Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Foggy Garden February 9, 2010

Filed under: my garden,spring,weather — greenwalks @ 9:02 pm
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On first look today, our world was enrobed in a down-to-the-ground cloud. It was the thickest fog I can remember in ages. School looked super spooky:

Spooky schoolyard

Back at home, I thought how blah and sad the street garden looked, as it has since the deep December freeze killed off so many things that often overwinter and I didn’t plant enough winter interest to keep it looking good all year.

Haunted hell strip

Then I decided to take a closer look to see if I could see something beautiful, something interesting, something worth noticing, signs of spring to come or summer past. In just a few minutes of slowing down and looking closely, here is some of what I found in my seemingly nondescript landscape.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ seedheads

Sedum seedheads in winter

Purple sprouting broccoli sticking out its wet “tongue”

Purple sprouting broccoli

Lemon balm seeds (need to get rid of those pronto!) against Mexican feather grass tendrils

Lemon balm seedheads against Mexican feather grass

Crocus awaiting the sun’s kiss to open up shop for the day

Closed-up crocus

One giant dewdrop and a million little ones on a lupine leaf

Dewdrops on lupine

Gossamer strands, evidence of a spider’s presence on iris seedpods

Iris seedpods and dewy spider strand

and coneflower too

Coneflower seedhead covered in dewy spiderweb

Then this, which would have been enough on its own to banish the gloom of the day

The first tulip! Don’t scream, yours aren’t behind. This tulipa greigii came up first here last year, before the snowdrops and crocus had stopped blooming, so it must be in its nature to be the earliest bird.

Even in the less spectacular garden seasons, there’s probably always something to notice – even if it’s “just” spiderwebs on a dead flower or, in another climate, bird tracks in the snow. We just have to slow down enough to find it.


Raised Bed Cover and a Couple of Crows January 11, 2010

The uncharacteristically deep and long freeze Seattle endured in December subjected winter veggie gardens to a real beating. Many unprotected plants, including some that were hurriedly swaddled in floating row cover, did not survive. Even some carefully shielded by a pro gardener under the warming embrace of a hoop house just couldn’t hack it after days in the 20sF or lower. This was one mean frost!

That’s why, when I saw this plastic tent-like structure in a parking strip recently, I wondered if its contents had made it through okay.

Hoop house for winter greens

Looks like it might be a pretty easy DIY project, just a few lengths of PVC and some heavy-duty plastic. I wonder if the low and compact shape, as compared with a hoop house, trapped warm air inside more effectively and helped to keep things alive? The lettuce seems to have survived:

Lettuce through hoop house cover

Are the crows just decorative or do they deter potential pilferers? I took them as a warning and didn’t poke my camera inside for a closer look.

Crow guards for raised bed

Later, some real corvids were spotted on a house’s rooftop. They like to look in rain gutters for tasty tidbits.

Crows on roof


Winter’s Late Arrival December 10, 2009

Filed under: my garden,Seattle,winter — greenwalks @ 12:52 pm
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Seattle’s fall was warm and wet, with way more rain in the month of November than is normal. I am trying to wrap my head around winter now that it is here for real, and although I should have known it was coming, I didn’t really get the garden ready.

So, new phormium and fig, rosemary and raspberries, welcome to the place where you are probably going to have to learn to live with your own resources and no more, or you will not be survivors. I will be sorry to see any of you go, but I’m just not together enough to get little houses and wraps and other coddlings ready for you at the exact right time. I will have to rely a bit on hope that you are going to be okay with some dips into the 20s and go with that. Well, okay, the teens. It was 14 on our side porch this morning!?! We don’t get that a lot, or at least we didn’t used to. Now maybe it’s the new norm.

Before the really bad cold set in (you know it’s cold when your relatives in Massachusetts are cracking up that it’s warmer there than here!), we had one really great foggy morning. It was so thick, we could barely see across the back garden or across the street. I didn’t think to try a photo until it was partly burned off, but still enjoyed the view of the neighbor’s plum tree hovering in the mist.

Plum tree in winter fog

After that, the mercury plunged and hasn’t really been up much above freezing for almost a week, at least at our place. We are on a little hill and it seems to bring the temp down a few notches vs. what the forecast says. The birdbath froze and has yet to thaw out:

Frozen birdbath in half light

I guess candied sage is probably not something I’d eat, but frosted with ice, it did remind me of something sugar-encrusted:

Frosted sage

There are plenty of plants I don’t have to worry about at all, who in fact seem to be happier the colder it gets!

