Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Antidote April 14, 2010

Filed under: spring — greenwalks @ 6:30 pm
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I was in a venomous mood the other day, blacker than black. Mostly it was just tiredness, but the cloudy skies and life challenges were combining to send me to Grumptown. I managed to pick my kid up from school, got her to do her homework in the car, and then took her to her one and only after-school activity. Usually I hang out there, but was not in the frame of mind to tolerate cell-phone-yakking parents and screaming siblings. I noticed the sun starting to peek out and opted for a walk instead. I started out feeling like this (loon-y):


(I had neglected to bring my camera, so this is another attempt at a post with phone photos.)

The sunny, plant-filled stroll cleared my head and elevated my mood so much that it made the grouchy day seem like a remote dream. Spring, it’s better than an Rx!

Japanese maples leafing out and almost meeting over the sidewalk:

Meeting of the maples

Golden hops and grape hyacinth look great together, why didn’t I think of that?!

Hops & muscari

Incredible huge fuzzy leaves in a parking strip planting (could this be Verbascum?)

Fuzzy foliage

Easter remnant:

Tree egg

Slightly flawed dogwood blossom:

Dogwood blossoms

Didn’t the Dutch pay fortunes for “broken” tulips like this one, back in the day?

Stripy tulip

I want to go back to some of these blocks again because I missed a lot, including some super fab parking strip planter boxes filled with fresh black-gold compost and veggie seeds/starts. Thanks to all of the creative gardeners whose efforts helped to banish the blues!


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.


Field Trip to P-town February 27, 2009

My family made a whirlwind trek down to Portland, Oregon last weekend and one of the top things on my list to see if I could locate a neighborhood with a lot of parking strip gardens. I know, I’m obsessed. In a previous post, I had received a few helpful comments about this. So, with only a few minutes to spare during our brief time in town, I did my best to find a few.

On a hot tip, we headed to Northeast Portland to a neighborhood known as Irvington, home to many large and lovely Craftsman houses and fabulous gardens, plus this really spiffy looking club that I would probably be denied membership to even if I could afford it (ha). Not a lot in the way of parking strip gardens, though, that I was able to find.

Irvington Club Sign

This house had a really mind-blowing ornamental/conifer/topiary thing going on, I guess it’s kinda famous. I got a chuckle when I saw it, since I recognized it from this post of Nestmaker’s.

WackyPortland House & Garden

Irvington has lots of stately trees, though, so maybe that’s more the vibe and people don’t like to mess with the established tradition. Here were some crocuses that looked as if they’d naturalized in the understory.

Drifts of Crocus in Portland Parking Strip

This garden was a real exception to my general findings. It had obviously been planted with love and care, and although it might have been fairly new, contained some great stuff like reticulated iris and a lovely reddish witch hazel, maybe the currently hot cultivar ‘Diane’?

Nifty Portland Parking Strip Garden

Closer View of Portland Garden

Screamin' Orange Crocus

Dwarf Iris

Red Witch Hazel - 'Diane'?

What I didn’t find in the way of street gardens was more than made up for by the beauty of the houses and the amazing color palate used by their inhabitants. Here in Seattle, we seem to be afraid of color – grey, beige, white, sage green, dusty blue and mushroom brown predominate. But in Portland, I saw everything from deep forest green to crazy orange to this one, a funky and friendly combo that I’d never seen before.

Funky Portland Paint Job

Even the streetcars are more colorful in Portland. Sorry for the from-the-car pic, we were on the way out of town and I realized I hadn’t taken any of the trollies.

Portland Streetcar

We took public transit pretty much everywhere, but the reason for the trip was that we had the loan of a pretty vroomy car, a Chrysler 300C SRT8. Since I usually tool around in a 20 year old Volvo wagon, this was a comparatively cushy ride. Not great on the gas mileage, but surprisingly better than our Subaru, from our calculations. Looks pretty good with a backdrop of bamboo, I think.

Vroomy Chrysler

My other garden-related coup was to convince my family that they needed to let me go to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, also a tip from Nestmaker, who has posted often about her visits there. That’s going to have to be a whole separate post, since it was breathtakingly amazing, I took about 13 hundred pictures, and learned a lot about what I should have planted in my garden if I wanted it to look nice in winter!

