Gardening where the sidewalk ends

More Winter Survivors May 18, 2009

I know I sound like a broken record here, but I’m continuing to be surprised by all the plants that don’t seem to have minded our recent horrid winter weather. I guess more of my garden was hardy than I’d realized – I’m not great about keeping track of zone/temperature requirements, so I was half expecting nothing to come back.

Happily, my small parking strip veggie/herb patch came through completely unscathed, and the recent spate of sunny weather (now over, alas), brought many things along from winter dormancy.

The red lettuces below overwintered and were a bit on the bitter side but not too bad. I think they are “Merlot” but could also be “Red Sails,” I forget. The green ones are an oakleaf variety I planted from starts a few weeks ago, and the leeks are starting to grow a bit too, finally.

Sunlit lettuces

I only cook with chives every now and again, since my daughter isn’t a huge fan of them in eggs or risotto as I like to use them. But she will nibble on the oniony flowers once they bloom from these cute little purple buds.

Chive flower buds

I am terrible at remembering what kind of onions I’ve planted. I mix up the scallions and other types so never know when to yank them, and then they go to flower. That’s okay, I love how fat the buds get and then this mini fireworks explosion happens.

The bulbing fennel that never bulbed last summer resprouted, and it seems like maybe it’s going to form something edible underground this time. Or am I deluding myself? I like the feathery foliage and pull a few small bits off to toss in salads sometimes. That’s bolting arugula in the background – I hope to replant another round of it this week, it’s my easiest seed crop and I love its peppery taste cooked or raw.

Bulbing fennel came back

Finally, I took this photo a few weeks ago but forgot to post it. It’s some of the Russian kale flowers before they opened, in the late afternoon sunlight. Now that the rain has returned, I hope I stored up enough sun until the next time I can get out there with my hands in the dirt.

Kale flower buds in late afternoon sun


Surprising Returnee May 13, 2009

Poking around down in my parking strip garden the other day, I was more than a little surprised to see this:

Golden pineapple sage returning

Pineapple sage, golden or not, is a somewhat tender perennial in our climate and often does not return in the spring, at least not in my garden (my American Horticultural Society plant book says it’s native to Mexico and Guatemala). And yet, here it is, the golden variety I planted in my daughter’s tiny veggie/flower/herb patch on the street, a little singed but sprouting out nonetheless. Maybe I have not waited long enough to pull out what I figured was a dead root ball in previous years (current laziness has its benefits??). I looked down at the other end of the strip and the regular (green) pineapple sage is coming up there too. No sign of the tangerine sage I had planted up near the house, maybe its more exposed position left it more vulnerable. All of these salvias have wonderful-smelling leaves and their late-blooming red tubular flowers are total hummingbird magnets. I’ve always grown them since I discovered them years ago – I consider them essential in my garden and so don’t mind replacing them when necessary. But I’m so delighted these ones decided to return!

Have you had any happy surprises in your garden this spring?

(PS The white stuff in the photo above is soggy fallen crabapple petals.)

(PPS The plant tag on this one says Savlia elegans, but Pineapple sage is technically S. rutilans, so I’m not sure which is correct for this variety, ‘Golden Delicious’. Sorry!)


Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale – This Weekend! April 30, 2009

This is to me the most exciting plant sale of the year. It’s nearly all edibiles, mostly organic, and you can just see people quivering with excitement about bringing home their plants and looking ahead to the delicious harvest.

In past years, I have braved the mobs and gone early on the first day, the better to have a good selection, but I’m betting that this year will be a record-breaker in terms of attendance so I might go on Sunday instead and just take what’s left. They are supposed to bring in a new shipment of plants for that day, so I figure there’ll be at least something interesting as long as I don’t get my heart set on anything in particular.

Will this be the year I finally break down and buy a stevia for sweetening my summer iced teas? Or try something really unusual like Persian Cress (similar to watercress but can grow in drier soil)? Or actually attend a demo put on by a Master Composter?

Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale

Meridian Park,4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle

Saturday, May 2 from 9am to 3pm and Sunday, May 3 from 11am to 3pm

For more info about the sale, including PDFs of what’s for sale, click here.

Do you have an all-time-favorite can’t-miss plant sale that you move mountains to get to every year?

Edible Plant Sale Notice


Daily Freshness January 18, 2009

Filed under: edibles — greenwalks @ 12:06 am
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Back in the early 1990s, I worked in a Northern California bookstore and spent all of my meager wages on, well, books. I hadn’t yet rediscovered the wonders of libraries (free books! free music! free movies!?!?!) and thought I needed to own everything I read.

One book that made a big impression on me at that time, although if I pulled it off the shelf now I’m not sure I’d still love it, was “Mating” by Norman Rush. I read it just before it won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1991 and garnered rave reviews (but then suffered a bit of a backlash from some readers who considered it over-long and pompously written.)

The novel contains a passage that has really stuck with me in the years since I read it. I’ll never find it to quote it accurately, as the book is 496 pages long, but the essence is this – one of the characters states that he needs to eat something fresh every single day. Even if it’s the smallest herb or tiny addition to an otherwise-dried/canned/reheated dish (a true challenge considering the character is living in the Kalahari desert at the time of his statement!), he just needs to have that one thing, every day.

