Greenwalks

Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Another Unknown Volunteer November 29, 2009

Leave enough empty space in the garden and interesting things start to show up. I have refrained from completely filling up my parking strip once it was cleared of St. John’s Wort, partly due to cheapness and also just to see what would come to grow here. Allowing nature to fill in the empty spots has been an exercise in patience and restraint – I tend not to yank things out until they have proven to be either totally invasive or just things I intensely dislike.

Blog buddies have helped me ID a few plants that were new here, including Mexican feather grass. It is a spreader for sure, but not so vigorously that I can’t keep on top of it, and I have enjoyed its fluffy tendrils – they are fun to pet (although apparently not fun FOR pets – someone I know spent several hundred dollars having its seedheads removed from the inside of her dog’s nose!). So maybe some of you will clue me in on what this one is, and whether I should stop it in its tracks while I still can.

Mystery grass in parking strip

It’s a pretty sizable grass, and it grew to a couple of feet high over the past two years. I just had an awful thought that it might be Pampas grass, in which case I need to dig it out before it takes over and becomes immovable, but if it’s something more well-behaved I might still need to move it further away from the edge of the bed.

It’s friendly with its next-door neighbor, the feather grass:

Groovy grasses

In this shot, you can see how I have let another volunteer, violets, colonize unwisely large swaths of ground:

Volunteer grasses

Need to get on that one of these days, before it takes over completely!

So, anyone got a guess about my latest mystery plant?

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A Box of Blueberries April 10, 2009

Filed under: berries — greenwalks @ 11:58 am
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One of the very few winter garden musings I have managed to actually enact at this point in the spring is my desire to try a few blueberry plants. It’s my first time growing any berry other than strawberries, and although nobody in our house is a huge blueberry fan, I figured maybe we’d become more so if we have a few fresh-from-the-backyard handfuls to incorporate into our summer diet.

I pondered putting these in the parking strip, but decided the temptation for passers-by to covertly sample would be too difficult to resist. If these do well, I might reconsider next year and add a few out there, put a “help yourself to a few” sign nearby, and see if I make some new friends (besides the birds).

Looking around locally for a bare-root organic blueberry source proved fruitless (sorry), although I imagine if I’d tried a little harder I could have found one. I finally just decided to order some from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, an organic outfit in California, as it was getting a bit late in the season for bare root and I didn’t want to miss out. Yes, I know it was not very eco-friendly to have my organic plants shipped from out of state! I hope to offset that by cultivating them without the use of harmful chemicals and maybe I can assuage my guilt in other ways too.

It was a pretty exciting day when the box arrived.

The box of blueberry plants arrives!

I’d never ordered live plants through the mail before, so I was eager to see how they were packed. The shredded recycled cardboard packaging was too cool to toss, I am saving it for a re-use.

Cool recycled cardboard packing material

The true test – how did the plants look? Pretty good, I thought! Already in flower, too, amazingly.

My new organic blueberry plants

I had selected two of the same variety, ‘Sunshine Blue,’ as it is self-fertile so doesn’t need a pollinator of a different variety. I was also drawn to its reputation for being on the shorter side and therefore good for a small space like mine, as well as its semi-evergreen habit which should provide some winter beauty in an area that is sadly lacking at the moment.

You can see a little bit, in this next shot, that the blossoms are pink at this point in the year. I believe they turn white later.

Hello Sunshine

All that was left behind in the box:

Just a few dropped leaves

I’d give Peaceful Valley a big thumbs up for their careful packing and quick shipping. They also responded very quickly and informatively to a question I had about the organic-ness of the plants, since it was a little ambiguous on their web site.

Plants in the mail – is this something you partake of, or do you need to see (feel, sniff, inspect the roots of) a plant before you make it yours?

 

Toasted Flax January 16, 2009

The title might lead you to believe that this is going to be something in the way of a healthy culinary post, but I am not here to extol the virtues of flax as a fine source of alpha-linolenic acid. Nope.

With our spate of awful weather in December, there is one category of plants that is just not looking well these days. It’s the edge-of-zone-hardiness crew, which includes the seemingly ever-popular New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax. Along with euphorbia, I would say this is one of the most often-used (or some may say over-used) landscape plants in Seattle.

Often used as a focal plant due to its impressive size at maturity, the appeal of this plant is undeniable. It provides height and interesting color, strong/sharp shape and a semi-tropical look to our Northwest gardens. Bronze varieties are seen all over the city. Here is a photo of one in my neighborhood, pre-snow, looking really healthy:

dscn2852

Alas, this seems to me to be a classic example of pushing the hardiness envelope a bit too far – according to my plant guide, it’s only good for Zones 9-10 (i.e. New Zealand’s climate), whereas we are normally 8, with a longer dip into the 20sF this year than usual. I am certainly often guilty of this garden sin myself, that of hoping for mild winters so certain tender plants will survive (yeah, I’m talking about you, adorable but not frost-hardy ornamental pomegranate – arrrrrrrrrgh!), so I am not casting any stones here!

