Getting to know Valerian

It’s basically fall now, and I feel like I’m just getting to know my garden. It does make sense, we’ve only been here a few months, and it takes at least one growing season, if not longer, to really get a feel for an outside plant. But today I was working in the backyard and for the first time I gave some real attention to one particular plant.

It’s actually truly the one plant in the yard that has been a rock star this whole summer. If I remember correctly it was already blooming when we went to England, and it’s been blooming the entire time since. All I’ve done is deadhead it a few times really quickly, and those pieces rebloomed. So of course I’ve barely paid it attention, because I’ve been too busy poring intently over leaves that have been savaged by spider mites or overwatered or covered in aphid galls. I sat down today to do some more deadheading because it had gotten fairly unwieldy, and all of a sudden I noticed one of the seedheads. I literally gasped out loud. They are delicate beautiful dandelion type seedheads, with the seed at the bottom and a wispy umbrella at the top.

And then I started looking at the flowers and was so charmed. Vibrant pink cymes, each little individual flower is so perfect and sweet with the pistil and stamen totally visible. I love cymes and other floral arrangements where multiple tiny flowers make up something big and showy.

So I was deadheading and taking pictures and boring the hell out of my husband when I was like, “Uh. What even is this plant?” And I realized I had no idea. I hadn’t even bothered to figure it out all summer, while it was over there looking awesome. I used iNaturalist and it was Valerian. What??? I thought I knew what Valerian looked like? I had some in a garden long ago? (I really like to grow plants that have useful properties, even if I never intend to ever use them that way. Like, I am not out here harvesting Valerian root and making tinctures. People are! And those people are rad, and I’m not being sarcastic! But I am not those people.) Turns out it’s one of those situations where the common name is misleading. This pretty plant is Centranthus ruber, whereas the medicinal Valerian is Valeriana officinalis.

They are in the same family (Caprifoliaceae) and have similar star-shaped flowers in cymes, but the Valeriana has white or pale pink flowers, not the intense pink of my Centranthus. And the leaves, flower stems, and growth habit of the plant are all quite different. Also the Valeriana is very fragrant. Some websites say the Centranthus is fragrant, but I haven’t found it to be noticeable.

Unfortunately once I started to pay attention I realized my new favorite perennial has self-seeded and is popping up in some places I don’t want it, like right in the middle of a tragic patch of thyme I’m not sure what to do with it. I can see it potentially becoming a bit too aggressive. Also, it REALLY flopped over , and I don’t mind it exactly, but the center is pretty bare and ratty looking, plus when I pulled it up to look under it today I was like, “Whoa there bindweed.”

So anyway. TMYK, which apparently stands for The More You Know, but I think since I know what it means the kidz probably stopped saying it five or so years ago. But on the subject of getting to know my garden, here is my favorite story that is super funny to me but maybe my sense of humor is lame and specific.

I think I’ve mentioned the pigsqueak in my crabgrass bed, which we overwatered and watered from above, resulting in some very yucky pigsqueak, which I guess I will try to rejuvenate in spring. But the other day I was like, “Wow! It’s sending up another flower stalk!” We’ve had a weird summer in Portland, and I’ve heard that some gardeners are experiencing kind of a second spring, with getting surprise second blooms and new growth on plants that are normally shutting down in the heat, and I do know that pigsqueak can bloom a second time under certain conditions. So I was pointing it out to the big kid when I look a closer look at it and realized…it is not a flower stalk. It’s a very robust Buckeye weed! There’s a Buckeye across the street and probably a squirrel buried it. I actually tried to pull this particular weed up once already and it was rooted in too hard and I meant to come back with a trowel but at the time I just sort of ripped it in half. Well, it did not give a shit and the foliage came back looking healthier than ever. So that’s my story.

I’m naming this Bergenia aesculifolia.
Advertisements

The 41-year-old gardener

We got the keys to this house and moved our very first boxes in on June 2 of this year. Then school ended, and the big kid had various camps, and we went out of town for two weeks, and it was just busy for a minute. But since about mid-July, it’s been pretty chill. And every day, every single day, I have tried to get the big kid to UNPACK HER DAMN ROOM. The day the movers moved our stuff in, she and a dear little 2nd grade (I think) friend unpacked and organized her stuff. She was VERY excited and had grand plans. That was the actual last time she put any effort into unpacking her room. School starts this coming Wednesday, and finally last Friday I told her that whatever was left to do in her room would be done on Sunday, and she was going to pay us to help her. It worked! She spent all day Sunday unpacking and cleaning, and on Sunday night she was done, capping off what was basically a perfect birthday weekend.

