Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Pink pieris April 7, 2010

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,shrubs — greenwalks @ 2:50 pm
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I saw this Pieris japonica cascading over a retaining wall behind a public park on a sunny early-spring day. Pieris is ubiquitous in Seattle gardens and as such is sometimes considered rather dull and uninspiring. But all you need to do is walk by when it’s in bloom to know why it is so thoroughly planted here – the honey scent is almost overwhelming in its sweetness, and its common name, Lily-of-the-valley shrub, is well-chosen. I like these pink-blushed delicate blossoms more than the plain white ones.

Pink pieris

The shrub, a native of Asia, is hardy in zones 6-8 and is tough as nails. You can prune the heck out of it and it always springs back (I had one in a previous garden, in semi-shade). It can grow to 12 ft. tall if you don’t keep after it, unless you get a dwarf variety such as ‘Debutante’ (3 ft. high/wide) or ‘Little Heath’ (2 ft. each way). Or just pick a big open spot and let it grow freely. I think that’s the way I’m going to try to treat plants as much as possible from now on.

Plus, it’s deer-resistant, for anyone who cares about that! Plants go in and out of fashion, but the proven performers that work hard in our gardens will probably always be around.


Parking Strip Report – The ‘Nothing Much’ Edition January 25, 2010

Filed under: my garden,winter — greenwalks @ 11:44 am
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Late January is usually a really un-spectacular time for my parking strip garden. So much so that I am too ashamed to include a full shot of it here! I will stick to the few details that have provided a second glance amid the brownish wasteland that otherwise is sadly characteristic of this time of year. When will I learn? ****Must plant more evergreens!***

I didn’t plant a lot of winter veggies this year. They never do much anyway except sit around looking sad all winter and then bolt as soon as it gets warm, so it was interesting to see that some of the open space is being colonized by volunteer chervil from the mesclun mix that was in the same spot last summer. I do love chervil, but hope I won’t be chasing down seedlings all over the garden forever more.


(By the way, I got a new camera for Christmas – Thanks, Mom and Dad! – but haven’t really figured out how to use it yet. I somehow pressed something that made the settings take these strange wide-screen photos, which I guess are kind of arty but not particularly useful for the web. I got it reset eventually, but by then the sun was gone.)

I never covered up my broccoli starts, so whatever survived is tough enough to stay below freezing for over a week! We’ll see if it ends up producing anything edible.

Semi-surviving broccoli

Eek, popping weed is on the march already, thanks to the warm days! Can you see its cute little white flower all set to come up, bloom for a bit, and then release its evil batch of 100% germination seeds?

Eek, weeds are about to bloom!

This senecio should do well in hot, dry conditions, but I think I didn’t water it enough in its first growing season so it is still struggling a bit (you can see yellow/brown patches on some of the leaves, but there has been new growth so I am hoping it will hang in there).


For lack of much else to look at, I have left my dead coneflowers to provide a bit of sculptural height. They would probably look a lot nicer with a little dusting of snow underneath, but the senecio is a next-best backdrop.

Coneflower seedhead in late winter

This euphorbia wandered over from the neighbor’s and I transplanted it rather rudely a few years ago, down to the parking strip. Further proof of how tough these plants are – it looked a little sad for about two minutes, and then made a full recovery and is now thriving and putting out its pendant flowers. I was afraid of this plant family for so long, due to its toxic sap, but I am just careful around and also have it in a spot where my kid would never get too close. I just noticed that it has produced its own “baby” a few feet away, which I may move or give away before it gets too big.

Euphorbia flowers

And, after getting the camera switched back to regular old photo size mode, I noticed what I truly hope is the return of my favorite tulips ever. Looking back at that earlier post, I can see that I had them in three spots, and here I only saw one clump coming up. I will just have to be patient, maybe they will all return for another show-offy time in the early spring garden.

First tulips on the rise

Which plant’s return to glory are you most anticipating this spring?


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!


Why I Keep the Asters October 28, 2009

Filed under: bugs,fall,flora — greenwalks @ 10:06 am
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The asters that reseed vigorously in my parking strip garden are tall, leggy, often in the wrong place and prone to rust late in the season. But I keep them anyway. Do you know why?

Asters in late September

Here’s another look:

Bee on aster blossom

Yes, for the bees. Most of the blossoms are gone by now (these photos were taken back in late September), but since there aren’t many flowers on the street still blooming at that time of year, I like giving my buzzing friends a last little taste of summer before it’s time to close up the honey shop for the year.

