Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Pink in the Parking Strip August 28, 2009

Pink has never been my favorite color, in fact it is pretty much at the bottom of my list, but somehow it seems to have worked its way into my life despite my protestations. My daughter discovered it in preschool, it was like a social virus running from one girl to the next. Now, thankfully, she seems to be moving on to other colors, but in the meantime she still has pink clothes that fit and I’m not going to just toss them out because purple is the new pink.

In the garden, I love the soft whitish-pink of cherry blossoms, although my current garden does not have any. My mom gave me a ton of echinacea, which goes by Purple Coneflower but the purple has always looked more pink to me. Or maybe you could use the term “pinky-purple,” which my 2 yr. old niece taught me recently when she was visiting.

Purple (pink) coneflowers

Although the pink of this Gaura is a little on the Pepto-Bismol side for my taste, it has bloomed its head off for months with almost no supplemental water and zero fertilizer in crummy parking strip soil, despite being a new addition in the spring. Its full name is Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Rainbow’ and the purple leaves that it started out with have not been quite as apparent as I had hoped.

Pink gaura

Every year, I say I will be more ruthless about ripping out the tall aster seedlings that reseed with wild abandon, but then I’m glad of them when summer begins its freefall into September and many of the other blooming plants start to give up. This is another pinky-purple one, and this blossom was the first to open of the many that will linger well into the fall.

First aster bloom

Are there any colors that have crept into your garden (and your heart) despite initial resistance?


The Creativity of Urban Gardeners August 24, 2009

Filed under: Seattle — greenwalks @ 3:54 pm
Tags: , ,

It never ceases to amaze me what lengths people will go to when they don’t have much space but still want to have something growing. I saw these urban plants while touring around Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood with visiting relatives this summer.

At first I thought the ones on the ends were galvanized troughs, but on closer inspection they might just be Rubbermaid tubs full of evergreens, flax, and others that were not visible from street level.

Balcony garden in alley near Pioneer Square

I know English ivy is considered an evil scourge these days, but still, seeing an entire living wall of it on brick, with a colorul flower planter to jazz it up? Had to like it.

Living wall near Pioneer Square

What if there’s no space on the ground and no balcony? Hang ’em up!

Hanging planters near Pioneer Square

These plants have to be lovlingly tended to even stand up to, much less thrive in, the urban environment in which they live. Hooray for creative gardeners and people who make something nice for us all to look at out on the street.


SAGBUTT Food PS August 21, 2009

Filed under: edibles — greenwalks @ 8:28 am
Tags: , , , ,

I had already included so many photos in this post that I had to leave a few out, but I can’t resist a small PS. Every time the garden blog crowd meets, people bring stuff to share. I only had boring old seeds (poppies and calendulae) that nobody wanted, but that didn’t stop me from snapping up some of what was on offer, which does seem a little unfair…

Lucky me, I came home with a slew of eggs from Molly’s lovely feathered ladies (my daughter reserved and ate the little greenish one), plums from Aerie-el’s Italian Prune harvest, and a head of garlic from Paula’s patch. Thanks, gals!

SAGBUTT bounty

Haven’t tried the plums or garlic yet, but do have to say that the eggs cooked up into the best scrambled eggs we’d eaten, EVER.

Best scrambled eggs ever

I’ve been kind of, well, chicken about getting a few fowl, but I might have to find space for a coop someday and just deal with the occasional unpleasantness (raccoon raid, heat-wave-related keelings-over, manure smell) just to have eggs like that every day. Mmmmmm.


Hen Party Plus One August 18, 2009

The August meeting of the Seattle garden bloggers crew was largely a female affair this time, for the first month in a long while. While we have enjoyed the presence of Daniel, Michael and David at previous get-togethers, it looked at first like it was just going to be us chickens, including a few that were new to the group.

But then one brave rooster showed up – I hope all the clucking didn’t scare him too much.

