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Surprises and lessons from another climate

Visiting gardens in central Oregon for fun and education

Oregon garden
California poppies put on a show in this Sisters, Ore., garden. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

The house was not far from the local airstrip, but with a stunning view of mountains still wearing a white cap of snow. The walls and fences for this special event were hung with intricate quilts, most of modern design. Garden decor include many freestanding pieces by the owner, a metal sculptor. The whole site appealed to my collective creative delights.

But I was surprised — and then amused to be surprised — when I turned a corner into the garden and saw the huge bank of blooming California poppies ( Eschscholzia californica ). Wait, part of my brain said, why are homeowners in central Oregon growing California’s state flower?

Because, of course, they can.

It was a good reminder that the West Coast states are linked botanically. (Most of my poppies are long dead, pulled out about a month ago.) The gardens we visited around Sisters, Ore., this week proved more intriguing to me than the quilts hung there — though the quilts were indeed lovely.

The fundraising self-guided tour was presented by the Sisters Garden Club, the first time since 2019 the gardeners have been able to schedule it.

Western columbine in bloom.

The theme this year was “Living With Pollinators,” and I enjoyed watching bees burying themselves in purple penstemon flowers that would have a hard time surviving the heat in my yard. Of course there were plants too tender for Sacramento, but many, many others that grow at home, just peaking later in this Oregon climate. Cornflowers were still evident, and I spotted tall purple poppies, fluffy Shasta daisies, orange-yellow Western columbine and many clumps of yellow-flowered yarrow. Native plants were common: Oregon grape, anyone?

Very few tomatoes were evident in the vegetable gardens, and the one basil I spotted was in a pot, protected from deer by chicken wire.

We also were able to visit the local community garden, another quilt display site. I zeroed in on the plots, which were about 4-by-12-feet. Many had small fences or even cages over the soil, and I asked one of the gardener hosts why.

“Sage rats,” she said with a tone of disgust. “And mice. We were hit really bad last year. This year’s better so far, but …” She looked out over the garden. “Last year my garden was eaten to the ground, like someone took a lawnmower to it.”

Community garden
The Sisters community garden, with quilts.
Sage rat, I found out, is the common term in the high-desert regions of central and eastern Oregon for the animal officially known as the Belding ground squirrel. It’s an eating machine, and apparently so common in the region that packs of them are the focus of organized target-shooting events.

And here I was envying the Sisters weather. (It rained here twice this week.) Sacramento gardeners do complain about the scorching heat, but at least we’re not battling sage rats!


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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