The first blossom appeared on my Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ last week. The flowers do tend to get frost burn sometimes so I hope it waits to put out more blooms until a little later.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' - first blossom

I dug up a huge, mature Sarcococca confusa in the summer, it was turning yellow from too much sunlight. I put it in a big empty mulch bag and dragged it over into the shade, and completely forgot about it. Now it’s putting out its shiny black (poisonous!) berries and soon will do the super-scented flower thing. Anyone in/near Seattle want to take this one home for some TLC in a shady spot? Please leave me a comment or email me at It’s a great plant, but I just don’t have the right place for it (a garden with no shade – you’d think I wouldn’t complain but there are definitely some plants that I’d like but are off the list because they’d get burned to a crisp!)

Sarcococca berries in late November

The red-twig dogwood dropped a lot of leaves this summer in the super hot spell (105F, I’m still not done moaning about it yet) but seems to have survived. I am working up the nerve to pollard the heck out of it this year, on the recommendation of a few experts. Having decried similar pruning efforts I’ve seen elsewhere, I am hesitant about giving mine such a severe “haircut” but have heard it will produce more new (i.e. red) twigs and then I’ll be happy. Anyone with good/bad experiences on this score to share?

Red-twig dogwood in winter

What about you – did you get your garden all ready for winter? Or, like me, are you going to have to wait and see what managed to survive on its own?


You Know You Haven’t Gardened in a While… September 13, 2009

Filed under: bugs,flora — greenwalks @ 7:22 pm
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… when you put on your gloves for the first time in ages, feel little tickling on the back of your hand, ignore it for a bit, feel it again, peel off your glove and…


Then you attempt to contain your instinctive shrieks and curse words since you know the neighbors are out on their patio, and instead you do the most insanely uncontrollable flapping, hopping full-body shudder dance you have ever done in your life. The favorite gloves will now be consigned to occasional use, as they are now suspect and will always be The Earwig Gloves.

No, I did not take a picture, but I did find another earwig while cleaning off the porch today so I can continue my long and tedious deck-painting project. I would much rather be gardening than painting or all of the other long put-off things on the house to-do list. But first, I will need new gloves. Ew, is there anything more skin-crawling than an earwig? Wait, maybe don’t answer that, I’m sure there is. At least it didn’t pinch me!

I hope to be back to slightly more regular blogging now that summer is over and I’m no longer on all-day mom duty. We had a lot of fun and even saw a few nifty gardens during the school vacation, but the time for gardening, blogging and blog-reading (and commenting) was pretty much nil. I look forward to catching up on what you’all have been up to and seeing how your gardens grew during the season.

Much nicer than a bug photo, I hope – some cute stripy small Dahlias my mom grew this summer.

Stripy dahlia


A Furry Visitor May 26, 2009

Filed under: fauna,my garden — greenwalks @ 10:03 am
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One of the reasons I like gardening in the parking strip area is that I get to meet the friendlier of my neighbors. I live in kind of a funny neighborhood, where a lot of people will walk right past without a glace or a word, which is fine by me. But when someone stops to say hello or says something nice about the garden, it makes my day.

Sometimes, the visitors are not of the human variety. I have watched many jays, flickers, crows and hummingbirds out there, so much so that I feel like their daily dramas (must find food! must protect babies!) are a vital part of my life. Finding a ladybug on a leaf, surprising two flies in an act of, um, love as I did the other day, or observing the flight path of a lazy bumblebee can all make me feel like all the work and labor of struggling with the soil conditions, baking heat in the summer, and challenges of getting everything the water it needs worthwhile.

Here is someone who stops by now and again. He doesn’t usually come over for a chat, but he does flop down and roll around on the sidewalk and stay awhile if I leave him be.

Feline visitor to parking strip garden

Who is visiting your garden these days?


Raised Beds Sprouting in the Parking Strip May 23, 2009

I saw this while driving home from the school run last week. I had to stop and take photos, the sight warmed my heart so much.

Parking strip raised beds with fresh soil

This is a corner lot on a fairly busy thoroughfare, but the beds are located on the side street. Five of them! No idea what’s going in but I’m going to be keeping a close eye on them to see how they are planted.

Looks like the sod was maybe smothered with cardboard and then stripped and turned over in the spring.

Parking strip raised bed with busted sod

Then, in with the black gold!

Shovel in fresh soil

The guy who made them was in his garage, headphones on and table saw blazing. I didn’t have the nerve or heart to hover and stop him to ask about the raised beds, but it looks like either he or someone else there is already an avid structure-builder and gardener, judging from the house-side street garden.

Streetside trellis and Mexican feather grass

Pot of coleus, black mondo grass and ?

Spirea &  hydrangea?

Purple flowered vine

Forget-me-nots & ?

Golden perennial

A little leftover good soil, dumped into the arterial side of the parking strip. Guess maybe something’s going in there too!

Compost piles on parking strip

Extra wood, board ends or fodder for the next garden building project?

Extra wood

I know, I’m a freak, but stuff like this just sends me over the moon. There are so many folks in my neighborhood adding raised beds, ripping up sod, and otherwise making more space for gardens right now. It’s a revolution!