I wished I’d had more time and maybe a couple of cross-streets to check out for the hell strip greats in town, though – maybe someone will comment here and suggest some for my next visit?


SF’s Mission High Garden December 2, 2008

During our visit to San Francisco, I was keeping my eye out for sidewalk gardens. On a rainy day, walking down to the packed-to-the-gills Bi-Rite Market (independent fancy food store) the day before Thanksgiving, we passed by Mission High School. Located on the beautiful palm-lined boulevard of Dolores Street, Mission High is the oldest high school in SF, dedicated as it was in 1897. In fact, it’s the oldest comprehensive high school west of the Rockies, something I didn’t know until looking at the school’s web site just now.

As we walked along, I noticed that a tiny (maybe 18 inch) width of the sidewalk adjoining the school had been planted with a somewhat sparse but tidy array of perennials, underneath the otherwise prison-esque gray wall and chainlink fence that encloses the school’s parking lot.

Mission High Gardens

Then I saw this sign:

Mission High Gardens sign

Seems like it’s a partnership between the community and the school. Nice!

There was not a single piece of trash or wad of gum to be seen, which is a real marvel outside ANY high school. Maybe signs like this help remind people to be kind to the garden (if not necessarily to the sign):

Litter me not

I’m going to have to take a complete pass on plant ID, these are not familiar to me. Anyone want to take a gander?

Mission High Gardens II

Quite a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, lots of nifty bright colors to jazz up the street.

Mission High Gardens III

All in all, a delightful find and one I hope to return and see again as the plants fill in.

Rainy day at Mission High Gardens


Spooky Plants October 30, 2008

In honor of Halloween, I offer you a few of the spookier members of the plant kingdom:

Eyeball plant (Spilanthes oleracea)

Native to Brazil, this odd-looking South American medicinal plant (also known as ‘Toothache Plant’) can be grown as an annual or tender perennial elsewhere. Its flowers look like scary bloody red and yellow eyeballs, and ingesting the leaves can cause your tongue to go numb. All in all, the perfect Halloween plant!

Eyeball Plant photo courtesy of Univ. of Wisconsin

Eyeball Plant photo courtesy of Univ. of Wisconsin

Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

I missed the stinky blooming of the University of Washington’s specimen, nicknamed “Waldo,” by about two days this year. Just the flower itself was impressive (and kinda disgusting), but people line up inside the greenhouse for a chance to inhale the distinctive stench that gives this Sumatra, Indonesia native its common name. Somehow, I’m not really that sad to have missed it.

"Waldo" photo courtesy of City of Seattle Parks Dept.

Strangler fig (Ficus aurea)

This native to the Florida Keys and the West Indies is a parasitic plant, beginning its growth when seeds lodge in the bark of its host. It then puts out air roots and lives off nutrients from the host and air. Eventually the roots reach the ground and develop there as well. Also known as the ‘Golden fig,’ if left to its own devices it will often kill off its host. What a bad guest!

Strangler Fig photo by rayb777, Flickr Creative Commons License

Strangler Fig photo by rayb777, Flickr Creative Commons License

Bloodwort (Rumex sanguineus)

Also known as ‘Bloody dock’ for its red-veined leaves, this plant is usually tap-rooted and hard to eradicate once planted. Semi-poisonous if ingested and causes skin irritation if touched. Scared yet?

Bloodwort photo courtesy of Bluestone Perennials

Bloodwort photo courtesy of Bluestone Perennials

Ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora)

Also known as ‘Indian Pipe,’ this member of the blueberry family lacks chlorophyll and therefore thrives in very dark forest conditions. I would love to come upon these growing in the wild sometime, maybe just not at night. For a fascinating look at how this plant gets its energy, click here.

