Accidental gardener What is this thing.

The Accidental Gardener asks: What IS this thing? (Phone responses to the editor at the Chieftain at 541-426-4567.)

Did someone mention fall gardening? Hmmm, not so much. When you get three hard freezes by the middle of October, it’s time to pack it in.

The Accidental Gardener can be forgiven. She’s not from around here, she’s new. Imagine never living in ranch country and then settling in the Wallowa Valley, never living near farms, never seeing stock animals up close. She is so new, she thought her neighbor’s horse had died — the horse was only napping. She is so new, she took her cat to the vet after the kitty devoured two rodents, head to tail. The vet had a good laugh. Add to that, never living where there was actually a winter, with ice and snow and crazy cold winds. She has lived most of her life where winter only required a warm sweater.

It would be like landing on Jupiter, right? Or maybe Jupiter’s very, very icy moon Europa. NASA’s sending a probe there in 2025. They could save some time and money and just send it to Wallowa County. When the Accidental Gardener first landed in Wallowa County, a well-meaning resident told her this joke: “We have two seasons here: winter and August.” Hardy-har-har.

And then she started her garden. As you will remember, flowers are the key ingredient. So, many seeds were purchased, a greenhouse was built and an indoor seed-starting setup was created. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Flowers! It was very exciting — until the search began. What are the average first and last frost dates? And what is my “growing zone” (average high and low temperatures)? You would think these are fairly easy questions to answer. But you’d be wrong. Searching and searching, asking other folks, watching what they did, trying to figure out just how to get a garden going, no answers were found. Hence the name: Accidental Gardener. If something worked, great. If it didn’t, well, take a deep breath and hope for a better outcome next year.

Living in a place that really doesn’t have a mild spring or gradual fall is tricky for gardeners. Spring is an important stopover in the life of a plant, whether it’s an annual, a perennial, bulb or shrub. So is fall — the gentle kind, where temperatures drop gradually, the leaves turn lovely colors and settle gracefully to the ground. Of course, here in this valley, the native plants aren’t particularly bothered by Wallowa County’s seemingly odd seasons. They ARE from around here.

It’s just about time to get out the seed catalogues. Also, plants with “winter interest” need to be discussed. Hmmmm, what could that mean?

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