You know what makes a perfect birthday weekend for me? Gardening presents, and time to garden. Also, snuggles, amazing food, fun childless time with my husband, and more amazing food with dear friends in my wonderful failure of a garden. Oh! I even spent some time in my garden but NOT DOING GARDENING. This is rare! Usually if I’m outside, I feel like I have to be doing something. But on Saturday friends were soon to arrive, and I was wearing basically the one thing I don’t want to get ruined – my aspirational denim jumpsuit from Goodwill. So instead of sitting in the dirt, I actually laid down on my hammock and just breathed. That was kind of incredible.

Anyway, my thoughtful husband heard me randomly say to myself one day that I needed a gardening apron, and he found a perfect one! And it even came with knee pads. So I spent all day Sunday gardening in my hilariously awesome get-up, while the big kid cleaned her room and my husband played with the little one. So what’s going on out there?

Well, I cleaned up the entryway bed, which makes me feel so much better. I just really hate walking past a bunch of dead stuff as I walk into my house. It’s another kind of messed-up bed, with plants planted willy-nilly as far as I can tell, and not with any sort of thought to sun needs. That’s the worst thing that whoever planted this yard did – NOTHING is in the sun it needs. So this poor fern is in the north-facing yard, with basically no protection. I just cleaned up us much brown foliage as I could, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with it.

But I did discover that it’s actually putting out new growth and it is SO FUZZY.

FUZZY
Also fuzzy and from a healthier fern a few feet closer to the house, more protected.

It feels just like petting Jasper the bunny’s feet. And now I know why there is that fern called rabbit foot fern, except let’s be real – those “rabbit feet” look like tarantula legs and I will never, ever have one of those. They scare the shit out of me. Anyway, this north-facing unprotected bed also has tragic hostas and a super crappy bleeding heart in it and it’s just infuriating to me.

But! After I did some stuff to the entryway bed, I was like, Ugh, I guess I gotta deal with the corner of the yard. This corner, it’s so weird. It’s one of the front corners of the front yard, up against the sidewalk. They landscape fabric-ed the whole sidewalk edge, but they only planted the very corners, and this corner…it has one blue fescue. That is it. And it’s not even really in the corner, it’s like…in a couple feet, all alone. Completely surrounded by the damn mallow. This is the first time I’d even weeded this corner and the mallow was GINORMOUS and at least not going to seed but whoa making some taproots. So I was out there cursing the weirdos who designed this yard, when a butterfly visited me! It was such a lovely experience. I put down my tools and just sat there and watched it, for a long time. Of course my picture sucks because iPhone 6, but it was honestly probably the calmest moment I’ve had in months.

Then I went to the stupid crabgrass bed, and I had a great time with a sudden bed renovation! I realized the strawberry coming in from the neighbor’s yard was being choked out by the kinnickinick and I was like, Oh hell no. Something that will give me delicious berries versus an aphid-harboring overly aggressive groundcover that the weirdos overplanted? Duh. So I ripped out a bunch of kinnickinick. I should maybe probably have cleaned it up and put it up on Buy Nothing or something like that, but that is not the half-assed way. I even discovered a tiny little Lupine struggling amongst the crazy! So that bed is looking much nicer, except of course for the constant onslaught of crabgrass.

After that I still did even more! There are these two Weigelas in the back yard that look terrible. They are obviously supposed to be a deep purple, but they really are not. I cut some back and the new foliage is looking better, but one still was a lot of dead sticks, so I did a very slow, thorough pruning while poor husband continued to play Octonauts with the little one.

Hi, Ikea weeding bin.
If it all looked like this it would be really pretty. It doesn’t and it’s not.
Weigela glow-up.

Oh and I even deadheaded my lavender! And that was a really lovely way to end the gardening, very slowly intentionally deadheading and dropping the seeds on the ground to see if they’ll take. I have no idea if they will. But it smelled so nice and was so calm. Then I had to go back to real life and play Octonauts while husband made dinner.

So anyway. 41 is looking pretty decent. I’ve got a garden and a thoughtful husband and good friends and funny kids and there is good food for us all to eat. And a bunny. The big kid starts MIDDLE SCHOOL Wednesday. How is that even possible? Go back in my posts – it seems like she was a funny little baby with raspberry juice all over her face yesterday. Wish us luck.

Oh by the way something made a hole in my yard WHAT IS IT HELP ME PLEASE.

AKA the broke-ass gardener

CA7DAE7B-870F-4B21-AA43-2876D4CE486B

So I was putting some strawberry plants into a strawberry pot, and I was reflecting on the name that I’ve chosen here, and how there are lots of other words I could have used to describe my gardening style.  I think “half-assed” is a pretty good umbrella descriptor, because I think maybe some of the other adjectives one could use are just facets of half-assedness.  Contributors to my half-assedness.

