Japanese maples and why

In the past I planted a couple different Japanese maples. This year I noticed how much I like them. Below is the first one I brought home long ago. It’s grown to about ten feet tall, in complete shade, beneath birch trees and big maples.

Japanese maple

It’s about ten years old and is named something.

small red maple limb & birdbath copy

In the fall it is the reddest thing in my gardens.

Here is another one, a little taller, maybe five years old, and happy in afternoon sun.

Japanese maple

It has fall color too but not so violent. And it has a name. I’m sure it does.

Now, here are the pro’s and con’s of Japanese maples according to me.

Cute leaves.
Fall color.
Smallness, relative to oak trees.
Largeness, relative to rose bushes except climbing rose bushes.
Which is to say the little maples are trees which I can plant under other trees which means I can make a tree understory out of trees. The small trees make the garden rooms continue UP so there are layers of rooms, so interesting, but you don’t have to build stairs up to them and stairs are annoying to clean so that’s a plus too.

Native to Japan. This is hardly a con except I have a kind of guiding influence that values local natives first and heirloom varieties next. But the Plant Committee ––the dog and I–– voted about that and agreed to ignore the guidelines yet again, although Max was asleep when this “more maples” motion passed.

Max at the meeting

So now I have a new Japanese maple, planted to replace the also not-native tangerine tree which died in last winter’s horrific zero-ish freezing temperatures, no matter how many blankets and hot water bottles I provided––and heaven knows I tried, but really when your number is up it’s up and the tangerine tree’s number was way the hell up. RIP tangerine.

Here is the cute new maple located where the tangerine isn’t.

Koto no ito maple

Dear readers, meet Acer palmatum “Koto no ito.”

Aside: Koto no ito, those people looking at you are readers.

There. You’ve met. This little tree’s name, which you notice I completely know what is, means something about the leaves looking like the strings on a harp.  It likes shade for those wispy, threaded leaves, with a tiny bit of sun filtered through aspen trees and the cozy comfort of a south house wall. Or anyway that’s what it’s getting and has been doing well.

Koto no ito foliage

In the fall it too will be all pinky golden and festive. It will grow 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide, just right for it’s location, and it is very hardy and will not require so much as plant socks in order to survive the winter. I call her Koto for short and we are getting along famously.

In other news, this old succulent (Sempervivum tectorum) is doing something. Blooming maybe. hens and chicks

Although I’m hoping it might help somehow with my cell-phone reception.

Then too the balloon flowers are popping and snowy beside the Fairy roses…

balloon flowers & fairy roses

…and the Lagerstroemia, another wonderful small tree, is in bloom by the porch.

crape myrtle

It’s more commonly known as cr*pe myrtle. (Choose your own vowel.)

sprinkler east

Happy July!


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Currants, and rolling thunder

I harvested the currants this week,  just like if I knew what to do with them. We have a red currant bush and a black currant bush and this is the first year there were many to pick.

red currants

It is very slow picking, and I ended up with about a cup of each color.

red and black currants

The red ones are the more tart. In the great tradition of death-defying culinary experiments I threw them into yet another batch of scones.

red currant scones

I will characterize these experimental scones as beyond awesome. (Recipe is at the end of this exciting post.)

With rampant confidence I then put the black currants in a recipe of banana-nut bread. They taste like tiny blackberries in there, and make the bread polka-dotted which is pretty and very fun but I forgot to take pictures and then we ate it all, sorry.

At this time I must confess to Currant Bush Neglect. Sometimes, in past summers, I have accidentally spilled water on them when I was really watering the tomatoes, but other than that they have been foraging, if plants forage. I suppose the roots can forage. Anyway they got nothing from me except curiosity as to why Mr O bought those bushes anyway.  But now? Why now I love them, deeply. Never again will they be passed by like strangers on the street. They are accepted. And they better produce.


This morning there was thunder rolling to the south. It made Max go completely nuts, barking and running around in the yard, ready to grab the pant leg of Zeus or whoever was causing all that noise.

Max and the thunder

I like the clouds moving in, and the timpani in the sky too. You can’t buy tickets to entertainment like this.

The Iphone rumor was that we might get some rain, though the temperatures are to continue near 100 F for the next few days which is a serious heat overage in my opinion. But here in Western Oregon it always cools at night, dropping 40 degrees or so this week, and in the early morning I open all the windows and doors in the old house and go outside and water the plantings until the well has a fit and cuts off the flow for a while.

When the outside world starts to simmer I close up the house, which includes drawing together the exterior wood blinds upstairs to keep out the heat. It darkens the bedrooms with cool green shade which makes the summer ceiling-corner cobwebs less noticeable.

shuttered room

I could hear rain coming when I went outside to water plants in mid-morning. There is a huge, metal-roofed barn across the field to the south, and the approaching rain made such a pounding roar on it, I feared it might be some kind of impossible summer hailstorm coming, or maybe the end of the world.  I mentioned this to Max. “We’re all gonna die,” I said.

Then we went inside and stood by the open back door to watch.

giant summer rain
The noisy shower arrived with the biggest raindrops I’ve ever seen. Maybe two teaspoons of water to a drop or something like that. We were amazed, but not dead after all.  So Max calmed down and took a nap. He even slept through the rest of the thunder.


Here are the scone ingredients for Strawberry Scones  as found on a blog wonderfully called  Confessions of a Tart. The quotes from there are in italics. I added some not italicized things–– the mixing instructions are my version.


1 cup strawberries (or other fruit)

3 tablespoons sugar (granulated)  
(I used a little extra  sugar with the tart currants.)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk
(I use coconut milk)

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, mix it with a whisk then cut the butter into it. Then stir in the fruit, chopped first if needed. Last is the vanilla and the cream.  Stir again to make a soft dough.

Pat this out in a (3/4″ thick) round on a floured board,  then cut the circle into 6 or 8 triangles and bake on an ungreased sheet at 400 F for about 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle the scones with sugar (for sparkle) and bake another 15 minutes or so until lightly brown and springy to touch. Don’t overbake!

(If a miracle occurs and you have some left you can freeze these and reheat for 10 minutes or so at 350 F.)




Posted in cooking, my 19th century house, weather | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments