Monday, December 11, 2017

Garden Report: Katherine's Water Drop Shaped Hugelkultur Bed


Daughter Katherine loves flowers. 
The Water Drop hugelkultur bed is dedicated to Katherine and will be covered in flowers.

The Water Drop is tucked in beside her sister's feather-shaped bed.
They are both partially under the canopy of a Douglas-fir and in the first spring, they were planted with their lower canopy trees. Katherine's is a white flowering pear tree.
Comfrey has been planted around the base to both build up the nutrients in the soil and to hold the soil in place.


Katherine's hugelkultur bed is water drop shaped because she studied fluid mechanics and works at managing the flow of water on the land.

A garden bed full of flowering plants can become a magnet for insects - an insectary.
"Not only will insectary plants improve your garden's health, but the flash  and shimmer of multicoloured buzzers and flutterers will both delight the eye and attract many varieties of birds to eat them, further increasing your yard's biodiversity." Gaia's Garden a Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, p. 109.

Katherine's favourite flower colours are pinks and whites so I added that to the plant list criteria.
Almost any pollen or nectar producing flower will attract pollinating insects needed to set fruit and seeds. Predator insects are needed to gobble up unwanted bugs. I needed to find a variety of different types of plants to attract many different insects to this bed.

Another design goal was to have something flowering throughout the year.
These chives are pushing the colour scheme into purpley pinks and are something Katherine remembers helping to deadhead when she was very young. They are an early spring bloomer providing nectar when there is little else flowering in the garden.


A fall bloomer is this Autumn Joy Stonecrop Sedum that can be covered in different types of bees when the sunny days are getting shorter.

Behind the Liatris and Echinacea/Cone Flower is a Russian Tea (Camellia sinensis) plant forming the shrub layer in this ecosystem. It fits the criteria having masses of white flowers from September through to January as long as it gets enough hours of sun. This bed is south facing but our winters can have many cloudy rainy days so we will wait to see how much it flowers. 
It thrives in slightly acidic soil conditions which is a good thing with the bed being under the Douglas-fir. 
Bonus features are it is a nitrogen fixer to the benefit of plants around it and one can make tea from its leaves. 

It is the early stages of developing this Water Drop hugelkultur bed...

...while I have this picture in mind of Katherine with her wedding flowers.




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Teaching 'Mindful Colours' Workshop for the First Time

Sarah Mclaren (website) and I taught our new 'Mindful Colours' workshop to 24 people. 

It was important to have 24 people because we sat them right in a colour wheel to involve more of their senses as they explored their own personal responses to colours.

Most colour workshops start off with making the ubiquitous colour wheel. Our workshop was no different except we encouraged people to intuitively pick their favourite colour from each tray and not overthink it. The idea is based on the way Johannes Itten worked with his students by encouraging them to isolate and work with their own personal palettes.
It was very interesting to see the variation in colours different people picked to make up their personal colour wheels. We encouraged them to write about their choices.

Sarah led the group in an exercise on value.
We also had exercises to explore other characteristics of colour - temperature and intensity.

The last exercise was based on pulling together what had been learned to make an abstract colour image expressing an emotion, feeling or visual experience.

It was so interesting to walk around the room looking at different people's colour wheels with their abstract picture. For a lot of the participants, it was only when they stepped back and saw their own colour choices besides others did they see how distinctive their own work is. 

We asked every person for an evaluation of the workshop. We were delighted with the feedback we recieved. Sarah and I sat down for a couple of hours while going through the comments and reworked parts of the workshop based on these comments.
Now we feel ready to go out into the world with our 'Mindful Colours' workshop.
We had such a fun time teaching it we are looking forward to our next booking - more on that later.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Colour: A Personal Response Workshop, 'Mindful Colours' by Sarah McLaren and Lesley Turner

Ready to teach our workshop on colour.
'Mindful Colours' by Sarah Mclaren and Lesley Turner 

But before that, there were many hours of planning and preparing of workshop supplies.
We dug deep into our fabric stashes to find as many different variations of colour as we had. We asked friends to donate fabric scraps to broaden the range. Many thanks for donations from Bryony, Lori, Laura, Louise and Lesley. Your contributions filled in some gaps we had.

We cut hundreds of squares for each of the 24 colours according to Joen Wolfrom's colour system.