Ghost Plant/Indian Pipe photo by nordique, via Creative Commons

Ghost Plant/Indian Pipe photo by nordique, via Creative Commons

Witch hazel

Scary name, great plant. Mine is all done with its foliage show for the year, but I still have the winter blossoms to look forward to. I’m not including a picture here because I plan to do a post about it later this week. 🙂

Wolf’s bane (Aconitum lyoctonum)

This relative of Monkshood is a perennial native to northern Europe (hm, wonder if it’s found in Transylvania?) bearing yellow or purple flowers in mid- to late summer. All parts of the plant are extremely toxic if ingested, and even the leaves can cause skin irritation if touched. This one is not going in my garden, for sure.

And lastly, I would just like to add, even though its name doesn’t sound at all scary, the howlingly horrible annual weed and #1 scourge of my garden…

Morning glory (bindweed)

I made the very bad mistake of reading Scott Smith’s horror novel, “The Ruins,” and the carnivorous vines in that book come to mind every time I see the twisting strands of this weed attempting to throttle my other plants to death. It really does seem to grow tangibly larger overnight. I just hope it never comes indoors to try and get me as I sleep! There is an actual parasitic “vampire” plant called dodder vine. This link has photos of it “sniffing out” its prey and going to strangle it. Ewwwww!

What are your favorite scary plants, in name, looks or habit?


Feline Invasion October 16, 2008

Filed under: digressions — greenwalks @ 10:19 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I love cats. We don’t have any at home at the moment, but our previous feline person was so wonderful, and is so missed, that it’s almost hard to contemplate starting over with someone new.

Hank was adopted from the San Francisco SPCA, the model in this country for a no-kill animal shelter. He came to us as a one year old, having been found on the street as a kitten, cared for by foster parents, adopted by someone, and then returned to the shelter (for spraying, since the adopter didn’t honor the signed contract to have him neutered FOR FREE, and also, inexplicably, for being “too affectionate”!?!). Needless to say, he was a very confused kitty when we brought him home. For cats, territory is (practically) everything, and one animal behaviorist told us that when you move a cat to a new territory, it’s like you burned down his house. But gradually, with lots of love and patience, he relaxed into his new family, and before (and after) we had a human child, he was our furry baby. We often imagined how hilarious he would be as a shrunken old-man kitty of 17, so when he was diagnosed with incurable lymphoma and had to be euthanized at the age of only 8, it just seemed like we hadn’t had him for even half the amount of time we we’d expected. Needless to say, we were heartbroken.

All of this is to preface today’s topic, the random neighborhood cats who consider my garden their own territory because we don’t have any animals policing it to tell them otherwise. I looked out my living room window the other day to see what looked like a cat convention on my front steps.

Cat party?

Some of these guys are familiar, but the bigger, longer-haired of the two gray and white kitties was new to me. I’m not a big fan of interfering in wildlife conflicts, but I’ve had to break up enough cat fights that I wanted to make sure this wasn’t something brewing. When I went out to see what they were up to, they turned and looked at me like I was some kind of alien interloper.

Ew, a human!

That made the two short-haired ones disappear, but the other guy stood his ground. I went over to see if he was willing to be friendly, and he started making some scary growling noises so I politely invited him to take his dominant, trespassing self somewhere else.

Lord of the jungle

Later that same day, I saw this large and furry fellow poking around in the neighbor’s yard. He arrived in the neighborhood recently and has been beating up a lot of other cats – he’s big and mean, and he has no respect for territory or boundaries. He’s a kitty Napoleon, except for the size aspect.

Spooky kitty

I could hardly believe it when my daughter looked out her window just a few hours later, still the same day, to say that one of the cats from the morning’s pow-wow was posing like a statue on the rock wall near her room. His eyes were halfway open and he was looking right at her, it freaked her out a bit even though she loves cats.

Statue cat

In Seattle, there is a leash law for dogs but cats are legally able to roam free unless they are causing a problem (specifically, from the City of Seattle web site, “it is unlawful for any owner to allow their cat to damage the private property of another or be a threat to public peace, health or safety.”) Personally, I am a big believer in keeping cats indoors, both for their own safety and to protect wildlife. That said, my childhood pet cat was out and about for most of every day but was far too cross-eyed and lovably incompetent to catch anything (well, he did find a dead snake once, and also brought in a bird that had hit the window and was stunned). But I have seen neighborhood cats catch juncos and other ground-feeding birds, and it makes me so sad – these are very well-fed cats who are just doing it for sport and the enjoyment of the hunt. Bells help sometimes but none of these guys wears one. It’s not the cats’ fault – I just wish their humans would be more responsible!