Young Araucana hens and rooster

Oh wait, those were Molly’s new Araucana hens and their boyfriend. Here’s (most of) our flock:

August SAGBUTT crew

Aaron was the new guy (at far left), he blogs at erasei and in his first year of vegetable gardening appears to be outstripping all of my many years of efforts. Way to go, Aaron! Next to him, in blue with the camera, is Melanthia of Garden Muse, coming back from some time away from the blogosphere, where she was much missed. In tie-die is Paula of Petunia’s Garden, who as always brought something to share (a basket of perfect-looking garlic). Yvonne and her friend Donna (next over, sorry that Donna is behind a tree) also came along for the first time – both are avid gardeners among many other talents. Aerie-el from Gardener’s Roost, also with a camera out and also partially obscured, has been with us via comments and our listserv but had never been able to attend a meeting – it was so great to finally meet her. Melanthia’s friend Cheryl, in the elegant ensemble complete with pink handbag, was a really good sport for a non-gardener, having really been here mostly for a board meeting of the Isis Initiative, a non-profit that supports education for women in the devolping world. Last but not least, at far right, our gracious and hilarious host, Molly, telling us more funny stories about her Life on Tiger Moutain. Also with us were Curmudgeon, Wingnut and Dakota the dog, all in fine fettle and full of stories about critter challenges in this summer’s garden – they are not in the picture, probably already working on their post about the event, which seemed to go up almost instantly.

We all got to go on the “herding cats” tour of Molly’s magnificent property, a five acre spread at the edge of wilderness of which she personally tends quite a large chunk. I admit to missing a lot of the tour’s narration, since I was once again at the back, yakking, straggling, admiring, and generally comparing my own garden most unfavorably to what I saw.

Walking towards the barn and greenhouse, the veggie patch in raised beds begs you to come closer and take a look at what’s growing and how carefully and intelligently it has been tended.

Molly's barn, veggie garden and greenhouse

Have you ever seen healthier pumpkin vines?

Pumpkin vines that ate the universe

They grew up and over a net trellis that had been put there for other purposes (Borlotti beans visible below but not nearly so visible as the pumpkins!).

Pumpkin and Borlotti bean trellis (lacrosse net?)

We talked about TP rolls (or “loo rolls,” as Matron would call them) and how some have found them to be less than wonderful for seed starting, perhaps due to chemicals or coating in or on the cardboard. Molly says they work fine for her leeks – they certainly look happy.

Leek bed with TP rolls

I could be wrong, but I think this was only one of several tomato beds. Netting is to protect from chickens when they’re out free-ranging, I believe. Chickens are good for some pest control but they also scratch sort of indiscriminately; they also don’t eat slugs, but the ducks do so they seem like a good team.

Tomato bed

I forgot to peek in the greenhouse – I bet there was some great stuff in there. Dang. On to a few highlights from the rest of the property.

Clematis seedhead:

Clematis seedhead

Peach tree:

Peach tree

Big rock and Japanese willow at the front of the house, with striking sedum at the base:

Big rock and Japanese willow

Bed by the front steps with such a great mix of leaf colors, shapes, textures, and hues:

Entry bed

When gardeners get together is good food and drink ever far away? I know Molly worked very hard to put all of this together, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it. Highlights included pizza fresh out of oven, covered with homegrown tomatoes, and blackberry clafouti, from freshly harvested berries.

The spread

Elderflower beverages were promised, elderflower beverages were delivered. How to describe the taste? Delicate, sweet, subtle, delicious! To read the story of St. Germain liquer, and how the elderflowers are gathered (it involves old Bohemians on bicycles in the French alps, hard to beat that), click here.

St. Germain elderflower cocktail fixings

Not being a tomato lover, I didn’t participate in the tasting, but there sure were a lot of juicy-looking ones.

Tasty tomatoes and zinnias

I didn’t get a good photo of Molly’s dog, about whom she has told us many stories (I liked the one about how she picked up a bucket of blackberries and dashed off with it, handle in mouth, berries flying everywhere), nor the hide-ier of her cats, whom I glimpsed once gliding by, but this one put up with us at least until a faceful of German Shepherd got a little too close for comfort (in a friendly way, but still).

