Category Archives: Poland

Hedges & Living Fences

When I visited eastern Poland many years ago each house and garden was enclosed with a fence or hedge of some sort. Some fences were wood, some stone, some ornamental iron and some were living fences that divided properties. I thought the living hedges were the most beautiful and neighborly. Whether you need to screen a water tank or noisy road or the neighbor’s second story window there are lots of choices. Fall planting season is still going strong.

Many people only think of plants that remain evergreen when they need screening. However, if you use one-third deciduous plants to two-thirds evergreens they will weave together and you won’t be able to tell where one leaves off and another begins. This makes mature hedges secure borders, especially if you throw a few barberries or other prickly plant into the mix. You’ll also get seasonal interest with fall color and berries for wildlife.

Azara microphylla

Narrow spaces can be challenging when you need to screen the house next door. There’s not room for a big, evergreen tree or hedge to solve the problem. One way is to use plants that can be espaliered against a fence or trellis. Some plants like azara microphylla naturally grow flat without much coaxing on your part. This small dainty tree is fast growing and reaches 15-25 ft tall. The yellow flower clusters will fill your garden with the scent of white chocolate in late winter. They are ideal between structures. I’ve used the variegated version to screen a shower and it’s working great.

Variegated Mint Bush

Variegated Mint Bush is another shrub to consider for a living hedge. Creating pleasing plant combinations is a big part of gardening and this one would look great alongside a Fringe Flower of either color. Allow each plant to interweave and grow together. The Mint Bush will grow 4-6 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. The foliage smells very strongly like mint so deer avoid this shrub, too.

Small trees that make a good screen are purple hopseed, and leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’. Both have beautiful burgundy foliage. California natives that can be espaliered against a fence include Santa Cruz Island ironwood, Western redbud, mountain mahogany, toyon, pink flowering currant, Oregon grape and spicebush.

Pacific Wax Myrtle

If you have a wider space to grow screening plants, one of my favorites is Pacific wax myrtle. This California native grows quickly to 30 ft tall with glossy, rich forest green leaves. Its dense branches make a nice visual and noise screen for just about anything or anybody. Best of all the fragrant waxy purplish brown fruits attract many kinds of birds.

osmanthus heterophyllus

California coffeeberry grows 6-8 feet tall and gets by with very little summer water once established. Birds love the berries. I also like osmanthus fragrans for a screen with its sweet scent and pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ or ‘Silver Sheen’ for their showy variegated foliage. Email me and I’ll give you even more suggestions.

Provide the best growing environment for the fastest results. By this I mean amending the soil at planting time if your soil is not very fertile. Cover the soil with mulch and fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer. Water deeply when needed especially during the first three years when young plants put on a lot of growth.

400 Anniversary Column Memoirs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI started writing this column in October 2005. I remember the day the editor of the paper at that time gave me the go ahead and bestowed upon me the title, 'The Mountain Gardener'.  I was so excited. I immediately started writing down every subject I could think of. In the world of horticulture there are myriad subjects to write about and nearly as many different plants. I'll never run of ideas.

This week marks my 400th column. As I've traveled near and far over the years I love to pass on what's growing in that area whether it's in an arboretum, personal garden or the plants native to the region. Last week I took you with me as I traveled to Whidbey and Vashon Islands in the Puget Sound of Washington. The gardens and nurseries were spectacular. There were so many flowers to admire.

I'll never forget another trip I took to Guatemala, Honduras and Utila, an island off the coast of Honduras. It was on Utila that I saw plants growing in washing machine baskets in everyone's yard. I thought it was a clever way to re-use old appliances but wondered why there were so many old washing machines on a tiny island.  A local laughed at me for asking about them and told me the baskets protect their plants from the big blue crabs that come out at night. Seems they'll sever the stems right at ground level and drag the whole plant into their hole. Also the baskets protect the plants from iguanas who will eat anything within two feet of the ground. And you thought deer were a problem.

Redwoods in Maui? I was skeptical too but during a trip to the islands I saw them first hand growing in the fog near Haleakala crater in Polipoli State Park.

Like our area that was clear cut in the 1800's for lumber and to fuel the lime kilns so too the forests of Maui were harvested in the 1700's.  Sandalwood, exported to China for its fragrant aroma, became the island's first cash crop. Millions of trees were logged from the mountain forests. The men of the farming class were forced to cut trees, first on the lower slope and then farther up into the mountains, to pay for the chief's acquisitions of weapons, warships Polish_house_with_sunflowers 2and European imports.  Further damage was done by livestock brought by westerners  – pigs, goats, sheep and especially cattle.  

