Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Plant Amnesty Free Event April 18, 2010

Filed under: shrubs,trees — greenwalks @ 10:02 pm
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Short notice, but if anyone would like to join me, I’m going to try to go to this:

Meeting of Like Minds, Hosted by the Heritage Tree Committee

When: Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010 — 7pm – 9pm

Where: Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st St, Seattle, NHS Hall

What: Fun evening with delicious potluck food. Free and open to the public.

For more information: Email us or call 206-783-9813

Speakers: Mike Lee and Arthur Lee Jacobson

Topic: From Wilted to Wow: Best Shrubs and Trees for Northwest Summers

The summer of 2009 was a valuable and sobering study of the drought and heat effects on landscape plants. Yet for every wilted or thirsty shrub or tree, certain species thrived merrily. You can plant lovely trees and shrubs that will thrive with little or no summer watering. In this joint seminar, nurseryman and landscape architect Mike Lee will suggest shrubs for Northwest gardens, and plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson will recommend perfect trees.

(I have been reading, and very much enjoying, Arthur Lee Jacobson’s highly opinionated and enjoyable books, “Trees of Seattle” and “Trees of Green Lake ” – this sounds like a fun event and a great way to learn from some of Seattle’s greatest plant-savvy minds.)

The poster below is from a different Plant Amnesty event, which my family attended last year. It was great! I hope they are planning to do it again.


Venerable Tree April 17, 2010

Out for a stroll the other morning, I spied an unusual traffic mediation on one corner:

Tree protection

I had come from the other side of the street, and didn’t notice at first that the mini bollards were to protect a massive specimen tree. Huh, the city getting involved to protect a tree from getting bonked into by negligent motorists? Must be a special one…

Then I saw the plaque:

Scarlet Oak Heritage Tree Sign

I had heard about Seattle’s Heritage Tree Program, initiated by Plant Amnesty and now co-run by the City of Seattle. But I don’t know that I had ever seen one if its beneficiaries/honorees before.

As you can see from the sign, the Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is not native to the Pacific Northwest, but this particular tree has thrived in our climate. I hope that future generations of Seattle residents continue to protect and enjoy it. If all of our parking strip street trees lived so long, we would be the greenest city around!

Scarlet Oak trunk

Scarlet Oak reaching up

Scarlet Oak from down the sidewalk

As all gardeners know, every day is Earth Day. But I hope you have/had a happy one today anyway!

(I should add, after seeing some of the comments, that it’s true that this is probably this tree’s least showy season, and that no photo can truly capture its magnificence, but I thought that its massive arm-like branches and immense trunk were still impressive enough to show. Great idea to go back when it’s leafed out and again in the fall to see the scarlet leaves. I will try to remember to do so!)


Pink Petals in Parking Strips March 4, 2010

Filed under: flora,trees — greenwalks @ 9:03 pm
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Does such a profusion of plums become prosaic? Or does it produce perfection? Peruse at your pleasure!

(This post is dedicated to Grace, who perennially pines for pink.)

Okay, enough with the alliteration. Seattle in early spring (yeah, I know it’s technically winter still, but it hasn’t felt like it in a long time so I’m going to go ahead and just call it spring. The plants and animals sure think it is!) offers an almost overwhelming spectacle – entire streets lined with wildly blooming ornamental plum trees. Apricots, cherries, magnolias, cornelian cherries, and many others abound as well, but the plums are ubiquitous and seemingly the earliest, so when they arrive it feels like spring is really here. The pinkness is impossible to ignore and hard not to be cheered by.

My neighborhood has gone nuts for these trees. Many have deep purple leaves so a long line of them can be a little blah in the summer. But oh, for these few weeks, they shine. I have been crossing my fingers for no lashing storms to hasten the petals to an early demise, and so far we’ve been lucky. Standing under some of these, neighbors have stopped to comment and enjoy the spectacle together.

So, without further ado, the reigning queens of the blossom ball, all from parking strips!

Plum trees abloom

Ephermeral plum blossoms

Venerable plum tree

Pink plum blossoms on pavers

Plum tree bloom explosion

Parking strip pinkness

Mini plum branch

Blue skies and pink plum flowers

Pink confetti in the grass

Pale pink plum blossoms with purple leaves beginning to emerge


The “It” Trees of the Garden Show February 4, 2010

Filed under: garden shows,trees — greenwalks @ 10:19 pm
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I took so many pictures at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show today, I’m not sure where to start. I’ll try to do a few posts, grouping some of my favorites thematically. Since I’ve been thinking and posting a lot about trees lately, that seems as good a place to start as any.

Every year at the show, there seem to be a few plants that repeat in many of the show gardens. Is it like the Paris or Milan high-fashion collections, where one year everyone seems to have agreed on miniskirts and the next on military coats? I have no experience in the world of show garden design, so it is a mystery to me how certain things seem to flow in common through many of the designers’ final products.

