Gardening where the sidewalk ends

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!


Late-Autumn Pursuits November 22, 2009

Filed under: fall — greenwalks @ 10:06 pm
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(AKA what I have been up to instead of gardening, blogging, or reading garden blogs, all three of which I wish I had more time for at the moment…)

Here in Seattle, it’s almost unrelentingly horrid out – storm system after storm system rips through, often bringing heavy rains and high winds. Flood levels are rising, the ground is ultra-saturated, and the things that need to get done outside are just not happening. Oddly, the things that need to get done inside aren’t really getting done either! ‘Tis the season to be too busy and feel like a hamster on a wheel.

I feel lucky that we haven’t had to deal with much in the way of storm-induced problems so far. Cleaning the gunk out of the rain barrel’s screen and making sure the basement stays dry has been about it. Well, we need to fix our gate – the post cracked and the strongest winds tend to carry the loose latch all the way through to the wrong side, effectively trapping us unless a screwdriver is at hand.

Windblown gate latch

Other fascinating fall activities have included watching Jack-o-Lanterns rot:

Rotten Jack-o-Lantern I

Rotten Jack-o-Lantern II

They disintegrated when I tried to put a shovel under them, but most of the bits made it to the worm bin, where I recently spotted the biggest, baddest, blackest spider I’d ever seen sitting on one fuzzy remnant. All together now – EWWWW!

This gourd, which languished on the sideboard for a bit too long, got even more Halloween-ish when it started turning black and silvery in spots:

Rotting gourd

I rush past neighbors’ gardens and only stop for a second to admire the turning leaves, as on this hedge I didn’t realize was deciduous:

Deciduous hedge in fall

We’ve been playing a lot (a lot a lot a lot) of Uno recently. If you don’t know this card game, it’s easy to learn and keeps a 5+ yr. old busy for long stretches, at least around here. We lost the rules a while back so we may have invented some, but at least they are consistent. Sometimes, when we take a break, our friendly household shark holds the cards for us until we return.

Great white shark playing Uno

What keeps you busy when the trees bend before the wind?


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!


Hunting Maple November 17, 2008

The tree that’s been on my must-have list for the longest time is a Japanese maple, or acer palmatum. I need to find the perfect home for one, or maybe a couple, and care for the tree(s) well enough so that they will survive. I have been afraid of the virus they can fall prey to (verticillium wilt), plus it’s just so hard to decide which one(s) to get. Should it be ‘Sango-kaku,’ with its brilliant yellow leaves and dramatic red bark? Or a red-purple ‘Rubrum’? Or how about ‘Linearilobum,’ with its finger-like leaves and multi-hued fall glory?

In Japanese culture, “Momiji-gari” or hunting/viewing maple trees is a tradition almost as revered as the springtime ritual of traveling to view cherry blossoms. This site, Way of Maple, promotes the aestetic prunining and enjoyment of the species, and provides a translation of one of the many Japanese poems celebrating the tree:

By the wind storm’s blast
From Mimuro’s mountain slopes
Maple’s leaves are torn,
Which turn Tatsuta River
Into a rich brocade.

-Monk Noin

Japanese maples are popular in Seattle, so I decided to go on my own little “maple hunt” one day last week and see how many I could find, especially in the parking strips of my neighborhood. Turns out there were a lot! I will share some with you below, and save a few for another time, perhaps when the leaves are all gone and we need a few bright colors to get us through the winter blahs.

Turning maple

Fiery maples

Maple sky

Tricolor maple II

Maple branches

Scarlet maple II

Maple leaf carpet


Sidewalk Scene November 15, 2008

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,trees — greenwalks @ 11:05 am
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I’ve been frantically working (like a squirrel in late autumn? Hm, maybe Dr. Destructo and I have more in common than I thought!) on a couple of bigger posts but nothing is quite ready to put up yet. Today is busy, no time to write, so all I have to offer is this photo from a recent walk.

Maple leaves on fence

I hope this weekend brings you time to commune with your garden, or at least a moment to think about it and plan for next year!


Freakishly Fabulous Fall Foliage November 10, 2008

I had been thinking the fall colors here in Seattle seemed more stunning than usual this year, and it turns out I was not wrong. Whenever there’s a noticeable change in how the plants behave, I start to worry and fret about global warming, but in this case it’s aprobably just a minor pattern shift, nothing to worry about.

Fiery fall leaves

The Seattle Weekly had a squib in their most recent issue about this local phenomenon, an unseasonably dry fall with warmer days and cooler nights than usual, plus fewer early-season windstorms to knock all that gorgeous foliage to the ground. Since there is no link to the article on the Weekly’s site, I will quote a portion of it here for those interested in the science behind fall leaf color beauty:

“The brightest foliage colors come when the nights are cool and the days are warm, explains atmospheric sciences professor Mark Stoelinga. This “diurnal effect” stimulates the chemical process that turns leaf color. Clouds, which we usually have plenty of this time of year, hamper this effect because they act like a blanket at night, stopping heat from radiating upward, and a barrier during the day, preventing the sun from permeating downward.”

Starting to turn

Of course, now that we’ve had a few of those wind storms, I’m regretting not having spent more time walking around looking at and taking pictures of all the lovely leaves. Oh well, even on the ground, they’re quite something.

Leaf carpet

Who knows when we’ll get a fall like this again, but I’m glad to have seen the beauty that it produced. Did anyone else notice any odd weather changes this autumn in your region?


P is for… November 9, 2008

parking strip gardens, the ostensible focus of this blog! The other day on a walk, it was also for

pyrecantha berries,

Pyrecantha berries

pampas grass, aka feather grass, aka Cortaderia selloana, which can be invasive in some areas,

Pampas grass


Parking strip path

palm tree,

Palm and stones

planter boxes,

Parking strip planter boxes

and pebbles, massed in a flowing “river” under a stunning Japanese maple.