Here is what many of them are looking like these days, post-freeze (note: this is a different specimen than the one pictured above):

dscn5436

Poor things. I have no idea if they will recover or not. I’m guessing not. Anyone with experience who can weigh in here? Is it possible for this plant to die down in cold weather but come back from the ground? Or is it likely to be, as I fear, toast? And do you ever find yourself falling for and bringing home plants that you know may be zapped if you have an unusual weather year? Or even a typical one?

 

Planting Peonies November 18, 2008

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 11:00 am
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I lied just a little bit when I said I’d finished planting all of the bulbs I got at the Arboretum sale. Well, I didn’t lie, really – I DID plant all the bulbs. It was just the corms that got the shaft. I had two daylies still languishing in their brown bags with no idea where to put them (I already have way too many daylilies, so why did I buy more??!), but it was the $9 peony that I really wanted to get into the ground before it was too late. Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re supposed to be planted in September or October to establish well before winter truly hits. But it’s been such a mild autumn here in Seattle that I am hoping to get away with it.

My great-aunts, fabulously industrious gardeners, had several varieties of gorgeous peonies that my mom inherited when the family farm was sold. They are still blooming strongly in her garden – those things must be 50 years old or more! I love their showy blooms and delicate fragrance, and the way the bumblebees just get their party on and roll around in the pollen.

I was super careful about ripping the tag with the peony’s name off the bag so I could post it here. Somehow, it didn’t make it indoors with me, so I apologize, it will remain a mystery. Haphazard gardening is my stock in trade, apparently. It’s kind of fun in a way to be so disorganized sometimes – I get to be surprised about what comes up in the spring! Honestly, there was no picture, so I don’t even know what color it will be. How’s that for lame?

I followed the planting instructions on the bag, making a 12″ X 12″ hole, filling it with mulch, mixing in fertilizer (probably the wrong kind, hope that didn’t matter too much), adding back some dirt, and propping up the corm. It was a little dried-out looking, hope it’s okay. It was showing a few little signs of life, so I guess I’ll just see what happens, if anything, in the spring.

Dry-lookin peony corm

Then I filled the hole with water, waited it for it to drain, and covered it all up with the rest of the dirt and a mulch layer on top.

While I was at it, I remembered that we have a previous-owner-installed peony plant that was poorly sited and had not bloomed once in the four summers we’ve been here. So, since I was in hole-digging mode, I decided to dig it up and find it another home. Boy, was I surprised by the size of the corm cluster – it was more like a tree stump!

Gigantic peony corm cluster

Man, that thing probably hadn’t been divided for a decade. No wonder it wasn’t blooming! Of course the smart thing to do would have been to put down the shovel, take off my gloves, go into the house, get out the gardening primers and read up on how best to divide peony corms. But did I? Nah. I just used the spade to hack it into pieces, tossed out the ones without eyes, and planted the rest around the backyard. More haphazard gardening! Don’t these look kinda scary? I think maybe I have a weird phobia about roots, at least a little bit. Ditto spiders.

Divided peonies

All that freshly dug dirt and smoothly layered mulch is probably going to be a magnet for you-know-who – even if he’s not after the peonies, I’ll have to replant them if he digs them up looking for tastier morsels, so I finished it all off with some squirts of witches’ brew and a dash of paprika.

Mulched and paprika'ed ground

The brew isn’t too stinky, but I’m playing it safe and keeping it outside, just in case it decides to ferment and explode…

I realize this post was heavy on the dirt/root pics, so to see lots of pretty photos of peonies in bloom, click here.

Anyone want to fess up to planting things a little on the late side this year? Or are you all patting yourselves on the back right now for being more timely and assiduous than I? If I helped you feel better either way, I’m glad. 🙂

Peony planting supplies

 

Bulb Post, Part III November 14, 2008

Yesterday’s post probably had some of you calling my sanity into question. I won’t argue with you there, I did feel sort of like a madwoman cooking up that hideous concoction to squirrel-proof my bulb plantings… but it was fun. And it didn’t even smell that bad! Just like salsa soup or something.

So, after I was done loading up (and half-melting) the spray bottle, it was time to head out to the parking strip and put those babies in the ground! Another thing preventing me from doing so had been the weather, but I took the first sunny moment I had time and went for it. Bulb planting always takes longer than I think it will, so I had to allow for a few hours’ work, counting the potion-brewing.

La la la, line ’em up on the back porch and see what I got, because I always forget between when I buy them and when the poor things actually get planted.