When the watershed was destroyed, the water disappeared for sugar cane, too. Reforestation started in the 1920's when nearly two million trees were planted annually.  Fast growing species like redwoods, cedar, sugar pines and eucalyptus were planted to increase the watershed.  While these introduced trees and shrubs prevented catastrophic destruction, they produced sparse forests with fewer species than the complex, multi-layered systems created by native forests.

In 2007 the area was devastated by a wildfire. It destroyed most of the forest. The redwood trees survived however. Now the area has been replanted with native trees plus 57,000 redwood seedlings. And that's why there are redwoods growing on Maui.

The gardens in eastern Poland were spectacular. The climate is influenced by the interior of the continent Poland_perennial_bed 2towards Russia and so receives summer rain. The wildflowers, vegetable gardens, perennial and annual flowers love the moisture and were in full bloom. The soil here, deposited by glaciers, is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers border neat plots of cabbage, beets, potatooes, cucumbers, lettuce and leeks. Black-eyed Susan cover the hillsides with swaths of gold blooms. Besides perennial plants, every garden was chock full of annuals, too. I never saw a nursery even in the outdoor markets so they must start plants from seed.

Polish houses are tidy with nary an abandoned car or farm implement to be seen. Brightly colored ivy geraniums tumble from window boxes. If vegetables or berries such as currants, blueberry, blackberry or raspberry are grown for sale these large plots are fenced with wire. Every 10 feet or so plastic bags are attached and wave in the breeze. I was told this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay.

I've traveled in southern Mexico twice in years past and enjoyed the Mexican weeping bamboo growing in the forests of Oaxaca. I even bought one to grow in a pot at my own house to remind me of this beautiful area.

On another trip I traveled from Chiapas to the Yucatan and all parts in between. Every area from the tropical lowlands to the mountains grow their own special mix of plants.

In the warmer spots bromeliad, tillandsia, lilies, elephant ears, bougainvillea, coffee, coleus, impatiens and marigolds are typically grown around the house. Scarlet runner beans morning glory, ficus trees, banana, pineapple, avocado, papaya and gum trees are also common. Red clay soil is typical here,  

In the mountains, apples are the mainstay of gardens. Asclepias or butterfly weed grows here although I didn't see any monarchs A village called San Juan Chamula had dozens of greenhouses all growing marigolds.. The Indian people use lots of these flowers as traditional decorations in religious ceremonies. They are also used extensively on the Day of the Dead which follows Halloween. Every small house grows marigolds as well as maize, squash, fava beans and other edible greens.

I haven't touched on plants that I found on trips to British Columbia, Yosemite, Lassen, the Sierra, Big Sur or Death Valley. Guess I'll have to keep writing and visit memory lane another time.

The Gardens of Poland- Part 2

Poland is a country nearly as big as California so it stands to reason that gardening styles would vary over such a large area. Settled as a recognizable entity about the middle of the 10th century, Poland has had a lot of time to develop although it's borders have fluctuated with Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany,

Mostly I saw neat, red or green roofed houses surrounded by a large flower garden, a few apple trees and a robust vegetable garden in full production. Whether the house was brick, mortared granite, wood or stucco everything was tidy around the property with nary an abandoned car to be seen. Brightly colored ivy geraniums tumbled from boxes attached to windows. Sometimes the vegetables were grown in larger plots for sale and these areas staked with wire strung tightly between the posts. Every 10 feet or so pieces of plastic bags attached and these waved in the breeze. Surprisingly  this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay, I was told.

Closer to the Slovakian border and the city of Krakow some of the houses employed a vary different style of landscaping. Unlike the wild perennial flower gardens I had seen, these gardens were austere with square lawns surrounded by an arborvitae hedge. In the middle of the lawn were planted 8-12 dwarf conifers planted like chess pieces on a grid. Everything was green in these yards. The house was usually 2 storied with very small porch and no flowers.

Whatever the style of house, the Polish people love their dogs. I saw mostly small dogs with the occasional German shepherd but all were well cared for and anxiously awaited their owners return if left behind in the yard.

In the southeastern part of Poland the farms are smaller and more numerous.  Not being able to afford baling tractors, hay is stacked into tall piles and sometimes covered at the top with plastic for rain protection. The soil here is a mixture of fine sand. clay and silt. Called loess it is rich in minerals. Poland grows most of the apples for concentrate for all of Europe with the help of this soil.

Red currants, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are commonly grown. Fields of sunflowers surround farmhouses.  Brightly colored bee hives find a home in many orchards. Pigs are kept in barns but dairy cows graze in the meadow. Geese, chickens and goats are common.