Hank was an indoor kitty his entire life. Friends and family sometimes chided us for keeping him inside, listing all the things they felt were missing from his existence, like sniffing the fresh air not just through a window, chasing butterflies, and napping under a tree. The payoff was supposed to be a long and peaceful life, but things didn’t turn out that way. I still think we did the right thing – he was a happy kitty until he got sick, and he never suffered from fang bites, rabies, or any of the other awful fates that can befall an outdoor animal. We miss him terribly, but are starting to feel like it might be time to head down to the shelter and find ourselves a new furry baby.

Hank, Poised to Pounce

What do you favor, free-range or indoor kitties?


Fall Flowers October 8, 2008

There’s a tradition among some of the Blotanical garden bloggers to post pictures of what’s blooming in their gardens on Tuesdays. I never seem to get around to it, although sometimes I at least take the pictures. So, one day late, here are some things that are still going strong, or at least surviving, as of October 7.

My mom grew these marigolds from seed and gave me them in early summer. I plunked them in at the corner of the parking strip, right on the street, forgot to water them, probably stepped on them a few times getting out of the car, but still they survived. I like to give them to friends who celebrate Dia de los Muertos at the end of the month, as there are usually a few left by then.

Street marigolds

I’ve posted about these guys before, cute and prolific alyssum with its honey scent, and the steadily creeping and adorably named ‘Pink Panda’ ornamental strawberry. These ones live happily at the very edge of the parking strip, where it meets the sidewalk. No adverse affects from the occasional dog footprint, apparently.

Strawberry 'Pink Panda'

The previous gardener put in a million trailing rosemary plants to grow over and cover the boring cement retaining wall on the street. I’m so glad he did – the tiny, delicate leaves are gently fragrant, and it flowers twice per year, including in the late fall, providing nearly endless food for the bees. I’ve never watered it once in three years, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s a water-wise plant once established.

Trailing rosemary

I planted blanket flower for the first time this year and didn’t take very good care of it, but it made it through the summer and is still blooming. I like how the seed heads look like little yellow pincushions.

Blanket flower

This pink windflower (Japanese anemone) took a year or so to get established and finally bloom. It’s not in the greatest site, but I see it every time I come and go from the front porch, and I’ve seen them massed in parking strips so I know they can take the extra punishment of a street garden.

Pink Japanese Anemones

Hey, who put my variegated nasturtium in jail? That’s right on the street too, and I think a few car doors have hit the wire fence that encloses the veggie/herb patch, so it’s a little askew. The feathery fennel and deep purple shiso leaves are visible as well.

Nasturtiums in jail

Finally, the California fuschia that is somehow managing to grow amidst the densely-packed cedar roots is still putting out a few last blooms for the hummingbirds to enjoy. This would be a great plant for the parking strip, as it’s fairly tough and drought-tolerant. I love the silvery quality of its leaves.

California fuchsia

What about you, anything interesting still going on, flower-wise, in your garden?


Pocket Planting October 5, 2008

Every gardener with fair to poor soil is faced with a dilemma – to dig it out and replace it with a variety of possible soil amendments, or… not? One solution to this question, for those with limited money, time, soil dig-ability and/or back strength, is something known as “pocket planting.” I have practiced this method for years, with some success, but only just learned that there is a name for it.

Basically, the idea is to dig out a space for a plant, amend the dug-out area with as much good soil/compost as you can, being sure to mix at least some of the original soil in, and hope for the best. It’s not the most scientific way to give your new babies a good start in life, but in cases where the alternative is to leave a rocky, weedy, or clay-filled site bare, it may be better than nothing. In the case of a parking strip, unless you’re extra industrious, feeling really flush or having a landscaper take care of getting it started for you, it might be your only viable choice.

