Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Shoulda Coulda, Plant Sale Edition February 28, 2009

When my blog buddy Melanthia of Garden Muse asked via a comment last night if I was going to the University of Washington Arboretum plant sale today, at first I blew it off. Plant sales in February? I haven’t done anything to prepare any ground yet, nor have I got a clue about the ways I hope to solve some really persistent issues in my garden. Eh, I thought, there will be others, no hurry.

Then, late this morning, I got curious and looked at the Arboretum Foundation’s web site. I almost shrieked when I saw what the sale was for – to get rid of all the amazing plants showcased in “Entry to Cascadia,” my #1 favorite show garden from the recent NW Flower & Garden Show! Ack!

The sale was supposed to last from 10am to 2pm, and I only figured out at 12:30 that I wanted to go. Since we were doing a little tag-team parenting today and it was about to be my shift, I grabbed some leftover pizza and hustled my daughter into the car, along with her trusty Radio Flyer red wagon (used more more frequently by me at plant sales than by her for riding in these days).

When we got there at around 1pm, a single tired and rather frazzled leftover volunteer announced that the sale was over, there was nothing left. Boo! Then she recanted and said that there might be a few things still out there, but that the person collecting the money had gone home so I wouldn’t be able to buy anything today. Double boo! I guess the early bird got the plants, in this case. Oh, if only I’d paid more attention! I might have had to throw some elbows, but it would have been worth it to come home with even one of my favorites from this garden, Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' and friends

or an ‘Icicle’ white Ribes sanguineum. Dang. Wonder if they were selling those amazing cobra lilies? If Melanthia got some, I’m going to be seriously jealous (and impressed).

Cobra lily

As it was, pretty much all that was left were a couple of spindly ceanothus, one giant Ribes sanguineum sans pot (a good deal though at $30, I almost bit, but was told it was forced and will eventually turn pink – I had my heart set on the white ones)

Big ol' ribes sanguineum (forced for garden show)

a whole lotta kinnikinnik

Manymany kinnikinnik

and various mahonia, of which I bought two (Mahonia aquifolium) and then regretted it about an hour later when I came home and called my mom, and she told me that they are terrible root spreaders and that I’d regret it forever if I put them in my garden. Oops – they were supposed to be part of my pathetically belated effort to get a little more winter interest into my parking strip garden.

Mahonia aquifolium plants in red wagon

Here’s what I need to do right now – get out my calendar, do some majorly exhaustive web searches, and figure out which sales I am not going to miss for the rest of the year. I haven’t yet found a central listing spot for every Seattle-area sale. It seems like each organization just has their own calendar, then the newspapers occasionally do a round-up of the more major ones. But I want to know about, if not actually attend, them all, so that I don’t miss out on any more chances at snagging my new must-have plants. Hm, another project for the ever-lengthening list.

Oh well, we had fun in the Arboretum anyway, and I got to explain the concept of a “fool’s errand” to my daughter (making sure she knew the fool in question was not her, but me!). We saw our first Rhododendron blooms of the season

First glimpse of Rhododendon, Feb. 28, 2009

some winter beds that still looked interesting, plus I liked the pavers edging it

Winter bed at Arboretum

a little elf-beard of lichen

Neat lichen

and this really really shiny variegated holly (? I think)

Variegated holly?

How about you? Do you organize your plant shopping like a society wedding, or just tend to just go when the urge to plant something hits you?


Field Trip to P-town February 27, 2009

My family made a whirlwind trek down to Portland, Oregon last weekend and one of the top things on my list to see if I could locate a neighborhood with a lot of parking strip gardens. I know, I’m obsessed. In a previous post, I had received a few helpful comments about this. So, with only a few minutes to spare during our brief time in town, I did my best to find a few.

On a hot tip, we headed to Northeast Portland to a neighborhood known as Irvington, home to many large and lovely Craftsman houses and fabulous gardens, plus this really spiffy looking club that I would probably be denied membership to even if I could afford it (ha). Not a lot in the way of parking strip gardens, though, that I was able to find.

Irvington Club Sign

This house had a really mind-blowing ornamental/conifer/topiary thing going on, I guess it’s kinda famous. I got a chuckle when I saw it, since I recognized it from this post of Nestmaker’s.

WackyPortland House & Garden

Irvington has lots of stately trees, though, so maybe that’s more the vibe and people don’t like to mess with the established tradition. Here were some crocuses that looked as if they’d naturalized in the understory.