New Friends April 11, 2009

I’ve been slowly adding some new plants to the garden in the past week or so. Many still to go, from my spring plant¬† hauls at various garden centers. I am always slow to get stuff into the ground but this year has been particularly bad for some reason. No weather excuses, it’s been nice lately!

Molly at Life on Tiger Mountain dug out a clump of softneck garlic to share with attendees at the last SAGBUTT meeting. Fall is the usual time for planting garlic from cloves, but she said to just toss these in and it will probably be fine. I have never devoted a garden spot to garlic before, since I have such limited space, but figured it would be fun to try and we’ll see what happens!

Molly's garlic - finally planted

I got this small deer fern (Blechnum spicant) at a plant sale recently. I had one in my previous garden along with a lot of other ferns – it was a shady space, unlike most of the current garden. There is a small strip of mostly-bare earth on the north side of our house that doesn’t get a lot of sun. I’ve been putting mom-donated impatiens and begonias there in the summer but decided to start filling it up with shade-loving perennials, at least in part.

Deer fern

The same spot also received two wintergreen plants (Gaultheria procumbens). As one of the few berries that grows in deep shade (another is evergreen huckleberry, of which I planted two in another spot last fall), I wanted to try this one again, after killing a few in my old garden. I used to be put off by plants I had failed with in the past, but I’m trying to get over that and just try, try again.

Newly planted wintergreen

Never tried sedums before, except for one very poorly sited one that I think finally gave up the ghost this winter. I picked up a few and planted them in their own little area of the parking strip, where I hope they will enjoy the blasting sun and lack of regular water.

Sedum ‘Angelina’ – I hope it keeps its gold color year-round.

Sedum 'Angelina'

Sedum ‘Blaze of Fulda’
Sedum 'Blaze of Fulda'

This one came from the Arboretum sale, tag is long gone.

Unknown sedum

Good old standby, ‘Autumn Joy’ – it’s the variety I killed in the bad site, so I’m doing another try-again.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

I also planted Sedum oreganum, a tiny round-leaved green variety that looks like a miniature jade plant. (My photo was too atrocious to post, even compared to these other bad ones I’ve put up here. Apologies! Still sorting out my need-a-new-camera issues, no progress yet but thanks for all the comments and recommendations from previous commenters!)

All of the spring posts about people’s hellebores coming up and flowering so beautifully must have gotten to me – I succumbed at the nursery and bought two of this one, Helleborus ‘WalHelIvory’ Ivory Prince. Not quite as dramatic as some of the Corsican hellebores or the purple beauties, but I liked its subtle coloration.

Helleborus "WalHelIvory' Ivory Prince

Spontaneous purchase, after having seen these in others’ garden shots – Cyclamen hederifolium, at the bottom of this next photo. Yes, that’s Gnomus gnomus in the background, I’ve already copped to having him so don’t give me grief.

Cyclamen hederifolium and hellebore

I also planted a longleaf lungwort, Pulmonaria ‘Roy Davidson,’ in the vicinity, so I guess this is becoming my little woodland garden. Then tossed in an Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) for native interest and wildlife support, despite grave warnings from my mom that the roots will go everywhere and I’ll never get rid of it. Photos are again too awful to include. I need to add more groundcover that can take the shallow cedar roots in that area. I could do salal but don’t want it to take over. Any suggestions?


Greening Up a School With Bamboo March 28, 2009

Filed under: grasses,raised beds — greenwalks @ 2:01 pm
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Nobody likes a “portable” classroom, basically a stopgap measure for school over-crowding that amputates the kids and their teachers from the body of the school as a whole. It can be an isolating and disconnecting experience foisted upon a school by a cash-strapped district such as Seattle’s, which can’t find enough money to balance the budget this year without closing schools and cutting staff.

At my daughter’s school, an extra class “bubble” got added last year and there simply weren’t enough rooms left in the school to house them. So, the portable which had housed the music program was re-purposed as a 4th grade classroom and the school had to decide how to help the students there feel really a part of the whole.

Happily, parents and staff worked hard to secure grant money and donations to transform this space into a “green” classroom, and the kids and their families are putting in a lot of sweat equity to make it happen. One major project has been the addition of a bamboo garden to screen the exposed outbuilding, provide shade and help mitigate pollution caused by fume-belching school buses and other vehicles. This ties in directly with the class’s overall theme of study this year, Bamboo and Sustainable Resources.

Back in the fall, the kids visited Boo-Shoot Gardens bamboo nursery in Mt. Vernon, WA, to learn about bamboo, perform tissue cultures, and come home with their very own bamboo plants. Boo-Shoot generously donated further plants for the school garden.

For weeks, the bamboo garden (which had to be made on top of existing playground blacktop) has been taking shape. First, the galvanized stock tanks were delivered.

