Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's Blooming

Oriental Lilies

A new flush of I have the biggest stand of oriental lilies planted smack behind my Katsura tree. What was I thinking? I have all of these beautiful flowers and I have to work pretty hard just to see them. I'm trying to decide where to put them if I dig them up in the fall. I probably put them there because I couldn't think of a better spot, since they get so tall (5-6 feet). They do make my yard smell nice, even if I can't see them.

Fresh figs almost ripe.

Vines and Fig Trees

I have 3 fig trees growing in my "Mediterranean Garden". All of them are doing great, although one, like my lilies, is planted in the wrong spot—in this case—too much shade. This year I have a bumper crop since we've had such a hot, dry summer.

When we moved from our house in Renton to hear I took cuttings, which looked like dead sticks, from my grapes in the back yard. We lived in an old Italian neighborhood, and presumably these are grapes from the old country since the vines there were quite gnarled and old. All of my sticks got roots. So I planted all of them in soil that is about 90% gravel by my garage. I heard that grapes like to suffer in order to produce good fruit, so mine are definitely suffering. At the advice of a vineyard owner, I have been giving them organic fertilizer, and they seem to be doing well, in spite of the bad soil.
My "mystery" grapes are finally
starting to fill the arbor.
What is it?
(If you guessed an artichoke, you are correct.)


I have always loved hydrangeas and I've gradually built up a collection in my yard. I have one called 'Ayesha' with popcorn-like blossoms, 'Pia' a small-sized mop-head type with burgundy blossoms, "Nikko Blue" the big mop head that everyone has in their yard, 'Twist and Shout', a lacecap "everblooming" type, and lots more whose names I don't remember or never had.

Hydrangeas are easy to start from cuttings. There are some nice videos on YouTube that can show you how. Too bad I don't have room for any more, although that hasn't stopped me before from starting new plants. Sometimes I just can't resist.
H. Paniculata
Lacecap (I lost the label)

'Twist and Shout'

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What you should be doing in your garden now

Cut me down! Euphorbia and Cranesbill will look great soon if you deadhead.
I hate snails.
  1. Deadheading roses, cutting the former flowers down to the first set of 5 leaves. You can also cut any weak or diseased branches. Some types will re-flower.
  2. Cutting down cranesbill (hardy geraniums), removing all of the flowering stems down to the ground. You should be left with some healthy leaves that haven't flowered yet. These will produce more flowers in a few weeks.
  3. Deadhead other flowering plants. Some of them will also flower again. Butterfly bush is wonderful this way; it will keep flowering till fall as long as you cut off the dead blossoms.
  4. If you have raspberries or boysenberry-type plants, cut off the canes to the ground once they have finished fruiting. New canes will come up that you will need to tie to their supports. I try to imitate the commercial growers and bend them down at the top and tie them. I assume they, like other rose-family plants get more flowers that way.
  5. Prune anything that looks out of control or dead.
  6. It's a good time to prune dwarf trees if they are getting too tall. You can prune apples, cherries, plums, apricots, etc. to a height that you can reach. Summer pruning helps to control height, whereas winter pruning stimulates growth.
  7. Water, water, water.
  8. Continue to fight slugs and snails. Snails lay around 85 eggs at a time, ever 4-6 weeks. They are most active February - October. In case you didn't notice, that is most active for 9 months of the year. Anyway, try Sluggo. It can be used on vegetable gardens and is non-toxic.
  9. Fertilize. I use a great organic mix that I've been using for years. I use it on my vegetable and flower gardens. Here's my recipe, adapted from a book written by Steve Solomon called "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades." It's a great book, updated frequently with the latest information about our area.  Read more about it here.
    Here's the recipe I use:
    • 1 part alfalfa meal
    • 1/2 part finely ground ordinary agricultural lime
    • 1/2 part dolomitic lime
    • 1 part rock phosphate
    • 1 part kelp meal
Buddleia with too much nitrogen.
This is about 8' tall and mostly leaves.
I buy these in big bags at the farmer's co-op. You can get small boxes also, but this is a lot more expensive. Mix these all together on a big plastic tarp with a shovel. When well mixed shovel it into a nicely sized garbage can with a lid. It will last a long time. I put 1/4 cup of this mixed into the soil for a gallon pot, maybe a tablespoon for a 4" pot or smaller. Big stuff gets a lot more.

