Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Beach Bound March 31, 2009

Filed under: digressions — greenwalks @ 4:31 pm
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We’re heading to the Washington coast for a few days. My family nearly always went there for spring break when I was growing up – I remember it as wild and stormy, often soggy, occasionally boring and mostly magical. Now I am passing along this tradition to my daughter, I hope she enjoys it and isn’t too jealous of her friends who are heading off to warmer climes.

I’m debating about whether or not to take a laptop – it would be kind of nice to have a few days’ break from the 24 hr. news cycle and I know it would be hard to resist the temptation to spend half of the vacation looking at garden blogs. Then again, I hate to get too behind, it’s hard to catch up!

Hope you all have a good rest of the week.

Moon snail shell (partial)

(Moon snail shell, Discovery Park beach, Seattle)


Blossom Time March 30, 2009

Spring in Seattle means many things – rain of course, more cyclists on the city’s bike paths, a plethora of flower bulbs adding color to the landscape and, my favorite of all, blossom time for the city’s multitude of flowering trees.

It seems like the first to bloom are normally the ornamental plums, but due to the longer and colder than usual winter, this year everything’s getting going at the same time. Plums, cherries and apples all seem to be bursting into bloom at once, so maybe the usually-later ones are playing catch-up with the slowpokes.

I pass this particular tree many times a week, and had always marveled at its odd shape. It’s a small flowering cherry currently covered with ginormous blossoms. I don’t think it’s been well cared for in a while, since it has a lot of suckers (all flowering!) near the base. But even the strangest pruning can almost be redeemed by masses of fragrant blooms. I wish I could post these in Smell-O-Vision!

Flowering cherry

The Prius has become the car of Seattle (replacing the Volvo 240 – what can I say, I’m behind the times, I still have one of those but no hybrid yet), so I left it in the shot to epitomize this part of the world in spring – a parking strip flowering tree and a PC vehicle. What could be more Seattle? I guess I could have posed someone there with an REI fleece vest on, holding a latte. That might have been a bit too much, though.

Cherry tree & black Prius, how Seattle

What most signifies spring to you?


Greening Up a School With Bamboo March 28, 2009

Filed under: grasses,raised beds — greenwalks @ 2:01 pm
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Nobody likes a “portable” classroom, basically a stopgap measure for school over-crowding that amputates the kids and their teachers from the body of the school as a whole. It can be an isolating and disconnecting experience foisted upon a school by a cash-strapped district such as Seattle’s, which can’t find enough money to balance the budget this year without closing schools and cutting staff.

At my daughter’s school, an extra class “bubble” got added last year and there simply weren’t enough rooms left in the school to house them. So, the portable which had housed the music program was re-purposed as a 4th grade classroom and the school had to decide how to help the students there feel really a part of the whole.

Happily, parents and staff worked hard to secure grant money and donations to transform this space into a “green” classroom, and the kids and their families are putting in a lot of sweat equity to make it happen. One major project has been the addition of a bamboo garden to screen the exposed outbuilding, provide shade and help mitigate pollution caused by fume-belching school buses and other vehicles. This ties in directly with the class’s overall theme of study this year, Bamboo and Sustainable Resources.

Back in the fall, the kids visited Boo-Shoot Gardens bamboo nursery in Mt. Vernon, WA, to learn about bamboo, perform tissue cultures, and come home with their very own bamboo plants. Boo-Shoot generously donated further plants for the school garden.

For weeks, the bamboo garden (which had to be made on top of existing playground blacktop) has been taking shape. First, the galvanized stock tanks were delivered.

Behlen Country stock tank

Then, a giant pile of manure-rich soil/compost was delivered (and classroom ambassadors visited the younger grades to respectfully request they not play in it, for obvious reasons). Finally, the tanks were laid out and plastic wood benches (with bases that raise the tanks up off the ground to allow drainage) were attached.

Row of bamboo bench planters

Finally, soil added, the bamboo arrived and students and volunteers planted several varieties this past week. I was there just as they were finishing up (sans camera, alas) – the look of pride on their faces was priceless. Their singing teacher came out with her guitar and they consecrated the garden with a few songs. It was truly inspiring.

When you sit on the bench and breeze comes along, you can close your eyes and feel that you are in the high mountains of China, watching for a panda to come along.