Drifts of Crocus in Portland Parking Strip

This garden was a real exception to my general findings. It had obviously been planted with love and care, and although it might have been fairly new, contained some great stuff like reticulated iris and a lovely reddish witch hazel, maybe the currently hot cultivar ‘Diane’?

Nifty Portland Parking Strip Garden

Closer View of Portland Garden

Screamin' Orange Crocus

Dwarf Iris

Red Witch Hazel - 'Diane'?

What I didn’t find in the way of street gardens was more than made up for by the beauty of the houses and the amazing color palate used by their inhabitants. Here in Seattle, we seem to be afraid of color – grey, beige, white, sage green, dusty blue and mushroom brown predominate. But in Portland, I saw everything from deep forest green to crazy orange to this one, a funky and friendly combo that I’d never seen before.

Funky Portland Paint Job

Even the streetcars are more colorful in Portland. Sorry for the from-the-car pic, we were on the way out of town and I realized I hadn’t taken any of the trollies.

Portland Streetcar

We took public transit pretty much everywhere, but the reason for the trip was that we had the loan of a pretty vroomy car, a Chrysler 300C SRT8. Since I usually tool around in a 20 year old Volvo wagon, this was a comparatively cushy ride. Not great on the gas mileage, but surprisingly better than our Subaru, from our calculations. Looks pretty good with a backdrop of bamboo, I think.

Vroomy Chrysler

My other garden-related coup was to convince my family that they needed to let me go to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, also a tip from Nestmaker, who has posted often about her visits there. That’s going to have to be a whole separate post, since it was breathtakingly amazing, I took about 13 hundred pictures, and learned a lot about what I should have planted in my garden if I wanted it to look nice in winter!

I wished I’d had more time and maybe a couple of cross-streets to check out for the hell strip greats in town, though – maybe someone will comment here and suggest some for my next visit?


Spring Repealed February 26, 2009

Filed under: flora,snow,winter — greenwalks @ 11:27 pm
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Just when we were shedding our woolly scarves and pondering more tender plantings, winter came back with a wee-hours blast last night, dumping two inches of snow on Seattle and pushing dreams of spring gardening a little further into the future. Yeah, yeah, I know, two inches – big deal. We are whiners here, we know. But it’s been such a weird winter, with a seemingly endless procession of freezing weather, that it’s starting to make me feel like spring will never truly arrive.

Oh, I was fooled for a while last week. The sun came out for days on end, and it was only because I was too busy to garden that I didn’t get out there and do a bunch of tidying chores like whacking back plants that got hit by earlier frosts. I was also feeling really bad about not having been industrious enough to get peas started and out there. I guess my laziness has its benefits sometimes. I hope everyone who was more industrious than I finds that their early efforts did not suffer too much, since everything was here and gone in about 10 hours.

Although I have more snow-garden pictures than my computer knows what to do with (creak, groan, whir – must delete many this weekend), I went out to take a few more today. It made me see some things, even just the tips of them, that I hadn’t noticed before against the bare ground.

Snowy Rose Bush

As-yet-unpruned rose bush with snowy “hats” on the hips.

Snowy Weeping Conifer

Unknown weeping conifer outside the dining room window. Any guesses?

Poppy Foliage Under Snow

Well, I guess the poppies are up. I hope they stay that way!

Contorted Filbert Catkins in Sun & Snow

“Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” catkins catching some sun

Peony Shoots Coming Up Through Snow

Hm, maybe I didn’t plant those peony divisions deep enough after all…

Dwarf Iris in Snow

Didn’t notice these dwarf iris were up until my daughter whacked the snowcap off of them.

Garden Monkey Passes By Tulips in Snow

Hey, little garden monkey, thanks for not stepping on my tulips!

Half-Snowy Wreath

Yes, I do know Christmas was over two whole months ago! The wreath has yet to make it to the compost bin.

This is it. It has to be! Doesn’t it? Who else here is ready for @#$& spring?!


Root Ball Sculptures February 25, 2009

Filed under: trees — greenwalks @ 9:45 pm
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My parents lost a couple of Douglas Fir trees in great Hanukkah Eve windstorm of 2006. Well, they didn’t exactly lose them – the trees just blew over, thankfully missing any people or houses. It took a long time to get a tree company in to help them deal with the resulting mess, and in the end they were left with two giant craters and the biggest upended root balls you could possibly imagine in a suburban setting.

