The False Sense of Spring

“Because the birdsong might be pretty,
But it’s not for you they sing,
And if you think my winter is too cold,
You don’t deserve my spring.”
― Erin Hanson

Working in the Gaiety Hollow and Deepwood gardens these last few weeks, I’ve been watching the hellebores come into full bloom, the first of the snowdrops paint the landscape white, and the primroses that haven’t been mauled by the hardy slugs start to emerge. It certainly feels like spring is nipping on the heels of winter.

A variegated Camellia in the Reserve Garden.
Bellis Daisies, Primroses and Anemones suggest spring is on the way.

The weather man warns the coldest weather of the year may arrive this week, with forecasts in the low 20’s and possibly the teens. The earliest flowers are unlikely to be affected by a frost like this. However, our winter has been so mild that many plants may be further along then they in a normal cold winter.

Windflowers (Anemone) add refinement to the late winter garden.
The Crocus are well represented in the late winter garden.

Not much one can do to prep for this bout of cold. The garden water is still off, the mulch is in place, and the seedlings are still tucked away in the warm basement. Now we just hope it doesn’t get cold enough to destroy any early buds on the plants.

I learned my lesson long ago during a particularly deep freeze. The temperature was down to 9 degrees at my place up in the South Salem hills, with the daytime highs never above 25. That was a tough winter and I said goodbye to many treasures I had collected from the lower latitudes. That was the year I learned zonal denial can often be replaced by zonal regret.

Stay warm folks and make sure you are prepared for a bit more winter as it looks like we have some more to go before we welcome spring.

Mark

Snow Days

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.

An older photo of Deepwood’s Scroll Garden in winter.

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.

16″ of snow at Illahe on March 22, 2012

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.

Mark

Seed Sowing Time

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.

These seeds, collected from last year’s garden, include several new biennials and perennials to try. Also, some existing woody species are being propagated to ensure the survival of Gaiety Hollow’s historic woody collection.

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.

The internet is a great source of seed growing tips and tricks. A favorite and very comprehensive book on sowing seeds is Norman Deno’s Seed Germination, Theory and Practice. Another recommended book on propagation (and much more) is Peter Thompson’s Creative Propagation, A Growers Guide.

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.

Seed Sources

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.

Curating the Collection

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another. John Muir

Those of us who attended Keith Park’s presentation on Preserving the John Muir Sequoia experienced an insightful treatment of preservation horticulture in the real world. I was fortunate to have already learned of this preservation project at a National Park Service workshop at Fort Vancouver, WA last year. That workshop encouraged me to take a closer look at the Lord & Schryver plant collection that I oversee as the Garden Manager |Curator.

Much behind the scenes work goes into collecting, curating, and preserving the amazing collection of plants at Gaiety Hollow. Visitors to the garden have most likely noticed small metal tags hanging from the woody plant material. These tags hold accession numbers linked to a database that records the key characteristics of each plant, including the era in which they were introduced to the garden.

Plants age, become diseased, and sometimes simply up and die without any reason or warning. Maintaining detailed records helps curators track plant growth and anticipate future problems. Taking cuttings is a popular propagation method, however, caution is required as one can potentially clone the same pathogen that caused the specimen’s demise. Propagation by seeds is another avenue, although genetic variability may be an issue.

The Osmanthus heterophyllus acc# H0076 at the end of the West Allee is a good example of the Conservancy’s work in preservation horticulture. Billing records show that Edith and Elizabeth purchased an Osmanthus illicifolius (heterophyllus) in 1954. This is likely the same plant that is currently suffering at the end of the West Allee. It has tip dieback, yellowing foliage, and is struggling to find it’s place under the now much larger Osmanthus fragrans and the ever growing Holly Hedge. Fortunately, it put out a great crop of seeds this past summer so we have other options than cloning.

One benefit of collecting seeds is that if handled right, many species can be stored for long periods of time. Seed banks have been created that specialize in this sort of preservation. Seeds must be kept cool and dry to maintain viability for long periods of time. Saving seeds is a key aspect of preservation horticulture that gardeners can practice themselves. The Rae Selling Berry Botanic Garden is a famous example of a private estate garden turned botanic treasure. It eventually morphed into the Seed Banking program at Portland State University to preserve rare native plant seeds.

Whether it be sticking cuttings, making layers, or collecting and sowing seeds, preserving Gaiety Hollow’s plant collection is ongoing work as plants age, or new pests and diseases threaten the collection.

Mark

Holiday Cheer

Making a holiday sign for the front gate at Gaiety Hollow has put me in the holiday spirit! If you haven’t seen it yet, we hope that our sign brings you some joy this holiday season.