Bamboo and brick

Yellowish culms of Bissets bamboo (Phyllostachys bissetii), a running type so good thing it’s in a container, will eventually turn greener as they mature.

Recently planted bamboo

Another variety with very skinny culms, for now at least. The plant tags had been removed, so I’m sorry that I don’t know what this one is.

Dwarf bamboo

I am so happy that our school places such a high value on community and earth stewardship in addition to the three R’s. I hope other schools will encourage their kids to take up shovels and dig in the dirt a little bit. Maybe the class that is helping out in the White House garden will help to inspire more school gardening projects around the nation and the world!


Blues for Over-Wintered Greens March 26, 2009

Filed under: edibles,winter — greenwalks @ 10:39 pm
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I know that over-wintering veggies and other edibles is a science. Someday, maybe I’ll bother to study it and then I won’t find myself wondering in the spring why I bothered.

My tendency is to buy starts in the fall or plant a few seeds, plunk them in the ground on the late side, and then watch it all sit there and do nothing all winter. Then, in the early spring, I spread some mulch, the temps start to warm up, things take off a bit, and then… most of it bolts during the two days I don’t bother to look at the garden.

Bolting Chinese mustard

Chinese mustard, probably on the spicy side when it was tiny – now it would probably singe our tongues off. Might have to look up recipes (alchemies?) for milder-izing it so it doesn’t end up being a total waste. A plus – the slugs ignored it entirely! Undoubtedly too spicy for them too.

Mesclun finally growing

Mesclun mix, probably one from Seeds of Change. Slowly, slowly… I think these might be salad-worthy in a couple of weeks.

Russian kale

Russian kale, starting to get a little bigger. Not sure what the ideal leaf length is for a good tasting harvest – I’ll have to hunt around for opinions, or please feel free to offer them here. I need recipes for this one too, but have also enjoyed it as an ornamental if nothing more, the filigreed leaf edges and delicate lavender ribs really get me.

Onion flower bud

I’m going to straight up admit that I just don’t get how to grow onions of any sort. I am too much of a numbskull to keep track of when they are to be planted and harvested, since it seems off from the rest of the garden. These might have been shallots at some point, they’re probably just compost now. Well, I’ll dig down and see what’s there. Maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise.


Arugula, my favorite green and my one and only never-fail crop. Just put the seeds in whenever, it seems happy in any of my challenged gardens. A squirrel dug up half of the row and I never got around to re-planting it, but it has the best germination rate of any seed I’ve ever grown, no matter what company I get it from. If it’s all I grew, I would feel pretty invincible!

Volunteer Violas

First volunteer flowers of the season, my trusty violas. Last year it was ‘Ultima Morpho’ that was everywhere, but this one I can’t name and it has been popping up in the parking strip. I don’t usually bother to plant seeds or get starts of these anymore, they seem happy to keep coming back and I (almost) never say no to a free plant.

I had what I thought was a fun idea back in the fall, to plant ‘Bright Lights’ chard starts in a circle at the center of the veggie garden. They would grow tall, I would let them look really sculptural for a while until the peas needed to go in, all would be groovy. Well, between the squirrels rearranging the starts and killing a few, the snows that crushed the smaller plants, and now the cold spring we’ve been having so far, I’m afraid it’s time to pull out these sad little plants that never grew. I’m not going to show a picture, it’s just too pathetic.

What is your experience with over-wintering your veggie garden? Do you plant it up or let it rest? Put in a cover crop or use a cloche? I want to do it better next year or not at all!


Spring on My Street March 25, 2009

Ah, spring! Out in my parking strip garden, I can see the lovely sights of bulbs blooming, birdsĀ flitting around, perennials awakening from their long winter nap, and to top it all off… a port-a-potty for the construction crew that’s been jack-hammering up a storm down the street.

Tulips and Honey Bucket

Don’t you just love that name, Honey Bucket? Luckily, they moved it later in the day.

I like this view a lot better, sans sanican. The tulips are starting to get a little frowsy, but they’ve been the only think blooming out there for weeks so they’ve done their job. Now spring really feels like it’s on they way, they can bid their farewell.