Sarah and I had a number of coffee shop meetings to plan the workshop exercises and logistics. We also met up several times to collated and organise the workshop materials. 

Several people had asked if we taught workshops related to our 'Colour: A Personal Response' exhibition. We got the message that people really were interested in learning more about colour. 
After planning the workshop we decided we needed to trial it to get feedback and then make improvements. We approached Isabel Jones and Alison Kershaw with their connections with Friday Fibre Friends, Sew 'n' Sews and Deep Cove Weavers and Spinners groups. Between the 3 groups, they signed up 24 participants - the exact number we needed to pull the workshop off.
Thank you, Isabel and Alison, for taking on this part of running a workshop and allowing Sarah and I to focus on the teaching.
Here are Sarah and Brigitta setting up the tables and covering them with white cloths.

We set up tables to work at and we also had 2 tables of activities for people when they first arrived and during the break.
These are my small colour books where I ask people to write how they feel about that specific colour.


The other table had a few of Sarah and my favourite colour reference books to look through.
With everything set up to our satisfaction, we were ready to trial our new workshop.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Garden Report: Feather-Shaped Bird-Haven Bed

The feather-shaped, bird-haven Hugelkultur bed is inspired by and dedicated to our daughter Elizabeth. She has a special way with animals which is why this bed is feather-shaped. 
I needed a theme to guide my planting. When I asked her for suggestions she gave the obvious answer - 'Make it a place for the birds'

The plantings will include a full range of plants to create a complex ecosystem known as a guild.
The first layer of plants in a guild is the overhead large tree canopy. The Feather Bed has a Douglas-fir tree over its north end. It is a source of food for insect-eating birds and those that like the cone seeds. The falling litter of cones and needles continually adds to the soil below making it more on the acid side, something I have to keep in mind when making my plant selections.
At the edge of the Douglas-fir drip line, I planted a cherry tree to provide early spring food, perching sites and hopefully nesting sites when this tree matures.

A few flowers blossomed in the 2nd year then the fruit appeared and was eaten by the birds within a few weeks - a sign this tree is going to suit the birds' needs well.

At the south end of the bed, I planted a medlar tree to provide winter food for birds that stay around. The medlar fruit is edible after it has bletted, that is, turned soft and brown, usually by November. It will also provide perches and hopefully nesting sites.
On my sister's advice we have nipped off any fruit for the past 2 years but come next spring we will enjoy watching the fruit grow.

Each tree has 3 herb type plants under its canopy, plants to support a healthy soil -comfrey to provide minerals and biomass to the soil ...

...and lupines to support nitrogen-fixing organisms making nitrogen available to the trees. The 3rd plant, borage, attracts pollinating insects who may visit the trees' blossoms also.

While still building up the soil in the bed and before I had settled on what the shrub layer would include, I pushed squash seeds into the soil. Squash plants grow quickly to cover and protect the soil and provide it with a large biomass when they die back. Birds enjoy pecking at ripe squash too.

I placed a big bundle of left-over embroidery threads onto the bed thinking the birds could use them when nest building. However, I noticed they only picked up the straw mulch. After I read about how long threads can be a problem for birds because their feet and wings can easily get tangled in them, I took the thread bundle off and put it in the compost bin.
For the shrub layer, I have focused on berry producing plants - black currants, red currants and sea buckthorn. Hopefully, they will produce fruit next season and I will have pics to show you. 

The vine layer in the Feather Bed ecology is a kiwi vine. 

 It is being encouraged to climb up and over the Arbor. We have noticed the birds sit on top of the Arbor cross beams a lot already. At this stage they are vulnerable to raptors flying overhead so they don't stay long but once the kiwi has grown its leaves will provide the birds with protective shelter while resting on their lofty perch.