The idea originated when Pam said she wished we had a front sign, so people knew where Gaiety Hollow was located. That wish, together with a piece of luan plywood from my home shop and several rainy weekends, resulted in a lighted holiday sign! I have always been enamored by old world craftmanship but sadly, the days of hand painted signs are long gone in this age of vinyl, plastic, and 3D printers. There is much exquisite craftmanship in the fence work and brick work at Gaiety Hollow… a vinyl banner simply wouldn’t do!

The sign has received many compliments and it seems to fit in well with the house and garden.

Just a quick bit about the construction. I had some thin scrap plywood laying around my home shop that I thought would fit the gate perfectly. Chet Zenone helped me cut dado joints from some scrap cedar left over from the Reserve Garden fence project. We used that to frame and reinforce the sign, and also protect the end grain. The hand lettering was the tricky part, but also proved to be a welcome chore to distract an often- overthinking mind on a rainy socially distanced weekend. I had clearly forgotten how therapeutic painting can be when it’s more than just rolling Strand Green on 5oo pieces of lathe!

Drilling out the 400 plus holes for the lights was a bit of a chore, but the design allows the sign to look good both day and night. KC Meaders provided some custom metal brackets from his blacksmith shop so the sign can be easily mounted on the existing gate and taken down without any tools.

Like so many Conservancy projects this was a labor of love, made totally of donated goods and with help from volunteers. In this time of giving and as we wrap up the year, it is important to recognize how much love and energy has poured into this garden for the past 90 years. I think back on how much work it must have been for those carpenters who built the original fences, pergolas, and gates for Elizabeth and Edith. When I think of them nailing together all that lathe with a hammer and tacks, I thank the heavens I was born into the age of air compressors and nail guns! But I will always appreciate the look of something handcrafted.

I hope you appreciate our handcrafted sign as it hangs from the gate for the holiday season. We at the Lord & Schryver Conservancy wish you joy and cheer and a soon to be Happy New Year!

Mark

Fungi in the Garden

“Nature alone is antique and the oldest art a mushroom.” – Thomas Carlyle

I’m dedicating this blog post to the fungi in the garden as ’tis the season where the fungi are perhaps the most interesting thing blooming. I recently took a photographic journey around the Gaiety Hollow and Deepwood gardens. LSC volunteer gardener, Jay Raney, contributed some wonderful photographs of mushrooms at Bush’s Pasture Park.

I wish I knew how to identify more mushrooms as they are a great food source if you know which varieties are edible! Mushrooms provide Vitamin D which is beneficial for the immune system and mental health.

Research shows that many mushrooms have medicinal properties. Oregon recently approved research into Psilocybine mushrooms for treating depression and other disorders. If you haven’t seen the documentary Fantastic Fungi, I strongly recommend it. It includes fascinating information from Paul Stamets, the legendary mushroom guru, as well as incredible nature art.

A big thanks to Diana Reeck, a local member of the Mushroom Society who visited Gaiety Hollow this fall. Diana helped me identify some of the mushrooms we have growing in the garden.

This time of year it’s exciting to see a new mushroom popping up in the garden. It reminds us that even though many plants have gone dormant for the winter, so much life is still happening beneath the soil.

Happy Holidays,

Mark

Giving Back to Our Community

When we learned that students in our neighborhood wouldn’t be going back to in-person classes this fall, we decided to do something to help make this year seem a bit more normal for these K-2nd grade students.

For six Wednesdays, we invited students to experience horticulture, science, and art in the garden. They conducted plant experiments, learned about native and invasive plants, studied wildife, and even dissected trout! It was all smiles as we made painted salmon cutouts and built birdhouses at Gaiety Hollow, perhaps the best outdoor classroom a kid could ever ask for.

We lined up a wonderful assortment of guest eductors, conducted horticultural experiments, learned how to do plant propagation, went on a field trip to a wetland, met a biologist, saw a real beaver dam, and had a great time doing it all.

In the first class, students began an experiment. Each student planted two pots of sugar snap peas, one pot with seeds pre-soaked in water for 24 hours, and the other with dry peas straight from the packet. Each week the students measured and recorded the growth of the peas in both pots. As younger students, they learned some basic skills with this little experiment, including writing the date, using a ruler to make measurements, and most importantly gathering data to make scientific observations.

This pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone, but students who are just setting out on the journey of learning and socialization are arguably the ones who will suffer the greatest if they don’t receive a solid foundation in science and environmental awareness.

Working with these kids gives me a hope for the future. No matter how bleak it may seem with the downplaying of science in today’s politics, a day will come when the next generation has more influence. They are learning how it all works and I feel confident they will apply this knowledge towards remedying some of the problems we face today.

A big thank you goes out to the parents who helped with the weekly classes, Chet Zenone for providing the wooden salmon and birdhouse kits, the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District for providing educators, Laurie Aguirre and the City of Salem water team for helping with the field trip and trout dissection, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the biology tour of the Fairview Wetlands, and Pam Wasson for her leadership in creating a safe and socially-distanced experience for the students.