I always feel sorry for these trees, some of them pretty mature, ripped out of their natural habitats and shoved into some sawdust in an an artificial indoor landscape so that a few (thousand) of us can ooh and ah over them over a four-day period. What happens to them afterward? Are they consigned to the compost heap? I hope not! Maybe they are specially cared for and replanted in some special spot, their moment in the spotlight over but a long and happy life ahead.

This year, these were the trees that seemed to be everywhere, the stars of the show. How many will end up being planted in attendees’ gardens, I wonder?

River birch, the hands-down winner for unusually beautiful bark

River birch bark

Witch hazel, here hovering over black mondo grass

Witch hazel and black mondo grass

Contorted filbert – this one was pruned into an “up-do”

Contorted filbert

Tree fern – okay, technically not a tree, but they were all over the place! Hard to grow in the Pacific Northwest, even with a lot of wrapping and care, from what I’ve heard.

Tree fern

Magnolia grandiflora, this one was the cultivar ‘Southern Charm’

Magnolia grandiflora 'Southern Charm'

Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ – this one really surprised me, showing up as it did in at least three gardens that I saw. It is a rare and expensive tree (for more about it, see this post from last year’s Garden show), and I bet it’s going on a lot of people’s wish lists after this week.

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

A few other trees stood out for their uniqueness instead of their ubiquity:

Asian pear

Asian pear

Weeping Norway spruce (known in my family as the Snuffleupagus Tree)

Weeping Norway spruce

Unknown Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Cypressus macrocarpa ‘Saligna aurea’ had amazing, filigreed golden tendrils

Cypressus macrocarpa 'Saligna aurea'

Not all of the trees at the show were real:

Metal tree sculpture

Constructed tree "hideaway"

Weathered tree sculpture

Whimsical "tree" sculpture

BTW, we did get in to hear Fergus Garrett’s lecture on training the eye to make good plant combinations. Inspiring and well worth all the standing around and being herded like ruminants that was required to secure a seat.

More to come…


Top That!?! January 9, 2010

Filed under: pruning,trees — greenwalks @ 9:04 pm
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No wait, please don’t! Topping is a popular but damaging method of controlling a tree’s height. Certified arborists and anyone with half an iota of aesthetic sense rail against this practice, and yet it persists. Why? Ignorance, most likely.

Sadly, these young-ish trees in my neighborhood, in no danger of growing into power lines or falling over onto anyone’s house, were recently topped (i.e. butchered), by “professional” gardeners no less. It makes me so sad and angry to see them when I pass by, to think of how nice they used to look and how ridiculous they seem now.

Tree pruning disaster

Trees for the parking strip need to be carefully chosen with the site’s limitations in mind. Of course, this is true of any site, and any tree. If you don’t want a tall tree, plant a dwarf variety! You can’t just hack off the top every few years and expect it to look, and be, fine.

Tree butchery


I will freely admit that I know next to nothing about correct pruning and always make a hash of anything I try to shape. For trees, I leave it to the pros, the real ones, certified arborists who really, truly know what they’re doing!

In other tree-pruning news, did you read this squib in the New Yorker about “citizen arborists”?


There’s Something About Street Trees December 6, 2009

I seem to be on a tree kick here so maybe I will just keep it going…

Garden Rant had an invitation to discuss thoughts on street tree policy here. Lots of comments! People feel strongly about their streets and trees, go figure.

Local Ecologist blogger Georgia writes from NYC now, she always has great insights about public policy and plants.

A monthly Festival of the Trees rotates among a variety of blogs, including co-founder Dave’s at Via Negativa this month. Always good arboreal stuff in this round-up, from photos to poetry to links that will lead you to look at our leafy friends in new ways.

Now, back to photos. Some of my favorite street trees in the neighborhood, all taken a few weeks ago when more leaves were up than down.

Japanese maple, unknown variety (it would be on my short-list for the back garden, if only I knew what it was!):

Unknown Japanese maple variety in fall - lovely

A pretty dogwood (I would say maybe Cornus kousa except that I have one and it lost its leaves much earlier, so I’m not sure):

Dogwood in fall

Close up of dogwood fruit – do they remind anyone else of Crunchberries?

Dogwood fruit in November

Another Japanese maple, I’m going to go with ‘Bloodgood’:

Bloodgood maple tree

Nothing like sunlight through those leaves, turns them from wine to scarlet:

Light through Bloodgood maple

I’ll save the neighbor’s magnificent gingkos for another time. They deserve their very own page, I think!


The Beauty of Birch November 18, 2009

We had a few white birch trees at our previous place, and I have to admit I didn’t appreciate them very much. One was poorly sited in the tiny front lawn, shading the struggling fruit trees, and the others were in the parking strip, dropping their tiny, storm-drain-clogging, hard-to-rake leaves everywhere in the fall. Their branches tended to hang low and get brutally thwacked every time the UPS truck barrelled down our hill, and when we tried to prune them, they bled fountains of weeping sap.

But now that I can admire them from afar, I have fallen in love with these trees. I think ours were Betula pendula (European white birch), which form huge jagged dark cracks in their white bark, but the ones I’m enjoying in the neighborhood are more likely B. papyrifera (Paper birch), at least I think so – please correct me if you think otherwise.

