Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Tidy May 30, 2009

If there is one thing I’m not, it’s tidy. Not in the garden, not in the house, not in my life. I’d like to be, and I try sometimes, but I always fail. Maybe it’s lack of organization, forethought, or energy. Or that given the choice between reading a book/going to the beach vs. putting the junk mail in the recycling/making sure all the nursery pots are cleaned out and stacked, I’ll always choose the former.

My neighbors probably cried real tears when we moved in – “Oh no, here come the Beverly Hillbillies!” I feel kind of bad for them, it’s probably the first time in their lives that they had to look out their windows at plastic mulch bags and actual weeds (the previous owner was pretty fussy and also had a professional gardener who used herbicides and never let a single poppy go to seed).

When I see tidy parking strip gardens like the one below, I kind of admire them on the one hand but on the other I wonder how the person planning it had the restraint to leave so much bare ground (or were they just being cheap?). I also wonder if it will stay tidy, or if it was put in by a landscaper and will be left to go wild. I kind of hope to see self-seeding flowers showing up to mess up the design a little, is that evil of me?

Tidy new parking strip garden

It is just a baby garden right now, and I walk by it at least once a week so I will be interested to see it grow. That one yellow sedum in the corner is a known spreader, so maybe the whole thing will be filled in with a nice mix of gold, purple and green before too long and I’ll be satisfied with the plants’ tendency to resist, along with me, the tendency to be too neat around the edges.


Some More New Friends May 28, 2009

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 6:52 pm
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My spring plant purchasing has been pretty restrained. Because of some revamping in the backyard, I haven’t wanted to buy too much until I knew what we really needed. But still, the odd plant sale managed to creep onto my radar and it was impossible to resist at least a few new treasures.

I am terrible at plant combinations, but when I saw these two at the same sale, I kind of imagined them together. Japanese blood grass, or Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ (illegal to grow in the Southern US, unfortunately, since it reverts to its non-hybrid form and becomes horribly invasive – it is tame in the NW and I have always wanted to own a clump) and Phygelius x rectus ‘Sunshine,’ a golden cultivar of Cape Fuchsia (a South African plant that dies back in our climate but regrows from the ground and is a hummingbird magnet when the tubular pinkish-red flowers bloom). I wedged them into the parking strip and I hope they grow up to get along together and not bicker too much. I probably need some ground cover there right now, nothing that will clash with reddish-purple or goldeny-green.

Japanese blood grass and golden Phygelius

There is nothing like seeing a plant, going “Cool!,” buying it, bringing it home, putting it in the ground, finally getting around to looking it up in the old plant book, and going “Duh – I already have this!” Please tell me I am not the only person to do that… in the latest case, with Phlomis russeliana (Sticky Jerusalem Sage). I had wanted something with bigger leaves since everything in the parking strip seems to have little tiny ones. I forgot that I have a huge clump of this growing in the shade under the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick tree in our upper garden. I may have to move this one eventually, as I think it will get quite large. I do love the fuzzy leaves, they beg to be touched, and the flower spikes are quite interesting when they appear and even after they die. Pardon the holey leaves, the snails had a go at this before I got it into the ground.

Phlomis russeliana (Sticky Jerusalem Sage)

Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Rainbow’ appealed to me despite its somewhat silly cultivar name. I am trying to add more purple to the parking strip as a resting point for the eye, kind of a lot going on down there… I like the way the sun catches it late in the day.

Purple gaura foliage in sun

There’s more but I think I will stop after this last one. It’s not a new addition, just a returnee that I had forgotten would be there. My mom gave me a lot of echinacea (coneflower) seedlings last year, too late for them to bloom during the summer. One of the delights of being a forgetful gardener is the surprise of seeing plants you’d not remembered planting! There are many of these, and I hope to see the bees enjoying their long-lasting flowers all summer long.

