Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: you know that's a $6,000 tree (and the winner of the PHS membership)

This pile of mossy, twisting branches is my Wednesday Vignette. And yes...my patio really is that covered with conifer needles. That's winter in my garden thanks to the neighbor's trees and the wind...

Last week I posted photos of a nearby landscape under construction (here). And Alison commented "I would love to have some of those lovely, twisty, moss-covered maple branches. I wonder if they're still going to use them in some way." My day's plans meant I was going to be walking right be them later, so I told her I'd stop to see.

I had a lovely conversation with the lady of the house and their adorable dog, both of whom happened to be outside when I walked by. She let me know the sunken area in the front garden is indeed going to be a sort of patio/living room where they can be outside and interact with the neighborhood. The mature Japanese Maple (where these branches came from), was a sad loss, they had hoped to save it. She was happy to have me haul away a few of the branches and so I returned the next day with my car and loaded it up.

As I was working I heard the neighbor next door come outside and I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. It was cold and very, very, windy so I just kept at it, wanting to finish and get back in my car.

Turns out he couldn't resist talking with me and pointed out "you know that's a $6,000 tree you're packing up" — I don't know if he was referring to the cost of digging it and burlaping the roots (see the very end of this post for pictures) and then replanting, or if someone had actually offered that much for the tree. I just nodded and said that I understood the owners were sad to have lost it. His expression said there was more to the story (perhaps a judgment about how the tree was treated) but I didn't bite. I thought he would be happy to hear the branches were going to live on in another garden or two (I got a couple extra for myself) but he just shook his head and smiled.

He may not care but I'm thrilled to think I'll have a bit of that tree to carry on. As I uploaded these photos and thought about how many times I walked by that corner I remembered a year the owners hung ginormous ornaments from it, and went looking for the photo I remembered taking. Turns out it was last year and I uploaded it to Instagram. The sentimental person in me smiles. Thank you Alison for being the reason I went back to that corner.

There's one more item of business to take care of today, I promised to giveaway a Pacific Horticultural Society gift membership to a commenter on last Friday's blog post. The randomly drawn winner is....Stacey! Congrats Stacey, I'll be in touch to get your address. Thanks to everyone who left a comment, I really enjoyed reading them and thank you all for what you do to support the power of gardening.

Weather Diary, Dec 12: Hi 45, Low 25/ Precip 0

Wednesday Vignettes are hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum. All material © 2009-2017 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Opuntia Christmas tree, how I did it

Yesterday I shared photos of my finished Opuntia Christmas tree, today I'll show you what's underneath. I started with a small tomato cage and some chicken wire. This wasn't the fist time I used a tomato cage as the base for our Christmas tree, back in 2014 I built a tree out of foraged conifer branches using a tomato cage as the base.

I found a ring (I think it was once part of a shower curtain set) to pull in the three metal bits that would normally get shoved into the ground. I wanted a cone shape to work with.

I wired the chicken wire to the bottom of the cage (what would be the top, if it were being used for it's intended purpose) and then made a few vertical cuts straight down the wire hexagons and just started wrapping the wire around the cage frame work and back on itself. This resulted in a couple benefits I was unaware of at the time. First of all the Opuntia pads all together were very heavy, the chicken wire helped reinforce the cage and made it sturdier. Secondly, once I started wiring the pads in place it was helpful to have smaller holes, more wire to connect the pads to, if that makes sense.

Once the chicken wire completely covered the tomato cage I removed the shower curtain ring.

What's with the binder clip?

This was an old tomato cage and it had gotten bent during its many years of use. No matter how hard I worked to make the base level, it just wouldn't sit flat. I have a stash of binder clips in the garage, for winter protection efforts (wrapping and securing burlap or towels), and so I wired one in place to keep the tree form straight(ish).

Here's the raw material, the Opuntia pads — 35 of them — sorted roughly by size.

