Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Party Palms January 31, 2009

Filed under: trees,winter — greenwalks @ 9:19 am
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I considered titling this “Parking Strip Oddities – Xmas in January Edition” but it was too long to fit. Suffice to say that I have never seen this in any of my Seattle Greenwalks before…

Party palms

I think that the whole lights-on-a-tree thing can be really magical if the lights are little and twinkly (and white, in my opinion) and the tree is a graceful arching shape. I’d also have to say that I subtract aesthetic points for giant visible extension cords.

Xmas fronds

Poor palms, they don’t seem to have weathered the winter very well. Maybe their festive girdles didn’t manage to keep them very warm. If they survive, perhaps the owners should wrap them in Santa-print burlap next year?


Gone to Seed January 29, 2009

So many gardeners have already marked their seed catalogs, sent in orders, and received their exciting little packages. The most enterprising have already even started their seeds growing. Me? I’m still in ponder mode.

My mom is a bigtime seed-starter and January is the month when she spends many an hour flipping through the seemingly mile-high pile of catalogs she receives every year. She asked if I would like to look at some of them, since I was only mailed a couple this year, so I took a gander.

Seed catalogs

(Top row, from left: Thompson & Morgan, Johnny’s X 2, Nicholl’s, Park, Tomato Growers, Seeds of Change, Abundant Life, and Territorial)

With limited time and brainpower (I would say lately, but I think it’s a permanent condition at this point), I was not able to peruse them as thoroughly as I would have liked. Also, even the most realistic estimation of my probable success with starting, planting out and caring for even a few varieties of veggies and flowers in my small garden would probably indicate that I shouldn’t order much, if anything.

But how to resist the siren calls of these catalogs, which promise ease of growing, deliciousness of produce, and the beauty and bounty of summer when it’s so cold, colorless and dreary out in January?

Just a few of the temptations I will probably resist (this year, at least): epazote, chamomile, “Caveman’s Club” gourd, black Spanish radish (nero tondo), Mexican sunflower, agretti (an Italian green), and scarlet runner beans (no trellis big enough). Also noticed some other unusual offerings, like salsify, scorzonera, wolfberry plants (goji), and a hardy olive tree. I didn’t even allow myself to look in the back pages of any of the catalogs, where all the fun garden gadgets and tchochkes are described so alluringly.

What will I actually order? Well, my mom is so kind to start many things for me every year, such as snap peas, bush beans, marigolds, lettuces, calendulas, pansies, parsley, and basil, among many others. I usually direct-sow arugula, mesclun, and nasturtuims and let sunflowers grow from seeds the squirrels missed the previous year. If I can dig down and remove some of the evil clay underlayer below my veggie patch, this year I might get a few root crops going – purple dragon carrots and Misato Rose radish (aka Red Meat in other catalogs). My mom and I agreed to both try Nero di Toscana kale (sometimes listed as dino kale) and multi-colored chard, to get our dark leafy greens. I’m on the fence about Hungarian breadseed poppies – I love the idea of something that comes up from direct-sown seed and grows to 3-4 ft. tall, but I wonder if I’ll regret its tendency to resow and crowd out other plants. Spinach, borage and gloriosa daisy will round out my order from Seeds of Change, since I want everything I can to be organic. I hope they have what I want still left by the time I get around to ordering, maybe this weekend…

Did you restrain yourself with your seed order this year, or did you get carried away on an imagined summer breeze and abandon all reason? Oh, and another question – do you bother with paper catalogs anymore, or do you do all your seed perusing and ordering online?


Donut Store Garden January 28, 2009

After a leisurely sushi lunch the other day, we decided to take a stroll around the Tangletown ‘hood (where Wallingford meets Greenlake in Seattle) to get some fresh, if cold, air and see what’s growing on the street.

Many businesses here don’t bother with street gardens, but we found one that bucks the trend – Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle’s own organic donut store. Yes, I said organic donut store.

I know you’re thinking, what’s the point of an organic donut? Well, I thought the same thing until I tasted their French Toast version that day and realized that I will be back for more in the near future. If I’m going to eat something basically unhealthy, at least it can be a little less bad for me (and the planet), right?

The shop front faces a small arterial, but the side is on a residential street, with many parking strip gardens of great and varied styles. Mighty-O has chosen to put in tough, easy-care plants and they are largely holding up well. Variegated black bamboo harmonizes nicely with the red store siding:

Black bamboo, red wall

The bamboo theme continues across the street in the parking strip, partially camouflaging a power pole:

Variegated bamboo on the street

I wonder if it jumped from one spot to the other – bamboo is kind of notorious for doing that.

This plant hasn’t fared quite so well. Too much coffee and maybe a few impatient dogs, perhaps?

Too much coffee?

Northwest forest natives salal and mahonia (Oregon grape) are hardy, evergreen perennials for tough spots like this.

