Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Pink pieris April 7, 2010

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,shrubs — greenwalks @ 2:50 pm
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I saw this Pieris japonica cascading over a retaining wall behind a public park on a sunny early-spring day. Pieris is ubiquitous in Seattle gardens and as such is sometimes considered rather dull and uninspiring. But all you need to do is walk by when it’s in bloom to know why it is so thoroughly planted here – the honey scent is almost overwhelming in its sweetness, and its common name, Lily-of-the-valley shrub, is well-chosen. I like these pink-blushed delicate blossoms more than the plain white ones.

Pink pieris

The shrub, a native of Asia, is hardy in zones 6-8 and is tough as nails. You can prune the heck out of it and it always springs back (I had one in a previous garden, in semi-shade). It can grow to 12 ft. tall if you don’t keep after it, unless you get a dwarf variety such as ‘Debutante’ (3 ft. high/wide) or ‘Little Heath’ (2 ft. each way). Or just pick a big open spot and let it grow freely. I think that’s the way I’m going to try to treat plants as much as possible from now on.

Plus, it’s deer-resistant, for anyone who cares about that! Plants go in and out of fashion, but the proven performers that work hard in our gardens will probably always be around.


Apartment Garden Makeover January 3, 2010

Filed under: grasses,neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 10:10 am
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This small, formerly nondescript one-story brick apartment complex underwent a totally fab makeover since the last time I happened by it, including a pretty trendy-looking landscaping overhaul. I didn’t think I had a “before” picture, but then I remembered the marvels of Google Earth.

Have you seen one of the Google Priuses cruising by your house, photographing it for posterity? I have, and it’s kind of creepy. Then again, I enjoy going for virtual “walks” and checking out street gardens via this technology, so I guess I will have to make my peace with it. Still, it’s pretty Big Brother, no?

Anyway, back to the makeover! Here is the “before”:

Apartment building/garden "before" (by GoogleEarth)

Grass, concrete, and clipped box hedges. Yawn. Then, a year later, this!

Apartment garden makeover I

I imagine these look a little better in a month other than January, but you get the minimalist drift:

Apartment garden makeover III

Large poured concrete pavers and shiny black rock mulch, kind of a zen garden look:

Apartment garden makeover II

Love these green tufts but can’t recall their name:

Apartment garden makeover IV

Trust me, this look is completely novel for my rather traditional, Craftsman-home-favoring neighborhood. It’s not my style but I love it when people break the mold. I’ll be curious to see how it holds up. One question – how do they keep the “negative spaces” weed-free? Hope it’s not with Round-up!


Festive Trellis for New Year’s January 1, 2010

Some people really know how to jazz up their streetside garden. This wisteria in the neighborhood was already an eye-catcher with all the huge, fuzzy pods dangling like ornaments from the trellised vine. But add a string of colored round lights – magic!

Festive wisteria trellis

Holiday wisteria pods

Notice a blurry/flare thing going on in these photos? I did too. A peek at my camera showed my most ridiculous machine mishap yet – pine sap from a cone gathered in the park last week had been smeared on the lens. Any ideas for how to remove it without ruining the lens? Maybe it’s finally time to go camera-shopping!

Happy New Year to everyone, near and far. Wishing you all the best in 2010!


There’s Something About Street Trees December 6, 2009

I seem to be on a tree kick here so maybe I will just keep it going…

Garden Rant had an invitation to discuss thoughts on street tree policy here. Lots of comments! People feel strongly about their streets and trees, go figure.

Local Ecologist blogger Georgia writes from NYC now, she always has great insights about public policy and plants.

A monthly Festival of the Trees rotates among a variety of blogs, including co-founder Dave’s at Via Negativa this month. Always good arboreal stuff in this round-up, from photos to poetry to links that will lead you to look at our leafy friends in new ways.

Now, back to photos. Some of my favorite street trees in the neighborhood, all taken a few weeks ago when more leaves were up than down.

Japanese maple, unknown variety (it would be on my short-list for the back garden, if only I knew what it was!):

Unknown Japanese maple variety in fall - lovely

A pretty dogwood (I would say maybe Cornus kousa except that I have one and it lost its leaves much earlier, so I’m not sure):

Dogwood in fall

Close up of dogwood fruit – do they remind anyone else of Crunchberries?