A white tree looks so very mod and chic in the fall landscape.

Birch alley

Looks like the children (or rodents?) of the neighborhood have not been able to resist a little peeling. Not good for the tree, I would imagine.

Paper-bark birch

This one might be my old nemesis, it seem to have more of a weeping shape.

Last birch leaves a-clinging

I had to really admire this trunk base for a while. It was hard not to peel just a little tiny strip – so tempting! But I managed to contain myself.

Frilly birch

Has a tree (or plant) ever lost your heart but then won it back again?

PS Acer negundo (aka Box elder), I am so over you. A decidious tree that is this blah in fall is just off my list. Thanks to everyone who warned me away from getting one!

Acer negundo (Box elder) in fall - blah!


Skywatch Friday – Another Tree April 23, 2009

Filed under: digressions,sky — greenwalks @ 9:02 pm
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I just can’t seem to resist putting a tree in my sky shots. I know there are plenty of great sky views with no trees in them, but I seem not to look up unless I’m examining branches, a canopy, leaves, twig-borne flower petals, or other arborific views.

Park Tree Through Monkey Bars

Afternoon sky through unknown tree and red monkey bars at Meridian Park playground, Seattle, WA, USA in April, 2009. Head over here to see the many lovely and varied views of the sky from all over the world this week.


Trees of Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill March 11, 2009

Since I never, ever (okay almost ever), get around to any of my planned Part II’s, I’m going to just put up my tree photos from last week’s Queen Anne Hill wanderings today and try not to feel too bad about my uncertainty or downright lack of knowledge about their correct identification. Maybe some of you can help me out here – I guarantee anyone who tries a big virtual pat on the back and an A for effort! (This is a pretty oddball bunch, I just realized. What can I say, I love the variety and wackiness of Seattle’s urban landscape!)

This was one of the most elegant trees I saw that day – a mature dwarf Japanese maple, right there in the parking strip. Its leaves have been left to carpet the grass, it looks like a nice soft place to take a nap.

Mature dwarf Japanese maple

This looked like a holly but without the sharp leaves, and it was tree-shaped, not shrub-looking. Is it a holly or something else?

Holly tree

Some type of pine (Mugo, maybe?), sprawling a bit on the corner.

Corner pine

Oh dear, pruning horror! Reminds me of those scary trees on the 70s TV show, H.R. Pufnstuf. Yes, I’m showing my advanced age here.

Pruning horror

Not sure if this was a radical rehab job or the prelude to taking the tree down entirely. I’m hoping the former, so maybe the bird feeder is a good sign.

Pruning horror II

This one shows the age of the neighborhood. I’m glad they’ve kept it, despite a somewhat odd placing. Cedar?

Stately sentry tree

Someone’s backyard tree did not like the recent windstorm. A large branch had broken off and was hanging over the fence.

Willow branch breakage

Upon closer inspection, the tips of the downed section were covered with these:

Downed pussy willows

I took the opportunity to liberate a few twigs that I imagine were headed for the chipper. Not my style usually to filch from someone else’s garden, but since it was already dead, I hope it was okay. I couldn’t resist those incredibly cute, fuzzy catkins! The tree seemed too tall to be a pussy willow shrub. Any guesses here?

Urban trees live a tough life. I’m glad these ones (well, the better cared-for of them) are making a go of it.


Root Ball Sculptures February 25, 2009

Filed under: trees — greenwalks @ 9:45 pm
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My parents lost a couple of Douglas Fir trees in great Hanukkah Eve windstorm of 2006. Well, they didn’t exactly lose them – the trees just blew over, thankfully missing any people or houses. It took a long time to get a tree company in to help them deal with the resulting mess, and in the end they were left with two giant craters and the biggest upended root balls you could possibly imagine in a suburban setting.

These remnants of once-noble evergreens will likely be there forever and a day – the arborists declined to saw apart and remove them, since they must weight a good half ton or more (?) each. So, my folks just skirt the craters and the root balls are becoming forest monuments.

Douglas fir root ball

I was reading about nurse logs lately and wondering if it’s possible to hurry one along artificially – it does seem like the process has already begun (above, proof that English ivy will grow anywhere, justifying its status as an invasive weed!). Another option might be to pick or spray the dirt out to expose the roots, then put a bit of good soil back in and plant some stuff in the nooks and crannies. My mom’s got tomatoes to start, though, so this is probably not high on her priority list. Plus, one of them does provide a good vantage point for my daughter to sit on and tell her visiting grandfather about the dead shark she saw in the ocean last summer.

Root ball throne

There was a weathered root sculpture at the Garden Show last week that caught my eye (I believe it was from the Elandan Gardens display). I liked the stones placed in some of the crevices, they looked a bit like cliff-dwelling birds to me.

Root sculpture

If you had a big old root ball taking up space in your woods, what would you do? Fire up the chainsaw and free up some more space to garden, or turn it into art? Or just sit back and watch decomposition (slowly) take its course?