Eight Plants That Have Forgotten It’s Fall 

There’s something odd about our place here in Oregon. There’s some quality that hints of eternal youth, of continual renewal and transformation. A touch of Eden, perhaps. Oh, not for us human residents — this magical spring of youth is reserved for our plants.

Take our wisteria vine, for example. Look up how to grow wisteria, as we did when we moved here a bit more than two years ago, and you’ll learn that wisteria blossoms in the spring and then fades. That’s the normal course of events. But not ours. Our first summer, it blossomed at least twice. The following year, it put out blooms at least four times (I lost count near the end), tender green buds appearing just as the flowers from the previous wave of color began to fade. This year, it’s currently in its fourth wave of blossoms, with the velvet-soft buds of the next incarnation now appearing. It will be September any minute now, but that wisteria is determined to flower ceaselessly.

Then there’s this lovely hellebore. It’s an early spring flower. This one appeared in late January or early February, a rich purple with faint greenish tinges. An earlier-blooming hellebore, which was a delicate white, bloomed in December and faded as this one was at its height. Another purple one lost its blossoms by May. But this one is still blooming. The purple color has faded, allowing the underlying green to take over. You can see the brown seed-cases in the center, and a touch of dry brownness along the petals’ edges. But this dainty, fragile spring  blossom  is still holding its own, refusing to die off. It’s August 30, and here it is.

Our raspberry harvest was in June, just as it was last year and (to a lesser extent, due to neglect) the previous year. This year, after extensive work over the past two summers improving the raspberry bed, we had the best harvest yet. Naturally, I assumed that the June harvest was the end of it. Apparently I thought wrong. Yesterday, as I trimmed and weeded and supported young green canes, I found…this. A handful of tiny green almost-berries! Today, as I finished pruning dead canes and tying up young ones, I found two more plants that appear to be making new berries. I had no idea this was possible. I’m not sure it actually is — and yet, there it is, another piece of evidence that our home holds a few grains of the Soil of Youth. img_9251

We took a walk Sunday evening, Aaron and I and the kids. Niko and Sofia munched apples they’d filched from our trees and picked frothy blooms of Queen Anne’s lace as we strolled down our driveway to the lane — season-appropriate actions that were entirely expected for the end of August. What was less expected was what we found as we passed the plum tree at the end of our driveway. As we paused to examine a branch that overhung the driveway and needed to be trimmed, I gasped. “No way!” The branch sported a twig inexplicably laden with flowers. That’s right. Plum flowers! In (nearly) September! img_9192

This next one is, I think, actually appropriate to some varieties of strawberries — a second, smaller, crop of berries in late summer. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed blossoms in the bed of strawberries that was originally here before we moved to this home. This week, we’ve been picking the occasional berry to snack on. It’s a delightful, probably normal feature of whatever variety these plants are, and I halfway expected it. What I didn’t expect was for Niko to find a red, ripe berry in one of our new Hood River strawberry beds — a variety not known for producing a second crop! Once again, magic has touched our garden. (Most likely a seed or runner crept over to the neighboring bed from the twice-bearing bed…but I prefer the more magical explanation.)img_9254

I’ve been told that lavender, promptly harvested, can produce a second wave of flowers. The past two summers, I harvested the buds just before opening for the most fragrant bouquets, carefully hanging and drying them — and waited in vain for a second crop. This year, an extended wave of migraines kept me indoors for the peak lavender harvesting time (you can blame them for my lack of blog posts, too). I finally managed to trim the flowers as they were fading, long after the ideal time, and tossed most of them into the compost. Since some of them had already gone to seed, I expected no further flowers from them. And yet, here they are, weeks later, a charming display of dainty buds and flowers.

When I was growing up in Northwestern Ontario, most of the roses around our place were wild roses. All of them, wild or domestic, were spring flowers. Once the summer heat arrived, they were done blooming. Here in Oregon, it’s a different story. As long as dying flowers are kept trimmed, these roses will produce flowers until the first frosts. I know it really is normal for this area — but it thrills me every time I look out at our rose bed filled with vibrant color!