Washington natives (salal and mahonia)

It always makes me appreciate a business just a little bit extra when I see that they have taken steps to beautify the neighborhood. Thanks, Mighty-O!


(Front door image courtesy of Potjie, via Flickr Creative Commons – since I forgot to take a picture of the actual storefront!)


Streetberries, Winter Edition January 27, 2009

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,winter — greenwalks @ 9:41 am
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These bright red berries, still clinging to their vine in mid-winter, were hanging over a retaining wall near my house when I walked by the other day. Does anyone know what they are?


It seems odd that they would have been left by hungry birds and animals – maybe they can’t reach them (they’re halfway down a very high and otherwise bare cement wall). Or are they poisonous? I hope they’re not Deadly Nightshade berries – this garden is quite close to both a preschool and an elementary school which many kids walk to and from every day. Eek.

In any case, I did enjoy seeing a bit of color on an otherwise gray and frigid morning. It’s snowing here again today for the umpteenth time this winter – I guess we’re just going to have to get used to it (or move back to California!)


Signs of Spring January 25, 2009

Filed under: flora,winter — greenwalks @ 3:38 pm
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Signs of spring abound here in Seattle, despite continued colder-than-usual (I think) weather and even some more snow (!?!) here today. It’s dipping into the 20s every night at our house, but you just can’t keep certain plants from enjoying themselves in winter.


Sarcococca blossoms are perfuming the backyard, so it’s a good thing when I can get myself out into the cold to enjoy them for more than the second it takes to pass by on the way to the compost bin. David Perry had a nice post on his blog about actually stopping to lie down his yard and inhale this particular scent, in case you didn’t see it last week.


A few of the early-side bulbs are poking their foliage up. I believe these are crocus, no idea what color they’ll be. The haphazard gardener in me just puts stuff in the ground and forgets what it was. Hm, maybe I have more in common with my squirrel foes than I wish to admit…


This viburnum is adding to the perfume party in the backyard. I believe it is Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ but could be wrong there. It has a kind of ugly habit, at least as it has been pruned, and is naked now but for the saucy pink blossoms, but the sweet scent makes it worth keeping around.

Is anyone else seeing signs of renewal in their gardens at the moment, or is it still a ways away?


On a Cold and Frosty Morning January 22, 2009

I don’t have any pictures of three crows sitting on a wall like in the traditional Scottish children’s song, but the scene yesterday morning was too pretty not to take a little time to stop and admire.

My parking strip garden has taken a beating this winter – I’ve lost quite a few plants to the snows and freezes, but others are still hanging in there and don’t seem bothered by an occasional coating of frost.


Volunteer euphorbia, transplanted from the upper garden. Not sure what variety it is, but I like the red stems it’s developing in its second year, and the shaggy heads make me think of sheepdogs who have been rolling in the grass all day.


My ‘Merlot’ lettuce was edged in ice. I’m not sure how tasty it will be after yet another round of chilly nights, but I grow it as much for its ornamental beauty as for taste, so that’s okay.


A neighbor’s ceanothus (California lilac) was stunning, cloaked in white. I have one of these back by the garage, but the neighbors’ is more mature and blooms earlier and more profusely. I hope these guys make it through the winter – most varieties are only hardy in Zones 9-10, although some are okay in 8 where we are. The bees love this plant and it would be a big loss if they succumb to the strangely cold winter we’ve been having.

I liked that shrub so much I had to take another picture, with my parking strip in the background. Do you have any plants that you are fretting about at the moment? Or are you taking a more sanguine, wait-and-see attitude and pausing your worries until spring arrives?



This Land Was Made For You and Me January 19, 2009

Filed under: digressions — greenwalks @ 11:50 pm
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The indomitable almost-90-year-old Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Woody Guthrie’s greatest song, all coming together to celebrate this historic time in our country.

Happy Inauguration, everyone!

(OK, if it had “land” in the title, can I count this as a garden-related post?)


Playing Tag January 18, 2009

Filed under: digressions,edibles — greenwalks @ 11:30 pm
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I was never that into the game of tag as a kid. I hated being “it” and there always seemed to be an element of social aggression in that and many other playground games. My daughter must be a chip off the old block, since she doesn’t like these sorts of games either, and in fact often decides to opt out of playing them.

So when I was first “tagged” in the blogosphere, I totally flubbed it. There was only friendliness meant, but I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to do it and pass it on, hemmed and hawed and delayed, and in the end just lamely replied via a comment (sorry, Susan of The Bicycle Garden!) This time, I am going to do it right. Well, sort of. It seems that I am never quite able to play by the rules…

So, thank you to Aerie-el from Gardener’s Roost for inviting me to join in the game of “Photo Tag.” The rules are to go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures, select the 4th picture in that folder, explain the picture, then tag four people to do the same.