These remnants of once-noble evergreens will likely be there forever and a day – the arborists declined to saw apart and remove them, since they must weight a good half ton or more (?) each. So, my folks just skirt the craters and the root balls are becoming forest monuments.

Douglas fir root ball

I was reading about nurse logs lately and wondering if it’s possible to hurry one along artificially – it does seem like the process has already begun (above, proof that English ivy will grow anywhere, justifying its status as an invasive weed!). Another option might be to pick or spray the dirt out to expose the roots, then put a bit of good soil back in and plant some stuff in the nooks and crannies. My mom’s got tomatoes to start, though, so this is probably not high on her priority list. Plus, one of them does provide a good vantage point for my daughter to sit on and tell her visiting grandfather about the dead shark she saw in the ocean last summer.

Root ball throne

There was a weathered root sculpture at the Garden Show last week that caught my eye (I believe it was from the Elandan Gardens display). I liked the stones placed in some of the crevices, they looked a bit like cliff-dwelling birds to me.

Root sculpture

If you had a big old root ball taking up space in your woods, what would you do? Fire up the chainsaw and free up some more space to garden, or turn it into art? Or just sit back and watch decomposition (slowly) take its course?


Berm Theory February 24, 2009

I passed this parking strip garden on a walk earlier this month, and although I’m sure it’s lusher and more filled-in-looking in summer, I was curious to see what “winter interest” was growing that could perhaps be added to my currently quite barren strip.

I thought it was interesting the way soil had been added to create several berms, which is one solution to the problem of soil compaction that so bedevils gardens in this part of the streetscape.

Parking strip berm from street

I have considered putting in berms but have always balked for some reason, maybe I just don’t like the humped-up look. Then again, an expanse of flat ground can be pretty boring without something to break it up, especially in winter. I kind of like wavy berms, rather than one big bump that looks like something’s buried underneath.

Ann Lovejoy, one of my favorite garden writers, has a brief article about berm-building here. It’s notes for a class she gave a while back, wish I could have attended!

This garden could have been meticulously planned out for all I know, but I liked the way it looked pretty casual, like maybe I could do it too if I just got a few more plants into the ground that would live through the winter. Nothing too show-stopping, but many different species of grasses, euphobias, sage, and probably a lot of stuff that’s under the ground at the moment, judging by the spent flower stalks and seed heads still visible.

Parking strip berm garden from sidewalk

Some of the euphorbias had lovely strong colors on their “flowers” – sorry, not sure of any varieties here.

Cool yellowish euphorbia


Reddish purple euphorbia

Cute grasses, maybe a blue fescue and a copper sedge?

Winter grasses

What is this, purple orach? Can that grow in the NW in mid-winter? Cool, if so!

Purple winter groundcover

The City of Seattle says not to put un-cemented stones in the parking strip (for fear someone could chuck one through a car window or friend’s head, I guess) but these folks did it anyway. The rocks might have been unearthed while digging up the garden beds, I know I have found quite a few that way.

Rocks edging berm

What’s your take on Berm Theory? Any fans of this form of gardening?


Buzzing February 23, 2009

Filed under: fauna,garden shows — greenwalks @ 8:48 pm
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In these times of economic woe and gloom, many small businesses are taking a hit along with the big guys. I worry that a lot of the smaller gardening-related outfits are going to be struggling soon if they aren’t already. So it was with great delight that I saw this one booth at the NW Flower & Garden Show, The Beez Neez Apiary Supply, veritably buzzzzzzzing with customers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Jim and Rachel of Snohomish, WA are professional beekeepers and have everything you need to start keeping bees. They seemed to be having a great time at the show, happily fielding questions from wannabee (oh, sorry again!) apiarists and selling their wares.

Mason bee folks

City and suburb dwellers often feel most comfortable beginning with Mason bees, aka Osmia lignaria , who do not live in hives and are generally non-stinging. They help with pollination and are relatively easy to care for. My folks have a bunch at their place, to help with the apple orchard and berry patches. You can buy a cute little house like this:

Mason bee house

to attach to a tree in or near your garden. The bees fill the holes with mud and go about their solitary ways. It’s kind of like a little bee condo, or maybe a monestary dorm.  Or you can make your own bee house, if you are handy with drills and such. Here’s one plan from the National Wildlife Federation site. Here’s another one that uses mostly stuff you have around the house (except for maybe “bee straws,” which you can probably order from Jim and Rachel).