Feline host

Thank you, Molly, for sharing your beautiful food, drink, garden, and self with us. Life on Tiger Mountain seems pretty sweet indeed.

Molly at home


The Street(garden)s of San Francisco – Part I of a Series August 17, 2009

Filed under: field trips — greenwalks @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , , , ,

On my trip to San Francisco in July to attend a dear friend’s wedding, I had a few time windows for just wandering around on my own. Since I lived in the city for 8 years in the 90s, there is a lot of nostalgia involved whenever I visit, but also these days an intense curiosity about what people are doing in terms of visible gardening.

Since most of the houses in the city proper are literally shoved up against each other, side gardens are practically nonexistent and back ones are invisible from the street. Parking strips generally do not exist (although you can get a permit from the city’s Department of Public Works to cut out gardening space on the street if you want to) and unless there is a small hole cut in the concrete for a tree or shrub to grow from, there is not much chance to dig in the dirt. Many residents have taken to container gardening on the street, and there was such an explosion of plantings that it literally took my breath away at times. I hope to feature a number of these in a series of posts as time allows.

One exception to the “no patch of visible dirt to garden in” rule was this corner apartment-house garden just down the street from where I was staying with a friend, on the hill between the Castro district and Noe Valley. It featured many plants which cannot grow where I live in Seattle, so please forgive the lack of botanical or even common names. If you know them, feel free to comment and help me out with IDs!

Walking down the hill from my friend’s place, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the height of these poppies. I wonder if they could be Matijila poppies? They were easily 6 ft. tall and their pure white petals contrasted so beautifully with the fried egg centers.

Tall white poppies (Matilija?)

White poppy with yellow center

This was one of the largest cactus specimens I had ever seen outdoors in the city. It looks like it had just finished flowering.

Giant cactus in SF street garden

There were a few of these spotted, spiky succulents, which I believe are aloes. I have read that they are supposed to be green but can turn purplish in poor soil or low water conditions.

Spotted aloe

One had a flower stalk covered with these coral-pink, alien-looking blooms:

Alien aloe flowers

One of you agave fanciers can probably tell what species this one is:

San Francisco street agaves

And this one… it was a regular Danger Garden!

SF street garden with agave

The shaggy silver bark of the tree which towered over the entire garden begged to be touched.

Shaggy silver bark

I wonder which came first, the apartment house or the tree?

Tree with silvery bark

I also wonder if the people who live there appreciate the garden, or do they just walk past it every day without looking? If I had a Bird of Paradise out my front door, I think I’d have to visit it at least every few hours.

Bird of Paradise

This succulent looked kind of like a jade plant but with the wrong colors. Gorgeous.

Super SF succulent

This is just the tip of the iceberg – I think I took over 600 photos in just a few days. I won’t put them all up here by any means, but hope to celebrate at least some of the great efforts people have been putting in for all to enjoy.

When you visit a town that has a lot to look at in terms of plant life, do you forgo other types of sight-seeing just so you can ogle gardens?


Tomatoes on Tiger Mountain August 12, 2009

Filed under: bloggers' gathering,edibles — greenwalks @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Molly of Life on Tiger Mountain has graciously invited the Seattle garden blogging crew out to her Issaquah-area place for snacks, elderflower beverages and a tomato tasting this Saturday, August 15. Bragging rights will be awarded in various tomato categories (see below), and this might actually be the meeting where we get around to discussing blogging. Maybe.

Here are the details, courtesy of Molly – we’d love to meet some new folks so if you haven’t joined us yet, please come on along!

Saturday, August 15, 2:00 pm – whenever

Garden tour and tomato tasting (at least 5 varieties available for tasting)

You are welcome to bring your favorite variety of tomato for tasting, whether homegrown or from the farmers’ market

Tomato tasting is subjective, so no competition here. BUT! There will be prizes for the largest tomato (homegrown), smallest ripe tomato, and most anthropomorphic tomato (resembling a face or other portion of
the human anatomy).