Do you have any plants you keep around mostly for the wildlife to enjoy?


Windflower Farm October 12, 2009

The Green Lake area of Seattle is swamped on sunny days by folks from all over the city, who come to walk, jog, bike or skate the lake’s 3+ mi. loop, enjoy its ample playground, or go for the goals on its many soccer fields. Houses are spiffy but street gardens are fairly scarce, probably since there is so much foot traffic and car inflow from outside the neighborhood.

So it was with great surprise and delight that I turned a corner there yesterday and found this view:

Unusual street garden with windflowers

Varying fall tree foliage colors – check. Huge raised bed in the parking strip – yup. Massive pottery urns trusted to the elements and passers-by/would-be thieves – yes indeedy. But what really got me was that mass of Japanese anemones.

Winflower abundance on the street

I have had limited success with windflowers in a couple of gardens, maybe I don’t water them enough or they don’t get the right amount of filtered sunlight. All I can say is, these people figured out how to grow them and then really went for it!

We were rushing past, late for lunch, needing burritos, but I wanted to stay in this unexpected approximation of a Japanese woodland for a while longer. I wonder what it looks like when the anemones go underground for the winter?

Fall foliage, windflowers and giant urn


Freeway-side Gardening September 18, 2009

Filed under: flora,veggies — greenwalks @ 8:43 am
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Often, the urge to garden in the city despite lack of an ideal site is just overwhelming. Waits for P-patch slots can be years-long, so sometimes people just get out their shovels and dig wherever they can, whatever the challenges may be.

A few years ago, I saw a guy working on a steep, brush-covered hillside at the corner of a very busy freeway on-ramp here in Seattle. I couldn’t actually believe he was making a garden there, but he was. He cleared the brush and weeds away, tilled the soil, and started planting. And not just tough, easy-care plants, but veggies and flowers. Lots of them.

I used to pass this garden several times a day but hadn’t for a while, and I was delighted to see that it is still thriving despite the daily dose of exhaust it must get from all the passing cars. And despite being at a kind of hard-scrabble crossroads where a lot of down-and-out folks hang out, nobody seems to have raided or vandalized the plot. I don’t know how many people notice or enjoy it as they hurry past, but for me it’s a true testament to the creativity and tenacity of the urban gardener.

(These photos were taken from the car on a blasting sunny day, so are not ideal.)

This is the view you see from the street – sunflowers, amaranth, marigolds, kale, cabbages, rosemary – the works! Red, orange and yellow to brighten a dull stretch of road – what’s not to love?

Streetside Seattle garden by I-5 onramp

In this one, you can see the simple wooden retaining wall the gardener built to hold in soil and maybe keep folks from wandering in from the sidewalk.

Seattle urban garden

The onramp retaining wall is visible in this next shot – no joke, it’s right there!

Farm in the city

Have you ever gone to great lengths to establish a garden in a non-ideal site?


Pink in the Parking Strip August 28, 2009

Pink has never been my favorite color, in fact it is pretty much at the bottom of my list, but somehow it seems to have worked its way into my life despite my protestations. My daughter discovered it in preschool, it was like a social virus running from one girl to the next. Now, thankfully, she seems to be moving on to other colors, but in the meantime she still has pink clothes that fit and I’m not going to just toss them out because purple is the new pink.

In the garden, I love the soft whitish-pink of cherry blossoms, although my current garden does not have any. My mom gave me a ton of echinacea, which goes by Purple Coneflower but the purple has always looked more pink to me. Or maybe you could use the term “pinky-purple,” which my 2 yr. old niece taught me recently when she was visiting.

Purple (pink) coneflowers

Although the pink of this Gaura is a little on the Pepto-Bismol side for my taste, it has bloomed its head off for months with almost no supplemental water and zero fertilizer in crummy parking strip soil, despite being a new addition in the spring. Its full name is Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Rainbow’ and the purple leaves that it started out with have not been quite as apparent as I had hoped.

Pink gaura

Every year, I say I will be more ruthless about ripping out the tall aster seedlings that reseed with wild abandon, but then I’m glad of them when summer begins its freefall into September and many of the other blooming plants start to give up. This is another pinky-purple one, and this blossom was the first to open of the many that will linger well into the fall.

First aster bloom

Are there any colors that have crept into your garden (and your heart) despite initial resistance?