I researched the types of flowers attractive to hummingbirds because we are seeing more of them over the years and I would like to provide them with a more reliable food source. Hummingbirds like red flowers. I planted a number of them along the east side of the bed where I can see them through my studio windows as they visit the flowers. Flowers planted to date are red daylilies, deep red echinacea, liatris (also called gayfeather), and red crocosmia. I haven't cut back the stalks or lifted any of the bulbs because the stalks are full of seeds and are natural bird feeders over the winter. If a plant doesn't survive our winter then I will find another one to plant in its place. I am not interested in annuals.
The dried stalks also provide nest-building materials come spring.
With this mass of red flowering plants reaching their peak blooming in a sequence, we noticed early each evening our resident California quail family climbed up the mound to forage - a bonus I hadn't planned for.
A thriving Bird Haven attracting a greater variety of birds and more of them is of great benefit to the whole Backyard Garden.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Garden Report: Hugelkultur Bed - Bird Haven


This past summer was a bumper year for berries in the garden.
Mahonia bushes produced large bunches of berries. Individual berries weren't as large as other years but this year there were so many mid-sized ones the bushes were heavy with them 
The birds loved them.
The birds also started to enjoy the newly established Bird Haven Hugelkultur bed.

The original site for the Bird Haven bed was a tired grass lawn and a few natives under a Douglas-fir tree.

One of the first tasks Tom tackled with his big machine was to carefully bring the logs from a pile made when the lot was cleared to build the house, out into the backyard.

He picked up the native plants and placed them in a temporary bed outside the construction zone.


Construction of the Bird Haven began with Tom scooping out a trench inside the outline I had marked with yarn. Next, he laid logs in the trench to roughly fill the space.

He covered the first log layer with topsoil he had saved when he had cleared the Backyard site...

...then stacked on top another layer of logs....

...and covered it all with a layer of soil he packed down lightly.
Tom had made a hugelkultur bed (mound culture), a garden building technique long common in forests of central Europe. 

No scrap of wood is ever wasted. Piled up and buried the wood acts as a water reservoir accessible to plants during the dry season.
Here I am planting pieces of comfrey root around the base of the bed. The quick growing comfrey with its deep taproot will hold the base of the mound during the rainy season.
Ron and I began adding a variety of organic materials to the soil mound as a protective mulch - fallen leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, composted shredded garden clippings.
I cast a number of different types of seeds planning for them to grow as a green mulch cover. The birds thought I had laid out a smorgasbord and feasted before heading south. Oh well, I rationalised, they wouldn't have eaten every single seed. The remaining seeds will germinate in the spring and do their job.
The birds are enjoying the bed even before it is fully planted.




Friday, October 20, 2017

For the Love of Hydrangeas

Next to the boulder retaining wall coming out from my studio, I have planted a Hydrangea hedge.

It began with an invitation from Barbara G to dig up and take cuttings from her bushes last fall.

I planted the 2 root balls and stuck stick cuttings in the ground and left them for the winter.

Early in the spring they sprouted, grew enormous leaves and flowered profusly throughout the summer into early fall.

Barabara's plants are called 'lace' hydrangeas because the petals come out a few at a time rather than all at once.

They are blue and are likely to stay blue because our native soil is acidic. Pine needles and pine cones from nearby Douglas-fir trees continually fall on the soil keeping it acidic. 


Closer to the Green Shed I want the bushes to be pinker. I have been buying pink flowering plants and after enjoying them inside I have cut them back and planted them filling in the remaining space right up to the Shed. I pour my leftover tea into their soil and have added eggshells to help make the soil more alkaline (and the stalks fo these hybrids stronger) which supports pink flowers. However, most pink plants are now bred to stay pink so these ones are likely to stay the colour I bought.
I'll take a picture next spring to show off how the pink bushes pop against the dark green shed. As the bushes are further away they transistion into blues. This is the plan but I will have wait until next spring to see how things turn out. 

I love hydrangeas as do many of the women in my family. My sisters, mother, aunts and cousins grow magnificent hydrangeas in their gardens wherever they can. Karen, who lives in the mountains of Colorado, can't but I know she would if she could.
I made a series of hydrangea works from thrift store silk blouses.
Earlier posts about making these works here and here.

I gave one to each of my sisters and our mother.

We all remember how our grandmother (our mother's mother) grew magnificent hydrangea bushes that we spend many happy hours playing around.

I have a memory of watching her put some powder into the soil under the plants. She explained to me she was making their colours. It was my first introduction to aluminium ions and soil ph and I have been fascinated ever since.

I think of the hydrangea connecting our different generations. When I see them in my sisters' gardens I think of how our grandmother passed on her love of working with plants. I see I have passed this love on to my daughters.