Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Foggy Garden February 9, 2010

Filed under: my garden,spring,weather — greenwalks @ 9:02 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

On first look today, our world was enrobed in a down-to-the-ground cloud. It was the thickest fog I can remember in ages. School looked super spooky:

Spooky schoolyard

Back at home, I thought how blah and sad the street garden looked, as it has since the deep December freeze killed off so many things that often overwinter and I didn’t plant enough winter interest to keep it looking good all year.

Haunted hell strip

Then I decided to take a closer look to see if I could see something beautiful, something interesting, something worth noticing, signs of spring to come or summer past. In just a few minutes of slowing down and looking closely, here is some of what I found in my seemingly nondescript landscape.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ seedheads

Sedum seedheads in winter

Purple sprouting broccoli sticking out its wet “tongue”

Purple sprouting broccoli

Lemon balm seeds (need to get rid of those pronto!) against Mexican feather grass tendrils

Lemon balm seedheads against Mexican feather grass

Crocus awaiting the sun’s kiss to open up shop for the day

Closed-up crocus

One giant dewdrop and a million little ones on a lupine leaf

Dewdrops on lupine

Gossamer strands, evidence of a spider’s presence on iris seedpods

Iris seedpods and dewy spider strand

and coneflower too

Coneflower seedhead covered in dewy spiderweb

Then this, which would have been enough on its own to banish the gloom of the day

The first tulip! Don’t scream, yours aren’t behind. This tulipa greigii came up first here last year, before the snowdrops and crocus had stopped blooming, so it must be in its nature to be the earliest bird.

Even in the less spectacular garden seasons, there’s probably always something to notice – even if it’s “just” spiderwebs on a dead flower or, in another climate, bird tracks in the snow. We just have to slow down enough to find it.


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

Filed under: my garden,winter — greenwalks @ 11:44 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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?


A Few More Late Winter Bloomers January 22, 2010

Filed under: my garden,winter — greenwalks @ 8:16 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Laid low by a horrendous cold, I have been unable to enjoy the warm temperatures and great gardening weather that nature offered Seattle this week. Even with the unseasonable rise in the mercury (on target to be the warmest January on record here, apparently), the plants seem to be pretty much on schedule.

Many of us want spring to come earlier than is does, but now that it seems to have, I am finding myself having missed winter a bit. Yes, I said I could deal with no snow at all after last year’s giant endless heaps of it, but not one flake? One pretty, quick-melting dusting would have been nice.

I was going to entitle this post “Signs of Spring” but really, these flowers reliably bloom in late winter. They allow us to look ahead to warmer, sunnier times even if, in a typical year (is there such a thing anymore??), that is still a ways off.

This Hellebore was a new addition last spring, I got two of them and now wish I’d sprung for more. Maybe I’ll go look for some purple ones next week as a present to myself for getting over this annoying cold.

Helleborus ‘Walhelivor’ Ivory Prince

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' Ivory Prince

First crocus! Not the most exciting variety, but I always love to see the first and this one won the race this year. I noticed some little purple species crocus the other day but didn’t have my camera handy and haven’t been outdoors in a few days! Hope to remedy that tomorrow.

First crocus of 2010

I never seem to succeed much with snowdrops, no idea why. Do they require something special? I’m pretty sure I put a bunch of them in this spot, and only two came up so far. Hm. Thoughts? I’m horrible about keeping track of bulb names despite good intentions, but I think these are Galanthus elwesii (Giant Snowdrop). I love that little upside-down heart.

Galanthus elwesii (Giant Snowdrop)

Sweet-smelling pink blooms of Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ are a winter stalwart. This plant has a rather ungainly habit but can take pruning and I think it’s worth having for the unusual combo of pink flowers and delightful scent in the dead of winter.

Viburnum X bodnantense 'Dawn'

Are you ready for spring now, whatever the calendar says?