Tulipa greigii in parking strip

Looks like I’m not the only one interested in blogging about strip gardens. For related posts, you can visit Raingardener at Gardening by Trial and Error and Susan at The Bicycle Garden (in Texas they call ’em hell strips – Susan also recently wrote most eloquently on the public spaces at the university where she teaches), and VP of Veg Plotting in the UK also has a meme going about public plantings.


I Heart SAGBUTT March 24, 2009

Filed under: bloggers' gathering,swag — greenwalks @ 10:18 pm

In a time of what seems like nearly constant bad news (war, economic instability, climate-change fears, environmental devastation, etc etc), it is easy to become misanthropic and feel like humans do nothing more than mess up the planet and fail to learn from history. Or, at least for me it is.

On days when these feelings prevail, one remedy is to spend time in the garden. Somehow, the plants restore my faith in the world, at least for a while. Or at least they give me the renewal of hope that is necessary to dive back into the human fray and keep swimming. I’m betting I’m not the only one who uses their garden as therapy in this way.

Another antidote to all the bad stuff, recently, has been the truly wonderful group of people that have come together as SAGBUTT (Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United To Talk – the joke name which seems to have stuck). As already so ably chronicled at Petunia’s Garden and Garden Muse (and probably elsewhere – I’m a bit behind in my blog reading this week), our most recent meeting was possibly even more fun than the initial one.

Paula (aka Petunia) did an amazing job of organizing the event, which lasted 3 1/2 hrs. but seemed to go by in minutes. It was great to see folks returning from last month, plus it was lovely to put a few new faces to names, as in the case of Catherine of A Gardener in Progress, Bob from Bob’s Garden, and (the most un-curmudgeonly) Curmudgeon of Weed Whackin’ Wenches.

Our special international honored guest, Matron of the UK’s Down on the Allotment, supplied a wealth of veggie-growing tips and a uniquely across-the-pond perspective, kindly taking time out from her visit with friend Debbie, who also attended.

A lot of the chat was about seed-starting, never my forte, but it was fascinating to hear about everyone’s successes and struggles, and to learn of resources and suggestions in case if I ever get around to learning this valuable skill. Among the more exotic (to me) things mentioned – Bulgarian giant leeks, gym exercises for seedlings, purple podded peas, “a cabbage summer,” barley and rye grass for dogs’ digestion aids, and poached-egg flower.

The seed and plant swap that followed was the most polite, careful exchange imaginable. Everyone made sure to only take what they thought they could use, asked others if they wanted something before nabbing the last of anything, and graciously thanked all donors. And the only person who wasn’t able to bring something along gave tantalizing descriptions of divisions to come next time – sedums, crocosmia, hardy geraniums, and perennial herbs, among other possibilities. Wow, I don’t want to miss that meeting!

Here is the heavily-laden table, mid-swap:


Curmudgeon graciously offered to “host” next time, April 18 (Earth Day!) at the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle. Details TBA at WWW soon.

Oh, did you think I’d forget to say what I scored in the swap? Never fear.

– Baby soft-neck garlic starts and red celery seeds from Molly of Life on Tiger Mountain
– Sweet flag from Gardeness
– Coffee grounds and aloe plant from Paula (plus some pumpkin seeds which I left behind)
– Hellebore seedlings and poppy seeds from Catherine
– Tomato seeds from Matron (gifted to my mom, who sent seeds along for the swap)

Plant swap swag

Thanks to everyone for all the swag and for notching my opinion of humanity a little higher this week.


What is a Tree Worth? March 23, 2009

Filed under: Seattle,trees — greenwalks @ 10:20 pm
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Walking down a busy street the other weekend on a family ice cream run, I saw a line of street trees that seemed to be in jail. Here’s one of them:

Protected tree

What was going on here, I’m not quite sure, but each tree was surrounded by flimsy plastic fencing and had a sign strapping-taped to its trunk. I was worried at first that they were condemnation notices, but then I took a closer look:

Protect Tree Public Notice

The City of Seattle is finally getting serious (I hope) about the decreasing canopy in town. The recent explosion in development here recently probably made this inevitable, but we’re not planting trees fast enough to keep up with the losses and the street trees that are planted often are poorly cared for and don’t make it to maturity. So, I guess the big ones are going to have to be protected by threatening a big hit to construction companies’ pockets (“treble” the sum of $7,800, in this case, is nothing to sneeze at!). But how do you determine the worth of a tree?

