It was a pleasant surprise to get a dusting of snow this week in the garden. No matter how often one appreciates the architectural formalities of a Lord & Schryver garden in the winter, it’s a wonder to see it painted white by nature.
For the birders following this blog, I was treated to a rare sight (for me anyway) this week at Deepwood. A small band of Varied Thrushes were flitting among the the skimmia and chasing worms in the lawn. No doubt they were pushed down into the valley by the snow in the highlands.
Salem has had some historic snowstorms throughout the years, especially in January 1937. The snow arrived early on January 31, continuing for the next 24 hours. When it finally let up, the snow measured 27 inches in downtown Salem, with many outlying areas reporting more than 3 feet of snow!
Many downtown business were shuttered for fear of the roofs collapsing. Residents sprang into action to dig out of the snow. The Statesman Journal reported that a 22,000 square-foot greenhouse near Market and 17th Streets also collapsed. Most likely, this impacted plant availability for Lord & Schryver’s work in the upcoming season. I’m curious…do any of our long time residents or historians know which nursery this was?
Interestingly, Elizabeth Lord, who often remarked on the weather happenings in the garden, makes no reference to this legendary storm. In act, her first 1937 garden journal entry, dated March 1, 1937, only mentions the lateness of the season:
“Season late. Crocus just beginning to bloom. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) & Daphne mezereum in bloom. Forget-me-nots [Myosotis scorpioides] – Canterbury Bells [Campanula medium] & Sweet William fared badly in Fl. Garden. Tulips beginning to come up.” E. Lord.
As a fanatic backcountry skier, I always welcome a healthy snow pack – especially when it arrives on Jackson Hill right outside my back door. As a gardener however, I fear the damage from heavy, wet powder that can break branches from well trimmed trees and shrubs.
I live in the South Salem hills at 620 feet elevation so can get more snow then the rest of town. A couple of those hills are notoriously hard to navigate in snow storms, including Hylo and Delaney, both of which end in ditches that are constant car eaters. This snow storm was no exception as I came home to find someone had not been able to overcome the force of mass accelerating down the hill covered in the slick stuff.
I’ve learned that in Oregon it’s never safe to trust the groundhog. Just because it is 63 degrees and sunny in February doesn’t mean that March won’t fool you. I recall shovelling snow off my greenhouse all night long in March 2012 so it wouldn’t collapse under all the weight.
Hoping you all are staying healthy, safe, and warm.
As the days begin to lengthen, and seed catalogs start arriving in your email and postal box, it’s time to think about placing your orders for this year’s garden show. I’ve always been a big fan of seeds as a source of material for the garden, which grew on me when I was a propagator at the Berry Botanic Garden. Mrs. R.S. Berry was famous for her ability to grow an amazing array of difficult and rare plants from seeds. She obtained many of these seeds in the Himalayan Mountains and Valleys of China during expeditions funded by collectors including Frank Kingdon-Ward and Joseph Rock.
Saving seeds is a very important part of curating a plant collection, as historic plants can succumb to pests and disease and cloning may not always be an option. Saving seeds preserves a plant’s genetic material, minus whatever disease may have caused its demise. Let’s look at some seed sowing techniques and tips to ensure your success in the upcoming gardening season.
It-s best to start with a high quality soil mix. I like Promix HP, with biofungicide and mycorrhizae. It has a peat-based substrate so it retains moisture very well. Also, its HP (high porosity) helps roots development and prevents damping off, a fungal disease that can run unchecked through seedling flats if drainage and air flow are inadequate. The biofungicide and mycorrhizae help prevent disease and encourage strong root growth.
Getting an early start with perennials and woody/tree species from temperate climates is important, as they may require a period of cool weather before they will germinate with rising spring temperatures, a process known as vernalization. I like to sow these species outside as soon as they arrive in the winter, ideally with seed flats out and exposed to the weather by January, at the latest. This way, if it’s an early spring, they should have been sufficiently chilled to induce germination. With seeds having longer germination times, I like to top dress with some grit. This helps prevent the growth of mosses that can overtake peat-based soils before seeds have a chance to germinate. You can buy grit (crushed quartzite) at feed stores. Packaged as turkey or chicken grit, it’s relatively cheap and as you are only using a thin top dressing, a little goes a long way.
For annual seeds, bottom heat and supplemental lighting can encourge an early start to the growing season. These systems can seem technical and daunting; however, basic electric heating pads and LED grow lights will do the trick. ures are well within the realm of affordability.
When working with seedlings, the best advice is sow thinly. This will help prevent the dreaded damping off disease where a healthy flat of seedlings start to topple over suddenly, caused by a number of different fungal pathogens, the stem of the plant is severed, and the seedling dies. Sowing thinly also makes it easier to move the plant on when it comes time to repot. I usually sow a 1/4 – 1/2 of the packet and save the rest. That way if I find a particularly popular or successful plant, I can regrow it next year, in case the seed company is out of stock.
Sulfur is one of the least toxic fungicides to have on hand. It can be dusted or mixed with water to make a spray. Be aware that sulfur is acidic in nature, so can change the pH of the soil.
Here are a few of my favorite seed sources.
Outside Pride: Based in Independence, Oregon, this online-only retail offers a remarkable array of flowers, grasses, and cover crops, including large seed packet sizes.
NARGS: The North American Rock Garden Society offers a seed exchange to its members. Even if rock gardens aren’t your thing, the exchange provides access to thousands of different seeds collected from member gardens. Many selections are drought tolerant and will thrive under tough conditions.
Plant World Seeds: For those that like the uncommon, this is a great source for everything from unusual bulb seeds to rare trees.
Nichols Garden Nursery: An old standby from nearby Albany, this is a great source for herbs and vegetables, including unusual and heirloom varieties.
The Thyme Garden: Situated in the coast range between Corvallis and Waldport, its a great source for unusual herbs and flowers.
I hope these tips and resources provide a good start to the growing season! The warmth of spring will be here soon so start now by getting your seeds ordered and sown.