GBBD January 15, 2010 January 14, 2010

Filed under: flora,Garden Bloggers Bloom Day — greenwalks @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Twenty-ten? Two thousand ten? How are you getting your head around this year so far? I can’t even decide how to pronounce it. So much for starting the year with the courage of my convictions!

In the garden at this time of year in Seattle, there is a lot that could be blooming. We are pretty fortunate in our weather, even if it comes with a lot of gray skies and precipitation, since it keeps things looking fairly green and fresh all winter if we have been smart or lucky enough to have put in the right plants for interest during this season.

Despite vague thoughts about adding plants that would look good at this time of year, it’s just the same old standbys here, most of which were here when we arrived. Whoever designed this landscape definitely had this time of year in mind, since there’s much more going on now than I would have thought to include.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’). I will never get tired of this tree. Or is it a shrub? I take millions of pictures of it, in nearly every season, and look at it from my seat at the family table every day of the year. I even like it when its branches are bare and providing snacks for squirrels. It’s a great tree for the small garden and provides many seasons of spectacular interest.

Witch hazel 'Jelena' flowers

Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) – smells so heavenly, I wish I could put a scent in a blog post! Glossy green leaves year-round, cute black berries in winter, happy in poor soil and part to full shade. Used to take this one for granted but now I couldn’t do without it. (Tangled mess in the background is one of the two red-twig dogwoods that desperately need some decisive and drastic pruning, soon!)

Sarcococca ruscifolia blooms on January 14

Rosemary – Despite suffering two back-to-back winters with brutal freezes, and looking pretty sad all summer, this very mature and large upright rosemary (maybe ‘Tuscan Blue’?) seems to be okay now (although you can see some ‘frostbite’ on the needle tips). Wish I could say the same for my giant hedge of prostrate rosemary, now mostly dead and gone. The Anna’s Hummingbirds that overwinter here often stop by for a sip, so I hope to keep this big plant going a while longer. Plus, fresh rosemary is about my favorite smell in the world.

Rosemary flowers in January

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)?? Not sure of my ID on this one, but as you can see the aphids love it. It has a fairly scraggly habit but screens our bedroom window from the neighbors while letting light in so I have let it stay. Might need to figure out what to do about the critters, since this seems pretty early for them to be at work. Flowers are small but fragrant. Yes, there was just the one when I looked, but I hope more will be along soon!

Winter honeysuckle flower and aphid damage

Indoors, a vase of small white Jewel orchid blossoms my mom gave me, from a plant that has been in my childhood bedroom for at least two decades, maybe more. An impressively long-lived specimen and most un-fussy for an orchid, I believe!

Little white orchid flowers in clear vase

And now, on to things that are not technically blooms but still provide interest and excitement for my eye at this time of year.

Heather (the blooms are really dead flowers from last summer, I just realized, but they look like flowers!) How does that rhyme go? Heath like leaf and heather like a feather? I can never keep these two straight, and not all of the ones I inherited here have survived poor conditions but I am coming to appreciate the ones that have as pretty, hardy evergreens.

Spent heather blooms in winter

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) These red berries persist for months on end and the new foliage comes in with a reddish purple tinge that is just so lovely. Another plant I used to consider humdrum but now truly enjoy.

Nandina domestica berries in January

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) – The contorted filbert’s catkins are in full view at the moment, which does make the tree look a little busy with all the curly branches as well.

Contorted filbert (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) catkins

Yellow twig dogwood, almost-blooming viburnum and more Sarcococca – I cut a few twigs of this dogwood for a friend today, and only then noticed that some of the yellow twigs not at eye level have red tinges. So, I am wondering if this could be a very out-of-control Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, which has both yellow and red coloring in winter. Hm, must investigate what that one’s leaves look like in summer, since most searches just turn up the striking but bare winter branches. Another candidate for a drastic pruning job, since the twig color is reportedly most intense in new growth.

