A GROWING CONCERN: Good habits build character for your garden

LET’S RECAP WHERE we are so far this year.

I am back from Arizona, all jazzed up about the stark reality of the desert tumbling down from the mountains and melding with cactus.

This unique character of the Sonoran desert, along with the habitat of the surrounding flora, got me focused on big projects and the fact that winter is the ideal time to start these undertakings.

That naturally leads to visualizing the master plan for your own yard and sizing it to the property.

Hopefully, some of you are making shapes and objects with paint, rope and various hoses as I explained before.

Next, came a further emphasis on varying the size of supplies and materials to be used. I stressed the importance of using different grades and sizes to enhance the visual impact of the natural state or to improve the overall perspective.

So now, with our minds wrapped around the concepts of big, small and proportion, let’s move on to the aspects of character and habit. These two determining factors should always be deeply woven into whatever size project you are doing.

Whenever I am selecting trees or flowers, rocks or stumps, perennials, shrubs, pathway material or color, I am concerned with the item’s habit and character.

One of the easiest ways to pull it all together or to bring continuity to your yard, is to closely focus on these two crucial design factors.

To understand what I’m talking about, let’s go to my old friend, Webster’s Dictionary. It defines character as a distinctive mark, a distinctive trait, quality or attribute, the essential quality, nature, kind or sort.

I adore a certain local quarried rock, from either Anderson and Son Gravel or Eden Excavating Inc., because of the distinctive way it fractures and its unique markings with bright colored bands.

It has a particular quality that creates natural, mountainous dry creeks with its distinctive traits of breaking down to a multitude of fragmented sizes.

Last week, Eden aided in the construction of a nice berm by moving 15 tons of it to create a rock wall, alluvial flow and dry creek.

Okay, but what about the habit of plants? “Habit” means condition or appearance. In biology, “it’s the tendency of a plant to grow in a certain way; characteristic growth and a twining habit.”

Many of us would easily recognize the trademark habits of certain types of renowned gardens.

Oriental gardens are visualized as pendulous and weeping, with many manicured forms, while Greek and Mediterranean gardens have tall, columnar or pyramidal forms of plants as a central theme.

The habit of Alpine gardens is defined by short, ground-hugging plants and twisted, wind-worn, contorted or prostrate forms of trees and bushes. The English garden includes a wide range of perennial plants with habits like clumping, naturalizing, flowering, all intertwined and interspersed with tall, short and medium habits as well.

You need to incorporate growth structures as you work around the outside of your home or business. The habit of your plants creates mood in an atmosphere, but more on that later. Back to character.

The sharp characteristic of fragmented rock creates mountainous, dry creek or alpine rock screes, while the habit of rounded rock defines the character of riverbeds, pond floors and weather-worn features. The character of large, car-size boulders jutting out from a hillside speaks of a permanence and age, while the habit of an old stump covered in moss, salal and huckleberry stirs emotions of what was and how things are changing.

The character of a preserved wood beam wall is totally different from that of a rock wall, and both convey a far different feel than a poured, unfinished concrete retaining wall.

Think about these: Do you want the character of your yard to be that of a Bouchard Gardens or a golf course? Do you want a woodland setting or a walking trail around flowers?

Perhaps you desire swaying waves of grass and wildflowers or the intimate cozy areas found in a formal garden. Will the character be high Alpine or natural Pacific Northwest — dense, lush array of green foliage? Open, serene, mellow and calming? Or bright, bold, and in your face and beautiful?

These decisions about character are also needed in order to realize the ideal yard that you would enjoy.

Go play some more. Try to incorporate the character of things into the design.

For now, it’s time to sound a general alarm for a few tasks that need to be done as increasingly nice days continue here on the North Olympic Peninsula.

First, your fruit and ornamental fruit trees need to be sprayed right away with Volk oil spray — a dormant oil spray. This is normally done later in the season, but must be done before leaves and flowers bud out, which will be soon.

Spray on days the temperature is above 40 degrees and when it won’t rain for 24 to 30 hours. Repeat the spray once or twice again, 5 to 10 days apart.

Next, get everything ready for pruning. This means a great pair of guillotine pruners, a nice lopper and be sure both are clean, oiled, and all the bolts and nuts tightened. Secure an orchard saw, get a cheap bow saw for work in the dirt, fire up the chainsaw, making sure it is ready to go and check out your ladders.

Next week, we will talk about your beautiful lawn. So … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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