Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Seattle Garden Show Finds a Buyer (Finally)!!! June 30, 2009

Filed under: garden shows — greenwalks @ 7:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I don’t usually do re-posts, but I just read this article in the Seattle Times and had to share – the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, the biggest deal in town, has finally, finally found someone to take it on and continue all the fun for another year, with “no major changes” planned. Phew! I hope they find a way to make it profitable enough to keep it going for a long while yet. Even though I complained about some aspects of the show this year, it’s always such a source of inspiration and education and I was really starting to worry that it was gone for good.

I’m going to get my tickets early this year, maybe for more than one day this time. Hooray for reprieves!

(It’s funny – when I went to the show’s official site just now, it didn’t have anything about the sale being final. Guess they’ll get to it when they can!)


Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association Display Garden image courtesy of the NWFGS site.


Buzzing February 23, 2009

Filed under: fauna,garden shows — greenwalks @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

In these times of economic woe and gloom, many small businesses are taking a hit along with the big guys. I worry that a lot of the smaller gardening-related outfits are going to be struggling soon if they aren’t already. So it was with great delight that I saw this one booth at the NW Flower & Garden Show, The Beez Neez Apiary Supply, veritably buzzzzzzzing with customers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Jim and Rachel of Snohomish, WA are professional beekeepers and have everything you need to start keeping bees. They seemed to be having a great time at the show, happily fielding questions from wannabee (oh, sorry again!) apiarists and selling their wares.

Mason bee folks

City and suburb dwellers often feel most comfortable beginning with Mason bees, aka Osmia lignaria , who do not live in hives and are generally non-stinging. They help with pollination and are relatively easy to care for. My folks have a bunch at their place, to help with the apple orchard and berry patches. You can buy a cute little house like this:

Mason bee house

to attach to a tree in or near your garden. The bees fill the holes with mud and go about their solitary ways. It’s kind of like a little bee condo, or maybe a monestary dorm.  Or you can make your own bee house, if you are handy with drills and such. Here’s one plan from the National Wildlife Federation site. Here’s another one that uses mostly stuff you have around the house (except for maybe “bee straws,” which you can probably order from Jim and Rachel).

At first I thought someone had the nutty idea of putting bee sounds on a CD, maybe as a relaxation aid. Actually, I think that would be pretty cool. But it turned out to be a DVD instead, “All About Mason Bees,” by Dr. Margriet Dogterom, who is kind of the Queen Bee (agh! again with the bad bee jokes!) of the whole mason bee thing.

Mason Bee DVDs

She is often at the Garden Show representing her company, Beediverse,but I didn’t see her this time. Maybe she was just off touring the show gardens, flitting from flower to flower… okay, I’ll stop.

Have any of you tried your hand at beekeeping, or with opening up a guest house for Mason bees in particular?


Pine Tale February 20, 2009

One of the most interesting plant stories I’ve heard in a while, and I can’t promise it’s all true, is about the ‘Chief Joseph’ pine.

Unusual-plant obsessive Megan of Nestmaker wrote a recent post about seeing an extraordinarily stunning dwarf golden conifer at a Portland botanical garden, and one of her commenters ID’ed it as ‘Chief Joseph.’ At the Garden Show earlier this week, my mom and I were making quick rounds of the sale booths when, up on the top shelf of the River Rock Nursery stand, what should I see but this very tree? The nursery owner, Bob O’Brien, was busy talking to someone else, so I slipped behind the counter and took a few quick shots, none of which came out very well. This is the best I could do.

Pinus contorta var. latifolia 'Chief Joseph'

When he saw me, Bob came over and started joking that the tree was $350 but he’d only charge me $300 to take its picture. I told him I knew of someone who was thinking about getting one and he told me its story.

Apparently, a fellow named Doug Willis was hunting elk in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon (summer home of the legendary Nez Perce chief and his people) when he stumbled upon a tree which he realized was an incredibly rare genetic mutant of the lodgepole pine (pinus contorta). He dug it up, brought it home, and asked a plant-savvy friend to propagate and sell the grafts. Its uniqueness stems not so much from its winter gold color, as there are other conifers which display this, but from the fact that the very needles that turn yellow revert to green in the spring and summer.

What weird switch got tripped in this plant, I don’t know, but it’s like some horticultural impossibility come to life. The trees are murderously difficult to propagate, super slow-growing, and the specimen he had for sale was only his after five years of his wife calling the propagator and begging for one. I wonder if anyone with a wad of cash burning a hole in their pocket came by and snapped it up?

All ‘Chief Joseph’ pines are grafts of the one original tree, although someone once told Bob that he’d seen another one growing wild on his parents’ ranch in Eastern WA. Perhaps another future “gold” mine?

Oh, by the way, Megan found her own small ‘Chief Joseph’ at the nursery down the street. And she didn’t pay anything like $350! Read all about it here.

I wonder if I’m tipping over into unhinged gardener territory, to get so much enjoyment out of a weird plant story and someone else’s garden purchase…


Garden Show Plant Combos February 19, 2009

(I’m feeling a little guilty that my previous post was so grumpy. I’m going to focus on positives from the NW Flower & Garden show from henceforth!)

One of the most exciting things to see at any garden show is the designers’ use of unique plant combinations. At the NWFGS this week, the display gardens are full of glorious, strange, and inspiring ways to pair and group plants for maximum impact.

