Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter Damage

I have been watching the Willamette Valley weather from far away Chicago.
We have both been having extreme weather.
I’m glad that for now, Mother Nature has returned us to ‘Normal’ winter weather.
Once we all have assessed our gardens, don’t panic! Plants are very resilient & stronger than we think. Broadleaf shrubs & trees can have more branch breakage from ice & wind. If you have broken branches, you can wait until the coldest weather is over to prune them. If you need to prune now, just remember to use clean, sharp tools & make good cuts.
For more tips, check out these videos on Winter Tools ( & Winter Tree Care (
I know I have Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina) with broken stems. This has happened before & in my garden, these shrubs can always use a trim. I will cut the stems all the way to the ground. This will promote new stems from the crown of the shrub.
I also have Rhodies that will need a few branches trimmed back. I will lose the flowers that would have come on the stems, but the plant will be OK. Once spring has arrived & new growth is emerging, I will check & see what plants need additional pruning & a shot of fertilizer or top dressing of rich mulch. This will help stimulate healthy new growth.
Sometimes winter takes it toll on our gardens. That is a fact of life in our gardens.
Shopping for new plants --- sounds like fun to me! Maybe I hadn’t planned on replacing a shrub or tree but it is exciting to have a space to plant a new variety!
I know that all the garden centers that Garden Time visits will be stocking up with new plants to tempt us this late winter & spring. It will be a great new project to try something new!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Italy Gardens – Assisi

Assisi is one of those hill towns that we have been talking about. It is known as the home of St. Francis and St. Clare. St. Francis is the patron saint of the environment and St. Clare became the patron saint of TV, a perfect combination for a visit from a garden show! St. Francis has lots of ties to gardens and gardening.

One of the most interesting garden sites is the rose garden in the lower part of Assisi (seen on the right) where it is said that St. Francis threw himself when he was tempted. The roses, recognizing who he was, dropped their thorns so he would not be hurt. According to legend, they remain thornless to this day. You can even buy a leaf from one of these rose bushes in the gift shop.

On the grounds in front of his basilica you will find this topiary of the word ‘Pax’ which means ‘peace’ and the greek Tau symbol, the symbol he choose to represent his redemption.

A walk through the upper town took us by one of the most interesting uses of containers we have ever seen (on the right). In the corner of a Franciscan office building we saw a climbing variegated ivy and an assortment of terra cotta pots containing cyclamens, geraniums, and petunias. Very beautiful!

A couple of blocks away we saw this large oleander outside of a clothing store (on the left). Look at the base. It shows you how you can grow a large plant in a small space.

As with the rest of Italy, we found a lot of people with containers on their decks, patios and balconies. The one on the right contains oleander and citrus in containers and further down the street there was this established garden (pictured left) at the top of the ancient brick city wall.

The view from Assisi shows the large groves of olives that you see in this region. This area is loaded with farms and as you can see, they make use of all the land.

Next stop a special winery tour…

Jeff Gustin
Garden Time Producer

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chilly Birds and Pets

This blog about winter bird and pet care is at the suggestion of Judy. She has been watching her local birds and the cold weather has her thinking about their well being. In fact all of the Garden Time team has been thinking about the cold weather and how we can help our feathered friends and pets.
The number one rule is to provide protection. If you have pets and they need to go outside, they need protection. Let them out to do their ‘business’ on the protected side of your house. Go outside with them, when you start to get cold, they are probably cold too. Don’t just let them outside by themselves. Most of the bird population will find their own protection but there are ways you can help. This past fall we left part of our garden with untrimmed bushes so they could find protection in the branches. Some will leave pile of yard debris to help the smaller birds.

The second rule is to provide water. This bird bath is absolutely worthless during cold and wintry days like these.

We have left the water running in our water feature so our bird friends can get a drink if they need one. For you pets, if you have water dishes outside, check them for ice. Just because they are under cover doesn’t mean that they won’t get frozen over.

The third rule is to provide food. We stocked our bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. These are a good all-purpose feed for your seed loving birds. We have neglected to keep our suet feeder full for our insect loving birds, but we will fill it as soon as we get a new suet block. The one thing we don’t have is a hummingbird feeder. These types of feeders need special attention. Because they are a liquid feeder they need to be watched to make sure they don’t freeze.
Finally, you need to be consistent in your approach to caring for your birds or pets. If you start providing feed and water, you have to continue providing it as long as it remains cold (and perhaps longer). If you need more tips or help in being a friend to your outdoor animals, check out the Audubon website ( or the site for the Backyard Bird Shop (

Stay Warm!
Garden Time Producer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter in Chicago