Coneflower returning from last year's seedlings

The playhouse for my daughter has arrived, and the raised bed for the probably pot-bound raspberry canes has finally been built, although it’s still awaiting soil. I will try to post pictures of those new structural additions to our lives soon.


Longing for a Tree Peony May 27, 2009

Filed under: flora,neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 4:54 pm
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Somehow, I went my entire life up until this winter without ever knowing about tree peonies. Then, suddenly, they were everywhere – Portland Classical Chinese Garden, blog buddies’ photos, nurseries, and on the street. I’m not sure I have the just-right space, but my longing for one is severe and I might have to make a good spot if one doesn’t already exist.

I saw this one hanging over a retaining wall the other day, not sure if I am IDing it correctly but regular peonies are just starting to get buds here so I wonder if this could be a short tree peony. What do you think? It’s a bit past its prime, but still pretty glorious. Sorry, full sun, hard to capture the beauty of the white blooms.

A little past their prime, still fancy

Tree peonies have such a following, apparently, that there is an entire nursery called Tree Peony Garden in Pennsylvania devoted to them. Click here to see photos of their numerous varieties or if you just want to learn more about this astonishing plant, native to China and cultivated there for perhaps as long as three millenia!?! According to this article, it pays to find a reputable grower and spend the big bucks for a good plant, otherwise you won’t have much success. Site preparation and proper conditions are important too. In other words, this isn’t my typical cheap/free/whomp-it-in garden addition, so if I get one, it’s going to be a major decision.

I had to put my hand on one of the flowers to show the scale. These really are immense! Please ignore the dirt under the fingernails, occupational hazard for many of us at this time of year.

Big big flower (tree peony?) on way out

Plants are litterbugs too! But nice ones.

Plants are litterbugs too

What new-to-you plant has captivated you this spring?


A Furry Visitor May 26, 2009

Filed under: fauna,my garden — greenwalks @ 10:03 am
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One of the reasons I like gardening in the parking strip area is that I get to meet the friendlier of my neighbors. I live in kind of a funny neighborhood, where a lot of people will walk right past without a glace or a word, which is fine by me. But when someone stops to say hello or says something nice about the garden, it makes my day.

Sometimes, the visitors are not of the human variety. I have watched many jays, flickers, crows and hummingbirds out there, so much so that I feel like their daily dramas (must find food! must protect babies!) are a vital part of my life. Finding a ladybug on a leaf, surprising two flies in an act of, um, love as I did the other day, or observing the flight path of a lazy bumblebee can all make me feel like all the work and labor of struggling with the soil conditions, baking heat in the summer, and challenges of getting everything the water it needs worthwhile.

Here is someone who stops by now and again. He doesn’t usually come over for a chat, but he does flop down and roll around on the sidewalk and stay awhile if I leave him be.

Feline visitor to parking strip garden

Who is visiting your garden these days?


Should it Stay or Should it Go? May 24, 2009

Filed under: pruning,shrubs,structures — greenwalks @ 10:07 am
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We are attempting to wedge a 4′ X 4′ X 6′ high playhouse into our small backyard for my daughter to goof around in, and debating whether or not to completely take down or just limb up an uninspiring, very plain (probably?) shrubby dogwood or leave it to screen the neighbors during spring-summer-fall. During my deliberations, I was reminded of one of the Clash’s most famous ditties and changed it around a little…

Blog friends you gotta let me know
Should it stay or should it go?
If you say that it is mine
It’ll be here til the end of time
So you got to let know
Should it stay or should it go?

Place where playhouse will go

(Unknown dogwood(?) is in middle between white lilac on left and red twig dogwood on right)

Not always leaves leaves leaves
It’s just okay instead of trees
One day is grey, next is green
So if you want us not to be seen
Well come on and let me know
Should it stay or should it go?

UGL (Unidentified green leaf) - dogwood?

(Leaves are pretty ho-hum, I don’t even remember flowers or fall color, but it’s tall at the moment and is the only thing blocking the neighbors on that side.)