Have a safe week.

Mark

Readying the Garden for Winter

“No winter lasts forever; No spring skips it’s turn.” – Hal Borland

It has been a busy October at the Lord & Schryver Conservancy! We partnered with local educators, scientists and conservationists to provide a weekly workshop for a group of K -2nd graders from the neighborhood. Then, Robert and his crew from Riverdale Landscape Construction tackled the soil drainage issue in the West Allee. Last week, our dedicated volunteer gardeners planted 600 tulip bulbs for Spring 2021’s show. And finally, mountains of mulch were moved to ready the beds for a long winter’s nap.

As we head into winter, tool will be cleaned, handles oiled for another season, equipment stowed away, and the tool shed organized. Planning for next year’s flower show and studying the recently completed Treatment Plan to restore elements in the garden that have changed over time are on the winter to do list. Although the fence repair is ongoing, the summer’s hard work has paid off with most of the Reserve Garden’s restored panels ready to hang. This elaborate fence work adds so much character to Lord & Schryver’s garden designs.

The old espaliered Camellia sasanqua by Gaiety Hollow’s backdoor in early November.

The pandemic, together with the recent political situation, has made this one of the strangest gardening seasons I have experienced in my 25-year professional horticulture career. But I’m thankful for a hardy group of dedicated volunteers who worked tirelessly this season, often in less than ideal conditions, to help maintain and beautify the Lord & Schryver gardens.

Thank you all for a great season of gardening at the Lord & Schryver Conservancy!


Mark

The Big Rotary Club of Salem Fall Cleanup at Deepwood

We had the most amazing group of Rotarians show up to volunteer at Deepwood for two Wednesdays in a row this month. The group began by laying fresh gravel on all the pathways at Deepwood.

The Rotary crew hard at work spreading gravel on the footpaths around the gardens.

The following Wednesday, Rotarians returned to place wood chips in the native plant beds around the Scroll Garden. The Parks Department had an inmate crew remove the invasive species in these beds before the Rotary volunteers showed up, so we had a nice clean area to mulch.

Many hands make light work so the old saying goes. Some volunteers showed up two Wednesdays in a row to help get Deepwood in shape for the winter.

Finally, the group spread compost around the azaleas and ferns above the lower walk. The results were dramatic! Altogether, Rotarians spread 9 yards of gravel, 8 yards of wood chips and 3 yards of compost. A monumental task for one person, but quickly accomplished by a great group of fun, energetic volunteers.

Rotarians hard at work shoveling wood chips.
One of the most dramatic areas of the cleanup project is the native scaped area between the Scroll Garden and the lower walk.

Adding wood chips and mulch to the native plant beds will help us control the invasive plant species. Also, the newly graveled footpaths will provide a cleaner, safer experience for Deepwood visitors.

We are so grateful to the Rotary Club of Salem, especially Rotarian Adam Kohler for organizing this event. A big thank you to the Parks Department for providing the necessary tools and materials, and Deepwood staff for helping coordinate this large group effort.

Deepwood’s Bigleaf maple in fall.

As we wrap up the gardening season, we can enjoy the colors of the fall and prep the garden beds for flower bulb planting. Then we get to settle in for the long wait for spring.

Scroll Garden in the spring.

Stay well,

Mark

Fall Happenings in the Garden

Featured

Wealth of bloom – Zinnias exceptionally nice this year. Yellow & white Zinnias and yellow ‘Flame’ Marigold very pretty. Pale Pink elegans Zinnia sweet color. El Dorado uncertain a mixture of orange and pink

Elizabeth Lord, Fall, 1938

This fall has started out to be a busy one! In addition to annual fall garden cleanup and bulb planting, we are teaching a six week “horticulture basics” class to a small group of neighborhood kids. We have also lined up a group of Rotary Club volunteers to regravel the paths at Deepwood, plan to complete some West Allee drainage improvements, as well as repair the Reserve Garden fence — all before the lovely fall weather ends.

I love seeing artists in the garden, be it painters or photographers, as the particular planting they capture will look totally different next year.

Speaking of artists and artistry, the woodworking at Gaiety Hollow is sometimes lost in the background. But having worked on a good bit of it, I can attest to the skills and labor of love involved.

Chet Zenone using one of his custom-made jigs to align the 50+ pieces of lath that comprise the upper section of the Reserve Garden fence panel. Each fence section is unique in size and dimension and it takes a skilled craftsman with an artist’s touch to recreate it.

I love the cooler temperatures and renewed vigor fall brings. The shortening days add a sense of urgency to the task list before we bid farewell to the sunshine for the darkness of winter.

Hoping that fall hangs on a bit longer so I can get all the tasks accomplished.

Mark