Finding the pads proved rather difficult, until we stopped in Panaderia 5 De Mayo at 1134 SE 82nd Ave, here in Portland. Is nopales a seasonal food? None of the other Latin markets we tried had any! Finally when Andrew asked at Panaderia they offered a small, clear, plastic bag with maybe 3 pads in it, cleaned of all glochids and spines. Kind of limp and slimy. We asked if they had others and that's when we were shown a crate full of pads, intact! It looked like they'd just received a shipment. I had no idea how many I needed but guessed 35. That would prove to be 5 short, but luckily they still had several left when I discovered the miscalculation, plus when I returned they let me pick through the crate and find the small ones, since I was at the top of the tree. All told I bought just over 14 pounds, at $1.99/lb that meant $28.47.

Later I read something in the New York Times about the rising cost of trees this year: "You’ll probably pay more for your Christmas tree this year. Blame the Great Recession. Growers planted fewer trees in those lean years — and the shortage is now upon us. And prices have been rising all the while: The average buyer spent $36.50 on a tree in 2008; last year, the figure was $74.70." Makes $28.47 sound like a bargain right?

So how to attach the pads to the frame? I pierced them with a skewer.

And used a length of florist wire to attach them to the chicken wire.

Over time the Opuntia blood built up on the skewer and made me a little sad.

Those little spines in the pads never drew my blood, but a few managed to make me rather uncomfortable, as they worked their way into my fingers. Even using my trusty cactus tongs I wasn't safe.

At first I wired them on so the new one lapped over the old...

But as I worked I realized an in-front, then in-back, pattern was better. It would allow me to make changes as I went, if things were a little more random.

Plus it allowed the next row to lay better.

Here's as far as I got with my original 35 pads, 5 short!.

So close! I got 8 more pads went I went back to the market. Insurance. I've since used the extra 3 to replace ones that started to get blemishes as the tree's been indoors on display, it's almost been two weeks already!

I had no idea how heavy the finished product would be, plus there's no place to grab a hold of it. I moved it indoors on this stool, and then very carefully (with gloves) transferred it to the rattan piece it's now sitting on.

I honestly liked the Aloe "star" better without lights along the edges, but Andrew's a lover of Christmas lights so I added them for him.

The Aloe stem was literally just shoved into the top of the cage. I later added a little wire just for security.

The tree rests on a metal tray from IKEA, it's lip hides the base of the tomato cage/chicken wire frame.

So....that's all there is to making your own cactus Christmas tree. I expect several of you to improve upon my design next year!

Weather Diary, Dec 11: Hi 44, Low 30/ Precip 0

All material © 2009-2017 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

Monday, December 11, 2017

danger garden Christmas — 2017-style

You guys, I finally did it! I've been tossing around the idea of a cactus Christmas tree ever since I saw this image way back in (maybe) 2014. This was the finally the year...

It's kinda crazy but all sorts of fun.

I'd hoped the correlation between the ornaments and what they represent was fairly obvious, however the first two people who saw it were oblivious — and they both should have known.

Do you see it? (hint, hint)

I'd planned to use an Agave as the star, but all the plants I lifted (as part of winterization) had either too large a root-mass or the plants themselves were too small. I went with an Aloe, it works wonderfully.

This year's mantle decorations play a supporting role to the spiky star. I mean they're important, but they're not a Christmas tree made of cactus pads...

My conical tree collection, and the tarnished silver pieces acting as vases for Poinsettias and cuttings from the garden, play that role wonderfully.

A few extra cuttings from the wreath making party adds festive greenery, like a garland but without the work.

Included are olive branches and Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan-sugi' (I think).

The olive wreath is holding up well.

The bottle-brush forest sits on a side-table.

In the evening I light the mercury glass votives...

And turn on the battery-powered tiny lights on the star (ha! Look at the mantle...this photo was taken early when I was still figuring out what I wanted to go where).

An Amaryllis rescued from the everything store (it was falling out of it's pot) is blooming beautifully to coordinate with...

The pink holiday wrapping paper I bought from my talented friend Kate Blairstone.

The gift tags were 3 for a $1 at Target.

If you're curious, I'll be sharing process photos of how I made the cactus-pad Christmas tree tomorrow...

Weather Diary, Dec 10: Hi 45, Low 27/ Precip 0 (27F should indicate there was a killing frost in my garden but none of the plants that should show damage — Banana, Canna, Colocasia, annual vines — do.)

All material © 2009-2017 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.