Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Pink Petals in Parking Strips March 4, 2010

Filed under: flora,trees — greenwalks @ 9:03 pm
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Does such a profusion of plums become prosaic? Or does it produce perfection? Peruse at your pleasure!

(This post is dedicated to Grace, who perennially pines for pink.)

Okay, enough with the alliteration. Seattle in early spring (yeah, I know it’s technically winter still, but it hasn’t felt like it in a long time so I’m going to go ahead and just call it spring. The plants and animals sure think it is!) offers an almost overwhelming spectacle – entire streets lined with wildly blooming ornamental plum trees. Apricots, cherries, magnolias, cornelian cherries, and many others abound as well, but the plums are ubiquitous and seemingly the earliest, so when they arrive it feels like spring is really here. The pinkness is impossible to ignore and hard not to be cheered by.

My neighborhood has gone nuts for these trees. Many have deep purple leaves so a long line of them can be a little blah in the summer. But oh, for these few weeks, they shine. I have been crossing my fingers for no lashing storms to hasten the petals to an early demise, and so far we’ve been lucky. Standing under some of these, neighbors have stopped to comment and enjoy the spectacle together.

So, without further ado, the reigning queens of the blossom ball, all from parking strips!

Plum trees abloom

Ephermeral plum blossoms

Venerable plum tree

Pink plum blossoms on pavers

Plum tree bloom explosion

Parking strip pinkness

Mini plum branch

Blue skies and pink plum flowers

Pink confetti in the grass

Pale pink plum blossoms with purple leaves beginning to emerge


GBBD January 15, 2010 January 14, 2010

Filed under: flora,Garden Bloggers Bloom Day — greenwalks @ 10:55 pm
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Twenty-ten? Two thousand ten? How are you getting your head around this year so far? I can’t even decide how to pronounce it. So much for starting the year with the courage of my convictions!

In the garden at this time of year in Seattle, there is a lot that could be blooming. We are pretty fortunate in our weather, even if it comes with a lot of gray skies and precipitation, since it keeps things looking fairly green and fresh all winter if we have been smart or lucky enough to have put in the right plants for interest during this season.

Despite vague thoughts about adding plants that would look good at this time of year, it’s just the same old standbys here, most of which were here when we arrived. Whoever designed this landscape definitely had this time of year in mind, since there’s much more going on now than I would have thought to include.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’). I will never get tired of this tree. Or is it a shrub? I take millions of pictures of it, in nearly every season, and look at it from my seat at the family table every day of the year. I even like it when its branches are bare and providing snacks for squirrels. It’s a great tree for the small garden and provides many seasons of spectacular interest.

Witch hazel 'Jelena' flowers

Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) – smells so heavenly, I wish I could put a scent in a blog post! Glossy green leaves year-round, cute black berries in winter, happy in poor soil and part to full shade. Used to take this one for granted but now I couldn’t do without it. (Tangled mess in the background is one of the two red-twig dogwoods that desperately need some decisive and drastic pruning, soon!)

Sarcococca ruscifolia blooms on January 14

Rosemary – Despite suffering two back-to-back winters with brutal freezes, and looking pretty sad all summer, this very mature and large upright rosemary (maybe ‘Tuscan Blue’?) seems to be okay now (although you can see some ‘frostbite’ on the needle tips). Wish I could say the same for my giant hedge of prostrate rosemary, now mostly dead and gone. The Anna’s Hummingbirds that overwinter here often stop by for a sip, so I hope to keep this big plant going a while longer. Plus, fresh rosemary is about my favorite smell in the world.

Rosemary flowers in January

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)?? Not sure of my ID on this one, but as you can see the aphids love it. It has a fairly scraggly habit but screens our bedroom window from the neighbors while letting light in so I have let it stay. Might need to figure out what to do about the critters, since this seems pretty early for them to be at work. Flowers are small but fragrant. Yes, there was just the one when I looked, but I hope more will be along soon!

Winter honeysuckle flower and aphid damage

Indoors, a vase of small white Jewel orchid blossoms my mom gave me, from a plant that has been in my childhood bedroom for at least two decades, maybe more. An impressively long-lived specimen and most un-fussy for an orchid, I believe!

Little white orchid flowers in clear vase

And now, on to things that are not technically blooms but still provide interest and excitement for my eye at this time of year.