At first I thought someone had the nutty idea of putting bee sounds on a CD, maybe as a relaxation aid. Actually, I think that would be pretty cool. But it turned out to be a DVD instead, “All About Mason Bees,” by Dr. Margriet Dogterom, who is kind of the Queen Bee (agh! again with the bad bee jokes!) of the whole mason bee thing.

Mason Bee DVDs

She is often at the Garden Show representing her company, Beediverse,but I didn’t see her this time. Maybe she was just off touring the show gardens, flitting from flower to flower… okay, I’ll stop.

Have any of you tried your hand at beekeeping, or with opening up a guest house for Mason bees in particular?


C’mon, Daphne! February 22, 2009

Filed under: shrubs,winter — greenwalks @ 8:17 am
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The previous gardener at our house planted a variegated daphne odora in a rather funny place, partway under the back porch, behind the railing. It kind of sulks there like a grumpy old dog, ignored for much of the year. I would move it, but I’ve heard daphnes really resent being dug up and they usually die if you try this.

So, every winter, I wait, and wait, and wait for it to bloom and make itself worth putting up with the rest of the year. It got some frostburn (is that the right word?) during the super low temps this winter but otherwise it seems to have survived.  Although I do wonder if someone has been snacking on it – there are big chunks of some leaves missing and I hadn’t noticed that before. I also worry about it in summer, when it gets blasted with sun for much of the day – I’m afraid to water it much as daphnes can resent over-watering.

It also seems to have fewer flower buds on it than usual – I wonder if that’s weather-related as well? Here is one, tantalizing me with its promise but so far refusing to open.

Daphne odora flower bud

Guessing the variety of inherited plants is always kind of a challenge. Does anyone know what this one is called? I’m wondering if it is ‘Aureomarginata.’ If so, here is some info about it from the Northwest’s “Great Plant Picks” program.


Pine Tale February 20, 2009

One of the most interesting plant stories I’ve heard in a while, and I can’t promise it’s all true, is about the ‘Chief Joseph’ pine.

Unusual-plant obsessive Megan of Nestmaker wrote a recent post about seeing an extraordinarily stunning dwarf golden conifer at a Portland botanical garden, and one of her commenters ID’ed it as ‘Chief Joseph.’ At the Garden Show earlier this week, my mom and I were making quick rounds of the sale booths when, up on the top shelf of the River Rock Nursery stand, what should I see but this very tree? The nursery owner, Bob O’Brien, was busy talking to someone else, so I slipped behind the counter and took a few quick shots, none of which came out very well. This is the best I could do.

Pinus contorta var. latifolia 'Chief Joseph'

When he saw me, Bob came over and started joking that the tree was $350 but he’d only charge me $300 to take its picture. I told him I knew of someone who was thinking about getting one and he told me its story.

Apparently, a fellow named Doug Willis was hunting elk in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon (summer home of the legendary Nez Perce chief and his people) when he stumbled upon a tree which he realized was an incredibly rare genetic mutant of the lodgepole pine (pinus contorta). He dug it up, brought it home, and asked a plant-savvy friend to propagate and sell the grafts. Its uniqueness stems not so much from its winter gold color, as there are other conifers which display this, but from the fact that the very needles that turn yellow revert to green in the spring and summer.

What weird switch got tripped in this plant, I don’t know, but it’s like some horticultural impossibility come to life. The trees are murderously difficult to propagate, super slow-growing, and the specimen he had for sale was only his after five years of his wife calling the propagator and begging for one. I wonder if anyone with a wad of cash burning a hole in their pocket came by and snapped it up?

All ‘Chief Joseph’ pines are grafts of the one original tree, although someone once told Bob that he’d seen another one growing wild on his parents’ ranch in Eastern WA. Perhaps another future “gold” mine?

Oh, by the way, Megan found her own small ‘Chief Joseph’ at the nursery down the street. And she didn’t pay anything like $350! Read all about it here.

I wonder if I’m tipping over into unhinged gardener territory, to get so much enjoyment out of a weird plant story and someone else’s garden purchase…


Garden Show Rides

Filed under: garden shows — greenwalks @ 5:13 pm
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Since the other blogger in the family (the one who actually pays the bills) writes about cars, there’s a small portion of my brain that was keeping a lookout for them among all the plants at the NW Flower & Garden show.