(For directions, email me at by Friday night, and I’ll send them along!)



(Grandmotherly tomato image courtesy of Finizo via Flickr Creative Commons. To see more images by this photographer, click here.)


One-Year Blog Scorecard August 8, 2009

Filed under: blogging — greenwalks @ 11:35 am
Tags: , , ,

Oh, the hubris of the newbie. Well, I probably still fall into that category, but on this one-year anniversary of the first post here (or anywhere, for that matter), I thought I’d look back to the beginning and see how I’ve upheld my mini-manifesto.

So, let’s take it point by point…

“Here are some things I hope this blog will be:

  • a place to look at photos of cool parking strip gardens in Seattle and wherever else I can find them
  • OK, I started out thinking this would be all I would do. Then I worried it was too boring, so I started interspersing other topics. Then I felt bad about that, so I put a few more on-topic posts back in, then I gave up on finding the perfect balance and just started writing whatever I felt like. I admire those who can stick to a single topic, I guess I’m just not one of them.

  • inspiration for folks who want to rip out their boring old matted grass or hideous groundcover on the street and plant something more interesting
  • Well, I have yet to hear from an actual convert, but if you have a story to share on that account, please do! I’m still working on my neighbors… And I do love to show what people have done with this little part of the public/private interface, so I hope that at least one person has gotten an idea they could adapt or use for their own place.

  • a forum for sharing stories and tips about tilling that narrow patch of ground between the street and the sidewalk
  • Again, not sure I have achieved this but a few of you have shared sightings or linked to posts you did about street gardens (and I know I was not the first to start noticing them, for sure!) so that has been fun. Keep ’em coming!

  • a discussion of street gardening philosophies (whom does it belong to: the city? the gardener? the neighborhood? passersby? all of the above?)                                                                                                                                         

I could do better here. Seattle recently changed its regulations about strip gardens to include more flexibility  and fewer needed permits and fees. I hope other cities will either follow suit or are already there. A project I keep meaning to get to is contacting the entities in charge for some major cities and finding out what the current scoop is, then putting the info here as a centralized resource. Maybe in the fall! I’ve heard lots more conversation about the hows and whats rather than the whys and ifs lately,  so that seems like a good trend.

“Here’s what it won’t be:

  • me bragging about my adorable garden and telling you how to make one just like it (trust me, once you see photos, you will understand)
  • Uh huh. Well, I sincerely hope there hasn’t been much bragging. Maybe a little fond admiring, or stunned surprise when something looks half-decent.  Mostly I’m just kind of embarrassed about my garden so only try to share a few close-ups or the frequent semi-tragic failures.

  • Master Gardener-level plant advice (I’m just an enthusiast, not an expert.)
  • Yes, we can all agree here, I’m no sage. However, I have met many of you here who are, and your comments and advice are always so useful and appreciated. I feel like I’ve gone back to school, only from home and for free, with much nice teachers and only self-directed homework.

  • a lot of off-topic posts about my life
  • Oh dear, failed on this one. It’s hard to resist sometimes. My kid is kind of the ultimate garden ornament, when she chooses to be still enough to capture on pixels. Plus, she is an enthusiastic, if somewhat Godzilla-like, presence in the garden. Always up for whatever I have the patience to invite her to do. I hope I haven’t gone too far overboard with the kid pics. I try not to, although I always enjoy others’ so this is not meant as any criticism!

Truly, I can’t say enough how much this goofy little endeavor has brought to my life in terms of enrichment – I have met so many cool people, either virtually or in real life, through this medium and although at times it has felt like a bit of a burden to keep up with it all, overall it’s been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. How’s that for hyperbole! But, it’s true. Plus, it’s kept my eyes open to all the possibilities that streetside gardens can hold, even when they’re not yet planted.

Thank you to everyone who’s been along for even a little bit of this ride so far. I am pretty blown away by what an awesome community the garden blogging world has turned out to be, and I look forward to the next year of shared information, opinions, joys and sorrows, and whatever any of us choose to do with our physical and virtual tilth.

My late-July street garden