Viburnum, sarcococca and yellow-twig dogwood

I’ve let too much time pass without participating in the monthly festival of flowering fun that is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, hosted as always by the lovely and talented Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Picking January to jump back in seems a little absurd, but so be it. I’m grateful for these spots of brightness that will carry the garden forward until spring has sprung!


Raised Bed Cover and a Couple of Crows January 11, 2010

The uncharacteristically deep and long freeze Seattle endured in December subjected winter veggie gardens to a real beating. Many unprotected plants, including some that were hurriedly swaddled in floating row cover, did not survive. Even some carefully shielded by a pro gardener under the warming embrace of a hoop house just couldn’t hack it after days in the 20sF or lower. This was one mean frost!

That’s why, when I saw this plastic tent-like structure in a parking strip recently, I wondered if its contents had made it through okay.

Hoop house for winter greens

Looks like it might be a pretty easy DIY project, just a few lengths of PVC and some heavy-duty plastic. I wonder if the low and compact shape, as compared with a hoop house, trapped warm air inside more effectively and helped to keep things alive? The lettuce seems to have survived:

Lettuce through hoop house cover

Are the crows just decorative or do they deter potential pilferers? I took them as a warning and didn’t poke my camera inside for a closer look.

Crow guards for raised bed

Later, some real corvids were spotted on a house’s rooftop. They like to look in rain gutters for tasty tidbits.

Crows on roof


The Curtain’s Going Up December 28, 2009

Filed under: flora,trees — greenwalks @ 9:24 am
Tags: , , , , ,

… on the annual Witch hazel show! Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’, with its unusual orange flowers, takes pride of place in my garden every January and I noticed while passing by it yesterday that the very first blossoms have begun to unfurl. They will slowly cover the tree and if all goes well, should be in full flower by mid-January. I didn’t plant this tree, but am grateful to the previous gardener here who did.

Dec 27 09 1st Witch Hazel 'Jelena' Flower

Is it showtime, or almost, for any of your favorites yet this winter?


Winter’s Late Arrival December 10, 2009

Filed under: my garden,Seattle,winter — greenwalks @ 12:52 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Seattle’s fall was warm and wet, with way more rain in the month of November than is normal. I am trying to wrap my head around winter now that it is here for real, and although I should have known it was coming, I didn’t really get the garden ready.

So, new phormium and fig, rosemary and raspberries, welcome to the place where you are probably going to have to learn to live with your own resources and no more, or you will not be survivors. I will be sorry to see any of you go, but I’m just not together enough to get little houses and wraps and other coddlings ready for you at the exact right time. I will have to rely a bit on hope that you are going to be okay with some dips into the 20s and go with that. Well, okay, the teens. It was 14 on our side porch this morning!?! We don’t get that a lot, or at least we didn’t used to. Now maybe it’s the new norm.

Before the really bad cold set in (you know it’s cold when your relatives in Massachusetts are cracking up that it’s warmer there than here!), we had one really great foggy morning. It was so thick, we could barely see across the back garden or across the street. I didn’t think to try a photo until it was partly burned off, but still enjoyed the view of the neighbor’s plum tree hovering in the mist.

Plum tree in winter fog

After that, the mercury plunged and hasn’t really been up much above freezing for almost a week, at least at our place. We are on a little hill and it seems to bring the temp down a few notches vs. what the forecast says. The birdbath froze and has yet to thaw out:

Frozen birdbath in half light

I guess candied sage is probably not something I’d eat, but frosted with ice, it did remind me of something sugar-encrusted:

Frosted sage

There are plenty of plants I don’t have to worry about at all, who in fact seem to be happier the colder it gets!

The first blossom appeared on my Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ last week. The flowers do tend to get frost burn sometimes so I hope it waits to put out more blooms until a little later.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' - first blossom

I dug up a huge, mature Sarcococca confusa in the summer, it was turning yellow from too much sunlight. I put it in a big empty mulch bag and dragged it over into the shade, and completely forgot about it. Now it’s putting out its shiny black (poisonous!) berries and soon will do the super-scented flower thing. Anyone in/near Seattle want to take this one home for some TLC in a shady spot? Please leave me a comment or email me at It’s a great plant, but I just don’t have the right place for it (a garden with no shade – you’d think I wouldn’t complain but there are definitely some plants that I’d like but are off the list because they’d get burned to a crisp!)

