Gardening where the sidewalk ends

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?


Nutty December 3, 2009

Filed under: fall,fauna,trees — greenwalks @ 10:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

After our witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Jelena’)’s leaves do their spectacular fall color thing and then turn to a crispy brown carpet for the winter, there’s not much to look at until the tree puts out its fragrant red-orange flowers around January. Not that I’m complaining! To only have a few months of boring-ness in a deciduous tree, that’s pretty impressive.

But this year I noticed something I hadn’t before – squirrels searching the branches for something tasty. One day I looked out and saw one happily munching away:

Squirrel Nutkin

On what, though? Not the flower buds, I hoped! Or the bark. Then I saw a second one:

Peacefully munching squirrels

Sorry for blurry photos – taken through a window on with my crummy camera on a gloomy day. Couldn’t believe it when I finally noticed the third one on a different branch (at this point they are all at about the same level in the tree, evenly spread out – can you spot them?:

Squirrel haven

No fighting, no biting – a peaceable kingdom. Pretty rare – usually they are tearing up the place, chasing each other around and chattering like demons. I went back through my photos from earlier in the fall and found a close-up of the hazel ‘nuts,’ which I’d promptly forgotten about. Are these edible for humans, or only birds and fancy, sometimes mischief-bent rodents?

Witch hazel "nuts"

Moot point this year, anyway – they seem to have got ’em all!


Mother Nature to Seattle: HA! February 9, 2009

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

Her next sentence would probably be “Fooled you!” followed by “Did you really think that little spate of sun and warmth meant it was Spring?!? If so, then you are dimmer than I thought!”

We in the Pacific Northwest sometimes have short memories when it comes to the arrival of spring. We rejoice in the arrival of the first crocuses or snowdrops bursting forth from the ground and are almost automatically lulled into the feeling that winter has been banished. Then, more often than not, another set of freezing temps and a snowfall or two arrives in February to burst our bubbles and remind us that we really do have four seasons, even if they do get a bit jumbled together at times.

This was the scene outside our front window this morning:

Japanese maple and Port Orford cedar with snow dusting

I didn’t plant that dwarf Japanese maple, but I like how it looks with a dusting of snow.

Fully flowering witch hazel with little puffs of white on each blossom is not a bad view from the dining room, either (once again, can’t take credit, but am grateful for the previous gardener’s forethought):

Garden snow scene

School was delayed by two hours but at least it wasn’t canceled. I had a lot to do today so was grateful to Mother Nature for sending the morning sun to start the melt-off going.

Poor old rosemary, snowed under again

That poor rosemary, if it survives this winter it will be a miracle. Actually, it will probably take over the earth by midsummer unless I do something to stop it!

Our city is lovely under a little snow blanket but we don’t do too well when it sticks around. Even with under an inch, there were accidents, bus wipe-outs and bridge closures that backed up morning commute traffic for miles. This place is just not built for snow driving – too many hills, too much ice, no budget for road clearing/de-icing and too many inexperienced winter drivers. As I type this, we have had a very wacky weather evening starting with hail/sleet, followed by an oddball winter thunderstorm, and now snow is beginning to fall again.

What has Mother Nature been doing to surprise the heck out of you these days?

Black pussy willows in winter light

(Black pussy willows courtesy of Molly at Life on Tiger Mountain, via our bloggers’ gathering on Saturday. Thanks, Molly!)


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day January 2009 January 15, 2009

This is my first time participating in GBBD, hosted by Carol of the wonderful May Dreams Gardens blog. I am a bit late to the party, but hope I can still join in.

January is not the finest month for showing off flowers in many climates, but most of us are lucky enough to have at least something nice to look at despite the winter blahs.

For me, January is always brightened by the arrival of my witch hazel’s flowers. I didn’t plant this tree (or is it a shrub? does anyone know how to tell the difference??), but it is the best thing I inherited from the previous gardener here. It is situated right outside our dining room window and gives me so much joy throughout the year with its multi-season interest.

Many witch hazels have cheery yellow flower tendrils, but mine are a deep orange, which I think I am very lucky to have. I couldn’t decide which photo to use, so I am including a few.






I look forward to seeing what others have found peeking out from under or floating above the dead leaves and snow today! And it’s always fun to see what the warmer-climate folks have going on too – it gives me a little hit of much-needed mid-winter warmth.


Witch Hazel, How Do I Love Thee? December 4, 2008

Filed under: shrubs — greenwalks @ 12:54 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Let me count the ways…

1. Your delicate early hints that fall color change is beginning

Witch hazel two-tones leaves

2. The beauty of the sun shining through your turning leaves

Sun through witch hazel

3. The royal carpet you spread on the path beneath you

Witch hazel leaves falling

4. The way your leaves change in stages, so that many colors are present both on each leaf…

Multi-colored witch hazel leaves

5. …and on the tree as a whole

Witch hazel in early fall

5. The full splendor of your autumn display

Fiery witch hazel

6. The number of leaf colors and sizes you provide for my favorite leaf collector

Collecting witch hazel leaves

7. The odd little yellow flowers you put out this fall, out of season and not true to your usual color

Witch hazel weird extra fall flowers

8. Your lovely upright vase shape, most apparent after the leaves are gone

Witch hazel in late fall

9. Your flower buds in fall, full of promise against a partly-cloudy sky

Witch hazel flower buds against the sky

and, lastly,

10. Your most marvelous feature, the delicately fragrant, sea anemone-like orange flowers you burst forth with in January, which happened to coincide last year with one of our rare snowy days here in Seattle

Snow-dusted witch hazel flowers in winter

This is the best thing by far that we inherited from the previous gardener at our place. He didn’t know the variety, but I am guessing it’s Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ since my plant book says it has coppery orange flowers and that its fall foliage is orange and red. I take my daughter’s picture in front of it every fall at the peak of its color show – I hope to put all the pictures together someday for her so she can see how she and the tree grew. (Many witch hazels stay pretty small, so they are a great choice for a not-too-big garden or a parking strip!)


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?