I’m sure they have their formulas – height, girth, estimated age, rarity of species, etc but what about the emotional value of a tree? Is it one that you’ve passed every day for years, or that you grew up climbing, or whose flowering branches you picnicked under? City street trees might not be likely to have so many associations of this kind, but I’m glad someone’s finally sticking up for them.

Valuable tree, upper portion

How doyou determine the worth of a tree?


Buddies March 21, 2009

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 10:33 pm
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Oh, finally, Spring has arrived and not a moment too soon! Yes, I know the Equinox was on Friday, but I’m chronically behind schedule here.

Much is about to happen in the garden, as the plants finally feel like our horrid winter has left for good (did I just jinx us into a freak spring snowstorm? I hope not!) and they get down to business.

Flower and leaf buds soon to unfurl, if all goes well:

Clematis armandii flower buds

Clematis armandii, with awful-looking frost-burned foliage – if the flowers don’t bloom well and redeem the plant this year, I think it’s going to get the boot.

Peony sprouting

A transplanted peony pushing its freaky shiny red leaves up through the untidy back garden bed. When I divided this last fall, I might have made the chunks too small (I just read that they need at least a few eyes per division or they won’t bloom – can’t remember but I probably only left one).

Mystery bulbs

Mystery bulb, I probably planted it last fall but it wasn’t on the part of the list that turned up. Maybe bellevalia? Should look like grape hyacinth, if so.

Daphne odora blossoms finally starting to open

Daphne odora finally, finally opening its blossoms after what seems like months in the bud stage. Foliage looks a little sad, but I think it’s going to be okay.

Rosemary battling back after a hard winter

The giant rosemary is blooming despite having lost a good percentage of its branches to frost and snow. This one took a licking but kept on ticking. Can I say that without getting sued by Timex?

Which of your buddies are getting ready to bust out?


Burly Birch March 20, 2009

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,trees — greenwalks @ 11:13 pm
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Walking down the street near my house the other day, I did a double-take when I saw this strangely-shaped white birch tree.

Birch burls IV

It’s a super tall tree, and it stands in front of one of the most stylishly maintained Craftsman houses in the neighborhood, so it made me wonder what was going on. Presumably, if the tree was diseased they would have taken care of it or had it taken down.

Birch burls

Looking more closely, I wondered if these could be burls, the poorly understood alterations in a tree’s regular growth pattern that produces giant, round protrusions that are intricately whorled inside.

There seems to be some difference of opinion among scientists as to how burls are formed. Some believe they are produced when some injury or other stress affects the bark; others think they are basically failed twig buds that result in an abnormal growth pattern. The spherical growth happens over a long period, in concurrence with the tree’s vertical growth, but the wood of the burl is much softer. Burls apparently have some similarities to cancer in humans, although in the case of trees the burls are not usually fatal. Woodworkers prize them for their unusualness, and anyone who has traveled Highway 1 through the Northern California redwood forests has encountered “redwood burl” shops selling everything from incredibly beautiful table slabs to awful tacky eagle/bear nightmares. I wonder what a birch burl would look like on the inside? This tree has them going all the way up.

White birch with multiple burls

Here is a short article explaining burls.

This PDF from the National Park Service is all about redwoods and their wacky burls.

Michael Combs is a craftsman who works with burls to produce treen, i.e. objects hewn from trees, but in his case table and other historical kitchen items. Pretty fascinating site he’s put together here.

It’s a kind of extreme ugliness that almost becomes beauty again, or at least it conceals something that in a woodworker’s expert hands can become something worth looking at. Now that I’m pretty sure it’s not going to fall on my head as I walk by, I’m going to enjoy this burly birch a lot more.


Skywatch Friday, 3.20.09 March 19, 2009

Filed under: sky,trees — greenwalks @ 10:20 pm
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Seattle Sky through trees, 3/17/09

Wispy clouds seen from below a giant monkey puzzle tree in Seattle, WA, USA.

My first one was a sky-through-trees pic too. Hm, a theme or just a lame coincidence? To see what the sky has been doing around the world this week, visit the Skywatch Friday site.

Happy Friday (and first day of spring for some of us)!