Bulbs to plant

I lost the full list, but this is some of what I scribbled onto a now-muddy piece of paper when I was out there, so I could remember locations:

– Narcissus ‘Scarlet Royal’ (yellow with large orange cups)
– Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (white/orange double-flowering)
– Tulip ‘Fashion’ (rose with purple veins – Kaufmaniana)
– Tulip ‘Mona Lisa’ (yellow feathered with raspberry)
– Tulip ‘Palestrina’ (salmon with green feathering)

Oh man, I know there was a lot else. Some things that ended up in the upper garden include

– Muscari ‘Blue mixture’
– Narcissus ‘Little Gem’
– Bellevalia paradoxa (never grown this before, related to muscari)
– several varieties of species tulips – maybe I’ll find my other smudgy paper before spring and will update this if so… sorry!

My hands were too muddy to take pictures of the bulbs going into their new homes, but I did try to put them at the right depths, at least as well as memory served. I had thought I had some bulb fertilizer in the garage but it wasn’t where I expected it to be so I probably used it up last year. So, they’ll have to get what they can from my semi-poor soil and I hope it’s enough! This is definitely not a guide for how to give your bulbs the best start…

After they were all planted, it was time to squirrel-proof up a storm! I sprayed my goofy concoction over the planting site (these next pics are from the upper garden, under the witch hazel), sprinkled a little paprika on for good measure (word on the street is that they don’t like the smell of that either),

Paprika sprinkle on bulb zone

and now my garden smells like Hungarian goulash!

Just to be triple-sure, I covered up each site with some witch hazel or plum leaves. I hope the various methods didn’t cancel each other out, that would be so typical of my haphazard approach to gardening. I made sure a little paprika was sticking out past the leaves.

All covered up and protected

Thanks to the Arboretum volunteers for packing the bulbs in compostable paper bags, no plastic anywhere to be found. They all went straight into the yard waste toter.

Bulb bags in the yard waste

Now the waiting begins. I’ve been out once so far to “refresh” the spray, but doubt I’ll get to it more than maybe once or twice again. I can’t see going out there all winter, that’s just not my kind of gardening (the lazy kind!). So far so good, with nary a paw mark upon any of the leaf piles. Hm, I probably just jinxed it all. Damn.

So, Dr. Destructo, the gauntlet is tossed. Yeah buddy, I’m talkin’ to YOU.

Nemesis squirrel, Dr. Destructo

 

Is It Too Late to Talk About Bulbs? November 12, 2008

Every year, I attend the University of Washington Arboretum’s annual bulb and plant sale madness. I usually try to go at the beginning of the first day, which is a total insane crush, elbows flying everywhere to get to that almost-black tulip or unusual fritillary variety.

This year, they added an extra day, Monday, after the weekend rush. I figured the selection would be a little less but that it would be made up for by the lack of patrons. I’m just not up for crowds this year. I was right on both counts – fewer choices, but almost no people! I could actually see the descriptions for a change and didn’t have to say “excuse me” even once!

Bulb sale

I usually go in armed with a list of my hoped-for finds, but this time I just scanned their PDF and figured I’d get what struck me at the sale. That’s always a recipe for over-buying, at least for me, but oh well. Since I hadn’t been to any of the big fall plant sales, I hoped to do some perennial and groundcover shopping too, since they usually have a great selection at this event. Alas, they had neglected to post on their web site that the plant vendors were Saturday/Sunday only. Here’s what I had to choose from:

Plant sale slim pickings

Uh, yeah. Not exactly the selection I was hoping for. But then I saw some happy-looking gals walking past with flats full of plants. I shamelessly pounced on them and asked where they had gotten their finds. They pointed me toward a part of the arboretum that I had forgotten about:

UW Arboretum donated plants sign

Oh, yeah! Probably not too much that’s really unusual here, but lots to choose from, raised with love and care, and donated to the organization by local gardeners. I thought about Megan over at nestmaker when I saw this baby Katsura tree, which she has been jonesing for. I think it was 11 bucks.

Mini katsura tree

I ended up with a couple of cute little drought-tolerant plants for the parking strip – sedums (oreganum, the small one at bottom right in the photo below, and multiceps at top right), sempervivum (‘Stansfieldii’), and a variegated semi-evergreen carex I’d admired in others’ gardens, Carex morowii ‘Ice Dance.’

Bulb sale bonus plants

Oh, but this post was supposed to be about bulbs, right? Here was my haul:

2008 bulb haul

Somewhere, there is a piece of paper with all of the varieties listed. Can I find it at the moment? Of course not! But suffice to say that I did spend over $100 and I didn’t get them in the ground right away. Same old story.

In the next week, I hope to put up another post about planting the bulbs, and about my attempt to protect them from Dr. Destructo, the nefarious squirrel who likes to mess with things I love in the garden.

Are your spring-flowering bulbs all tucked in safely for their winter naps? If not, it’s okay to admit it here – I will not judge!

 

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?