Sarcococca berries in late November

The red-twig dogwood dropped a lot of leaves this summer in the super hot spell (105F, I’m still not done moaning about it yet) but seems to have survived. I am working up the nerve to pollard the heck out of it this year, on the recommendation of a few experts. Having decried similar pruning efforts I’ve seen elsewhere, I am hesitant about giving mine such a severe “haircut” but have heard it will produce more new (i.e. red) twigs and then I’ll be happy. Anyone with good/bad experiences on this score to share?

Red-twig dogwood in winter

What about you – did you get your garden all ready for winter? Or, like me, are you going to have to wait and see what managed to survive on its own?


Not Dead Yet? April 6, 2009

Filed under: perennials,winter — greenwalks @ 12:37 pm
Tags: , , ,

I went down to the parking strip this morning, spade in hand, all set to dig up one of my winter casualties, a small hebe I’d planted in the fall. Just as I was about to stomp on the shovel, I noticed what’s at the bottom of the photo here:

Hebe - not dead yet?

One tiny little shoot of the plant is still alive. It reminded me of the “Bring Out Your Dead” skit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (nerd alert: yes, this was my #1 favorite film up through high school), where the cart is going around and collecting plague victims and they mistakenly toss a still-alive guy on the pile. I think the hebe would have shrieked “I’m not dead yet!” at the top of its lungs too, had it had any.

As I recently read in Seattle garden expert Ciscoe Morris’ book, “Ask Ciscoe,” if you really want to find out if your winter-damaged plants are going to make it, you have to be patient and wait until June. Since we’re finally out of the woods on the evening frosts (at least I hope we are – we did have snow last week, though, so who knows), I could probably safely cut back the dead stuff and just wait to see if the rest of the plant will grow back from the roots. By June, if there’s still nothing, it’s probably time to put something more reliably hardy in that spot.

Do you have the patience to wait and see whether a sad plant will survive? Or are you more likely to rip it out and put something healthier in instead?


March Madness March 7, 2009

Filed under: snow,winter — greenwalks @ 9:02 pm
Tags: , ,

The scene outside about an hour ago:

Snow again?!?

Susan of The Bicycle Garden commented on my previous winter-whine post (not that long ago, maybe just over a week?) that snow has been like a bad penny for me this year. I think this is true for the entire population of Seattle (with the exception of the ski crowd, of which I am not a member), and probably Portland and Vancouver too as well as everyone in between. Even a majority of my daughter’s kindergarten class voted recently that they are tired of snow.

Tonight’s storm started with sleet, moved to snow, and threw in a little thunder and lightning for good measure. And of course I forgot until it was over to go and shelter all the nice little plants I bought yesterday at the nursery. Oops. One of the flats is visible in this photo.

Snowing on March 7

I fully realize the futility of railing against weather. But if we are going to have to put up with so much of this white crap each succeeding winter, I’m going to have to think about moving back to California!


Skywatch Friday – My First One March 6, 2009

Moon over contorted filbert branches

(In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that this picture was actually taken earlier this week – I hope this doesn’t disqualify me from participating in the official SkyWatch Friday deal.)

I don’t take too many sky shots, but I noticed the moon rising while I was under my contorted filbert (Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) attempting to prune out its straight suckers. It was an un-fun task that I did rather poorly, but at least I was rewarded by a glimpse of the moon’s pale face on a warm late-winter day.

Here in Seattle, the sky was clear and blue again today. It was frosty this morning, and an unseasonably late snow is predicted for tomorrow. I’ll believe it when I see it, but for now I’m happy to be taking in the sun, the moon, and the unclouded sky.

Happy Friday!