Last week, I decided to tackle some overgrown shrubs that provide shade along two small ponds and screen the lawn from the driveway. As I trimmed and hauled away branches, I leaned down to pull a few weeds from the shady pond garden — and there, nestled in dark green leaves, was a purple primrose! In the spring, that primrose plant had provided a splash of color in that dark corner, with multiple blooms, but of course the flowers faded as summer approached. Maybe the overgrown shrubbery had provided enough shade that this plant was tricked into thinking it was still spring. Who knows? All I know is that it’s one more example of the magical, eternity-tinged properties of our garden. A slightly faded, bug-eaten example, but come on! A primrose, at the end of August? That’s got to be real garden magic. img_9347Whatever the reason for the magic touching our home, I’m grateful and delighted. Grateful for the beauty, grateful for a respite from pain that allows me to enjoy it, and grateful for our life here in the country after too long hemmed in by a city’s concrete. Delighted by the surprises I encounter nearly every day.

Strawberries

I’m trying to restrain my hopefulness levels, but last week’s strawberry planting endeavors have me very excited.

When we moved to our new home at the end of March last year, one of the beds in the wheel-shaped garden next to the house was planted with strawberries. They were so overcrowded that the babies at the ends of the runners were sitting on top of other plants, and I worried the strawberry bed might not do well. So, with my mother-in-law’s help, I dug up about two-thirds of them and transplanted as much as we could fit into the next bed over (and gave away the rest to friends, thus sparing my conscience some pain). They seemed to adapt to their new space, but they didn’t produce as well as I’d hoped they would.

This year, that original bed was nearly as crowded as it had been last year. I decided to entirely renovate it. This time I paused to do a little research. I discovered that younger plants — the ones at the end of the runners that mature plants send out — are the ones that should be transplanted. They’re supposed to produce better than the older ones, which might be nearing the end of their productivity.

So I dug up the entire bed, lifting out all the plants and keeping them covered with burlap in a big feed container so they wouldn’t dry out. When I finished, Aaron tilled the bed for me, and then I used my handy bulb transplanter to make perfectly cylindrical holes. Niko helped me fill them with compost (a step I missed last year), and in went the babies. I’m hoping that the combination of fresh tilling, composting, and selecting the youngest plants will yield better results. I was a bit worried that they might have dried out too much while waiting for about a week for our family to recover from the flu between digging and transplanting, but now, a week after planting, they’re looking green and putting out new leaves.

But that wasn’t the end of the strawberry saga. Last year we discovered, via farmer’s markets and roadside stands, the most delicious strawberry: the Hood River strawberry. In the fall, in hopes of finding some to plant this spring, Aaron prepped two more wheel bed sections with mounds of compost covered in landscape fabric. And find some we did! We ordered them from a nearby company called One Green World and picked them up from their Plantmobile, and last weekend I planted those babies out, too.

Planting the new ones in the mounds Aaron had made was a little trickier than planting them without landscape fabric. I cut evenly spaced slits in the fabric, scrabbled around through the slits with a tiny spade to make a hole, and then attempted to place the babies into the holes. Their roots spread out, wormed upward, and made themselves into octopus-like tentacles that refused to stay put. Finally, I tried winding the delicate baby roots in a spiral around my fingers before fitting them into their small new homes. That effectively tamed them, and I was able to push the soil back over the roots without leaving any exposed. They’re looking green and perky now, putting out new leaves as they peep up above the fabric, so I think I did just fine.

The instruction sheet that came with our strawberries suggested waiting a full season before harvesting fruit, pinching off the blossoms all through the first summer. This helps the strawberries establish stronger roots. I thought that sounded like a terrible idea. Wait an entire year to enjoy fresh, juicy berries? I turned once again to my faithful friend, Google. Only one article I read mentioned waiting a year to harvest, and it was written by a nursery owner who said that she herself never does this even though it really is best. Who can resist the temptation of a crop of strawberries? Not her, and certainly not me. I haven’t that kind of fortitude. No, I have every intention of enjoying those strawberries as soon as possible.