This indecision’s bugging me
If you dont want it, set me free
Exactly what it’s supposed to be
Don’t you know which plants even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Dogwood leaf string?

(A Master Gardener taught me a trick once to test if a leaf is a dogwood – gently pull it apart and see if there are any “strings” holding the separated parts together. This one seems to qualify.)

Should it stay or should it go now?
If it goes there will be trouble
And if it stays it will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should it stay or should it go?

Limbed up dogwood

(I started by limbing it up, to see if the playhouse would even fit underneath. The bad pruning cuts would be shielded by the house and the lilac and dogwood would provide a kind of canopy for the little inhabitants.)

Deadline is Wednesday, since the house is arriving the next day. Cast your vote here in the comments! Honesty counts.

For a classic Clash concert video from 1982, click here. Joe Strummer, RIP.


Raised Beds Sprouting in the Parking Strip May 23, 2009

I saw this while driving home from the school run last week. I had to stop and take photos, the sight warmed my heart so much.

Parking strip raised beds with fresh soil

This is a corner lot on a fairly busy thoroughfare, but the beds are located on the side street. Five of them! No idea what’s going in but I’m going to be keeping a close eye on them to see how they are planted.

Looks like the sod was maybe smothered with cardboard and then stripped and turned over in the spring.

Parking strip raised bed with busted sod

Then, in with the black gold!

Shovel in fresh soil

The guy who made them was in his garage, headphones on and table saw blazing. I didn’t have the nerve or heart to hover and stop him to ask about the raised beds, but it looks like either he or someone else there is already an avid structure-builder and gardener, judging from the house-side street garden.

Streetside trellis and Mexican feather grass

Pot of coleus, black mondo grass and ?

Spirea &  hydrangea?

Purple flowered vine

Forget-me-nots & ?

Golden perennial

A little leftover good soil, dumped into the arterial side of the parking strip. Guess maybe something’s going in there too!

Compost piles on parking strip

Extra wood, board ends or fodder for the next garden building project?

Extra wood

I know, I’m a freak, but stuff like this just sends me over the moon. There are so many folks in my neighborhood adding raised beds, ripping up sod, and otherwise making more space for gardens right now. It’s a revolution!


Skywatch Friday – May 22, 2009 May 21, 2009

Filed under: Seattle,sky — greenwalks @ 9:33 pm
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In the sky over Seattle, a clash of the titans, tree vs. clouds:

Tree vs. clouds

And the winner is… clouds!

Cloud array

To see more skies all over the world, click here to check out Skywatch Friday.


On the Ephemeral Nature of Poppies

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 9:12 am
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Now you see me…

Delicate papery orange poppies

now you don’t!

Poppy stem without petals

(Papaver atlanticum, I believe – kind of a weed in my garden but I let it stay until it’s done blooming, then rip most of it out. It’s always back the next year, and I love its long skinny stems and delicate, papery petals. Plus, up close, the left-behind seed pods are so cute, with their little fuzzy red starfish pattern clinging to the top.)


More Winter Survivors May 18, 2009

I know I sound like a broken record here, but I’m continuing to be surprised by all the plants that don’t seem to have minded our recent horrid winter weather. I guess more of my garden was hardy than I’d realized – I’m not great about keeping track of zone/temperature requirements, so I was half expecting nothing to come back.

Happily, my small parking strip veggie/herb patch came through completely unscathed, and the recent spate of sunny weather (now over, alas), brought many things along from winter dormancy.

The red lettuces below overwintered and were a bit on the bitter side but not too bad. I think they are “Merlot” but could also be “Red Sails,” I forget. The green ones are an oakleaf variety I planted from starts a few weeks ago, and the leeks are starting to grow a bit too, finally.

Sunlit lettuces

I only cook with chives every now and again, since my daughter isn’t a huge fan of them in eggs or risotto as I like to use them. But she will nibble on the oniony flowers once they bloom from these cute little purple buds.