For some reason this really resonated with me. I will freely admit to using canned beans, frozen blueberries, and a host of other pre-packaged foodstuffs in the interest of quick preparation and out-of-season variety, and I will never be one for the Raw Food bandwagon. But having something fresh, no matter how small, always makes me feel better, healthier, more lively. It’s one of the reasons that, despite being a big lazybones and not having a huge amount of free time, I have at least a small veggie/herb/edible flower patch every year.

I had thought, with our recent spate of awful weather, that there would be absolutely nothing left in the garden that could be eaten fresh as of mid-January. But to my great surprise and delight, the curly parsley in the parking strip patch had managed to keep a few stems around, and I was able to pick a good-sized one tonight to chop up for a quick red pasta sauce.


Something fresh, every day. It’s a lot easier to make that a reality when you can just walk out to the garden and snip something you grew! I’m just glad I’m not gardening in the Kalahari, I don’t think I would be up to the challenge.


Lavender Share October 30, 2008

In my previous garden, lavender was hard to grow – we just didn’t have enough sun. Now we have the sunniest garden imaginable and inherited countless lavender plants. They line every path and set of stairs, to the point that their delightfulness is beginning to wear off a bit. Especially at this time of year, when I spend way too many hours snipping off their spent blooms to encourage good re-growth next season.

One thing lavender does is reseed itself, not quite with abandon, but enough so that new plants are always popping up somewhere. In my parking strip garden, reseeding is generally encouraged but when the lavender clumps get too big or are getting in the way of something else I’d like to put in, out they go. This time, I asked a neighbor if she’d like some of the discards and she happily agreed. I’d already given away divided crocosmia to another neighbor earlier in the week, so maybe I’ll get a few garden karma points for finding new homes for these guys instead of piling them in the yard waste.

This big clump was blocking the end of my stone path experiment, currently in progress:

Lavender clump

I dug it up and hacked it into a few pieces, transplanting some to better spots and potting up the rest to give away.

I also removed some of these “babies” before they get too much bigger and start overshadowing the shorter groundcovers:

Baby lavender

Of course I have a million black plastic nursery pots lying around, since I can never bring myself to toss them in the landfill and haven’t got around to finding a nursery that recycles/reuses them (yet another thing on the winter to-do list). Happily, they came in handy for potting up the give-away lavender:

Lavender all potted up to share

As soon as I’m off the computer, I’m running these across the street. This neighbor has been so generous to us in many ways, plus she is a professional pastry chef so I have a fantasy that she will actually use the lavender in a recipe someday. I’m just happy that I can give something back to her after all she’s done for our family, even if it’s just a few little orphaned plants.

(If you are visiting Washington State in the summer and have a chance to visit the Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim, it’s supposed to be quite a place. Sequim is located in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains, so its climate is dryer and warmer than most of the rest of our area, hence the happiness of the lavender plants.)


Fabulous Fennel September 5, 2008

Oh man, this might be the perfect parking strip plant. Tall enough to provide scale and structure, but easy to whack back and see grow again next year. Hardy as heck (in Zone 8), zero care required. OK, it’s classified as a weed in some areas, but just deadhead the flowers before they go to seed, and keep after any sprouting seedlings before they get too big and they’re easy enough to control. At least that’s been my experience! I had a great-looking copper fennel (herb) in my last garden; this year I’m trying a low-growing bulbing fennel (veggie) that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of bulbs yet, hm.

This beauty is practically a grove of trees, in a neighbor’s parking strip garden:

Tall fennel

I love how the flowers attract butterflies and bees. Plus you can eat the pollen, seeds, fronds and stems, all tasting deliciously of anise. Mmmmm.

Would someone please tell me if they ever see fabric with a fennel flower print? I think I need some pillows that look like this:

Fennel sky


Scarborough Fair August 24, 2008

Looking for some great herbs to plant in your parking strip? Sing along with me now…

Italian Parsley


Silver Sage




Lemon Thyme

and Thyme.

All are easy-care, and except for parsley they are evergreen perennials at least in my zone (8, Seattle). Culinary thyme comes in many varieties, as does culinary sage. They all taste delicious and look great to boot, even poking through the snow!

(And no, Simon and Garfunkel did NOT write that song… it’s an old English folk song about a medieval market town and a man’s impossible demands for his former love.)


Whidbey Island Garden II August 20, 2008

In addition to all the great stuff to eat in her garden, our host has also planned and planted a great variety of ornamentals that don’t need a lot of water. I noticed “The Xeriscape Plant Guide” on her bookshelf, and she seems to have really thought out what looks nice together as well as what doesn’t require a lot of watering to survive.

Here’s the front garden and porch, visible from the living room and also from the kitchen/dining room:

Whidbey Cottage Front Garden

This photo was taken on a blazing sunny day, so please pardon the bleached-out look. Purple sedums interplanted with different shades of day lilies:

Whidbey Purple Sedums & Daylilies

Cute little herb garden too, in a raised bed ringed by rough concrete slab chunks:

Whidbey Herb Garden

The bees were abundant and so were the hummingbirds and other flying creatures. Seemed like a really well-balanced little ecosystem.