Sometimes this mix has too much nitrogen and makes my plants get more green and less flowers. You can cut down the alfalfa meal to fix this if it is a problem.

Don't whack me down. Flowering onion looks cool even
without the flowers, and you get seeds for more plants.
Solomon also recommends applying a lot of rock phosphate (kind of a small gravelly looking product) on our soils in the Pacific Northwest, because our soils are so deficient in Phosphorus. This makes a lot of the other nutrients in fertilizer unavailable to the plants. You'll have to read Solomon's book to find out how much rock phosphate to add, or you could ask me to look at my book. But remember, I'm lazy this time of year.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I'm lazy and I know it.

I've lost my enthusiasm

Plants I mostly killed
This is the time of year my enthusiasm for gardening starts to wane. You can tell this by looking at the number of shriveled up plants in pots that one month ago I thought were so great, but never got around to planting. I even have a few plants that have been in pots since last year, and some aronia starts from 2009. They've been living in vermiculite ever since and have done pretty well, one even flowered this year. I'm not sure why I still have them. It just seems wrong to throw them away. Or maybe it's some kind of strange science experiment to see how long these poor things can survive with the worst care ever.

Don't get me wrong, I love sitting outside and looking at my garden. Even reaching down and pulling a weed or two. But I know now that my good plants are winning the battle against the bad plants, and so I don't worry as much about them.

And that is what separates the cottage gardener from the landscaper. My goal is to make sure my plants look good and are healthy, and shade out the weeds adequately so they are weakened. That way my plants will always be healthy, thrive, and be better next year. As a whole, my garden looks pretty good! As long as you don't look too close.

That doesn't mean you can't be an OCD cottage gardener. But I want you to know when we visited Giverny last summer, I saw a weed or two, and those made me feel—not just happy—but vindicated. 

Landscapers are more concerned that their garden as a whole looks pristine, weed-free, with plants placed just the right distance apart. They are the ones that use stuff like casoron. I suppose you could also be a slob of a landscaper. But you'd be setting yourself up for a lot of ridicule. Your comrades are not tolerant of slackers.

In any case, those are my reasons for being lazy this time of year; I'd love to hear about yours! Maybe I'll borrow them next year.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My favorite plants, part 2

When I think about it, I have a lot of favorite plants. Ultimately, I only want to have plants I love in my yard, although it's always a "weeding out" process. Sometimes I get plants that end up too big, too aggressive, too weak. Or I just decide they are ugly. So out they go; some to be replanted in better spots, some to be given away, and some headed for the compost pile.

Welcome to my jungle.

Here are a few more plants I really love in my garden:

Japanese Forest Grass
(Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola')

In the morning and evening light, this plant just glows. Its bright green color looks good with any other color. I especially like it with purple, but this blue hydrangea looks good next to it. (I tried to get rid of the blue hydrangea, dug it up, gave it to a friend, and for some reason, it came back up. I decided it earned the right to live.)

Hardy Fuchsia

I think Hardy Fuchsias are some of the coolest plants you can get in our area. As the name suggests, they will live through the winter, throwing up new growth in the spring, and getting flowers at the beginning of summer. They flower continuously until fall's killing frosts.

These are not for the most part the big round budded ones we used to pop in our mothers hanging baskets. Most of them have smaller, although equally bright flowers. Keep your eyes out for these in garden centers and nurseries. There are a lot of varieties to choose from. If you fall in love with them as I have it might be worth a trip to Flower World in Maltby, near Snohomish, WA. Flower World is huge, and if you are a plant collector it can be a dangerous place.

Every spring they have small starts that cost around $1 of over 120 varieties of Fuchsias, including small starts of hardy ones. Considering these small starts will grow quickly once the weather warms up, it's a lot cheaper than buying the $7-12 gallons that you can purchase later. An added plus if you go to Maltby is visiting Maltby Cafe. This is possibly the best breakfast place I have ever eaten in. They make all of their own baked goods daily. I recommend the Eggs Benedict. Yum. But I digress.

Ivy and Creeping Jenny under my grape arbor.