Heather (the blooms are really dead flowers from last summer, I just realized, but they look like flowers!) How does that rhyme go? Heath like leaf and heather like a feather? I can never keep these two straight, and not all of the ones I inherited here have survived poor conditions but I am coming to appreciate the ones that have as pretty, hardy evergreens.

Spent heather blooms in winter

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) These red berries persist for months on end and the new foliage comes in with a reddish purple tinge that is just so lovely. Another plant I used to consider humdrum but now truly enjoy.

Nandina domestica berries in January

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) – The contorted filbert’s catkins are in full view at the moment, which does make the tree look a little busy with all the curly branches as well.

Contorted filbert (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) catkins

Yellow twig dogwood, almost-blooming viburnum and more Sarcococca – I cut a few twigs of this dogwood for a friend today, and only then noticed that some of the yellow twigs not at eye level have red tinges. So, I am wondering if this could be a very out-of-control Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, which has both yellow and red coloring in winter. Hm, must investigate what that one’s leaves look like in summer, since most searches just turn up the striking but bare winter branches. Another candidate for a drastic pruning job, since the twig color is reportedly most intense in new growth.

Viburnum, sarcococca and yellow-twig dogwood

I’ve let too much time pass without participating in the monthly festival of flowering fun that is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, hosted as always by the lovely and talented Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Picking January to jump back in seems a little absurd, but so be it. I’m grateful for these spots of brightness that will carry the garden forward until spring has sprung!


The Curtain’s Going Up December 28, 2009

Filed under: flora,trees — greenwalks @ 9:24 am
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… on the annual Witch hazel show! Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’, with its unusual orange flowers, takes pride of place in my garden every January and I noticed while passing by it yesterday that the very first blossoms have begun to unfurl. They will slowly cover the tree and if all goes well, should be in full flower by mid-January. I didn’t plant this tree, but am grateful to the previous gardener here who did.

Dec 27 09 1st Witch Hazel 'Jelena' Flower

Is it showtime, or almost, for any of your favorites yet this winter?


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?


On the Ephemeral Nature of Poppies May 21, 2009

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.)


GBBD – May 15, 2009 May 14, 2009

Filed under: flora — greenwalks @ 8:06 pm
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I confess, I took these on May 13-14, since I knew I wouldn’t have time on the 15th (preparing to have a bunch of Kindergartners over for my daughter’s birthday party on Saturday, shouldn’t even be doing this right now, should be frosting cupcakes and picking up piles of toys and other messes, bad bad mommy etc etc). But I swear, all are still flowering today!

So, here’s a pictorial tour of what’s out there at the moment. As I looked around, I realized that most of what’s blooming right now is very small in terms of actual flower size, and I was glad to have the excuse to stop and look a little more closely at them all. This is not by design, just haphazard planting, my usual style.

Beginning in the parking strip garden, I have held off ripping out bolting veggies and salad greens, instead just enjoying their flowers and letting the bees have a little something to snack on. This weekend, it will all go in the worm bin and I’ll plant (belatedly) the rest of my small veggie patch there.

Bolting arugula (flowers are edible, a little peppery and a nice addition to salads):

Arugula blossoms

Spanish lavender, the first variety to bloom here, a volunteer that wandered across the sidewalk from the neighbor’s clump:

Spanish lavender

I thought this was Salad Burnet until Molly at Life on Tiger Mountain steered me in the right direction – its anise-y taste should have clued me in that it’s actually chervil. I’m letting it go to seed and hoping to see it return, as the taste is heavenly.

Bolted chervil flowering

I waited too long to harvest the Russian kale I planted last fall, and it went from baby leaves to huge tough inedible ones in a heartbeat. Oh well, I love the tall spikes of lemon-yellow flowers.

Kale flowers

My camera couldn’t quite capture the color of this English thyme, the first one to bloom and covered in a profusion of tiny pink blossoms.

Thyme in bloom

Culinary sage, next door to the thmye, is just about there too. I love how its closed flowers are green, then pink, then the flowers open purple:

Culinary sage about to flower

Moving away from the veggie patch to the wild rest of the strip, many of the self-sowers I rely upon to garden cheaply in this area have returned happily despite the awful winter. California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) have begun to bloom, along with Cerinthe major purpurascens (aka Honeywort or Blue Shrimp plant) and a few early calendulas.