(Wow, that almost sounded like a real garden writer’s lead, didn’t it? Weird. I think guest blogging did something bad to my brain…)

One of the most talked-about gardens at the show is “Sky’s the Limit,” which features walkways, tables, walls and a roof carpeted in living plants. Alas, the brochure I picked up did not include a plant list, but many of the mixed groundcovers in the photo below are probably common nursery plants. The brochure listed Seattle’s T & L Nursery as the source, a wholesale-only outfit. Their site provides this plant list for green roofs, which seems to be mostly sedums.

Living sidewalk

Another garden (sorry, I forget which one) featured several “Mrs. Roosevelt” rhodies, which could look a little dowdy on their own but really popped with a background of red twig dogwood. Might be a little loud for some gardens, but right about now, with too much brown and dull green out in my garden, I could use a little noise.

Mrs. Roosevelt rhodie and red twig dogwood

A highly stylized, Asian-influenced garden called “Click” (did anyone get the title? I didn’t – camera shutter? parts fitting together? the brochure copy did not reveal anything) contained this nifty pairing, Agave geminifolia (which has curly filament/tendrils spiraling between the pointed silvery green leaves – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this growing in a parking strip here in Seattle so it’s going on my wish list) and Helichrysum ‘Silver Spike’ (a silvery low-growing perennial suitable for water-wise gardens).

Cool plant combo

By a long shot, though, my favorite garden of all for inspired pairings was “Entry to Cascadia,” designed by Phil Wood and Bob Lilly for the UW Arboretum Foundation. If I thought they wouldn’t mind, I’d just retype their entire plant list. Maybe I’ll see if I can ask, and post it later. I just loved how they used plants specific to our climate and conditions, steered clear of anything too show-offy, and kept the colors muted and natural so the plants could really be the stars. If I could directly import any one garden into my own yard in its entirety, this would be it. Alas, it was very dark and hard to photograph, just like most of the other gardens, so my pics don’t do it justice. Here is just one planting combination that I found really enticing:

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' and friends

Don’t quote me on this, but I think from left these are Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’ (spike rush – evergreen and best in full sun), Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ (hilarious cedar relative that looks like Mr. It from the Addams Family), Gaultheria shallon (good old salal), and I dunno on the far-right one, maybe kinnickinnick ‘Vancouver Jade’? Also notable in this display were a number of flowering native currant bushes (Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’) whose flowers have a rather odd, intense smell remniscent of, well, cat pee. It’s not noticeable unless you really give it a good whiff, though.

I am really bad at figuring out which plants to put together, favoring the time-honored “plunk it down wherever it’s easiest to dig the hole” method of garden design. It really helps me to see what the pros come up with, and I think I might have to try some of the pairings I saw at the show.

Do you come up with your own plant combinations, or do you admit to having cribbed a few?


Sifting February 18, 2009

Filed under: garden shows — greenwalks @ 11:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

I didn’t even spend the entire day at the NW Flower & Garden Show‘s opening day, but my head is still spinning from everything I saw and heard. It’s going to take me a while to sift through all the information and ideas I gathered, and I hope to roll out a few posts as my brain settles and time permits.

Live wall

(Living wall from “Sky’s the Limit,” designed by Rebecca Cole with materials from Smith & Hawken, implemented by B. Bissell General Contractors.)

One amazing fact – I walked out of a place with hundreds of garden vendors WITHOUT BUYING A SINGLE THING. No wait, that’s a lie, I got a Raintree Nursery catalog for a quarter. Wait, that’s wrong too, my mom sported me the change since I didn’t have it handy. So technically, it’s true, I didn’t buy a thing. Why? I think I was overwhelmed by the multitude of choices and just have to do some more thinking before I start in on the many garden projects that face me this coming season.

But just because I didn’t buy anything, that doesn’t mean I came home empty-handed. Many of the fabulous show gardens’ designers publish plant lists, and I grabbed every one I could find. I also got brochures from some of the public gardens and non-profits that had booths. Favorite schwag:  I got some Black-Eyed Susan seeds (I was planning to buy some, so thanks, Smith & Hawken!) and, from the ReStore (fancy salvage goods), a free compact-florescent lightbulb. Woo hoo!

I saw fellow NW blogger Daniel Mount outside a seminar room – we had both just listened to Swedish rock-star landscape architect Ulf Nordfjell speak about his huge design projects in Europe and the UK, and Daniel was heading back in for another lecture, this one by Canadian garden visionary Nori Pope. I hope Daniel decides to share his insights from today, as a long-time show-goer and generally wise and philosophical observer of life in the garden and beyond.

Ideas are free… it’s just the implementation that can cost an arm and a leg! Does attending garden design shows spark your imagination, or is all that perfection (and expense) just too much to deal with?

(PS  My guest blog post is up on the Garden Show site. I sweated a topic, then ended up doing something kind of lame. Man, I am in awe of real journalists who can whip this stuff out!)

(PPS If you’re going and want to attend a seminar you know will be packed, look into getting free advance passes, which I believe we finally found at a table on Level 3 North after a lot of wandering around.)

(PPPS Big thanks to my mom, who attended with me as always and never complained once about my slow progress, numerous camera stops, and bizarre zig-zagging itinerary!)