Creeping Jenny, Variegated Ivy, Mints

Since I probably made it sound like I hate all English Ivy yesterday, I'll admit that I have a couple of variegated varieties in pots and they are great. These aggressive growers are great in pots because they don't take over the world, but they do take over the pots and "runneth over" quickly, which is what you want. These add to the lush look under my grape arbor, and they do well in the bright shade there.

Silver-leaved Lungwort


Maybe I'll write a posting some time on plants that slugs don't like. I'll bet it would be my most popular one.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't plant a single hosta in my yard and instead, I would plant a variety of Lungworts. They would serve all of the purposes of hostas without the drawbacks. OK, I'm really talking about slugs and snails.

I hate slugs and snails, although I prefer the snails, since they are easier to pick off. But no matter how hard I try to remember to put out "Sluggo", check every morning for the slimy destroyers, it seems that by mid-summer my hostas have become something resembling tatted lace.

Lungworts have large leaves like hostas, grow in part sun to shade, and have beautiful, often bright blue flowers in the spring, that last for months. After the flowers die you are left with the substantial leaves until fall frosts kill them off. Lungwort leaves are various combinations of green and silver: sometimes green with polka dots (my mom used to call this plant "Boys and Girls" for the plants habit of starting out with blue flowers, which turn to pink as they age.) Some have mottled combinations of green and silver, like a girl with freckles that are so many that they start to meld together. Some have solid green leaves (I have a variety like this. It has dark green leaves and the most beautiful true blue flowers in the springtime.) Others are solid silver, as mine is above. And there is everything in between.

Their true beauty is that they have slightly fuzzy leaves which slugs and snails aren't fond of. While my hostas are already quite lacy, my lungworts look great, and I know they will continue to do so until late fall.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I have a confession

I couldn't write about my favorite plants today because I had to get something off of my chest.

The Devil. No. I mean Morning Glory / Bindweed.

Garden Evils

Some people think that Monsanto is the devil, but I'm pretty sure it's Morning Glory.

Morning Glory, otherwise known as Field Bindweed, is a  Class C noxious weed in Washington State. Want proof? See here.

I have always been organic, opposed to using any chemicals in my garden. But I surrender. There is no other way I can get rid of this nasty plant without them. Certain people will be shocked at this confession: Yesterday I used RoundUp. There, I said it. A certain friend, you know who you are, used it on my yard last year and for the most part, it worked. I was corrupted.

Necessary Evil.
Sadly, there is no going back. One of my neighbors appears to be using his backyard to produce Morning Glory seeds for future generations, and providing long, deep roots under my fence, in case the seeds don't sprout. RoundUp, my new friend, where are you?

I should mention that I do have an evil plan involving guerrilla warfare, but I won't burden you with that secret. It's right up there with how I plan to control the mosquitoes that are breeding in my other neighbor's pond.

My final thought is that if a plant is going to be this persistent and horrible, it should at least have edible berries.

Weeds I hate

  1. I said.
  2. Horsetail. I'm glad I don't have this in my yard.
  3. English Ivy. Can you believe some people actually plant this? It's taking over natural habitats in our State. And the trees in my backyard.
  4. Dandelion. I feel bad about this, because when I was a kid, I loved them, and I loved blowing those wonderful seed heads all over the lawn. My mom should have made me weed.
  5. Buttercup. Again, loved them as a kid and used them for bouquets. Hate them now.
  6. Blackberry. Only if it's in my yard, I don't mind it in other people's yards. Especially if they give me berries.
  7. Tansy. It smells, and it's hard to get out.
  8. Ivy taking over my tree.
  9. Thistle. For obvious reasons.

A Note on Child Workers

When my kids were younger, I used to pay them money for each weed they pulled. I hated Dandelion so much that I paid them five cents for every complete root. It worked great until my daughter got too fast pulling and I had to pay her $20 for one day. (She was six.) I started making it 2 for 5 cents, and eventually, it became too little pay for too much work and the whole system collapsed. Now I just make them weed when I'm mad at them, or when they want money.