Dogwood fruit in November

Another Japanese maple, I’m going to go with ‘Bloodgood’:

Bloodgood maple tree

Nothing like sunlight through those leaves, turns them from wine to scarlet:

Light through Bloodgood maple

I’ll save the neighbor’s magnificent gingkos for another time. They deserve their very own page, I think!


The Beauty of Birch November 18, 2009

We had a few white birch trees at our previous place, and I have to admit I didn’t appreciate them very much. One was poorly sited in the tiny front lawn, shading the struggling fruit trees, and the others were in the parking strip, dropping their tiny, storm-drain-clogging, hard-to-rake leaves everywhere in the fall. Their branches tended to hang low and get brutally thwacked every time the UPS truck barrelled down our hill, and when we tried to prune them, they bled fountains of weeping sap.

But now that I can admire them from afar, I have fallen in love with these trees. I think ours were Betula pendula (European white birch), which form huge jagged dark cracks in their white bark, but the ones I’m enjoying in the neighborhood are more likely B. papyrifera (Paper birch), at least I think so – please correct me if you think otherwise.

A white tree looks so very mod and chic in the fall landscape.

Birch alley

Looks like the children (or rodents?) of the neighborhood have not been able to resist a little peeling. Not good for the tree, I would imagine.

Paper-bark birch

This one might be my old nemesis, it seem to have more of a weeping shape.

Last birch leaves a-clinging

I had to really admire this trunk base for a while. It was hard not to peel just a little tiny strip – so tempting! But I managed to contain myself.

Frilly birch

Has a tree (or plant) ever lost your heart but then won it back again?

PS Acer negundo (aka Box elder), I am so over you. A decidious tree that is this blah in fall is just off my list. Thanks to everyone who warned me away from getting one!

Acer negundo (Box elder) in fall - blah!


Still Shining November 10, 2009

This is one for the flower-lovers (you know who you are, and aren’t).

A year or so ago, a simple raised bed appeared in the parking strip a few blocks from my house. Good soil went in, things were planted, I didn’t go past for a while, but when I was out for a walk the other day, we’re talking almost-mid-November here, I almost fell over when I saw this.

Parking Strip Flower Explosion

What are they feeding those things? The good stuff, obviously.

My cosmos are long gone, at least I think they are – maybe I should look again! These ones are not only still blooming, they are forming new buds even as the evening temps dip toward freezing.

Cosmos and Zinnias

Massive orange dahlias abound:

Lion-ish Orange Dahlia

Guess I’m not the only one who plants stuff and forgets what it’s called (this was attached to one of the massive dahlia stalks):

Dahlia Tag

I loved this tattered but still-glowing zinnia, its charms a bit faded but still cheerful on a cold fall day:

Aging Zinnia

My sunflowers are long gone too, and yet here are these, still standing proud and topping out at probably 11 ft. How they survived the previous night’s wind storm, I have no idea.

Towering Sunflowers in Mid-November

Well, mostly survived:

Broken-necked Sunflower

This gardener chose not to rip up the entire parking strip, just a small patch of sod for the raised bed. But man, you can fit a lot of loveliness in a small space if you get it right. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next year!

Just one house over, strange things are growing in the lawn…

Skeleton in the grass


Windflower Farm October 12, 2009

The Green Lake area of Seattle is swamped on sunny days by folks from all over the city, who come to walk, jog, bike or skate the lake’s 3+ mi. loop, enjoy its ample playground, or go for the goals on its many soccer fields. Houses are spiffy but street gardens are fairly scarce, probably since there is so much foot traffic and car inflow from outside the neighborhood.

So it was with great surprise and delight that I turned a corner there yesterday and found this view:

Unusual street garden with windflowers

Varying fall tree foliage colors – check. Huge raised bed in the parking strip – yup. Massive pottery urns trusted to the elements and passers-by/would-be thieves – yes indeedy. But what really got me was that mass of Japanese anemones.

Winflower abundance on the street

I have had limited success with windflowers in a couple of gardens, maybe I don’t water them enough or they don’t get the right amount of filtered sunlight. All I can say is, these people figured out how to grow them and then really went for it!

We were rushing past, late for lunch, needing burritos, but I wanted to stay in this unexpected approximation of a Japanese woodland for a while longer. I wonder what it looks like when the anemones go underground for the winter?

Fall foliage, windflowers and giant urn


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!


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.


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.