I was thinking about it because these strawberries looked truly awful.  Perhaps it makes more sense to go to Portland Nursery and get some beautiful packs of strawberries that don’t have a single brown square centimeter, then immediately put those plants into a brand new pot with fresh, perfectly amended soil.  But see…we’re broke.  Like, not scary broke!  We’re fine!  I think.  But I want (NEED) lots of things (especially plants) for our house and yard, so I really have to be strategic.  NextDoor and my neighborhood Buy Nothing group have actually both been hooking me up lately!  So the other day a neighbor posted that she wanted to get rid of her strawberry pots, and I immediately was like OH MY GOD ME PLEEEEAAAASE ME because my kids are genuine freaks about strawberries, and also I have done pretty well with them in the past, and also strawberry pots are cute.  Then the very next day, a neighbor wanted to get rid of strawberries.  Perfect!  The only issue is that I was picking up the plants yesterday, and the pot today.  But, like…it’s free!  And I’m half-assed!

I genuinely don’t remember exactly what the plants looked like when the lovely woman gave them to me, but they were definitely in rough shape when I planted them, after a night in my trunk.  Veeeeery wilty, some dead brown leaves, and the roots seemed very crispy and dry.  But I dunno!  Strawberries are, in my experience, pretty badass, so I planted them and watered them in, and we’ll see what happens. Thanks, people of the world, for giving me free things.  I will try not to destroy them.

I’m also, in case you wondered, the sloooooooow-assed gardener.  This is definitely the main reason I am not in commercial horticulture anymore.  I really hated having to make a quota of how many grafts an hour.  I never, ever hit my goal.  Like I made it twice in all the time I was doing it.  Today, I veeeeeery sloooooowly weeded what I am calling the garbage can area.  It has a nice ring, right? It’s got these two little shrubs that are doing so badly, and those two little shrubs are surrounded by Malva neglecta.  Weeding Malva is so demoralizing, because it’s actually really pretty even when it’s just leaves, and then the flowers are sweet too, and also, it’s got one of those stupid fragile taproots that just breaks the second you pull on it, and you know there is no way you are getting it all, and it’s going to come back immediately.  Much like that bastard field bindweed that I am constantly battling.

One thing that’s been really nice lately is that my big kid has been actually helping in the garden.  Like, not pulling one weed and then wandering away (although that also totally happens), but really sitting down and working, and listening and learning!  But it was as we were pulling that Malva that I discovered my new favorite super-identity – The Lopsided Gardener.  See, my brain understands science.  Pretty well at least.  I think because I can get away with understanding big concepts, and connections, and I don’t know, my brain just likes it.  I am not so good with disciplines like history.  So we were weeding and I was explaining taxonomy to her.  She really, really did not get much science in elementary school, which is tragic, so the idea of Genus species was pretty new.  So, my poor, poor daughter says to me, “Who speaks Latin anyway?”, and I say, “Oh, nobody anymore, it’s what they call a dead language.”  And she says, “Oh, well who did speak it?” and I sat there in increasingly uncomfortable silence, until she says, “The Romans, right?” AND I SWEAR TO GOD I SAID, “No, silly, Rome is in Italy, the Romans spoke Italian.”  And my genius child persisted, “But then why did the Romans use all the Latin stuff in Percy Jackson?” and I was beginning to be horrified and thinking, “Wait, was it the Romans?  Uhhhh, it was someone…ancient, so like…the Greeks, but they would have obviously spoken Greek….” Until my husband, who is very, very smart and much better educated came out, and luckily he is also very sympathetic so I was able to laugh as if I was not dying inside and say, “Hey, I know this is dumb, but who spoke Latin?” and the poor guy said, “The Romans!  Who do you think spoke Latin?!?!?”  This all has very little to do with my gardening, but I thought it was funny.  Also, literally the very next day I told the same kid that Napoleon was Italian.  I think I had Napoleon mixed up with the word Neopolitan.  I wish I was kidding.  You do not want me on your pub quiz team until it’s Life Sciences Night.

6A3A979B-1947-4AC4-BAAF-52BBCD104606

I started this post three days ago and I kept thinking of other “The __________ Gardener” things but I can’t think of any of them now and it’s very sad. I am just now finishing because I’ve been dealing with this “bunny condo” debacle that I won’t even go into, and I only have one picture of the Malva and one of the strawberry pot, so I’m adding a picture of the bunny because she’s cute.  Perhaps more people might follow me on Instagram if my pictures were not all of weeds and dying plants?  Just a thought.

8EF5D8F4-120C-4C06-AF7D-CD95CC560660