Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Parking Strip Raised Bed Update July 25, 2009

A few months ago, I wrote a post about a row of raised beds that had suddenly appeared in the parking strip of a house on our route to school. If you have a spare second, click here to see the “before” photos.

The other day, I was back by that way and almost crashed the car when I saw the transformation that had taken place. I guess the question of whether raised beds with good soil assist in the growing of delicious veggies in a tough spot has now been definitively answered. Check it out!

Tomatoes and nasturtiums with a simple wood frame trellis:

Tomato trellis by stop sign

Carrots, lettuces and marigolds galore:

Carrots ahoy

Broccoli, chard and a bunch of squash that is going to have to colonize the sidewalk if it gets any bigger:

Summer street bounty

One bed left, maybe for fall veggies?

One bed left to fill

The narrow bed on the arterial, no raised planter box but things still look pretty happy:

Street veggies

The furry farmer, who came out to see what I was doing:

Inspection team

The Seattle Times had this article on the front page of its online edition today, discussing the newly relaxed rules for growing veggies in our city’s parking strips. The revolution is underway!


True Fellowship July 23, 2009

When bloggers get together in real life, you can sometimes see the internal wheels turning and the human hard drives ticking over as the upload of information takes place. As a segment of humanity, we can seem incapable of simply having an experience without also giving in to the urge to document it in some way, at least in relation to our chosen subject matter (I hope I’m not offending anyone by saying this, and please feel free to disagree if it’s not the case for you!). I don’t think this is a bad thing – it keeps us engaged and curious and open to noticing so much of our surroundings. It definitely adds an extra dimension to any garden visit.

At our recent and (for me) most enjoyable gathering yet, I found it fascinating to hold two thoughts simultaneously in my head – here is what I am seeing, and I wonder what they are seeing as they look at the same thing? (They being the stalwart members of SAGBUTT, our ridiculously named but endlessly wonderful crew of Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk.) Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to find out, since the posts began going up the very next day. I’ll link to those, below. It’s like the movie Rashomon (only less violent) – one event experienced from many viewpoints, all of them compelling, especially for one who was there.

We were invited to tour the 7-acre property that Daniel Mount shares with his partner Michael, in the valley of the Snoqualmie River just east of Seattle. Over the course of years, with Michael having got there first and bravely launched the major gardening efforts despite encroaching wetlands weeds, semi-annual floods and marauding bears, the two have carved out a wide swath of cultivated ground while also helping the natural landscape to shine forth. It was truly awe-inspiring to see their work, which must seem endless to them but obviously provides immense enjoyment as well.

On the Cook’s Tour (which Michael likened to “herding cats,” and which I missed a lot of because I was one of the stragglers at the back, having conversations and proving Michael correct), we saw the results of all their year-round hard work and planning.

Here are our gracious hosts (Daniel on the left and Michael on the right), telling the story of how they started a gigantic long-stemmed rose bush from a single rose that threw some roots while in a vase. The second photo shows one of the amazing roses.

Daniel & Michael

Rose bush that grew from a single long-stem rose

The centerpiece of the homestead is a 160 ft. long bed of mostly edibles. It’s what I always imagined I would have if I had the space, time, energy and drive to grow pretty much everything I ever wanted to eat. Seeing it first hand though, and realizing the amount of work it would take to prepare, plant, maintain and harvest all of it, pretty much cured me of any latent desires to grow on such a scale. I am happy just to visit and marvel, and content to go back home to my puny but still somehow satisfying scale of efforts.


This has been a great summer for Northwest tomato growers, all the heat and sun have really helped the fruit to get a good start and start ripening early. I imagine this greenhouse, used to give extra heat to tomatoes, peppers and eggplant grown directly in the ground, will yield a bounty beyond expectations. I should have had someone stand here for scale, this vine was easily almost 7 feet tall:

Towering tomatoes in greenhouse

I had never tasted a fresh black currant before, only jams made from them, which I never liked. Sampling the tart, ripe, rich-tasting fruit made me want to find a home for one in my garden. Molly said they are easy to grow from cuttings, as she found out once by using what she thought was a dead stick from one to mark another spot, only to find that it had rooted and sprouted leaves not too much later!

Black currants!

The downside of abutting marshland and living a block from a river – predictably regular floods. The upside? Happy gunnera! I hadn’t seen its flower/inflorescence or whatever it’s called before. There were two hiding under the spiny stalks and getting-massive leaves. This plant is only two years old, but seems happy so maybe will achieve monster size before too long.