On Tuesday, I flew from Portland to Chicago for Christmas vacation & ended up in the same weather. Go figure.
On previous years I left rainy, cool Portland & arrived in very cold, snowy Chicago. On this trip, the weather was virtually the same in both cities. Very strange.
I took this whole adventure in stride. Most of my fellow travelers were grumbling about snow hampering their way to get home. They are not used to services being stopped or curtailed. Chicago’s motto is “the City that Works”. It’s almost like the Post Office motto, “rain or snow or dark of night shall keep us from our rounds”.
I had just left a city that had closed down on Monday because of snow & ice. The schools were closed and many businesses were closed or on short hours. The Mayor of Portland asked people to stay home or use public transport. Portland & the Willamette Valley understand you can’t go up against Mother Nature & win. Chicagoans put up big muscle of huge plows & salt trucks to get the city moving during & quickly after a snowstorm. Many years ago, the voters were reminded by the opposing candidate, about the horrifically slow city response to a snowstorm. They voted the sitting mayor out of office in next election. It wasn’t really the mayor’s fault as there were huge back to back snow storms. Any response would have been helpless. That response shows how determine Chicago is to not be stopped by snow!
Driving from the airport last night, the city looked very beautiful. The ugly toll of shoveling, salt trucks & snow plows had not hit the pristine landscape. Everything was heavily dusted with snow. It was a Christmas card moment! I enjoyed the view as I knew it would be gone in the morning.
Wednesday morning was sunny with crystal clear blue skies. The temps topped off at 26F and the snowplows & neighborhood snow blowers were out.
We’re due for another storm on Thursday. We’ll all plan around it & know that we won’t be house bound for long.

Good Luck in the Valley.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Italy Gardens – Florence and Siena

We made our way into the Tuscany region of Italy and the city of Florence. The beautiful scenery of this region is what most people think of when they think of Italy. The rolling, picturesque hills are seen on postcards and in paintings. We were there during the first part of fall and the hills were just starting to change color. We spent a few days in the heart of Florence, walking the city. We were surprised at the number and location of the city parks. You take your life into your own hands when you walk the streets trying to get to the parks, but you are not the only one. We found the parks to be well used.
This fountain is in a park is near the Firenze Fiera near the central train station. Here some of the locals strolled, some sat chatting on benches. We even saw one couple sharing a bottle of wine (what is Italy without wine!, we will take you to a winery later). The local botanical gardens are located in the old city too, not far away from this park.

Some of the container plantings were pretty elaborate.

Check out the containers in front of this restaurant.

We then traveled to Siena. A lot of these small fortress towns are built on hills and are surrounded by forests and orchards. Because of the location you have steep streets and alleys.
I noticed a café down this street (on the left) that had planters designed for the slope so they would stay level. Even the chairs had 2 legs shorter than the others so you can use them on the hill with out falling over.

Next stop Assisi

Jeff Gustin
Garden Time Producer

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Well, I heard the winter weather is coming this weekend. Timberline ski area is finally getting snow. Snow is predicted for the valley floor. It is Wednesday afternoon, I’ll believe it when I see it. The media has to talk about something and snow for the weekend is today’s topic!
Just in case the temperatures drop & snow appears, here are some tips for the garden & patio.
Make sure you take in the saucers for your containers. If the water in them freezes, they may crack. Use ceramic feet or some kind of riser to create an air space between the containers & surface underneath. This is to ensure good drainage during the wet season & therefore prevent ice in the pot. The pot may crack if that happens.
At night, bring in your Citrus plants. They are pretty cold hardy but extreme temps will hurt them. I leave my ‘Meyer’s Improved Lemon’ tree on the deck as long as possible in the winter but take it in when it gets below 25F.
We have had rain the last few days but if it’s just cold & dry, make sure plants get watered. Trees & Shrubs die more from being dry, cold & wind blown than just cold temperatures. If you use the hose, bring the hose back in the garage & shut off the water so the hose isn’t damaged & the faucet doesn’t freeze.
Use Wilt Pruf or other antidessicant on evergreen plants. This product seals the plants pores & prevents water loss through the leaves.
All winter rain or not, you should check your plants & containers that are in rain shadows or under the eaves. They may not be getting enough water.
Protect tender or newly planted plants. Put a covering of leaves over the crown of the plant or if feasible, cover with a blanket over night. Remember to take it off in the morning.
After all the chores are done, it’s time for us all to be warm & snuggled for the Arctic Blast that might be coming. Make sure you have a good garden book/magazine, seed catalogue or other fine reading available. Make sure you have wood for the fireplace or the pilot is on for the gas one. I like to have an adult-type beverage to accompany this kind of burrowing in on a cold day.
Relax, it’s the start of Winter.