Stone river and Japanese maple

Can you tell I’ve been working with my 5 year old on her letters?!


Sign(s) of the Times November 4, 2008

Walking up to the local elementary school to cast my ballot today, I decided to look for election signs in the neighborhood’s parking strips. Our blue block in a blue neighborhood in a blue city in a blue state is not big on signs, usually. I have a theory that my parents’ town, which seems to breed these signs like wildfire, has more because the parties are more evenly split there, and they feel like they have to compete for attention.

In any case, I did my best to be non-partisan in my search but completely failed. This is big Obama country, what can I say!

Election Signs

There was somewhat of a wind storm last night, knocking a few of the signs askew and downing many leaves. Nobody had time to rake them up in the rush to vote and head to work this morning, so the leaf carpets were pretty thick and many were quite beautiful. I especially liked this one, which I think might be yellow cherry and purple plum:

Leaf Carpet

We have a big Mass Transit measure on the ballot. Hard to say how it will fare – many of us would agree that we need to get out of our cars more, but some folks will probably vote their pocketbook in this trying economic climate. Fingers crossed it will pass, we really need it here in Seattle, where too many of us drive everywhere (guilty!).

Mass Transit & Fall Leaves

After I’d voted (old-fashioned in-person paper ballot), I kept walking to see what more was out there on this gloomy-weather but news-exciting day. This tree really knocked me out, not sure if it was a type of maple, but it really looked as if it was on fire!

Flaming Fall Tree

This combination cracked me up, kind of a segue between Halloween and Election Day:

Obama, Biden & Pumpkin

I know some people think that politics have no place in a gardening blog. I just couldn’t bring myself to write a totally non-related post today. I hope that whatever you believe, you cast your vote! I feel like if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain. 🙂 Happy November 4!

Oh, one last sign, the only home-made one I saw:

Grandmas for Obama Sign


Post-Halloween Exhaustion Syndrome November 1, 2008

Filed under: digressions — greenwalks @ 12:06 pm
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(Warning: this post has absolutely nothing to do with gardening!)

I don’t know when it was that Halloween began to take over my life. Last week? The week before? Trips to the fabric shop (ballerina costume makings), hardware store (lights), drugstore (candy), pumpkin patch (duh), and grandparents’ house (more pumpkins along with the cider pressings) seemed to dominate every day. Decorating the house and yard, even on our fairly modest scale, was a daily project with my daughter. She just kept wanting it to look spookier! Now it’s over but for the candy whining.

One thing that took up a lot of time yesterday was my idea to make “Scary Sushi” for the kindergarten class Halloween party. Weirdly, I couldn’t find any recipes on the Web (just lots of pictures of folks in sushi costumes, which were cute but not particularly helpful), so I just had to make it up. It was my first time making sushi, but I had bought a wooden rice bowl set a while ago at Seattle’s wonderful Asian foods store, Uwajimaya, so I finally got to use it. I didn’t notice until yesterday when I unwrapped it that it is enhanced by imitation copper (i.e. plastic) bands around the bowl. Nice. Here it is, with the sushi rice and the package of pre-toasted nori seaweed:

Sushi rice & seaweed

I used an easy recipe from the Manga Cookbook, which is a pretty hilarious way to learn about Japanese cooking, especially if you have kids or at least a cute-food fetish.

Since I didn’t have a recipe for the fillings, I just tried to think of what five-year-olds might eat (Seattle kids can be pretty sophisticated with stuff like sushi – my kid won’t eat any vegetables except broccoli but she downs seaweed-wrapped sushi rolls by the pound, go figure) and what might at least look a little Halloween-ish. Here are the fillings I came up with: “Mooshy Mushroom,” “Creepy Carrot,” “Crazy Cucumber,” “Awful Avocado,” and “Terrifying Tofu” (I ended up leaving out the cream cheese in case there were any vegans lurking about, and also snuck in some daikon radish without telling them):

Sushi fillings

Roll in progress, I think I used too much rice but it was sticky and hard to spread:

Sushi in progress

I made five big rolls and one baby one before I ran out of nori. The rest of the fillings will have to go in a salad tonight or something.

Sushi rolls ready for cutting

My knives are horribly dull and I was worried I’d end up with just a squishy mess instead of nicely shaped rolls, so I refrigerated the uncut “logs” for a while, not sure if that was kosher but it seemed to do the trick. I cut them up later, decorated them with black sesame seed “bugs” and cut radish “eyeballs” and they were ready to go.

Spooky sushi

It was a little bit time-consuming but totally fun and actually pretty easy. Next time, I’m getting more bamboo roll mats and will recruit the rest of the family to help out.

Hope you all had a safe and fun Halloween. Did you do any unusual kitchen or garden projects to celebrate?

Halloween skull and lights


The Joys of Looking Down October 29, 2008

Sometimes I get a crick in my neck from looking down all the time as I walk. I’m not going to get into some metaphor for this as my mode of living, although I do tend toward the pessimistic at times. Really, I’m just looking at the plants! Sometimes, I’m rewarded with a special little tableau put out there by Mother Nature and I wonder if anyone else saw it before it was disrupted by wind, rain, critter or rake.

This was one from a parking strip garden near my house:

Water on leaf

No, I didn’t arrange any of that. Just saw it and snapped the pic. The stones, the evergreen needles, the tiny green groundcover leaves, and the dew on the fallen tree leaves looked like a still life painting to me.

When you walk, where do you look? Up at the clouds or down at the plants?