One of the show gardens, “A Garden I Love” (designed by Adam Gorski), is a whimsical story of a granny who obsessively tinkers with her cherry-red ’67 Mustang, and whose garden echoes the bold color of the car. I believe that is a coral-bark maple in the background.

Red Mustang garden

The kids’ area of the show was partially sponsored by Dream Turf, a somewhat frighteningly lifelike-looking faux grass product. A huge area of the convention center was covered in the turf, as well as this promotional VW Bug.

Turf bug (fake grass)

A segment of the children’s area was devoted to little dioramas and other miniature gardens kids had fashioned. This was one of the larger examples, a golf cart partially covered in soil and plants.

Planted golf cart

The world-famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC is launching a new carousel exhibit. They brought the zebra down to Seattle for a brief visit. My daughter is a big carousel fan, so we may need to make a trip up there this summer.

Carousel zebra from Butchart Gardens

These dolls (Priscilla and Elvis??) got a witty mod makeover and were seated in their very own miniature terrace garden. Nice Vespa, man!

Mini-mods in the garden

Finally, I wasn’t sure whether this particular “Show Special” was for real or not. Anyone need a bulldozer?

Bulldozer joke?


Garden Show Plant Combos February 19, 2009

(I’m feeling a little guilty that my previous post was so grumpy. I’m going to focus on positives from the NW Flower & Garden show from henceforth!)

One of the most exciting things to see at any garden show is the designers’ use of unique plant combinations. At the NWFGS this week, the display gardens are full of glorious, strange, and inspiring ways to pair and group plants for maximum impact.

(Wow, that almost sounded like a real garden writer’s lead, didn’t it? Weird. I think guest blogging did something bad to my brain…)

One of the most talked-about gardens at the show is “Sky’s the Limit,” which features walkways, tables, walls and a roof carpeted in living plants. Alas, the brochure I picked up did not include a plant list, but many of the mixed groundcovers in the photo below are probably common nursery plants. The brochure listed Seattle’s T & L Nursery as the source, a wholesale-only outfit. Their site provides this plant list for green roofs, which seems to be mostly sedums.

Living sidewalk

Another garden (sorry, I forget which one) featured several “Mrs. Roosevelt” rhodies, which could look a little dowdy on their own but really popped with a background of red twig dogwood. Might be a little loud for some gardens, but right about now, with too much brown and dull green out in my garden, I could use a little noise.

Mrs. Roosevelt rhodie and red twig dogwood

A highly stylized, Asian-influenced garden called “Click” (did anyone get the title? I didn’t – camera shutter? parts fitting together? the brochure copy did not reveal anything) contained this nifty pairing, Agave geminifolia (which has curly filament/tendrils spiraling between the pointed silvery green leaves – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this growing in a parking strip here in Seattle so it’s going on my wish list) and Helichrysum ‘Silver Spike’ (a silvery low-growing perennial suitable for water-wise gardens).

Cool plant combo

By a long shot, though, my favorite garden of all for inspired pairings was “Entry to Cascadia,” designed by Phil Wood and Bob Lilly for the UW Arboretum Foundation. If I thought they wouldn’t mind, I’d just retype their entire plant list. Maybe I’ll see if I can ask, and post it later. I just loved how they used plants specific to our climate and conditions, steered clear of anything too show-offy, and kept the colors muted and natural so the plants could really be the stars. If I could directly import any one garden into my own yard in its entirety, this would be it. Alas, it was very dark and hard to photograph, just like most of the other gardens, so my pics don’t do it justice. Here is just one planting combination that I found really enticing:

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' and friends

Don’t quote me on this, but I think from left these are Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’ (spike rush – evergreen and best in full sun), Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ (hilarious cedar relative that looks like Mr. It from the Addams Family), Gaultheria shallon (good old salal), and I dunno on the far-right one, maybe kinnickinnick ‘Vancouver Jade’? Also notable in this display were a number of flowering native currant bushes (Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’) whose flowers have a rather odd, intense smell remniscent of, well, cat pee. It’s not noticeable unless you really give it a good whiff, though.

I am really bad at figuring out which plants to put together, favoring the time-honored “plunk it down wherever it’s easiest to dig the hole” method of garden design. It really helps me to see what the pros come up with, and I think I might have to try some of the pairings I saw at the show.

Do you come up with your own plant combinations, or do you admit to having cribbed a few?