My digital photos are stored in alphabetically-ordered folders and are a big bone of contention in my household – there are way too many of them on the poor old computer and it’s getting very slow and sad as a result. Sorting through and archiving them is a big project for a quiet day that never seems to happen. I wonder if anyone else is in the same boat here? Digital cameras make it so easy to accumulate a frighteningly large number of images – I need to be more ruthless with my deletions but so far I’m not doing too well.

The 4th folder in my picture files is from October of 2006, when my folks made a long-anticipated trip to Italy and France and we went over to their place to do a few house and yard chores while they were away (kind of a miracle, given than the help almost always flows the other direction!). One of the things they asked us to do was to pick up and sort by variety the windfall apples that had accumulated since their departure. Our daughter, 3 1/2 years old at the time, got totally into the apple retrieval job – she was small enough to fit under the dwarf trees’ branches and could reach apples that were hard for the big people to get to. So, in the 4th photo of my “Apple Pick-up” folder, here she is all bundled up on a crisp fall day, about to go get another armload of fruit.


(Note the “footies” on the apples, a very labor-intensive but usually successful pest-protection method they started using a few years ago and that I have mentioned in a few previous posts.)

As for the final rule of this game of tag, I am going to steal an idea from another commenter on Aerie-el’s site and not designate the next four folks. If you have read this far and would like to participate, please consider yourself tagged!


Daily Freshness

Filed under: edibles — greenwalks @ 12:06 am
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Back in the early 1990s, I worked in a Northern California bookstore and spent all of my meager wages on, well, books. I hadn’t yet rediscovered the wonders of libraries (free books! free music! free movies!?!?!) and thought I needed to own everything I read.

One book that made a big impression on me at that time, although if I pulled it off the shelf now I’m not sure I’d still love it, was “Mating” by Norman Rush. I read it just before it won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1991 and garnered rave reviews (but then suffered a bit of a backlash from some readers who considered it over-long and pompously written.)

The novel contains a passage that has really stuck with me in the years since I read it. I’ll never find it to quote it accurately, as the book is 496 pages long, but the essence is this – one of the characters states that he needs to eat something fresh every single day. Even if it’s the smallest herb or tiny addition to an otherwise-dried/canned/reheated dish (a true challenge considering the character is living in the Kalahari desert at the time of his statement!), he just needs to have that one thing, every day.

For some reason this really resonated with me. I will freely admit to using canned beans, frozen blueberries, and a host of other pre-packaged foodstuffs in the interest of quick preparation and out-of-season variety, and I will never be one for the Raw Food bandwagon. But having something fresh, no matter how small, always makes me feel better, healthier, more lively. It’s one of the reasons that, despite being a big lazybones and not having a huge amount of free time, I have at least a small veggie/herb/edible flower patch every year.

I had thought, with our recent spate of awful weather, that there would be absolutely nothing left in the garden that could be eaten fresh as of mid-January. But to my great surprise and delight, the curly parsley in the parking strip patch had managed to keep a few stems around, and I was able to pick a good-sized one tonight to chop up for a quick red pasta sauce.


Something fresh, every day. It’s a lot easier to make that a reality when you can just walk out to the garden and snip something you grew! I’m just glad I’m not gardening in the Kalahari, I don’t think I would be up to the challenge.


Toasted Flax January 16, 2009

The title might lead you to believe that this is going to be something in the way of a healthy culinary post, but I am not here to extol the virtues of flax as a fine source of alpha-linolenic acid. Nope.

With our spate of awful weather in December, there is one category of plants that is just not looking well these days. It’s the edge-of-zone-hardiness crew, which includes the seemingly ever-popular New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax. Along with euphorbia, I would say this is one of the most often-used (or some may say over-used) landscape plants in Seattle.

Often used as a focal plant due to its impressive size at maturity, the appeal of this plant is undeniable. It provides height and interesting color, strong/sharp shape and a semi-tropical look to our Northwest gardens. Bronze varieties are seen all over the city. Here is a photo of one in my neighborhood, pre-snow, looking really healthy:


Alas, this seems to me to be a classic example of pushing the hardiness envelope a bit too far – according to my plant guide, it’s only good for Zones 9-10 (i.e. New Zealand’s climate), whereas we are normally 8, with a longer dip into the 20sF this year than usual. I am certainly often guilty of this garden sin myself, that of hoping for mild winters so certain tender plants will survive (yeah, I’m talking about you, adorable but not frost-hardy ornamental pomegranate – arrrrrrrrrgh!), so I am not casting any stones here!

Here is what many of them are looking like these days, post-freeze (note: this is a different specimen than the one pictured above):


Poor things. I have no idea if they will recover or not. I’m guessing not. Anyone with experience who can weigh in here? Is it possible for this plant to die down in cold weather but come back from the ground? Or is it likely to be, as I fear, toast? And do you ever find yourself falling for and bringing home plants that you know may be zapped if you have an unusual weather year? Or even a typical one?