Weeds I hate less

There are some weeds that are so easy to pull out; they give me a sense that I'm really accomplishing something because I can make a really huge pile quickly. Those are the ones I turn to when I haven't weeded for a while, and my self-esteem is plummeting. I don't even know the names of most of them, that's how little I hate them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My favorite plants, part 1

In every garden I've planted there has always been a few plants that I find myself hovering over, fascinated by the beauty of them. Other plants I love because they are so hard-working and garden-friendly. They look good and make other plants look good, sometimes blooming over several months. I'm going to share some of these over the next few days and tell you why I love them.

All of these are perennial plants, that is, you plant them once and they come up every year. Sometimes they seed in your yard and make more plants. Many just come up, bloom like crazy (think fireworks), then finally lose their flowers and wait until next year. The poppy below falls into that category, as do peonies, columbine, and hollyhock. But there are some special ones that bloom all summer, and I really like to include lots of those. Many roses are examples of this, like the China Rose below. There is also purple wallflower (love, love, love, sometime I'll tell you why.) My garden is full of hardy geraniums for this and other reasons. Some plants bloom once but have continued interest throughout the growing season like St. John's Wort, Hydrangea, and Lungwort (Pulmonaria). I have a lot to say about Lungwort but that's for another day.

China Rose

China is a single-petaled, old garden rose that was introduced in the 18th century, and was popular then because it blooms throughout the summer. It has multiple colors on a single bush, because the older the petals get, the darker they get. It is graceful, almost airy, but gets fairly tall (6 ft.)

It is also known as the "Butterfly Rose" and if you see one you will know why. I'll try to upload a better picture eventually. Here's a web site with a good overview of antique roses.

papaver orientale 'Beauty of Livermore'

Oriental Poppy
(papaver orientale)

Sadly, these have finished blooming in my yard but were so beautiful and photogenic that I had to include them. This one is actually a bit darker than in the picture, actually blood red, which is a better fit for my garden than the bright orange or orange/red you usually see.

I also have a more muted, purple/mauve one called 'Patty's Plum', but it looks pretty pathetic next to this one.

St. John's Wort

Varieties of this plant, taken internally, are an herbal remedy for depression. But it lifts my mood just to look at it. I received this plant as a small cutting from my cousin Shari. It's now about 3' tall. Shari got her plant by noticing that the stem, included in a bouquet of flowers, was growing roots. Score!

St. John's Wort Shrub with a few hardy geranium flowers mixed in.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Welcome to my garden blog!

Nearly every morning I sit on my front steps with a cup of coffee and look at my garden. I'm amazed at the colors, the textures and the smells of all of the plants I've managed to squeeze in there. I see successes. I see mistakes. And I see lots of weeds.

None of my friends really care to talk to me about plants. They think my yard is pretty, don't get me wrong. But they couldn't care less about knowing the names of the several different varieties of hardy geraniums I have, or why I like shrub roses instead of tea roses. They don't care about why my Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Plant) is so cool.

So I'm starting this blog instead of sitting on my front steps talking to myself. If nobody ever reads this at least I have a garden journal that I can read to myself. It may give me hope during the two or three months I don't have anything blooming in my yard.

My yellow peony

One of the joys of gardening for me is remembering where I acquired and why I have certain plants. Many of my plants have stories. Some were given to me by friends and some I started from seeds or cuttings. A couple of them I hauled home in a bus for days from Minnesota. Some were huge when I planted them, but most were small and I've nurtured them to their current glory. All of my plants bring memories that are mostly pleasant.

Take for example the peony I bought for $200. Yes, you didn't read that wrong, two hundred dollars. Why, on earth would anyone spend so much for a plant? The obvious reason is that it is a most rare plant, it's herbaceous, and it's yellow. (There are cheaper Japanese tree peonies that are also yellow.) It's called "Lemon Chiffon" and that's precisely its color. The less obvious reason is that my husband, before he died, told me to buy it as a gift from him for our anniversary.  I never got around to it until two years after he was gone—I wish I had bought it when he told me to. But just the same, when I look at it I think of him and remember he was the kind of person that would understand I would prefer a yellow peony to a $200 pair of earrings any day.

Incidentally, I drove to Snohomish to buy my peony from A & D Peonies. It's worth a drive if you like peonies. They have nice daylilies as well. You can also visit their web site at