Behlen Country stock tank

Then, a giant pile of manure-rich soil/compost was delivered (and classroom ambassadors visited the younger grades to respectfully request they not play in it, for obvious reasons). Finally, the tanks were laid out and plastic wood benches (with bases that raise the tanks up off the ground to allow drainage) were attached.

Row of bamboo bench planters

Finally, soil added, the bamboo arrived and students and volunteers planted several varieties this past week. I was there just as they were finishing up (sans camera, alas) – the look of pride on their faces was priceless. Their singing teacher came out with her guitar and they consecrated the garden with a few songs. It was truly inspiring.

When you sit on the bench and breeze comes along, you can close your eyes and feel that you are in the high mountains of China, watching for a panda to come along.

Bamboo and brick

Yellowish culms of Bissets bamboo (Phyllostachys bissetii), a running type so good thing it’s in a container, will eventually turn greener as they mature.

Recently planted bamboo

Another variety with very skinny culms, for now at least. The plant tags had been removed, so I’m sorry that I don’t know what this one is.

Dwarf bamboo

I am so happy that our school places such a high value on community and earth stewardship in addition to the three R’s. I hope other schools will encourage their kids to take up shovels and dig in the dirt a little bit. Maybe the class that is helping out in the White House garden will help to inspire more school gardening projects around the nation and the world!


Looking Forward to Saturday February 4, 2009

Filed under: bloggers' gathering — greenwalks @ 6:53 pm
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It seems like eons ago, rather than just a few weeks, that I put out the call to local garden bloggers asking if anyone would be up for a face-to-face meet-up. I figured maybe one or two would say yes and if anyone else was even a maybe, it would be a miracle.

The response, both from local invitees and folks further afield who wished they could be here, has been thrilling. I am so excited to meet these people as humans, not just avatars, and hope it’s fun enough that we decide to do it again so that those who can’t make it this time can be included in the future.

The Gardeness over at Garden Muse was kind enough to help me brainstorm some topics for the gathering. I would also welcome any further input by Friday afternoon so that I can try to put together at least a rough agenda. So far, we have these proposed topics (including some that came in via comments, thanks!):

Introductions Does anyone have spare sticky nametags? If not, I will try to go and buy some.

Organization name Oh please, not SAGBUTT!!??!! I’m sure someone can come up with something better, and less embarassing, than my initial in-jest suggestion!

Listserv for those who are interested

Facebook page for those like me who are also wasting time on FB

Garden hopes/plans for the next growing season – maybe a specific focus, like what are you planting for spring/summer and what are your biggest challenges in the garden?

Ideas for future meet-ups Botanical garden tours, seed/plant swaps, relevant volunteering/community service, checking each others’ gardens out, etc

Garden Show What days are people going? Do they want to meet up there?

Blogging technicality questions Platforms, functions, bugs, etc.  Maybe we could keep this one fairly brief and leave most of the details for the listserv, if that idea is a go?

Parking lot swap Jute bags for weed barrier use have been kindly offered by Paula of Petunia’s Garden. Anything else garden-related you have excess of and would like to share?

Next meeting Should it be on a Sunday so people who work on Saturdays can come? Could we make it work as a regular thing, like the third Sunday of the month or ??

Please add to this as you wish but also consider that two hours is probably going to fly by and there’s a chance we won’t get to everything the first go-round. Also want to say that I am definitely not “in charge” of this group by any means and am not a natural meeting leader to boot, so I hope it will just shake out as a fun, cooperative gathering and a chance to share our common interests. Then anyone who has time to stick around afterward can visit the surrounding gardens. Maybe we’ll even get some ideas for our own plots!

Look forward to meeting all who can come. Full details here, recap below.

Woo hoo!

Seattle Area Garden Bloggers’ Meet-up

Saturday, February 7, 12:30-2:30pm

Conference Room, Elisabeth C. Miller Library

UW Center for Urban Horticulture, Merrill Hall, Room 102

3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle


(Image courtesy of katiescrapbooklady via Flickr Creative Commons. To see more by this photographer, click here.)


Streetberries, Winter Edition January 27, 2009

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,winter — greenwalks @ 9:41 am
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These bright red berries, still clinging to their vine in mid-winter, were hanging over a retaining wall near my house when I walked by the other day. Does anyone know what they are?


It seems odd that they would have been left by hungry birds and animals – maybe they can’t reach them (they’re halfway down a very high and otherwise bare cement wall). Or are they poisonous? I hope they’re not Deadly Nightshade berries – this garden is quite close to both a preschool and an elementary school which many kids walk to and from every day. Eek.

In any case, I did enjoy seeing a bit of color on an otherwise gray and frigid morning. It’s snowing here again today for the umpteenth time this winter – I guess we’re just going to have to get used to it (or move back to California!)