Chive flower buds

I am terrible at remembering what kind of onions I’ve planted. I mix up the scallions and other types so never know when to yank them, and then they go to flower. That’s okay, I love how fat the buds get and then this mini fireworks explosion happens.

The bulbing fennel that never bulbed last summer resprouted, and it seems like maybe it’s going to form something edible underground this time. Or am I deluding myself? I like the feathery foliage and pull a few small bits off to toss in salads sometimes. That’s bolting arugula in the background – I hope to replant another round of it this week, it’s my easiest seed crop and I love its peppery taste cooked or raw.

Bulbing fennel came back

Finally, I took this photo a few weeks ago but forgot to post it. It’s some of the Russian kale flowers before they opened, in the late afternoon sunlight. Now that the rain has returned, I hope I stored up enough sun until the next time I can get out there with my hands in the dirt.

Kale flower buds in late afternoon sun


Cousin Itt’s Bad Hairdo May 16, 2009

Filed under: grasses,pruning — greenwalks @ 5:00 pm
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(Update: I just realized that I got the name wrong yesterday – it’s Cousin Itt, not Mr. It!)

In addition to New Zealand Flax, Pampas grass is another plant that has been looking terrible all over Seattle after our recent harsh winter. I inherited a clump from the previous owner here, and although I have given it a wide berth in the past few years (those blade edges never fail to leave huge stinging welts on my arms if I get too close!), this year it was just too shaming to leave in its ruined state.

Ugh, Pampas grass hates winter

Doesn’t it look like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family? Maybe after he forgot to use shampoo for a few weeks and get a haircut for a couple odd years?

Lorene of Planted at Home, my new gardening guru, said that in its natural habitat (Southern South America), the died-back plants’ natural rehabilitation is succumbing to fire and then growing again from the ground. Although I briefly considered how fun it would be to torch this sucker, the fact that it’s planted against our 100 yr. old garage in a densely populated urban area made that kind of a no-go. I’d like to just get rid of the plant entirely, but it’s a bit precarious to even get up close to it, situated as it is at the top of a very unstable rockery, so the only other choice was to prune it back and hope it recovers.

Out came the clippers and a big garbage can was full in no time at all. Of course I forgot to wear long sleeves so the stinging welts were a fun side effect.

Pampas grass haircut leavings

Up close, the few semi-healthy green leaves have a nice variegation, and the interior of the clump has this wacky pin-curls thing going on.

Pampas grass interior

There were a few downed flower stalks, feathery plumes which I considered giving to my daughter for her fairy houses but then saw how much they shed and went everywhere, and decided to toss them into the yard waste along with the rest of the debris. Shh, don’t tell her!

Downed Pampas grass plumes

The haircut revealed a large area of totally matted quack grass, my nemesis in many parts of the garden. Maybe I should revisit the burning idea after all, I’m not sure what else is going to take care of this area. I would never have planted this plant on my own, and now I’m worried that I’m stuck with it. It’s an invasive disaster in California, where it is choking out native plants and becoming a real problem. Click here if you want to read about how easily it spreads there and how difficult it is to eradicate. If you thought blowing a dandelion was bad, imagine one that grows to be 8 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide from every seed!?!

Before and After photos are pretty much my favorite thing about reading garden blogs and books. There is something just so satisfying about seeing a successful renovation of a problem space, plant, or entire garden. Sadly, this will not qualify. In fact, it might belong in a pruning Hall of Shame! I’m embarrassed to show this, it looks something like the horror haircut I gave my daughter in the fall just in time for school picture day (she had to wear a hat). I am only showing it so you can have a good laugh at my expense.

Pampas grass "After," or maybe just "During"

I’m consoling myself with the fact that I had to stop before I felt done, and that I will try to go back and make it look better. Any suggestions? A little more off the top and sides? Give up and just put up a screen to hide my terrible job? Maybe I need to face facts and start leaving my pruning jobs to professionals…

Do you have any plants that you feel like you’re stuck with but don’t know what to do about?