Gunnera inflorescence

My camera did not want to capture the true, deep pink hue of these tall monarda, massed in partial shade and growing to at least 5 ft. tall. It did happen to catch a happy bumblebee giving truth to the flower’s common name, Bee balm.

Bee on bee balm

On a warm summer day, it was so peaceful to wander at the woods’ cooling edge, on paths the guys have carved out and maintained by many hours on the riding mower. They do not use any herbicides or other nasty chemicals to control weeds, so it’s all mowing and hand-pulling and back-breaking hoe-ing to keep things like bindweed and invasive grasses in check. From left: Molly, Liisa, Michael, Daniel, and Paula, with Jean in the foreground. Not pictured – David Perry, who is probably off making some art-quality photo somewhere.

Garden bloggers in the woods

Woodland scene

(OK, I have completely failed to condense this into a reasonable-size post. I will have to try for a continuation, which I hope will include more photos of the array of edibles and ornamentals, some fabulous planter combos, and the glorious food that everyone brought.)

There is always shared bounty as we depart from these get-togethers. This time, I went home with an Astrantia plant and some “back alley” volunteer poppy seeds from Jean, a Salad Burnet plant Molly had dug especially for me, and several gigantic heads of lettuce Michael cut for me from the array of over 500 they had growing out in the field. And I even managed to snag a few more of the awesome coffee bean sacks that Paula so generously shares with us every chance she gets. Thanks, all!


Even though we only see each other once a month at most, I feel a true fellowship is growing among the members of this group. That word has been spoiled a bit for me by church connotations and Tolkien geekery, (not to mention how can you be a member of one if you are not a fellow?), but here I do believe it applies so aptly. Everyone is busy, we all have too much to do at this time of year, but we carved a few hours out of regular life to come together with others who share a common interest. For a few fleeting moments, we didn’t accomplish anything or do something “useful” – we just enjoyed a garden and each others’ company. It could not have been more enjoyable or rejuvenating.

For more takes on this day, click here for Jean’s, here for Liisa’s, and here for Paula’s, and check back with Daniel, David and Molly to see if they provide their own versions.


Alley Flowers July 20, 2009

Filed under: neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 9:21 am
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The back alley is our usual access point for biking or walking up to the local school playground for some running-off-energy time for my daughter. On the way lately, we have seen more than the usual bindweed and overgrown honeysuckle that usually are visible.

This clematis (Jackmanii? or something similar) was putting on a big show the other week.  I just planted a related vine on a small metal trellis, and now I wonder if I’m going to have to rethink the structure if it’s ever going to get this big (6 feet high at least):

Purple clematis (Jackmanii?)

These pink campanula were so showy, it’s too bad they only lasted a few days. I enjoyed them a lot while they were around. Not sure of the variety, maybe C. medium, ‘Bells of Holland’? They are so sweet and cottage-gardeny, they really evoke England to me. Oh, you can see some bindweed crawling up to strangle the campanula, I think these neighbors don’t know what a bane it is. Or maybe they do and have given up, who can blame them?

Pink campanulas

In my part of the alley, I have a neglected but seemingly carefree ceanothus which has now reverted to its boring phase (the 50 weeks of the year without blue bee-magnet fragrant blooms), one struggling Spanish lavender, some osmanthus that always scrapes the car when I drive by it, and a bunch of scary weeds. I will spare you a photo here.

Do you have a back alley? If so, what’s growing in it? Is it the last spot you think of when deciding to work on or plant anything in your garden? It is for me, for sure, but I do appreciate when a little beauty creeps over the fence or is otherwise out there for we back-alley travelers to enjoy.


Soft-Focus Salad & SAGBUTT Sunday July 16, 2009

Filed under: bloggers' gathering,edibles — greenwalks @ 8:34 pm
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Hi friends – sorry to be blog-lagging (blagging?) lately, just not enough time in the day. I went to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding and took about 80 hundred photos of street gardens there, it’s going to have to be an ongoing series.

Here is a parking-strip salad stuff pic from before I left. I think the lettuce is mostly bolted now and the peas are on their last legs/vines, but it has been a great year for my usual few garden produce varieties this year. The new stuff, not so much – if I have time, I will write about my crop failures and maybe get some of your thoughts on how/what/if to do better next year.