First California poppies

Volunteer cerinthe

First calendula

Invasive weeds I mean violets are still hanging in there, a few anyway, plus my favorite friendly faces, pansy ‘Ultima Morpho.’

Violets still in bloom

Friendly faces of 'Ultima Morpho' pansies

The strawberries, including Alpine, Tri-Star everbearing and Pink Panda ornamental, all are flowering nicely at the moment, but I won’t bore you with pictures, you know what they look like.

Bulb season is pretty much over, since I don’t really have much in the way of late-spring/early-summer bulbs (c’mon allium, bloom this year, please, please??). A few stragglers in the way of tulips remain.

Fleshy pink tulips

Striped flame tulips

Moving up to house level, one last set of tulips, in various stages of decay. I think these are ‘Palestrina,’ unless they’re ‘Angelique.” Both are pale pink, and I know I’ve planted both in relatively the same area. Hm.

Palestrina tulips on the wane

I pruned the red twig dogwood back a bit this winter, and now I realize I should have pollarded it to make the twigs show up better, since only the new growth is red. Maybe next year!

Red twig dogwood in bloom

There’s a big dogwood of unknown variety behind my daughter’s room. Its bright white flowers show up later in the spring, but right now it’s getting ready. I’d never noticed its early-stage blooms before, they’re well-camoflaged in the leaves.

Dogwood fruit & flower in early stage

Plain spiky orange poppies are everywhere in this garden, I usually just leave them unless they’re not in the way. Here they are against the leafed-out dwarf Japanese maple, with some scilla in there too (also everywhere but easy enough to pull out where it’s not wanted.)

Poppies and scilla against Japanese maple

More scilla. I always laugh when I see these for sale in nurseries! Please, come to my house and dig up some bulbs, don’t pay good money – it’s the weed of the bulb family for sure!

Scilla forest

Another blue “weed” – I keep hoping for more Forget-me-nots to stray across from the neighbor’s yard. I guess I’ll just have to plant some one of these days.


The neighbors on the other side have a purple lilac, and we have a white one. I like when they bloom together and have a conversation over the fence.

Purple & white lilacs conversing over the fence

Almost done here, thanks for reading this far if you are still with me! This iris was here when we arrived, but had never bloomed before. I hacked the butterfly bush way back this winter and maybe that gave it enough sun to finally flower. No idea what it’s called, but my great-aunts were big iris fanciers so seeing these always makes me think of those great ladies.

Yellow iris, finally blooming

This poor bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is marooned back in a hidden corner next to the compost bins. I need to move it. Any idea when is the best time?

Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart)

OK, last one! The blueberries I ordered and planted this winter are still blooming, but when I looked yesterday, the blossoms are starting to fall off and the little fruits are beginning to form. I don’t even really like blueberries all that much but this was probably the most exciting thing I found in the garden this week. I need to figure out how to protect them from the hungry birds and other critters.

Blueberry blossoms becoming blueberries!

To see what else is flowering madly during these heady days of mid-May, visit Carol of May Dreams Gardens, monthly host of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. This is, after all, her favorite month!


The Power of Pink April 28, 2009

One benefit of blogging about public spaces is that it’s making me look around a lot more this year and enjoy what’s going on in gardens other than my own. I don’t think I recall having noticed these trees in bloom before, even though they are right around the corner from my house.

Powerful pink flowering crabapple trees

My borrowed camera does not do justice to the intense purply-pink of the flowers. They are stop-in-your-tracks gorgeous.

The petals are thick and fleshy, and looking up into them they almost completely blot out the sky.

Zowie pink crabapple flowers

A few days after I took these pictures, I saw the owner coming out of his house and asked if he knew anything about the trees. He said he thinks they are crabapples, and that they do require a couple of rounds of spraying per year to keep them in good health and blooming so splendidly. My plant bible says that purple-flowering (and -leaved) crabapple, Malus x purpurea, is highly prone to both fireblight and apple scab. If that’s what they indeed are, then the sprays are probably for those reasons. I wonder if they’re using organic/non-harmful controls? I didn’t feel like I could ask that, already having been kind of nosy.

The petals are still hanging in there this week, although they will probably start to come down as the rains return today after a long departure. I’m going to make sure to walk underneath at least once more before their ephemeral beauty departs until next April.

Pink crabapple blossoms