Here's what I learned in Poland.  Be sure to give swans who are protecting 7 young, fluffy grey cygnets a wide berth while kayaking down a river. Tobacco fields are beautiful when covered with spikes of pink flowers. Millions of migrating geese, swans, ducks and waders stop by the northeast corner of Poland in May .A quarter off all migratory birds who come to Europe for the summer breed in Poland.  A White storks will eat anything that fits in its mouth. Cobblestone streets can be made from rounded cobbles, small squares of granite set in beautiful patterns, brick, basalt or random pieces of stone. Gas costs about $7.00 per gallon although it is bought by the liter. Around any hole with a worker at the bottom there usually are several in orange vests standing at the top just watching.

I also learned that Polish people eat very large breakfasts consisting of many types of cold cuts and sausage, several kinds of cheese, many styles of eggs, bread, rolls, butter, jam,  tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and salad. Dairy farmers in small villages can use a bicycle to bring two cans of fresh milk to the collection barn while others use small carts, a tractor or a horse. Close to the Belarus border, the last stand of original forest in all Europe is thriving and is home to bison, wild boar and the occasional lynx, bear and wolf. The last Russian tsar in the 1800's had most of the predatory animals killed so he could hunt more bison when he came to his summer castle. I did see a red fox checking out a vole early one morning and fresh badger and marten tracks in the mud on the trail.

Poland has more than 3500 species of mushrooms and hunting for them is a traditional past time. I enjoyed many soups and other recipes made with wild mushrooms. Two million private farms grow most of the potatoes and rye for Europe and is one of the worlds largest producers of sugar beets. and triticale, a self-pollinating hybrid of wheat and rye, leading Poland to be called the future breadbasket of the European Union.

I'd love to go back to Poland.  It's a beautiful country rich in history and the gardens are spectacular.


Backroads of Poland – part I

In Poland you greet someone by saying oziendobry which means hello or good day. You hear it at every restaurant and market and even high on a mountain trail. I had a hard time trying to pronounce their Slavic words with so many consonants but used this word daily. So began my adventures to visit the gardens and natural landscapes in Poland earlier this month.

The first thing you notice in Poland are the flowers. Although winters are harsh in this country spring starts suddenly in April after the snow melts. The climate in eastern Poland where I visited is influenced by the interior of the continent towards Russia and so receives summer rain. The wildflowers, vegetable gardens, perennial and annual flowers love the moisture and were in full bloom.

This part of Poland is protected from any industry and a primeval forest and several national parks are here. Agriculture makes up 50% of land use in this country. Even during the Communist control, a farmer was allowed to keep 3 hectares of land for himself. Land ownership provided some freedom and even to this day little land comes up for sale.

Driving north from Warsaw I saw miles of round hay bales in harvested fields of grain. Lots of farmers were out working their land, some on tractors, some raking the hay into rows by hand. A farmer behind a horse drawn plow worked one field along with his wife. Wheat, rye, barley, potatoes and sugar beets are grown as well as corn for winter silage for cows. Did you know that Belarus red cattle can graze in fields with low nutrient sedges as found in marshes but Dutch black and white ones won't survive on this type of diet?

I couldn't help but fall in love with the neat farm houses made of brick, local multi-colored granite, wood or brightly painted stucco most with a red roof and surrounded by a flower garden, a vegetable garden and always a fence. I've never seem so many kinds of fencing- ornamental iron, willow branches woven together, fancy picket fences or concrete cast to look like wooden bed posts.

The sandy soil here was deposited by glaciers, the last one only 10,000 years ago and is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers grow tall between fields. Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susan grow wild covering the hillsides with gold and every garden had hydrangea, petunia, geranium, yellow mullein, scabiosa, canna lily, dahlia, chicory, apple and plum trees, grapes,hollyhock, marigold and sweet peas. I was amazed at the number of annuals that were grown. Marigolds and petunias of all colors and styles are very popular and probably started from seed as I never saw a nursery of any type even in the outdoor markets. Tender perennials are overwintered inside or cuttings taken in the fall.

A typical vegetable garden had rows of cabbage, of course, as well as red beets, several types of potatoes, lettuce, carrots, onion, cauliflower, cucumbers and leeks. Tomatoes are very popular but grown in greenhouses. Even short season, cold tolerant tomato like Early Girl or Stupice are grown inside.

The main difference from our gardens are the White storks that nest on roof tops and electrical poles. The power company has started to build platforms on top of the poles for the storks to build their nests. Prior to this, stork nests would short out the lines as they added to their heavy nest each year. Poland is home to 25% of the world's storks. These large birds winter in Africa and will leave at the end of August but for now I saw many hundred of the 40.000 pair that nest in Poland.

Next week I'll tell you about the gardens in southeastern Poland, what to grow around a castle and how to protect your vegetables from wild boar.