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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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For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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