Fall for the bulbs and birds

Columnist offers a few suggestions about what we need to do at this miserable time of year

By the time you read this I should be up in Cedar visiting my brother, but since I haven’t left yet, what can I tell you that could be in the slightest way interesting?

I can tell you that my incredible Hibiscus plant has one bloom fully open plus six buds in various stages of maturity. This means there should be blooms opening, one at a time, for weeks.

If you have someone dear to you who loves plants, a gift of a hibiscus could be a winner. I don’t want to mention Christmas yet, as there will be tons of advertising before then and I’ll probably talk about an orgy of gifts for gardeners to try to help you find something marvelous (at a modest price) to give to some lucky person.

In the meantime, a few suggestions about what we need to do at this miserable time of year.

As you will have guessed, it is pouring rain outside and it is a dull, dull day. You’d like to stay in bed, pull the blankets up over your head, and sing “See you next spring.” Tomorrow, when I’m in Cedar for a few days, I hope to find a few different ideas to share with you.

Meanwhile, my balcony garden is pretty pathetic — everything is dying or dead except the carrots, and they don’t look too swift either. They are, however, small and crisp and juicy and a great addition to a stew, left whole, just washed off, not even peeled. I believe someone suggested that left unpeeled they are better for you, but that may just be a figment of my imagination.

I’ll bring in my one begonia tuber, still in its pot, and store it in the utility room, or maybe in my closet, where it is both dark and reasonably cool. Those of you with a shed or a garage could dig your tubers and store them in peat moss or sawdust — even sand or soil — spacing them apart, so if one rots it won’t harm the others.

Lay them in a single layer on newspaper until the foliage dies back and separates from the tuber.

If you have had mildew on your plants, put the foliage in the garbage and shake the tuber in a bag containing some fungicide (sulphur, benomyl) before storing.

A cool place is what you need, but where the bulbs won’t freeze. You won’t need to bring them back out until late February, when we’ll all be dreaming of seeds, warming soil, more light and less rain!

I was going to talk a bit more about birds, to try to persuade you to consider a bird feeder to help them survive during what might be a nasty cold winter.

When we were on Melissa Street, Himself made a gruesome feeder out of a string of five or six marrow bones, tied about four inches apart. He used a huge needle to pass the string throught the marrow, shuddering as he handled the greasy bones. But, fond of the birds, he persevered untll he was satisfied it was the right length.

This was a favorite with the bushtits and much desired by both the crows and the woodpeckers. We always nailed a piece of suet to our Hawthorne tree, which these latter birds enjoyed.

Bird food, which fell from either the feeders or the bones, fell onto the deck where the ground feeders found it — juncoes, and occasionally a shy Oregon thrush.

We put a table beside the dining-room window where we had a bird’s-eye view  of all the goings-on in the local bird kingdom, as we ate our lunch. It was lovely!

Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.

 

 

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