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?)