Summer salad from the garden

If there’s anyone who has Sunday afternoon free this week (7/19) and wants to join the Seattle garden blog crew at what should be a new benchmark for fun gatherings, please feel free to leave a comment here or email me at – Daniel Mount and his partner Michael are hosting a harvest picnic at their place, which Daniel describes as a small (7 acre) farm nestled in Carnation Marsh , 150 acres of Audobon Society bird (and bear) sanctuary” which includes “a 160 ft x 60 ft vegetable patch.”  Wow. I’m assuming the bears will have other things to do than talk about why we blog and which blogs we enjoy reading, as we will be doing while munching delicious salads and finger-foods under the cherry tree.


School Garden in Summer July 6, 2009

Filed under: edibles,neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 7:10 pm
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We’ve been spending a lot of time at the nearest school playground this summer, since my daughter wants to keep her monkey-bars skills on the upswing. I hadn’t looked at the school garden in a while, but last week I peeked over the fence and saw what they’ve been growing.

This giant teepee looks like it was pretty easy/cheap to make, just super long bamboo stakes and some twine, plus some plastic edging material to outline the circle, keep the stakes seated, and hold the good soil and maybe even a little water in.

School garden teepee

Peas are beginning to wind up the stakes, while beautiful purplish cabbage and broccoli expand to fill the interior.

School veggie garden teepee close up

Nearby, another bamboo structure, this time an A-frame trellis for tomatoes. I’m more used to seeing tomatoes in cages or trained against fences, so this open structure is a little different. I wonder if it will do the trick of keeping them from falling over? I guess it depends on how tall the tomato varieties are.

School garden tomato trellis

A few little hills of squash (or are they cukes) amidst the only weedy patch, with calendulas (edible flowers) in the background:

School garden squash patch

I’ve shown this concrete-block raised bed before, since it seems pretty easy to build and has the nice touch of a mosaic top. This summer, it contains many varieties of lettuce, so lovely in their contrasting colors, a pot of mint, and many many daisies. Those last may have crept in there as self-seeders, they do that in my garden at least. The big white barrel looks to be a rain collector – so they are teaching conservation and sustainability too, nice to see.

School garden raised bed

I’m kind of curious to see what happens at harvest time – do the kids at the summer programs eat salads and broccoli, or is it all just educational/ornamental?

I dream of having the time/energy/wherewithal to write a successful grant for our own school to become an Edible Schoolyard. We have the space, but I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in it since the district wants to shift things around in our part of Seattle – it’s hard to think of starting something like that and then having to leave it behind. Alice Waters started this program in 1995 at a public school in Berkeley, CA. The kids help plant, grow, and learn about where their food comes from. And then they get to eat it! Sounds pretty wonderful to me.


No Bee Shortage Here July 5, 2009

Filed under: my garden,perennials,Uncategorized — greenwalks @ 9:46 pm
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Does anyone know the latest on the dire predictions about honeybee colony collapse? I have not noticed any decrease in the number of bees this year, and in fact I almost feel like there are more. Are they rebounding, or am I just lucky to be near some healthy hives? My daughter counted 13 at a time on just one side of our lavender alley today. This is a honeybee, right??

Bee on lavender

I hope she’s not allergic to bee stings. We tend to put out the sidewalk chalk right next to where everyone is buzzing around. So far, no run-ins! I hope it continues. I figure they are much more interested in the lavender than they are in us.

Lavender and chalk

See some bees, then it’s time to draw some bees.

Chalk bees

Lavender has many uses and delights, but right now I love it most for how it’s nourishing our vital and threatened friends. Buzz on, little bees, buzz on!


My Garden is Smarter Than Me July 2, 2009

I lack the design sense to think up successful plant pairings, but sometimes a combination of self-sowers will show up that I find delightful.

Coreopsis and Mexican Feather Grass (both self-seeded)

I didn’t even know what Mexican Feather Grass was until you guys told me, but now I love it. I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m letting (some of) it stay in my parking strip. Ditto this coreopsis (of course I just bought one to replace one that died last winter, before noticing this one), which I can see has migrated from up the street in a neighbor’s street garden. The only drawback is that both of these are growing at the edge of the sidewalk, when they’d probably look better inset a bit. If I find a spare un-lazy moment, I might try to move them. Then again, if we never have any rain in Seattle anymore (there’s been nothing to speak of since early May), then transplanting should probably wait indefinitely.

Do you have any self-sown plant combos that you are enjoying this summer?