Greenwalks

Gardening where the sidewalk ends

A Box of Blueberries April 10, 2009

Filed under: berries — greenwalks @ 11:58 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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?

 

Spring Repealed February 26, 2009

Filed under: flora,snow,winter — greenwalks @ 11:27 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Just when we were shedding our woolly scarves and pondering more tender plantings, winter came back with a wee-hours blast last night, dumping two inches of snow on Seattle and pushing dreams of spring gardening a little further into the future. Yeah, yeah, I know, two inches – big deal. We are whiners here, we know. But it’s been such a weird winter, with a seemingly endless procession of freezing weather, that it’s starting to make me feel like spring will never truly arrive.

Oh, I was fooled for a while last week. The sun came out for days on end, and it was only because I was too busy to garden that I didn’t get out there and do a bunch of tidying chores like whacking back plants that got hit by earlier frosts. I was also feeling really bad about not having been industrious enough to get peas started and out there. I guess my laziness has its benefits sometimes. I hope everyone who was more industrious than I finds that their early efforts did not suffer too much, since everything was here and gone in about 10 hours.

Although I have more snow-garden pictures than my computer knows what to do with (creak, groan, whir – must delete many this weekend), I went out to take a few more today. It made me see some things, even just the tips of them, that I hadn’t noticed before against the bare ground.

Snowy Rose Bush

As-yet-unpruned rose bush with snowy “hats” on the hips.

Snowy Weeping Conifer

Unknown weeping conifer outside the dining room window. Any guesses?

Poppy Foliage Under Snow

Well, I guess the poppies are up. I hope they stay that way!

Contorted Filbert Catkins in Sun & Snow

“Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” catkins catching some sun

Peony Shoots Coming Up Through Snow

Hm, maybe I didn’t plant those peony divisions deep enough after all…

Dwarf Iris in Snow

Didn’t notice these dwarf iris were up until my daughter whacked the snowcap off of them.

Garden Monkey Passes By Tulips in Snow

Hey, little garden monkey, thanks for not stepping on my tulips!

Half-Snowy Wreath

Yes, I do know Christmas was over two whole months ago! The wreath has yet to make it to the compost bin.

This is it. It has to be! Doesn’t it? Who else here is ready for @#$& spring?!

 

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?

 

Lavender Share

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.)

 

Parking Strip Garden in Progress October 18, 2008

Taking a stroll in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle the other day, I found very few parking strip gardens. It’s a very tidy-yard part of town, with most gardens featuring heavily fertilized grass, tightly clipped shrubs, and very little wacky innovation.

So I was pleasantly surprised to come upon this corner lot, with twice the space for taking over the street with something a little different. It’s obviously a work in progress, and a narrower strip than those in my neighborhood, which to me made it even more interesting. The first step, taking out the grass, is done, but the plantings are still going in.

DSCN2165

I’m partial to the slow phase-in too, although maybe just from laziness. I think it takes a bit of courage to leave the blank spaces for a while until the right plant enters your life.

I noticed some Pacific Northwest natives like this small vine maple (acer circinatum), and in the distance you can see that they are also using small berms of soil and mulch and planting into those.

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This red-twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera, another NW native) is getting its lovely fall colors. I also like the sawn tree branch as an accent.

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Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) are ubiquitous in Seattle but somehow seeing one by itself instead of the usual massing makes it seem more unique and kind of sculptural. Not sure what the buried milk jug is for, slug traps or ?? Wouldn’t think that would be necessary near a fern but who knows.

DSCN2173

I couldn’t resist a peek over their low fence into the front garden. I felt like a spy so didn’t look too long, but a prominent feature of the front yard is a chicken coop, with three lovely ladies (Buff Orpingtons, I’m guessing, only two were out but you can see the shadow of the third) clucking and pecking the grass under a twirling rainbow wind ornament. They looked like really content birds.

DSCN2176

Proceeding around the corner, I saw this grouping of an aster (boy, only one aster? My garden needs to come over and learn something about aster restraint next year!) and senecio. My asters did that icky bottom-leaves rot thing too, so I just ripped them all out because looking at them was making me ill.