Here is a link to a Portland nursery’s page with ideas for “hellstrip” plantings, complete with before/after photos of their pocket planting site. The “after” photos say it all!

Has anyone else used this method where you would otherwise have had to dig out the entire area? How did it work for you? Or are you more in favor of the garden advice that it’s pointless to “plant a $50 plant in a $10 hole”?

Late summer color


Plant Sale Semi-Madness October 2, 2008

Since I missed my favorite fall plant sale this year (probably a good thing for the old bank account, but not for the garden), I feel like I have a bit of a free pass to pick up a few little things here and there, since it still probably won’t add up to what I would have spent. I think Calvin Trillin described this in his book “The Tummy Trilogy” as “Alice’s Law of Compensatory Cash Flow,” a principle he named for his beloved and now-late wife. The (cracked but makes-sense-to-me) theory is that if you were going to spend money on something but then you didn’t, you get to spend it elsewhere without having to feel guilty. I’m not advocating it as a financial strategy, but it’s a mental process I find myself enacting on a semi-regular basis.

After writing a post on sedums, I figured I needed to pick up at least one to plant this fall in the parking strip. I haven’t seen one of the dramatic purple-foliage ones yet, but I’m going to keep looking. In the meantime, I got that good old standby, ‘Autumn Joy.’ It’s ubiquitous here in Seattle, but probably for good reason – it’s a regular performer and it blooms late when much of the garden is getting pooped out. Mine is on the small side, but it only cost $4, from a cutting grown at the Pat Calvert Greenhouse at the University of Washington Arboretum (I’ll be back there this weekend for the annual craziness of their bulb sale).

New sedum

Another plant I’ve been wanting to put in the street garden is a Gaura. I’ve seen it growing nicely in many sidewalk gardens in my neck of the woods, and I love the way its star-like blossoms seem to float on their thin stems, high above the green mass of slender leaves. It’s a long-term bloomer, always a plus. This one was on sale when I went to buy compost earlier in the week. Score! It’s Gaura lindheimeri ‘Geyser White.’

Gaura lindheimeri 'Geyser White'

Of course, the gaura went into a box and then there was room in the box for more plants… yes, this is how my brain works, and why I don’t allow myself to go plant shopping very often. I ended up with just a few more babies to bring home – two cute little pink-flowered Heron’s Bill groundcovers, a sweet marjoram, and a small hebe (‘Autumn Glory,’ hm, maybe it can be friends with my sedum?). I didn’t even fill up the box, how restrained!

New baby plants II

Now, to plant it all. It’s raining lightly today, perfect transplanting weather. So what am I doing in here?!


Dazzling Dahlias October 1, 2008

It’s foggy here today, so I thought I’d put up some pics of a couple of really impressive dahlias I saw in a street garden near my house recently, to chase the blahs away.

I will come straight out and say that I’m not much of a dahlia grower myself. I have a few dwarf annual ones that my mom gave me this year, but I think my garden lacks the proper combo of good soil, excellent drainage and regular watering to provide a good home for them. That’s just way too much cultivation for this lazy gardener! But for those interested in the basics of dahlia growing, one of the local dahlia groups near Seattle has this handy list of do’s and dont’s to get you on the right track.

Part of my resistance to this plant is that it’s one of those that has a “society” devoted to it, or many societies as it happens. I’ve seen entire home gardens devoted to dahlias, and while I admire the dedication of folks who specialize in one flower or kind of plant, it seems a little sad to me to pick one that is only in bloom for a few months and goes completely below ground for much of the year, leaving a bare patch of nothingness in its wake.

That said, I always enjoy seeing the really pretty ones my neighbor’s on-street garden produces every summer. This orange one had the shaggy look of Dorothy’s friend the Cowardly Lion:

Orange dahlia

I’m pretty hopeless with dahlia types. I know there are many, but I’m not up on them so won’t even try to categorize the ones shown here. If you really want to get into the minutae, this site has photos of all the different dahlia classifications.

I loved this one for its gentle lilac edging and lovely white and greenish-tinged underlayer.

Lavender dahlia

What about you? Love to grow dahlias or prefer to admire them in other people’s gardens? Or do they just leave you cold?