Take Care. Stay Warm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Italy Gardens – Padua

The next stop on our trip was the city of Padua. This city is famous for being the site of the Basilica of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost items. It is also a beautiful city in its own right. Here, even though there is more space for gardening, you still see a lot of container and patio gardening. You will also see a lot of gardens mixed with laundry. A lot of Italians do not own clothes dryers, so every day is laundry day as you see clothes hanging out to dry among the plants on balconies.

We also noticed that the city has made use of planted traffic circles that have lots of different plant material in them (this picture was taken from our bus).

On a walk through the city toward the Basilica of St. Anthony, we found the piazza of Prato della Valle. This square is one of the biggest in Europe. It has a canal with 4 bridges that surrounds a garden. Around the canal are statues of 78 famous men of the city.

We also were wondering if the city leaders had been to the Pacific Northwest! We found hanging baskets similar to the ones you find in cities around here.

The real treat was at the Basilica of St. Anthony! We found a Magnolia on the grounds that was planted in 1810! This magnolia grandiflora and a sister plant in a near-by cloister were huge but very healthy for their advanced age.

Next Florence and Sienna.
Garden Time Producer

Friday, December 5, 2008

Winter Grasses

I love seeing the fog each morning these last few weeks. The landscapes look so quiet & other worldly. The world looks soft. The water droplets or if it’s very cold, the frost, sticks on the plants, especially the ornamental grasses. That is why I like to leave the ornamental grass foliage for the fall & winter. In late summer & fall, the green leaf blades start to turn burgundy or tawny brown. The grass flowers turn to seed that will be ornamental or edible for the coming seasons. By the time the fall rains start, the silhouettes add beautiful form to the fall & winter landscape.

I have seen this Purple Fountain Grass shining in all its’ late season glory.
I love the white see heads contrasting with the dark foliage. During the summer, this grass is a garden mainstay as the burgundy-purple foliage & pinkish flowers add motion & texture to our containers and borders.

For all your ornamental grasses, leave the foliage & seed heads up for food & protection for birds. It’s fun to watch them hanging on the tops of the grasses on windy days. As the winter progresses, grasses do start to look haggard. They have been through many weeks of rain & wind. In late March, it is time to cut back the old foliage. New foliage will be up before you know it and the new cycle begins.

I have always loved the fall & winter landscape. I am from Chicago where it can be cold & grey or cold with clear blue skies. Any plant left up for the winter besides a yew or pine is interesting. There’s just not a lot of plant variety in that area! But I got used to seeing some beauty as that was all we got! Now that I have lived in the Valley for 12 years, I see so many plants go through physical changes all year long. The late fall & winter have a beauty that is theirs alone. Take the time to enjoy this quiet time of the season.

Take care,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Italy Gardens - Venice

Recently I traveled to Italy with my wife Therese for her birthday. A big one, and I won’t say the numberJ. Our trip took us from Venice in the north to Amalfi on the Mediterranean and while we were there I decided to check out the local garden scene. Italy is very interesting in its approach to gardening. There are large cities like Rome and Florence, where container gardening are popular (and necessary), and quaint little cottages in the rolling hills of Tuscany. I thought I would kick off with the first stop we made on our trip, Venice.
In case you didn’t know, Venice is an island. It was a marshy area that has been filled in and a good portion of the city is built on piers and pilings that have been driven into the water. As you can imagine, there isn’t a lot of soil for garden plots! Venice is a wonderful city that has no vehicle traffic except around the area of the train station. Walking (or water craft) is the only way around this wonderful place. The first thing you will notice is the creative use of plants and planting areas.
Outside of our hotel window was an apartment building. Check out the various uses for containers. People even created entertainment spaces where they could find room. And if something grew, they let it grow!!!

This ivy is coming from a 2nd story garden and trails over the edge of the home and down to the water.

This wisteria vine was growing in one person’s backyard (if you can call it that) and the neighbors have trained it around the building so everyone can enjoy it.

Window boxes are the container of choice. Almost everywhere you look you can see window boxes. This is a view of 2 major streets coming together and crossing a canal. That’s right, these 2 small walkways are considered streets. And you will find people growing plants anywhere there is a little light and soil.

There were 2 very interesting garden type displays we found in Venice. Down one street we found the Singapore Supergarden. This area was a showcase of design styles from Singapore, but the area of the garden (the entry) was very beautiful.
The other very interesting ‘garden’ display was the ‘Deep Garden’, a tribute to Venice. It was a sculpture that featured a single maple planted in the middle of a glass cube that was painted red on the inside. An outdoor room immersed in water. Very interesting!
The next stop on our tour will be Padua…

Stay tuned,
Garden Time Producer