More nursery babies waiting to go into the ground, just like at my house… at least these ones are in place and all that’s left is to dig the holes. Looks like drip irrigation is getting put in, or at least a soaker hose – good idea for a parking strip garden.

DSCN2182

This is not a showpiece garden, or at least not yet, but I thought it was a great example of a work in progress that will grow and evolve as the gardeners have the time and interest to spare. I think that sometimes people are afraid of such a large and blank canvas, and of the special requirements of gardening on the street, but we can see here that an unfinished plot can provide enjoyment and interest too.

 

Winter Veggie Garden – Finally Planted! October 14, 2008

It was a loooooooooooooooong time coming, but the fall edibles are finally in the ground. How they will fare with such a late start remains to be seen, but at least they’re in and I don’t have to feel guilty anymore when walking past the formerly bare spot in the parking strip where they are now planted. It took a few separate efforts, over a ridiculously long span of time, but such is life these days.

First, on a sunny day a few weeks back, I emptied a cubic yard of organic compost into the small space where I’d cleared out the spent summer stuff (snap pea vines, flowering leeks, bolted lettuce, squirrel-downed sunflowers).

Compost blob

Then I dug it in and roughly raked it over. Soil looks much darker and richer now, so I hope it will be enough since I don’t typically use any fertizlier.

Raked and ready

This appears to be a daffodil, sending up a shoot totally out of season. I left it just to see what happens. I wonder why it got confused? Or even how it ended up in the veggie patch??

Freak daffodil in fall

Then I took a break for various reasons (health, busy-ness, wacko weather, including thunderstorms and hail), and got back to it last week. I have to lug everything down about 20 steps to the street, which is part of my procrastination rationale. Good exercise, though, especially the many trips to refill the watering can!

Ready to plant

A recent windstorm had caused the fennel to flop over. I ripped it out – it never bulbed anyway, something to investigate for next time I plant it.

Flopping fennel

When I got the four-packs of starts out of their flat, I saw quite a bit of slug damage. Then I found the offender, who was surprisingly small given all it had eaten – it was promptly tossed into the street after this photo.

Sneaky slug

It seems to have preferred the ‘Monument’ Chinese cabbage:

Chinese broccoli

and the tender green leaves of the ‘Teton’ spinach:

Spinach starts

Ouch. I hope they survive, I had to remove quite a few destroyed leaves.

In went four each of two kinds of lettuces, ‘Merlot’ and ‘Redder Ruffled’ leaf,

Planted lettuces

plus some Red Russian kale, ‘Old Fashion’ Mustard (could be fairly spicy), and two colors of chard – “Magenta Sunset’ and ‘Bright Yellow’ – which I attempted to plant in a circle in the center of the garden. We’ll see how that turns out. Just got tired of my usual semi-straight lines and thought to try something new (considered a peace sign but only had 8 plants so couldn’t make it work).

Then, finally, it was time for a very limited selection of seeds. Considering how cool it’s getting (down into the upper 30s at night and only the mid-50s during the day), germination is going to be a challenge for these guys.

Fall seeds

I don’t have a real science of seed planting, but just do it the way my mom taught me – dig in some planting compost, make the trench with your gloved finger, take the gloves off to put the seeds in as precisely as you can, cover it over gently with soil, firm it just a bit, then cover with newspaper (I usually use the NY Times, since I fantasize that it makes the plants smarter) held down at the edges by rocks, and water the paper every day and keep peeking to see if they come up.

All planted

Looks kind of sparse at the moment, but I hope it will fill in and end up providing us with at least a few snips for the salads in the coming months. One year I may try a cover crop to renew my soil out there, but I’ll have to really wrestle with my desire to have something edible growing during each season. For me, there’s nothing like going out on a near-freezing day and still finding some arugula leaves valiantly hanging in there despite the weather. I don’t bother with cloches or coldframes, although if it’s going to get into the 20s, I do sometimes put temporary floating row cover over the stuff I’d like to give a little extra help to.

What about you, get anything started to grow through the colder months?