hybridization process and were grown prior to 1950. Some of my favorite sources for heirloom seeds for the Portland area gardener are Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom, Botanical Interest and Renee’s Garden.

Territorial Seed Company is a family-owned company in Oregon since 1979. Check out their selection of seeds, some organic and heirloom.

When purchasing seeds you will see many terms like heirloom, cultivar, GE, GMO, open pollinated, hybrid, organic and treated. All of these can be confusing and are often misinterpreted by the gardener consumer. I found a handy online resource from Renee’s Garden called Seed Buying 101: A Seed Gardener’s Glossary.

If you are concerned about GMOs, signers of the safe seed pledge do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds. A list of companies that have signed the pledge is maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, a non-profit with a stated mission of educating the public about and advocating for socially responsible use of new genetic technologies.

With so many seed choices, where does a gardener begin? First, make a list of all the things you are interested in growing, their growth habits and size at maturity. Take measurements of your garden and draw out where you might place things. You are invited to join me for organic gardening classes in February and March. Or schedule an in-person or email gardening consultation appointment.

Winter is the perfect season to explore gardening books like The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, one of my all-time favorites. My fantastic news is my very first gardening book will be released this spring! I cannot wait to share it with you.

Please also join me for a gardening class or workshop this winter/spring. I am continuing my always popular workshops at Portland Nursery, exciting new and updated classes at Portland Community College, and I'm happy to announce I will now offer gardening classes at Mt Hood Community College. Please visit my website for dates and registration information.

Enjoy every moment of the garden dreaming season before the hard work of spring begins. From my home and garden to yours I wish you a beautiful new year!

Happy Gardening,